Open Letter to the Department of Education…

I have been thinking about posting this letter for a long time. I have always talked myself out of it, thinking how on earth can one person change something so large and important? But isn’t that where the best ideas start, with one little voice in the darkness?

So hear goes…

This is my open letter to the Department of Education, UK councillors, teachers and pupils alike,

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen about an issue that keeps appearing in the national press.

It breaks my heart every time I see another teenager has taken their own life. The Samaritans website states that suicide now accounts for 3 times more deaths than road accidents and the Office for National Statistics website has said that teen suicide is at an all-time high in the UK. To me, this is a massive problem that needs some attention, but the Government seems to be focusing their time on the Brexit arguments and how much we should be spending on plastic bags while people are quite literally dying around the country.

As a survivor of the high school bullies myself, I know how it feels to be picked on. I know the pressures of exams and keeping up with the latest trends and all the other things that teenagers have to deal with but the difference nowadays is how blatant the idea of suicide is. It now dominates soap storylines, teen TV series, social media, something that I never had to deal with.

I know that there is a big drive at the moment, through various channels, to reduce the stigma about mental health issues but I still can’t help but feel like everyone is missing the point. Although it is amazing to get the general public talking about mental health, we are still focusing on talking about it. The old saying goes: ‘What you focus your attention on will grow’. I really think it would be more beneficial to put this effort into the solution of helping teenagers, rather than the problem.

A few years ago, I heard the famous quote from a very young John Lennon. His teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon said he wanted to be happy. The teacher told him he had misunderstood the question. John said the teacher misunderstood life.

I wish I had heard this quote when I was still at school. There is so much focus on exam results and what job you are going to get when you leave education, that the thought of being happy in life is totally overlooked. It is not even discussed as an option. I always knew I wanted to work with children once I left school, but that is only a very small portion of my life now. I am a teacher, but I am also a sports fan, I like to sing, I do all sorts of creative hobbies, I love to cook. My job is a proportion of my life, so why is the whole of our school years geared towards getting qualifications for a job. Why isn’t it teaching us about other areas of life?

I feel that a good solution to this problem is how we use the Personal, Social and Emotional class that is taught in high schools currently. With all the knowledge we have about mindfulness and how stress affects us, I really feel like the Personal, Social and Emotional curriculum could be put to better use. There is no formal qualification to be gained from this class. A well rounded citizen that is ready to live in the real world is the qualification. Each student will carry it within their thoughts and actions rather than on a piece of paper.

In Canadian high schools, every pupil has to undertake a ‘Life Skills’ class, where they learn about how to budget their finances, the jargon used relating to bank accounts and mortgages, car maintenance etc. Real skills that every student will need at some point in their lives. It is these skills that will show British students that there is a whole world out there to be lived in. The bullies and stresses that surround them now will be for a finite time, but this type of learning would encourage students to think past this time and plan for the future, away from the stresses of needing certain grades in the class.

My vision is to create a curriculum for these classes that would involve all of the skills needed to survive in this new, technological, social media obsessed world. Things like mindfulness, stress management, the Mediterranean diet, finance budgeting, political party values, interview skills, workplace Human Resources, running a business would all be worthwhile skills that need to be encouraged to show students that they have the power to shape their lives, rather than be sucked in by thoughts that drive them to ending their lives prematurely. It is turning the focus, making students think about what they can achieve, rather than being focused on the negatives in their lives.

Between the ages of 4 and 16, a child will split the majority of their time between home and school. Therefore it is the responsibility of the Department of Education to get children ready to live in the world. Currently, too many children are opting out of living.

So something needs to change.

Thank you very much for your time.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah

New Year, New You – Would you benefit from speaking to a therapist?

We all say it:

This year will be different.

This is the year I get fit.

This is the year I look after me.

But what if the thought of making new resolutions or thinking about starting another year is just too much to handle? It feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Is having to fight to stay above the water is too hard?

I know there are lots of people out there who find starting a new year difficult. While everyone around you has that fake, perky optimism that the next year will be different, I know there will be some people out there who are more realistic. Nothing is going to change if you carry on doing the same things that you have always done.

Nothing is going to change unless you decide to live a different life. And you have the power to make that decision. The decision is always up to you.

