Evie

About 2 years ago, my stepdaughter Rachel was undergoing a series of tests and scans to find out what was causing the lump on the side of her skull. Thankfully we knew the lump was benign but we still needed to get to the bottom of what was causing the lump before she could start treatment.

We had to got to the RVI hospital at Newcastle to see the specialists there who were based on the children’s cancer ward. I can truly say that spending the best part of a day on the ward was probably the most humbling experience of my life. To see the children and their families and try and imagine what they must be going through. To see the staff who were so professional, friendly, positive. I’m not able to do justice to them and I’m going to stop struggling to find the words to describe my admiration.

We were blessed that day to meet Evie and her parents. Evie was a couple of years older than Rachel and had been diagnosed with brain cancer. After half an hour in Evie’s company I knew she was someone special. She had a wicked sense of humour, an infectious smile and laugh and an attitude that cancer wasn’t going to define who she was and it was never going to get her down. Her parents were also inspirational and didn’t allow anyone to show them any pity but did what they could to help my wife and I.

Evie and Rachel stuck up a great friendship. They compared treatments and medications, talked about which member of staff was the hottest and everything else that girls that age talk about. Whenever Rachel was feeling down Evie would lift her spirits and make her laugh again.

Evie was bravely fighting her own battles. A new type and a more traditional type of chemotherapy had failed to arrest the cancer and there was no treatments left on offer in the UK. It was suggested that a treatment that was available in Germany might work but it would cost £75k. Evie’s mission was born to raise the money.

Unfortunately there is no happy ending to report. Despite fighting so bravely Evie lost her battle last week before she was able to get to Germany. She was 20. Cancer is a bastard.

Despite being a lot older than Evie i can still learn from her approach to life and be inspired. Even if we live to be 100 we’re only on this planet for a relatively short period of time so make the most of it no matter what cards we’re dealt.

Dream big – Evie had a dream to meet Justin Bieber, and she did – twice. She helped people, she raised money, she leaves a legacy and a massive lasting impression on everyone she met and she met some important and famous people.

I hear people say, why do good people die and some arseholes get to live. Don’t waste time thinking about arseholes, fill your life with love, with laughter, with happiness, with singing and dancing. Be wicked, be courageous, be a friend.

Be like Evie x

Evie’s Mission

Find your Voice

I’ve got to admit it – I’m worried, and I’m not the type to get easily worried. I’m worried about what will happen to the UK at the end of March if we leave the EU. I’m worried about what kind of country we are becoming and what values we are attaching importance to. I worry about my kids future, what kind of world are we leaving for them and future generations, are they going to be able to get jobs, are they going to be able to get their own property (I bloody hope so)? I worry about the rise in knife crime and so many young lives being lost as a result. Then I worry about me – am I doing the best I can, have I reached my potential, could I be doing more?

It’s so easy for these thought and feelings to become overwhelming. I’ve been in that place where I think the answer is to block everything out, to switch off, to not care. It’s not a good place – and the thing is, I do care, I care deeply. I worry about the state of the country but I also get angry and motivated to do something about it. There are lots of causes that I’m passionate about and want to raise awareness of.

I’ve always found it difficult to give my opinion and to say what I want to say. I’m a classic introvert and that’s fine, I’m comfortable with who I am and I’m not going to change to fit someone else’s perception of how I should be. Social media has given me a voice and the confidence to say what I want to say and to give my opinion. If you follow me on Twitter (@jimbobity hint hint) I will give my opinion on a range of subjects and topics. At first I hated being challenged but now I have the confidence to know that there are other people who will agree with me and back me up. I don’t mind getting into a debate with people who disagree, you quickly find out who you can have a healthy discussion with and who is so entrenched in their views that there is no point wasting your time and energy. The confidence that I have developed through Facebook and Twitter gave me the belief and confidence to start my blog.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’m always right, I enjoy being presented with opposing points of view that challenge my point of view and I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong.

I mentioned that social media has given me a voice and the confidence to make it heard but it has also given me the confidence to break out of the social media bubble and to start to campaign for different politicians and causes. I am a trustee for a fantastic local charity JpcCommunityFarm. This came about through getting in touch with the people behind the charity through social media first and sharing my passion, knowledge and experience. I would never have had the confidence to do this face to face or in a group. I would immediately believe that there would be someone who would be better than me.

For the past 4 weeks I have given up a couple of hours on a Saturday morning to speak to people in local towns about Brexit and to try and get support for a second referendum. It’s been interesting and there are some people who are not afraid to voice their opinion but on the whole there has been lots of good discussions and it’s good to be with like minded people. In a couple of weeks I’m planning to go to London to march alongside many other people who believe strongly in remaining in the EU. It’s something that feels scary and exciting at the same time – I’ll let you know how it goes!

