Looking Back on 2018: A Year of Two Parts

For me, its been a year of two parts at Young People Insight.  Part of it was on a downer and the other part was on the up, which I think had more to do with me than the platform itself.

I struggled a lot with YPI at the early stages of this year and was ready to pack it in, shut the whole thing down once the end of July came around.  I questioned how much difference I was actually making and what the point of the platform was anymore.  I felt I had plateaued.

The saddest thing of all was that I had fallen out of love with YPI.  I didn’t want to be at my own events, I wasn’t enjoying organising them and I questioned the point of putting in work when numbers were dwindling.  It was like I was failing and carrying tirelessly on with something that was not wanted.

However, I eventually came to the realisation that this had a lot to do with me and my fragile mental state, rather than YPI itself.  Once I saw how broken I was, I decided to take some time out (particularly from YPI) to heal and make time for me.  After making that decision, it was like a weight had been lifted and I suddenly felt a lot better.

I began to enjoy my events again and found a revitalised energy, ready to put in work to take YPI to another level.  Most importantly, I found my love for it all over again.

What’s funny is that once I got a new-found energy, the events seemed to gain a lease of new-found energy as well.  The conversations at The Kickback have gotten richer and richer, which  is brilliant to witness, although it has been hellish for my hands to keep up with everything said.

There were was stand out after stand out conversation this year, delivering some stellar gems, but if I was going to choose a favourite for 2018, it would be the conversation on Peace in June.  I was slightly concerned about how a conversation on the topic of peace would go, but it ended up being amazing.  The perspectives of peace were mind-blowing and thought-provoking, definitely making me look at peace in a new light.

Poetic Insight has continued to be inspiring in 2018, with the different poets who have taken to the stage bringing a different feeling to the event each month.  I’ve already made it known that my favourite for 2018 was last month’s event, when some beautiful young people blew me away with their bravery and honesty.

I already cannot wait to see what will come from The Kickback and Poetic Insight next year, especially as the YP Insight Family continues to expand and strengthen.  I think that the conversations are going to get even deeper and richer, and I know that more inspiring, brave young people will bring their poetic talents to the stage.

I also love that we’ll have a brand new logo, designed by a young person, going into the new year, revamping the YPI brand, which I have been wanting to do for so long.  This is definitely a major step in moving YPI forward, which you all have been a part of.  I can’t wait to announce the winner next week.

But what I am really, really excited about is how YPI is going to develop as a whole in 2019.  The team is finally going to expand, beyond little me.  I’m going to have even more great support behind me, advising me along the way.  I’ve also started planning from now and have some fresh ideas in mind that I cannot wait to start executing, as it is going to take this platform to new heights and do even more to empower young people.

It’s going to be great for young people, it’s going to be great for creatives and it’s going to be great for Croydon.  Watch this space.

How I’ve Been Struggling with My Mental Health

With next week being Mental Health Awareness Week, this month’s focus at YPI is Mental Health.

Over the years, I have come to see how vital it is to take care of my mental health, after putting both my mental and emotional health last to focus on my education and career goals in particular.  Dropping out of university was one of the best things I did to look after my mental and emotional health, having acknowledged the toll it was taking on my me – I was drained completely.

I also realised the importance of mental and emotional self-care when I discovered that self-harm was a mental health issue.  I had been self-harming for a number of years before I decided to share my story on this blog, which was when I first grasped that it was a mental health issue.  I had no idea that I was so emotionally distressed, but as I got help, I knew that I never wanted to cut myself again.

However, the impulse to self-harm has been rearing its ugly head a lot recently, and it has taken every fibre of my being to stop myself.  My mental and emotional health have been on shaky ground over the past year, particularly during recent months.  My mind is battling against itself, trying to tear me down while I try to boost myself up – it is exhausting.

Sometimes I have been able to interact with others wearing a smile that had been carried with me, particularly when hosting YPI events, as I want to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and loved.  On the other hand, there have been occasions when I’ve struggled to muster up a smile or positive interaction, with me only attending an event because I do not want to let others down.

Most of the time, people have had no clue that there was something wrong, because I don’t like anyone to know I’m struggling.  I’ve got a terrible habit of suffering in silence, because I don’t want to be a burden or to feel pity or I don’t believe they’ll understand, but mainly because I cannot bring myself to talk to people about what I’m feeling.

The truth is that internally, I am distressed often, fighting to find strength and do what needs to be done.  There are nights when I do not sleep well, making me more tired than usual – I am genuinely tired almost all the time.  Getting out of bed has become increasingly difficult for me, with it feeling like torture on some days.  I’ve lost count of the times I have cried myself to sleep, or cried on my bed, or had to stop tears from flowing in a public place.