I need to loose weight. In the first 6 months of last year, I did really well. I dropped 2 dress sizes but by September, the excitement about it had gone, and the bad eating habits crept back in. So this January, I am starting again with the Mediterranean diet but making little goals for myself along the way. I am trying to keep the excitement so I stick to it for longer. There is a dress I really want to get back into, so I have decided to try it on on the 1st of every month to track my progress. I will be challenging myself to make a new recipe every month and giving myself a treat day each month too to look forward to.

I am deciding to change how I do things in the hope of getting better results. Not just different results, but better ones.

It is very easy for me to sit here and type, saying do this and do that. I know that sometimes a little bit of extra help is needed to help you change the things you do not like about your life.

BetterHelp is an online therapy company, who can match you with an online therapist to talk to and give you the support you need. All the therapists have training in the field of mental health, and by being online, Better Help hope that they can break down the barriers to people who find accessing mental health help difficult.

Talking to someone about how you feel, and how you want to change your life can make you feel like you are supported in your goal. Having a support system around you can give you confidence, give you strength and give you accountability, meaning you are more likely to reach your goal.

You can do whatever you want to with your life, but the book starts and stops with your decision to change. If you want different results, try another way of doing things. You have the power. You always have the power.

Sarah x

Please note: This is a paid partnership article. These views are my own and they should not be taken instead of medical advice if your situation needs a professional. This article talks about general areas of life, not issues that need professional help.

What did you say?

I wouldn’t like to count how many times in a day I use the Internet. Between Facebook, Instagram, blogging, Twitter, I must be on the Internet for the majority of the time I am awake. And when I should be asleep! It is a wonder I have time to do anything else. Even when out and about, if I can’t find where I am going, I will whip out my phone and use the Map app, or check train times, or google a shop location.

But what happens when it goes sour? With the wonders and marvels of the Internet comes the other side: the trolling, the cyberbullying, the hiding behind your keyboard to tell people home truths you would not dare say to someone’s face. I write this post as a friendly reminder about social media. I will be writing another post about copying with cyberbullying at a later date.

I run different Instagram accounts, covering an array of different topics and areas of my life. 99% of the time, the interactions I have with people are positive. However, an incident happened last month that shocked me a little bit. Scrolling through the comments on one post, I noticed a couple of things being said that I found quite offensive. I am not here to name and shame, or even to tell you what was said, but for the first time since starting my accounts, I felt threatened. I am a big girl and knew what was being said were empty threats but still, I knew I didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that.

This got me thinking. I am strong enough to ignore these comments but I know that some people would have been really upset by them. That is the problem with the Internet. Written words have none of the qualities that speech has. There is no intonation, no facial expressions, no body language, which we take in without realising it to understand things that are said to us. The non-verbal cues that we take for granted because we don’t actively think about them.

A phrase like ‘shut up’ can be taken in a number of ways. The cast of TOWIE use it instead of ‘You’re kidding me.’ People say it in a playful way, in defence to being teased, or even in a ‘please carry on complimenting me’ way, but written down, the phrase is: Shut. Up. Sounds a bit aggressive doesn’t it? Just this week, a family member was teasing his mum that her texts are always in capital letters, making him think she is shouting at him. She replied that she had turned on her Caps Lock months ago and couldn’t get it off again! But he wasn’t to know that because all he could see were words that were being emphasised. No facial expressions, no loudness of voice to give him clues as to whether his mum was angry or not.

Back to Instagram, I wrote back a polite retaliation to my horrible comments saying that this language was inappropriate and I would prefer them to unfollow me if they thought it was an acceptable way to speak to someone, and all of a sudden I was inundated with messages from each guilty party saying how they hadn’t meant it, and I had interpreted it wrong, or they were only joking etc etc. I thanked them for their apology and there are no hard feelings between me and them, it is sorted now and all good. But I felt like this was a good example of what can happen while on the Internet. Things can be misinterpreted. While using the Internet, it is our responsibility to use it with care and keep in mind that words typed are just that: Words on a page. No intonation, no smiling while you say it, no playful slaps of arms to show you are speaking in jest.

People seem to find a new found sense of confidence when they are typing on a keyboard. I don’t believe for a second they would be brave enough to say those horrible things to someone’s face, but seem to find it easy when tweeting or commenting. Like the screen acts as a barrier to shield them from identity or the stress and drama of a face to face conversation.

