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

‘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!

The Inbetweeners of Mental Health

The ‘inbetweeners’ of mental health. They’re young people in the transition stage between childhood and adult mental health services. It is the point in which an existing or newly referred patient (over the age of 16 or 18) is transferred to adult services.

The UK’s leading charity in improving young people’s mental health services, YoungMinds, is currently campaigning to improve transition care from child and adolescent mental health services to adult services, preventing young people from getting ‘lost in the system’.

And there are many who are being left in the dark when it comes to receiving the support they need from mental health services.

Did you know that when young people reach the age of 16 or 17, they are no longer eligible for support from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service)?

But more worrying is that they are often much too young or do not meet the strict criteria to be referred to AMHS (Adult Mental Health Services) as they may be classed as ‘not ill enough’.

So where does that leave the ‘inbetweeners’?

It puts them in a position where, ultimately, they are not able to access any of the services that could help them on their way to recovery. This is a dangerous position to be in for any young person suffering from mental illness.

So why do these issues occur exactly? And what could be done to change them?

First of all, the criteria for support through AMHS is very different to that of CAMHS. AMHS point of entry for treatment is a lot more difficult to meet than CAMHS in regards to the severity of the individual’s mental health. For example, AMHS will often only intervene when a young person has reached a crisis point or are deemed as a danger to themselves or others while those under 16 will often be referred to CAMHS before their illness advances to such stages.

As mentioned in my previous blog, this is where early intervention is key and can not only save a young person’s life but would prevent a young person from having to access more advanced mental health services (such as inpatient facilities) at a later age. If these services and resources are offered to a young person as soon as issues surface, they are able to better equip themselves with the techniques or methods they need to prevent a relapse in their mental health in the future.

This current gap in young people’s mental health care is very worrying and an issue many may not be aware of unless they themselves have tried to gain access. Young people who are no longer able to access CAMHS are waiting long periods of time to reach the correct age for AMSH services, which can’t start until the individual reaches 18.

This huge gap and subsequently, further delays in referral can mean many young people ‘give up’ on transitioning to adult services and therefore never get the treatment they need, having a huge effect on their future mental wellbeing with potentially dangerous consequences. Young people are in essence ’disappearing’ from these services and falling off the radar.

There is also the added funding stress on the NHS, with services in particular areas receiving less funding in mental health services than others, meaning fewer funds for each patient and therefore a lower referral rate. There is a variation from county to county as to what age is classed as eligible for transfer to adult services also. For example, a 16-year-old may transfer to AMHS if they are no longer within full-time education. If they are still in education, they will often not be transferred until they are 18 years of age, showing a contradiction between counties within the NHS.

These young people are being passed from pillar to post. A lack of communication is also present between the two services. Neither CAMHS nor AMHS appears to be making the effort to work in line with each other. This leads to information not being passed between the two mental health services and therefore, many young people will have to undergo another assessment before entering treatment. Understandably, this can also be quite traumatic for a young person.

These services need to provide continuity and routine for already venerable young people.

Between the ages of 16 to 18, young people with mental health are probably at their most venerable. They are often making important decisions about their education. Should they stay for further education or apply for an apprenticeship?

They will often have to make more intense life decisions about relationships and friendships as well.

So why, at their most venerable, are they being turned away from the support they need more than ever?

It’s a frustrating and worrying time for both young people and parents when they are left in this limbo period, often feeling as though their concerns are not being heard or ‘don’t matter’.

The Government invested £54 million in improving young people’s mental health services between 2011 and 2015. Yet young people are still not getting access to the services they need.

Have you or your child experienced the gap in services? How do you think the NHS could improve on this?

Leave me a comment!

Resources: 

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/children-and-young-people/

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/29/chilld-and-adolescent-mental-health-service-failing-children

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us/what-are-we-doing/children-and-young-people

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

Georgia 

Mental health and young people: Is there a lack of support?

CentreForum, the independent think-tank, published a report which revealed that nearly a quarter of children and teenagers on average are turned away by mental health services after being referred by their GP’s, teachers, or others.

CentreForum found that this was due to services having ‘high thresholds’ for access to their services, revealed after analysis of the service’s eligibility criteria.

