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Integration

This may be a rambly post so I apologise in advance.

Some weeks ago I attended a training day in Yorkshire. During the break I got talking to one of the other attendees who spoke a bit about the migration into her area and how she felt that integration, put simply, ‘wasn’t working’.
Her reasons at first were the ones that I’ve heard too many times before. That a Muslim family had moved in and made no attempt to communicate in English. They communicated only in their own language.

I guess I could have reacted angrily but instead I spoke to the lady about what integration meant to her and what evidence could she produce that the family were not demonstrating integration. At that point her true feelings were that the council had placed the family in that home when she knew others were on the waiting list. That was the underlying reason for her comments.

As I explained to her, I felt her anger was misguided. She directed her anger towards the family when really her anger and her desire to change should be on those in power, those who placed the family.

Also integration isn’t one sided. The community needs to help those new to the community to integrate. When asking her whether she had gone around to say hello, she said no.

Integration doesn’t override the fact that people can choose not to communicate with neighbours. Not every neighbour is going to be liked because nobody is liked by everybody. I know my neighbour opposite but that is about it. Am I off the hook to integrate into my community because I am White British?

It’s made me think about what is integration. How would you know that you were integrated into your community? Because someone smiles at you? Knocks on your door?

I feel like Brexit is now being used as a smokescreen for other issues. Now everything is the fault of Brexit. However much I wish Brexit was not voted for, some of the issues have been around in the UK for much longer than the Brexit vote. Blaming Brexit allows people in power to not act on those issues. Just because we give international aid does not mean that we should not give aid to those UK citizens who need it. We should do both because we are human. Because it’s the right thing to do.

The process of grief

It’s been a while since I last wrote. To be truthful, which I nearly always am, things haven’t been too great for me. At least in terms of my mental health.

On the surface things have been going well. I took the plunge at Christmas to move jobs and take the next step by applying for a counselling course. Work wise, things have been going okay. Usual doubts of feeling like I’m not good enough and things are not going smoothly but those are feelings that I’ve lived with for most of my life and I’ve learnt how to cope and manage those feelings. Going home and not thinking constantly about work is a new and welcome feeling. Surrounding myself with positive encouraging people is also a welcome experience. Picking my next (and hopefully final!) career has been both scary and exhilarating.

The trouble is grief and the fact it isn’t constant or consistent. Normally I experience a down dip around July/August time. July because of my nan/grandma and August because of the anniversary of my mum’s death. I dread that approach into summer but luckily it is usually counteracted with sunny weather which always improves my mood (although not too sunny!).

This year grief crept up on me about the beginning of March. Mothers Day seemed to be literally everywhere. Social media has been the worst with photos of people together with their mums on the day. I expect it but dread it. People should celebrate their mums and celebrate being a mum. Yet I have neither experience and the feelings still hurt. Although it’s lovely people post that they are thinking of those without a mum, it doesn’t help. Partially because I don’t think anybody could understand anything remotely about what it is like until they have been through something similar. I gravitate at Mothers Day to those who don’t have mums around or who knew my mum.

Grief is a funny thing. There is no process, people process in different ways and, contrary to what people sometimes say, I don’t feel the process is easier in that the feelings of sadness are still there, you just add in positive happy feelings about the person you’re missing.

To me, grief is that constant state of flux. You fear that you are forgetting people if you don’t think of them every day. You feel angry that life is going on around you so you feel obligated to try to ‘move on’ and not think of the person everyday. There is so much emphasis to be happy in society when in reality, how do you know happiness if you don’t know sadness?

My first experience of death was my guinea pig. I think I was about 8. He died of pneumonia and I remember crying for days. Then getting a mouse.

My second experience was my mum aged 9. I cried for one day and then intermittently without any pattern or even an identified trigger since then.

Then followed by my two granddads within 3 years and then one of my closest childhood friends who died in a car accident aged 16.

Other deaths have happened since then. Yet each death has provoked a different process of grief and it’s made me realise. Grief has no process. It just is.

This feeling will go or be hidden, crushed between all the other happy memories that come along. Until something else triggers and then I’ll be writing this again.

Reflection on 2018

It’s not quite 2019 yet but I feel in a reflective mood tonight so thought it was time for me to take stock of 2018 and look ahead to 2019.

2018 saw the start of a new job and also the end of the same job. I’m so glad I took the job opportunity as it taught me a lot and also helped me to meet some of the most amazing people I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. It also helped me to realise that my true passion of counselling is something that I now need to focus on and invest in.

2018 also saw a return to a previous job role. I struggled with the decision at first as I felt like I was a failure by quitting my job and also unsure about whether I should return. On the first day though all my fears left me and I’m excited about the next few years which will also enable me to study.

Friendship wise, I made some new friends and have kept friends close to me. I met with a couple of friends during my trip to Yorkshire this week and, despite the fact we hadn’t met in a while, it emphasised how true the friendships are because we were chatting like old times in no time.