I guess what I am trying to say is, please take a moment to think about the things you type to people on social media. Things can be misunderstood, misread, misinterpreted and someone will get hurt. Most probably both parties involved. Read the actual words you have written, removing the emotions from it, and see the words for what they are. And what they mean. It will bring us back to the intention of social media, to introduce us to people we wouldn’t ordinarily meet, to develop friendships with people of all walks of life. To connect us all.

Sarah x

Be Crayjust

This weekend I had the pleasure of exploring the Mind, Body and Soul exhibition at Event City, Manchester. I had never been before so I had no idea what to expect. The event was coupled with the Yoga show and Vegan Life Live so it was guaranteed to have something to interest everyone.

mind body soul programme

There was so much to see, I didn’t know where to start! So, obviously, I went methodically up and down the rows so no stall was missed! What can I say? I like order!

There was lots of different products and stall holders there but one lady was particularly interesting.

Sharon Corbett has set up a project called Picture This. She goes into schools and colleges using her love of photography and creative writing to get children to think about their life goals and things they want to achieve, while promoting self confidence and self identity. Sharon was so moved by the work being produced by these young individuals, she decided to make their affirmations and powerful messages into a book for all to read, named: BE CRAYJUST: REAL LIFE MOTIVATION BY REAL LIFE PEOPLE. It was amazing to read, especially when Sharon said that the children who contributed to the book were between 8 and 15 years old. The thoughts and positive messages these young people were wanting to share with the world were humorous, thought provoking, emotional but most of all, they were inspiring.

Sharon had some postcards made up for the Exhibition and I bought the selection below.

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The wording on these postcards really spoke to me and I think they have such important messages. There is a lot in the media about ‘loving yourself’ and retaliating against ‘body-shaming’ but it is quite often forgotten that you should be loving the life you are living too. In amongst the struggle of exams and homework, it is hard to feel like you have control over what your life looks like, but it is so true. You have the power to create a life that you love. Strive for a job you want to do. Work towards a qualification that enables you to have the best experiences and meet the best people. As said above, ‘Follow the path that makes you, YOU!’

‘When in darkness, seek out the light.’ resonates heavily with me. I know from experience that when life is getting you down, it is very hard to see the positive in any situation. But it is when you are at your weakest that you need to make the decision to change how you think. You have to ‘see the light’. You have to be brave enough to get yourself out of the darkness. And it is so possible. You can do it. To have a young person write such a powerful message was very moving to me.

This project is a non-profit organisation. Sharon said the money she makes from selling the books and postcards gets put back into the project, which will enable more books to be published in the future. What an honour it was to meet her.

Give the project a follow on Facebook at: @BeCrayjust

Thank you Sharon, for putting such time and effort and affection into teaching young people about self identity and positive thinking. Our school system is so focused on statistics and grades, they are not teaching young people to find themselves and work towards creating a positive life for themselves, even though currently, suicide is the biggest killer of teenagers, having overtaken road accidents, making projects like these so important.

Sarah x

 

Panic Attacks: Can’t live with them, would love to live without them!

I haven’t told you all yet, but I go to LA in 4 weeks for the fun tourist/Disneyland/Universal experience. I am beyond excited. My friends and I had decided to try for tickets to see an episode of the Big Bang Theory being filmed. As I am sure you can imagine, the tickets are like gold dust. So I stupidly volunteered to get them for us. So two days ago, there I am sitting at my laptop watching the clock ticking down to sale time. The next 15 minutes unfolds like this…

The clock ticks.

Search for website.

Time getting closer.

Website won’t load.

Panic.

Sale time gets closer.

Website won’t load.

Try again.

Try again.

Sale time arrives.

Website freezes.

Chest starts to tighten.

Hot flush starts.

Hands start to shake.

Palms become sweaty.

Can’t breathe.

The end result is I am hyperventilating, crying, full blown panic attack.

I know a lot of you reading this will know exactly what it feels like. Like someone pushing down on your chest, stopping you from breathing. Like everything is closing in around you, sucking you in. Like everyone is staring at you.

But you are not alone. Apparently, over 15 million people in the US alone suffer from panic attacks. That is nearly 5% of the whole country. Yet you feel so alone when it is happening. I know, because I feel it too. You want someone to help you, but that feeling is equal to the horrible embarrassment of making a fuss or a fool of yourself.  I never know what to do for the best!