In the report, CentreForum stated that these high thresholds for treatment eligibility prevent one of the most effective forms of mental health treatment for young people- early intervention.

It was also found that young people were waiting for prolonged periods of time to access treatment with the average of the longest waiting times being almost 10 months between the first GP/school referral and the beginning of their treatment. This, along with a lack of funding for mental health services in certain areas of the UK shows a worrying escalation in the support offered to young people suffering from mental illness.

This report has been released in the same week that a UK bereavement charity pushed for a full investigation by the Government into the way deaths of young people in mental health units are recorded. An inquest suggested that nine young people had died within inpatient mental health facilities since 2010.

This only solidifies that there is a considerable lack of support for young people suffering from mental illness.

Early intervention is key.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses suffered by children and teenagers will often be present at a young age. Certain behavior such as a change in sleeping patterns, irritability, loss of interest in certain activities, and withdrawal from socialisation can often be clear indications of a young person who is carrying the black dog. Some people may question whether this is just the behaviour of a typical teenager. But this behaviour will often extend to prolonged periods of time with little to no change in mood.

This will often affect a young person’s school or college life, resulting in low grades, bad behaviour, or low attendance. These warning signs should be a clear indication that further investigation is needed.

Intervening as soon as a problem is spotted can allow schools to offer the right support and advice for the affected young person as soon as possible. All too often, a young person who has suffered from mental illness will have gone throughout their school life with little to no mental wellbeing support. I know of quite a few young adults who suffer from depression or anxiety and have done from a young age, yet never had anyone listen to their issues or offer support which could have allowed them to receive the treatment they needed much earlier.

Is it a lack of funding? Or a higher demand?

The reality is that figures show funding levels for NHS mental health care in England have dropped by 2 percent in recent years. This lack of funding leads to long waiting lists and less accessibility to the services, which are desperately needed to prevent the potential suicide and self-harm of young people. It also puts a strain on charities that rely solely on donations to provide young people support such as Samaritans and Child Line.

There is also a higher demand for these services due to the rise in mental illness in young people. Statistics by YoungMinds.org.uk show that young people between the ages of 15 to 16 with depression doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s, showing there is a constant increase in the number of young people being diagnosed with mental health issues. This could be due to a lack of knowledge in previous years or maybe just the way our society has changed its views on mental health. Regardless of what has caused this higher demand for services, these resources need to be available to prevent an increase in suicide levels in adulthood as well as self-harm in young people, which is believed to affect 13 percent of children and teenagers between the ages of 11 to 16.

We shouldn’t have to lose a young person due to a lack of support and funding for life-saving services.

If you have been affected by the topics discussed in this post, please contact the following organisations for support:

Mind 

Young Minds 

Parents or teachers in Bedfordshire.

Georgia OX

 

Guest Post: Kelly from ‘This is Only my Opinion’ on Surviving Grief

‘I don’t know how you do it?’

This is a phrase I hear quite often. I suppose it’s because I don’t keep Louis, Corey and Elliot a sordid secret. I speak their names as I would my living children and this then triggers curiosity and subtle questioning about what happened to these three little boys I speak so highly of.

‘I don’t know how you do it?’ makes it sound like something I’ve strived to achieve an accolade for when this path was not a choice I would willingly take. It’s the cards I’ve been dealt. Surviving the journey of stillbirth and neonatal death has been one hell of a ride!

When someone dies you pretty much expect to be upset. You expect to cry, and you expect to feel sad. But what is difficult to compute and unexpected is that sometimes these emotions don’t happen or display themselves the way we predict them to and then you start wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’and the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

The days after Elliot’s death and the run-up to his funeral, I did nothing but cry. I cried so many god damn tears I am sure my tears had tears. But then something happened and I just stopped. I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry at all for weeks after and I would look at myself and get angry, willing myself to cry because my heart ached and I wasn’t ready to stop crying. When I am crying the world knows I am breaking, people can see my anguish and they can see from the tears that I’m crying, that I am still grieving.

The parts of grief that you don’t foresee and often don’t anticipate when your child dies is the anger, guilt, blame, bitterness, hatred, the failure, self-persecution and the time.