After a slightly rocky few months with my husband, this year has made our marriage enter into a more consistently happy period which is nice. He still makes me smile every time he walks into a room and the fact he didn’t question when I made the decision to go part time, just shows that I am the person I am because he empowers me to be that person.

Family wise, things always happen to make me realise how lucky I am to have supportive family around me. Despite shortly embarking on my fourth career, my family have always been there for me and I know that if things go wrong they will continue to be there.

Looking ahead I hope I can make my counselling degree work. I want to reconnect with more friends who I have lost touch with whilst keeping in touch with those who have always been there.

2018 has been a good year, stressful and tense but good because it’s helped me to move along onto the next phase of my career. Happy 2019

Another year older

It’s my birthday today. I’ve reached the ripe old age of 36. Age has never really meant a massive amount to me. Losing my mum when she was 38 probably has an impact as I know that people die when they are young, old, everything in between.

Yet birthdays do make me reflect. I have been really struggling at work recently. Although I think I made the right move, I am not convinced it is the right job for me. In reality I know it is not the right job for me, yet I’m so stubborn I don’t actually want to admit it.

It’s made me look back at my previous role and recognise the value of that role and it’s helped me to identify what I want in my career. It’s made me more ambitious and for that, I’m thankful.

I’ve given myself until Christmas to allow time for change but ultimately to work out what I want to do. I’ve started that plan already as I’m halfway through my counselling course and I know that counselling is for me. I struggle to say I’m good at something but I know I would be good at counselling. So that’s my plan. To find a role where I can study and long term to set up my own counselling business.

This weekend made me face up to my dad not being very well. My dad and stepmum visited and it was hard to see my dad. I always thought he was invincible but this weekend has made me realise he’s not. I’ve shed masses of tears in the past 4 days and I think there will be plenty more.

On the flip side, work helped me come into contact with some of the most beautiful caring people I’ve ever met in my life. Birthday messages (and presents!) have reinforced what I already know, I have people around me who make me feel truly blessed and fortunate. Counselling last night made me realise how much I truly hide behind my calm exterior. Sometimes calm people are paddling the most but they also have people around them to come and rescue them.

To my 18 year old self

Dear 18 year old Cherry,

I’m writing this letter to you after reading about a project led by @TheEmpWomanProj on Twitter about writing a letter to your 18 year old self.

I’m approaching the age of 36 and I’m imagining that I’m writing this on your 18th birthday. At this time you won’t know a lot of stuff that will happen. You won’t know that you will actually pass your A Levels including that AS Level you didn’t actually mean to take as you assumed it was an option within your existing module.

You will also be under the mistaken assumption that you are dealing quite well with the death of your mum and you won’t be anticipating that you will, at some stage, need some support which will be completely okay.

You are also thinking about going travelling before starting your career as a lawyer (more about that later!). You will do that mainly because your mum, unlike you, was a planner and left you an amount of money to do what you wanted to do. Like travelling across the US for 5 weeks in a camper van.

At this stage you’re uncertain and shy about everything. Don’t worry so much, you’ll get there. You are worrying about meeting someone. Unbeknown to you, that person will dance themselves into your life in 4 years time and never leave. You won’t have achieved the 2.4 children ‘norm’ but you will be with someone who loves you.

You won’t be perfect during the next few years and that will hurt. You will constantly be worrying about whether you’re ‘good enough’ but you will be able to have some days where you won’t care about being good enough and that will be enough.

You will lose both your nan and grandma and auntie to cancer and you will learn that grief is constant and expected.

You will learn that building a family of trusted friends is important. Friends who are so different but so worthwhile and genuine. You will learn that marriage is hard and difficult but ultimately worth it. You will find friends who get you and who will always be there.

Don’t avoid anything in the next few years. Don’t avoid the career change (twice) because work is something that you need to be happy in. You can only control your own feelings and behaviours. Everything else shapes the person you have become and, even if some days it is really hard to believe, you’re okay. Not brilliant, not perfect but definitely okay.

Contentment

Contentment is an emotion that comes and goes for me. Contentment indicates good mental health and that is something that sometimes eludes me.

This week there has been moments of contentment. I am a fully fledged staff member after passing my probation and I had some good moments this week at work.

Last night I spoke to my dad and stepmum, again provoking contentment. My relationship with my husband is good, we have acknowledge we need to get back to being silly and that has happened, culminating in a tic tac catching contest earlier tonight.

Volunteering today helped as well. I can’t go into it because of confidentiality but the moment when I said something which provoked a different way of thinking for a young person in a bad place made me truly content. I hope that young person knows they have helped me as much as I have helped them.

Good mental health isn’t easy to maintain when you have had periods of bad mental health. I look back to a month again and I can barely recognise that person. It’s hard to maintain the consistency but the difference is I know consistency and good mental health can be achieved and that is the main thing.

It’s not as simple as talking

It’s good to talk. I know that. Yet sometimes it’s genuinely not as simple as talking.