My first panic attack was when I was 18. I was walking to university one morning quickly because I was late. When I got there, I was suitably out of breath but didn’t think much of it because I had practically ran there. I was stressing about being late because it was an important day, we were getting a breakdown of the yearlong project we had to complete. As the morning went on, and the work load piled up, the shortness of breath came back, a pain in my chest started and I went very hot and shaky. I covered my eyes with my hands, trying to block out the world and all the homework that I was expected to do. Luckily, class had halted for a break and the girl I was sitting next to could see I was shaking and struggling to breath and helped to calm me down. She said that I needed to concentrate on taking deep breaths otherwise I was going to pass out. The thought of passing out panicked me more but I knew she was only trying to help 🙂

After I had calmed down, she then explained that she had panic attacks sometimes and she described how it felt, which turned out to be exactly what I had been feeling that morning. I was freaking out about starting university, the jump from college to university was a lot harder than I had anticipated, and then the worry of being late and the seemingly impossible task of completing this project had just tipped me over the edge.

Fast forward to 27 year old me and I still get stressed out to the max, but I don’t have panic attacks anywhere near as often. I feel equipped to share with you a very rough guide of how to cope with panic attacks.  Please don’t take this as law, or as a substitute for proper medical advice, I am no doctor, just a friend who wants to help!

Step 1: Know your signs.

Make a mental note of what happens to you when a panic attack is starting. It may be a pain somewhere, or a hot flush, or shortness of breath. If you know what signs to look for, you can learn to stop the panic attack in its early stages.

Step 2: Come out of the situation.

You should probably try and remove yourself from the situation that is stressing you. I know this may not always possible but finding somewhere quiet and in the fresh air will instantly make you feel calmer.

Step 3: Concentrate on your breathing.

There is conflicting information out there about how to do this, some say breathe into a paper bag, some say don’t, some say breathe through your nose, some say in through your mouth. Remembering that I am not a doctor, I can only say what works for me:

I sit down, and breathe in through my nose while counting to 5, and then breathe out through my mouth while counting to five. If I am really struggling, I will start by counting to 3, then 4, then 5. Once I am in control of my breathing (this sometimes takes a while), I will breathe in for 5 counts and then hold my breath for 3 counts, then breathe out for 5 counts. This helps to slow your heart rate down.

Step 4: Remember that YOU ARE IN CONTROL

It is in capitals because it is important! Easier said than done I know, but you need to tell yourself that you are in control of your life, your body, and your situation. The panic attack is your mind saying, ‘Stop overloading me, I can’t cope!’ so you need to tell yourself that you can. You are calm, you are relaxed, you are in control. Chant it over and over to yourself. Say it loud and say it proud. You control the panic attack, it doesn’t control you. This is the hardest thing to do, because you are having to find strength within yourself when you are at your weakest, but it needs to be done. You are in control, and don’t ever forget that. You can do this.

Step 5: Tell someone.

The hardest part of coping with panic attacks is coping on your own. Find someone you trust, be it a parent, a teacher, a best friend, a librarian or an astronaut, whoever, just someone you can talk to about it. Tell them that you are having panic attacks and what happens to you when you get them. Tell them what signs they need to look out for and how you want them to help you when it is happening.

For example, telling your friend that when you grip her arm, it is code for ‘get me the hell out of here!’ My friend always told me to ask to be excused and go to the toilet if class was stressing me out. I didn’t particularly like the thought of sitting in a confined space when I was freaking out, so I would sneak out to a bench at the front of the building and sit there for a few minutes.

It would really be best to share how you feel with an adult. There is lots of info about panic attacks online that you both can read up on. There are charities whose aim is to distribute helpful advice for people who have panic attacks. I tell my mum everything, and this was no different. Doctors also have some good advice about easing panic attacks, both medical and psychological. Meditation CDs are a good one. I was sceptical at first but after many listens to this CD (bought off Amazon) I found that I could relax myself by remembering what the CD said, which was so helpful when I was out and about and wasn’t able to sit and listen to it. This is the one I bought but there are loads out there to try. Youtube is a good place to have a listen too.

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I really hope that you find this post useful. Like I say, I am no medical professional, so I can only offer you what I have found helpful. If you are suffering with them at the moment, this does not mean you will have them for your whole life. If you have found any more techniques that you think panic attack suffers should know then leave them in the comments. How do you cope with your panic attacks? What strategies do find most effective? The more we talk about it, the more we can help overcome them.