Has social media led to you getting more involved with particular causes and groups? Let me know x

Strength

How strong would you say you are? I’m not talking about physical health, how much you can lift, how far you can run, how many push-ups you can do. I’m taking emotional strength, bravery, resilience.

I’m typing this at the RVI hospital in Newcastle. I’m with my step-daughter who is waiting to go for her umpteenth scan. She has a very rare bone condition called Fibrous Dysplasia. It’s basically a benign growth which attaches itself to bones. This one happens to be on her skull and near her brain so she needs a lot of hospital appointments and monitoring to make sure that Mildred (the name she has given her bump) doesn’t grow and that Mildred doesn’t get any brothers or sisters!

I’ve just asked Rachel if she would class herself as brave. She laughed and gave an immediate no. If bravery is classed as how well you can cope with spiders, or strange noises or being alone in the house or many, many other things then she probably has a point – she’s a wuss!! I then asked her if she would describe herself as strong. Her answer was just as emphatic – a yes,  followed by “I never used to be”. It’s true I have seen her develop an inner strength and resilience that despite living in pretty much constant pain has got her through her GCSE’s and starting A-levels. She has just started driving lessons and is planning the next important stage of her life. She decided a while ago that Mildred wasn’t going to beat her or stop her or slow her down. Sure she has bad days but she is strong, very strong.

I’m surrounded today by strong people. In this hospital people will receive news that will turn their lives upside down, news that means their lives will never be the same again. I’m sure from somewhere they will find the strength to process this news and to start to plan their recovery and rehabilitation. It may not happen straight away but it will come. Their families and loved ones will develop a strength and resilience to support them and be there in an hour of need. On a more positive note some people will receive the news that their struggle is over and that the strength they have develop has helped them back to health. The other very string people in this building are the doctors, nurses, hospital staff who provide comfort, reassurance and hope. Sometimes this just comes from a smile, a funny story, a joke.

In my life, I’ve had to find the strength to deal with my own physical and mental problems. I’ve also had to find the resilience to deal with setbacks, with bad news and then find the resilience and strength to be able to help others. If I can find inner strength, anyone can. I truly believe that we all possess an amazing amount of inner strength and sometimes it’s the strongest who get challenged the most.

If you’re sat there and you don’t think you’re strong, if you don’t think you can cope believe me you can and you will find a way. In many ways I hope you don’t have to find out just how strong and resilient you truly are! x 


Mental Health at Work

Last Thursday there was a massive step forward in recognising that mental health should have parity with physical health in the workplace.

Thanks to the excellent #wheresyourheadat campaign, led by the brilliant Natasha Devon a petition was launched which collected over 200,000 signatures. This was more than enough signatures to trigger a debate in parliament which took place last week. See – that’s how democracy and parliamentary sovereignty can work, we’ve always had it! Ok – no more Brexit talk this week! The outcome of the debate was that MP’s from all sides agreed to back a motion to introduce legislation which would put mental and physical health on an equal footing through first aid regulation.

Still some way to go but this is a big step forward, it now seems a case of when not if this will happen. The campaign has been backed by major businesses, mp’s from across the board and members of the public. I know that progress is being made and that a lot of employers are taking mental health at work seriously. But imagine if this became enshrined in law so that nobody got left behind.

Hopefully it would mean phrases like, “pull yourself together” “man-up” “get over it” become phrases of the past Every employer has to have a physical first aider, under the legislation employers will also have to have a mental health first aider. Somebody trained to spot the signs for when someone maybe struggling and for people to go to when they’re feeling unwell. Makes sense doesn’t it! From an employers point of view it should help reduce sickness, increase productivity and all that guff! More importantly it will hopefully give more employees more confidence to admit that they’re struggling knowing that they’re going to receive help instead of suspicion.

MHFA England were also behind the #wheresyourheadat campaign. They are a fantastic organisation who deliver training to staff on how to be a mental health first aider among many other things. MHFAEngland

I attended the 2 day course at the end of 2017 and can highly recommend it. I was at a stage in my own mental health journey where this course helped me immensely and gave me some tools and the confidence to be able to help others.

After the course I wanted to give something back and so I wrote a blog for MHFA explaining how the course had helped me and to encourage others to attend if given the opportunity.

Somethings a chat is all it takes.

What are things like in your workplace? Could your employer be doing more or is there good practice taking place that deserves to be shared?