Two weeks ago my mental health took a significant nosedive for reasons that some may know and it’s not important for those that don’t. This week my mental health has been on the up. The sun is shining, husband is back this weekend and a number of things are falling into place.

A friend asked how things have been and I was honest saying the first couple of weeks my husband was away I was a mess. I deactivated social media accounts and withdrew. Her immediate response because she is an amazing friend was “why didn’t you call me, come over etc”.

Sometimes help can be remote. In my case I was well aware of the support that was around but I needed that space. I needed time to come to terms with everything in my head and could then access the right support for me.

I read an amazing blog post by a fellow Twitterer. Silence and just the ability to actively listen is so underrated, Just be there for people who cannot ask for help or don’t need help. That is so powerful.

Sometimes I talk to myself and just say I need to get over things. I mean I need to cope. So, if I go silent, it’s not because I don’t know people are around, it’s because I know people are around but I don’t need or want help at that time. I’ll let you know. Because I can.

Sometimes, life is really that rubbish…

I recently went to a theatre show (probably the subject of another blog post) but it made me really think.

Mental health is in the spotlight at the moment and it absolutely should be. Yet sometimes certain topics can be associated with poor mental health when actually I feel (and this is a personal account) it’s part of life.

My mum died when I was 9. It was unexpected and, quite frankly, it was the worst most painful moment of my entire life. It still affects me now, when I tell people I see ‘the look’. The ‘look’ is of pity, not of empathy. It comes from people who don’t understand and to be honest you can’t possibly understand if you haven’t lost a parent. It’s okay that you don’t understand. It’s okay because I know that losing a parent is the circle of life. As a child the likelihood of your parents dying first is likely. They’re older. This sounds harsh typing this but it’s logical.

It doesn’t mean it hurts any less. If I lost my dad at age 35, would it hurt less than losing my mum at age 9? I don’t know because thankfully my dad is still alive. Yet the feelings of losing someone who I love, will that be different whatever age?

I have days with poor mental health. Sometimes I have days where I feel sad. Feeling sad at a parent’s death is not poor mental health where I need some extra support. It’s okay to be angry and upset and all the other feelings. Losing my mum is rubbish. I am angry a lot because my mum should be alive. Yet that is nothing to do with the support that I need for my mental health. I am rambling but I want to let the words flow.

Sometimes, I say it best when I say nothing at all

The title is a bit misleading but it is meant to highlight that sometimes it’s about the amplification of those that can say what I would like to say.

Last Friday I saw Jonny Benjamin. I won’t tell his story because you should read the book or at least follow him on Twitter.

I don’t quite know what it is about Jonny that made me want to venture out on my own on a Friday night to a part of town that I rarely visit but I did. I watched his story play out in the media and at the heart of it all, I just saw a vulnerable brave (the two are not mutually exclusive) man sharing his story and wanting to help people.

I can’t even tell you the content of the talk. I did freeze when it came to the book signing and said “Thanks for letting me come see you” (like he had a choice…). What I wanted to say in my coherent mind, is thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story. Thank you for your ambition and desire to raise awareness about mental health.

I came home after the talk and finally submitted my application to do my counselling course. It’s difficult as I like to talk but I love to listen. I can’t wait to read Jonny’s book and I love that Twitter helped me to find so many other amazing people who talk about mental health, good and bad. Thank you because it’s not easy.

Mental Health and Me

As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, thought it would be rather apt to write a blog post about mental health.

The past few weeks have been a period of time for me where my mental health has been good and bad. A couple of weeks ago I was meant to finally go to Tunisia to meet my in laws and the holiday was cancelled at the last minute due to family illness. I won’t go into the detail but I will say it led to lots of paranoia (as it has happened before) and uncertainty about my marriage, my life and my future.

One little thing that, with good mental health, I could cope with. That week was a busy week at work and I also had other conversations floating around in my head. The cancellation was just an added bonus.

The past few days has seen my mood fluctuate massively. Only a couple of people are aware of what happen. I don’t want to build this into something it’s not but I feel it’s important to be honest during this mental health awareness week.

I’ve never been suicidal although I’ve experienced suicidal feelings. A couple of years ago I actually wrote a note to my husband saying sorry but I couldn’t go on. No other plans. Just words. I never showed my husband the note or told him about it until this weekend.

Some days I feel like I want to hide away. I feel like people don’t understand and I’m selective with who I message.

Other days I feel like I want to surround myself with people. I hear my voice high pitched and excited. It’s like nothing can affect my mood. Those happy days are just as scary because I don’t feel in control.

Other days I’m content. I’m happy. I have significantly more of those days than others which I’m thankful for.

On this Mental Health awareness day, I’m more aware than ever that people should feel empowered to talk as much about good mental health as ill mental health.

This week I have good mental health. That’s why I can write this. It’s why I can listen. It’s why I applied for my counselling course. It’s why I’m happy.