Grief needs to be treated with respect, and grief requires patience from the person grieving but equally from those around you. It is in times of great hardship that friendships and relationships are challenged to the brink. Those that fall short ‘unfriend’ from Facebook, ‘evict’ from your insta, and ‘abolish’ from your twitter. You need to make life easy for yourself because you have been thrown one of the ultimate tests and the deadwood will only drag you down. Don’t be scared of what they might say when they’ve realised you aren’t popping up in their news feed because believe me, they won’t say a thing because people really don’t like to confront a grieving mother, and that’s because they never know what face they’ll be greeted with. They might get ‘sobbing and bawling uncontrollably face’, or ‘knock your fecking teeth out’ face!

When my twins died in the neonatal unit, I felt the most extreme level of failure, my body had failed them. I had failed them.

They died because my body rejected them in their prematurity, blaming myself stifled any grief I felt. I was angry and bitter. This surge of anger and bitterness was ‘silently’ directed at any other woman that had children, was carrying children and if the children happened to be twins, my anger and bitterness would be elevated to levels where anxiety would take over and my breathing would be erratic. My stomach would hurt, and I would begin to panic and sweat and start looking for the nearest brown paper bag that I could breathe into to stop me passing out into a heap in the middle of the frozen isle.

I dealt with losing my twin boys by getting pregnant as quickly as possible. There are no hard fast rules about when to have another baby after loss. You just have to trust your body and do what is best for you. Hindsight tells me now that maybe it was a little too soon because upon reflection I can now see that all I did was metaphorically cover my grief with a plaster, and a plaster doesn’t stay stuck forever.

The plaster came unstuck when in 2012 I found out Elliot had grown his wings at 38 weeks gestation. My world crashed into 1000 pieces. Elliot had exposed an old wound and their names were Louis and Corey. Not only was I grieving for my stillborn son but for my premature twins that had passed 7 years before. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew I had to be strong for my other children and for my husband. But by being strong and maintaining a stoic stance I masked my own grief.

It took months of people telling me I needed some help, that I might benefit from counselling. Sadly I am one of those people that find it very hard to listen to other people telling me what to do, this trait has followed me since school to my detriment.

Everything had finally snowballed and I was treading water and slowly drowning in a sea of grief.

I had denied myself grief; I had hidden my emotions and suppressed my feelings because I wanted to be strong for everyone else.

I hated myself and I loathed every part of my person, I did not feel worthy to have my husband or my living children. I thought they would be happier without me. I believed that I was a tainted and if people got close to me bad things would happen. Only now I am accepting of my grief and I understand and respect that grief is part of me now. I also realise how utterly absurd it was to think my children would be better off without me, they are my kids and I am their mum, and as nutty, crazy and broken I am they love me, and I love them, warts and all and that includes my ever so slightly grumpy, kind, sometimes funny husband! There is no replacement for ME to them. (Even if Rachel Weisz came along singing nursery rhymes by day and wearing a ‘sexy nurse maids’ outfit by night ….I HOPE!)

My husband is such an important part of my story and every time we lost and buried a child I felt completely and utterly responsible for his pain and my failure to yet provide him with another son and this manifested itself in blame. I would blame him for loving me, blame him for marrying me and blame him for choosing me to have children with, because if none of that happened, he wouldn’t have a life filled with grief and disappointment because his wife failed to do the most natural thing in the world. If he didn’t choose me maybe I would have been liberated from this feeling of failure and self-loathing too.  His grief displayed itself the polar opposite to mine and his continual effort to tell me he loved me and needed me, and that he doesn’t blame me just suffocated me.

We were like two magnets trying to be together but repelling against each other’s energy.

My grief engulfed me and it affected my marriage, my children, my family and my life. I almost lost everything!

So my message for surviving grief after a loss is to not fight against it. Let it do its job, be led by grief and feel the emotions as they come because resistance is futile and detrimental to the survival of bereavement.

I have accessed a great deal of counselling to get where I am today and one of the most helpful things I ever did as part of my therapy was writing. It’s helped me in so many ways. One day I wrote a letter to my guilt because guilt was draining my soul. This letter encompasses everything I felt.

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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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