Final word, if you are struggling please get help. I know it takes strength and courage to ask for help at a time when you’re not feeling particularly strong or courageous but help is always there. I’m more than happy to help point you in the right direction. Feel free to message me or get in touch.

Take care x

Change Your Vision

For today’s blog I want you to come back in time with me – cue dream like music and wavy filters!

I want you to picture yourself in primary school between the ages of about 5-8. I have to go back a lot further in time than most of you!                                                          

Now – think of your friends. How did you choose your closest friends? Was it based on where they lived, what clothes they wore – the colour of their skin? Or was it based on how they behaved towards you and others?

If somebody joined your class who was from another country or another culture, how did you react? With fear, with suspicion, with judgement? Or with curiosity, with a load of questions that you wanted to ask, with excitement, with a desire to get to know this new person and be the first to include them in your group.

Did somebody in your class have a disability? Were they in a wheelchair, or struggle with communication? What happened? Were they left to get on with it or did you look for ways to include them? Did you adapt so you could fit in with their world? Did you get excited by learning a new way to communicate?

If somebody in your class was hungry and didn’t have their dinner how did you react? Just leave them, or did you look at your lunchbox and realise that you had more than enough and could spare something? Then did you tell someone that your classmate did not have any food with them?

If one of your best friends was feeling sad what did you do? Did you tell them to get over it, or did you try and make them feel better and if they were still feeling sad did you go and tell someone so you could get some more help so your friend started to feel better?

Ok by now I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Seriously, what happens to us as we leave our childhood? Why do we turn to suspicion, why do we start to judge people based on anything other than how they behave towards us. Why do we look for reasons to exclude rather than include. Why do we stop questioning and just accept? What happens to compassion?

I have my own theory. As children we put our trust in authority, in grown-ups. We believe that people with knowledge and power tell us the truth and have our best interests. Our lives become harder and more stressful. The papers will come up with reasons why our lives aren’t perfect, the politicians will tell us it’s nothing to do with them, it’s always the other lot. We’re conditioned to become fearful, to be suspicious, to look for evidence to reinforce views that we’ve been fed. We’re told to look after No1.

But wouldn’t it be great to start seeing the world through the eyes of a young child again? To question, to use our eyes and our ears to see the world around us. We’re coming up to Christmas, one of the most magical times for most children. Let’s embrace that joy and wonder. Find your compassion x

My message to Youth (mainly an apology but also a message of hope).

Today is World Mental Health Day with the focus on Young peoples mental health. I’m struggling to find the latest statistics regarding mental health and young people. The Children’s Society in 2008 reported that 10% of young people (aged 5-16) have a diagnosable mental health problem yet 75% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Ten years on I would strongly expect these figures to have risen and I imagine that the true figure is cleverly hidden somewhere.

How have we got to this situation? Lots of reasons I guess but I will attempt to cover some of them in my message to youth.

Hello young people (i’m down with the youth),

Today is world mental health day and you may hear about how mental illness is a very big issue for young people, and it’s true, it is. It’s not your fault, let me start by saying sorry. You have been very, very badly let down by a lot of different people. You will have heard that there are different factors that can help improve your mental health and reduce the risk of becoming ill. Let’s look at some of them.

  • A good diet and exercise – No arguing with this. Eating healthily and taking exercise helps your body produce lots of good stuff which helps your mind and body.

Yet – you’re bombarded with adverts for food which isn’t great even though it might taste nice and doesn’t cost much. We sell you chocolate bars that are “king-size” or doubled. We give you more and more choice and sell you energy drinks that are packed with tons of sugar and crap which can get you addicted to them. We sell off playing fields, playgrounds and leisure centres making it harder or more expensive for you to get exercise.

  • Attend a supportive school – Despite what you might think schools are good, you make friends, you learn and compared to work the hours and holidays are fantastic!

Yet – schools tell you what to wear when to wear and how to wear it. What pens and pencils you must have, what bags you are allowed. You are inspected before you get past the school gate. You do learn but your school might place more importance on teaching you the stuff that will get you through the sats, mocks and GCSE’s and get the grades which will help the big bosses of the school look good. There may be less opportunity to allow you to be a bit creative, to learn a musical instrument to find a hidden talent that you didn’t know you have that will give you the confidence to grow. As I said though, schools are great and if you are struggling please, please, please find someone you trust who you can speak to. They will believe you and they do want to help.