And for those of you wondering, I got the Big Bang filming tickets in the end!

Sarah xx

 

Your life, Your vision

January is well known for being the month of setting resolutions, turning your life around, creating the ‘new you’.

From being little I knew how your life was supposed to be. You were expected to go to school, then to college, then to University, then get a job, then… what? I left University and was very lucky to walk into a full time job pretty much the next day. But then two years later, I woke up one morning and thought…’What am I supposed to do now?’ Like, is this it? Is this what my life is going to be like until I am ready for the grave?

It is said by pretty much every adult that the aim of school is to prepare you for life. My teachers made it very clear to me that only good exam results would do and my life would be over if I did not achieve them. I know now that teachers say this to scare the students who don’t work hard enough into action, but it had the opposite effect. It scared all of us hard working students into blind panic.

School had done very well preparing me for getting into college, how to pick my A Levels, how to handle interviews but they never prepared me for what happens after you have done all that. Do you get a job and then just wait until you are old enough to retire?  When do you get to do the fun stuff? Like travelling or go to a festival or learn how to make the perfect chocolate cupcakes?

There is a very famous story about John Lennon, the Beatles legend. John was at school one day and his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he was older. John replied: ‘I want to be happy.’ The teacher laughed and said he had misunderstood the question. John told him that he misunderstood life.

John Lennon was right. What is the point of doing a job you hate, spending time with people who bring you down or wasting the days you have until you die?

I have never liked the idea of having a Bucket List. I thought about writing one but whenever I tried, it made me feel like I was trying to beat the clock. I always felt more focused on trying to get through the list before I kicked said ‘bucket’, rather than actually enjoying each once-in-a-lifetime activity, which kind of defeated the point of doing it!

But one day I came across something that I wish I had seen when I was about 14, when I was making my GCSE choices. I needed someone to tell me that if I made a wrong decision, my life would not be over! That something was a Vision Board. A picture plan, if you like, for what I want my life to look like. The idea is simple, you make a college of things you want to do in your life, things you want to achieve, skills you want to have, places you want to see. Anything and everything that would make your life complete. This is mine, it lives on my wall, right by my desk where I can see it every day:

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I want to be a children’s author, I want to own a house that is big enough for my relatives to stay in (I have a lot of family overseas), I want to be in a loving marriage, I want to have clear spot-less skin (that drama will be a whole other blog post!), I want to be involved with my favourite sports team, I want to be involved with my favourite charity.

How I am going to achieve all this is not clear at the moment, but that is not a problem. A vision board is a plan, not the finished product. Once you have made a board, it does not mean it is set in stone. I am always changing things on mine as more ideas come to me or I think to myself: ‘Actually, that is not important to me anymore.’ Making the vision board makes you focus on all the positive things you want to experience in your life, rather than worrying about the things that in the end, won’t actually matter.

The only golden rule for making the vision board is you must write the labels on it in the present tense: I am a successful author, I have clear skin, I have a nice car. Talking in the present tense will bring the experience to you. Saying statements like ‘I would like…’ or ‘In the future…’ keeps pushing it further and further away from you, meaning you never catch it. Sometimes I look at my vision board and say some of the notes I have written on there, to remind myself of where I am heading in my life, especially when I am having a rough day. As long as I have my plan, my vision, then I know which direction I am heading in.

I know a lot of the time during your teenage years, you can’t see past school, or past those girls who are making your life hell, or that feeling that you don’t fit in and you would rather be invisible, but this is the perfect time to start a vision board. Those days will end. You can turn those bad feelings into something positive and start deciding how you would like your life to be. You are in control of what you want your life to be like and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I am not for one minute saying do not try and get the best exam results you can. Obviously, getting good exam results does open doors for you. By law, you have to go to school so you may as well put your all into getting the best exam results you can to make the time spent there worthwhile. And yes you have to get a job so you can earn money to live off, money is not just going to fall out of the sky and land in your hand. Unless a real money tree has been discovered since I started writing this post… But what about all the things that give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside? Start planning those extra things that will make you happy. Because at the end of the day, that is the most important thing. That you are happy. 

So get planning!

Start making your vision.

And don’t forget to send me a picture when it is finished, either through the Facebook page: Positive Thinking and Not Falling Over or via Twitter: @notfallingover.

Sarah x