Hopefully after school you will go home to a supportive and stable family home. I wish that you have  parents who make you feel safe and loved, who encourage you. Times are hard for us adults, it maybe that jobs are under threat or the money that your parents make doesn’t go as far. This makes it harder for us to give you the time and attention you deserve. It maybe that unfortunately your parents are divorced and you feel under pressure to pick a side, that’s tough. I really hope this isn’t the case but I would imagine it is for some of you. Again please speak to someone if you’re struggling.

We’ve invented some amazing phones, computers, games consoles, tablets, apps, filters and games. I love them, I spend too much time on my phone and I know you probably do too but who can blame you, the technology is amazing! Us adults would love for you to spend a bit less time on them. Too much time spent on them can affect your mental health and there are some people out there who will try to take advantage of you. When I ask my kids to maybe spend less time in front of a screen, I get asked “what else is there to do”. After telling them off for answering me back(!) I stop and realise that they might have a point. We used to have youth clubs and community centres. But a lot of them have been shut along with the playing fields and playgrounds! When they do go out we worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing, how long they’ve been out. We have been conditioned to live in fear and to fear the worst.

We’ve made it harder for you to get a job when you have finally navigated your childhood and adolescence we’ve also made it a lot harder to get a house. You will probably start off in debt because you chose to go to uni get an education and get the best qualifications you can. We’re handing over a planet that’s in a bad way and we look to you to come up with some solutions. We are about to take away your right to travel, live, work and study freely in some amazing and beautiful European countries. They’re a lot of us trying our very best to stop this.

So I truly and sincerely apologise for making life a lot harder than it should be for you. But you know what – I look around at your generation and it fills me with hope and pride. I see young people all the time accepting their friends and peers for who they are and who they want to be. I see your generation being a lot more inclusive and accepting people of different beliefs, of different orientations (I hate that word) of different abilities. I see young people not swallowing the lies and bull that our generation have been fed from the media. You question people and you stand up to authority  – keep it up. You are so resilient and talented. Bottle your resilience, develop and be proud of your talent. Think for yourselves, when you become future leaders, future scientists, future influencers we are going to need innovation and new ways of working. Learn from our mistakes.

We trust you and we love you x

Toxic Masculinity

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I’m still new to this blogging game and I still find it hard to write about the things that I want to say and get off my chest – if that makes sense? Once I press publish that’s it, i’ve opened myself up which I have always struggled to do. I invite criticism, judgement, I instantly worry about what people might think, whether they agree or disagree. Blogging and social media have given me a voice that I haven’t always been confident to use in other areas of life. Thankfully, people are being very kind which is giving me the confidence to continue.

There is still a lot I want to say about what I’ve been through and how I’ve changed as a result and I’m sure I’ll get round to it. Today I want to talk about something that I picked up on yesterday which has got me thinking.

One of my favourite writers is Matt Haig. He writes about living with depression and mental illness and how today’s society makes some things better and some things worse. This weekend there has been a lively debate and discussion and Twitter feed about Toxic Masculinity.

I’d heard about the phrase without knowing too much about it. There are lots of theories and definitions flying around but from what I can gather Toxic Masculinity is basically a negative set of beliefs and behaviours that society applies to men which means that falling short of these behaviours  may make them less of a man – I think!

Matt has been leading the campaign against Toxic Masculinity and consistently reminds us that it’s ok to cry – that’s why we have tear glands. That it’s a lot healthier to be who you are, rather than who you feel you should be. This is not a threat to our manhood, it’s about being yourself and not trying to live up to a set of ideals and behaviours imposed by others.

I’m past 40 now and one of the advantages about getting older is that I’m becoming more comfortable in my skin. I feel confident to write on here that I love football (even though I could never play it) but I also love a good musical. Les Mis is my favourite, I cry every time! I use moisturiser, I’m particular about which shower gels and face washes I use. I spend more time in the bathroom than ever before. If I feel clean and good about myself, I feel more confident. I’m crap at DIY (really bad) but I’ll try my best  and don’t feel ashamed asking for help. I can just about change a tyre on a car, but that’s as far as it goes. It holds no interest for me. I’ve never punched someone or had a fight in my life, I don’t have it in me. All these things go towards who I am and I’m not going to challenge a trait or a characteristic if I don’t have a problem with it.

The danger comes when we suppress or bottle up our emotions. When we  “Man-up” – I hate that phrase. The danger comes when violence is encouraged as a way of sorting a problem and when seeking help is seen as a sign of weakness We get homophobia and we get misogyny. We also get issues with mental health and increases in male suicide.

Come on guys, open up, be who you want to be not who you think others want you to be. We’re not under threat or in danger of becoming extinct. The future belongs to all of us and we can make it great.

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