And no matter how hard I try to stop it, my mind finds itself comparing me to others or comparing the turnout for their events to mine, making me feel a hundred times worse about myself and lessening the value of the work I’m doing.  I then begin to berate myself, believe that I’m not good enough, turn into a crying mess and want to give up on my purpose.

I get into a tortuous cycle, annoyed with myself for comparing myself to others and frustrated by the pain I’m feeling, because my problems are tiny when you consider what others are going through.  The internal battle starts again, which takes it out of me, leading to me breaking down more times than I care to admit.

Suicidal thoughts have crossed my mind often over the past year, especially as desperation increases for my mind to shut down so that it will stop trying to bring me down.  I try my hardest to think positively, tell myself good things and pray, but it does not stop negative thoughts from worming their way in.

So much has happened not just over the past year, but over the past two years, and I have rarely given myself time to process, recuperate and recover.  My heart has taken poundings from a number of occurrences, and my mind has been whirring with the many things I am trying to make happen.

My third, and probably most successful round of counselling, also came to an end when my grandad died two years ago, which I think had a significant effect.  I was making real breakthroughs with her and finally allowing myself to let certain barriers down – I could not deal with building up that sort of trust with another counselor, as it took months to reach that point with her.

I also have enough self-awareness enough to know that I have quite bad PMS, which seems to be worsening and occurring throughout the majority of the month, giving me just over a week of feeling uplifted and motivated.  I know I probably should speak to the doctor about it, because I want to take care of my mental health.

There are days or evenings when I will take time out for myself, simply because I cannot face what I need to get done.  I try to get myself speaking to my sister, so I don’t suffer in silence, and I’ll tell people when I’m struggling if I feel I can.  I also pray, because it is only God’s strength and support that have prevented me from cutting myself.

Good mental health makes me the best version of me that I want to give to the world, but I am struggling with that right now.  However, I do want to get better and I will, because I am a fighter.  If any of you reading this are struggling mentally or emotionally, remember that you are not alone.  Feel free to reach out if you want to talk or vent.  You can email shaniquab29@yahoo.co.uk or follow @ShanqMarie on Twitter and DM me.

Join the conversation as we talk Mental Health at The Kickback next Tuesday from 6.30-8.30pm in Project B.

The Inspirational Legacy of Lauren Hill

Today I watched the tribute to college basketball player, Lauren Hill, from the 2015 ESPY Awards, and it was beautiful.  I cried as I was reminded of the amazing courage this young woman showed in the face of adversity and how she made a big difference in the world in such a short space of time.

Lauren Hill was a teenager who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, but had a dream to play college basketball and she was not going to let anything stop her.  Not even an inoperable brain tumour.  The world, particularly the sports world, was taken by this brave young woman who simply wanted to play one game in her college uniform.

As Lauren’s condition got worse, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allowed her college, Mount St. Joseph, to move up its opening game by two weeks, so that Lauren would get her wish.  Her first game was an incredibly special moment in sports, with it being moved Xavier University to be able to seat 10,000 people just to meet capacity and Lauren scoring her first points as a college player.

When Lauren made that layup, watching the reaction of her team, coaches and the entire stadium was something to behold.  It was a beautiful moment that is likely bring to bring a tear to anyone’s eye.  Lauren not only beat the odds by playing in that one game, but she also went on to play in three more games and made five layups in total.  However, once she was no longer able to play, she became an honorary coach for her team.

Lauren was just 19 when she died on April 10th, but she was able to raise $1.5 million for cancer research and inspire a generation.  Her Mount St. Joseph coach, Dan Benjamin, told ABC before Lauren’s first NCAA game in November, “She’s taught me, don’t ever give up.”

As Lauren’s parents accepted the ‘Best Moment’ Award on her behalf, her mum Lisa Hill said the season was about more than basketball — it was about life lessons and living in the moment.  She also left the audience with the message, “It is possible to achieve your dreams.”

Lauren showed incredible strength and fought to achieve her dream, even though that dream seemed impossible.  She was determined to do what she loved and she refused to let something as severe as incurable cancer tell her no.

Every single one of us, particularly us young people, can learn from Lauren and be inspired by her story.  None of us should be afraid to go after our dreams and we should never allow anyone or anything to tell us no.

Photo by Mariano Cuajao and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by Mariano Cuajao
and used under Creative Commons License.

Our dreams are important and we have it in us to reach them, just like Lauren did.  We should also do what we can to make a difference and if possible, use our dreams to make a difference.  The world needs to see more inspiring young people making difference and also following their dreams.

Lauren was an amazing person who was able to do a lot in so little time, and it’s a real shame that her life was cut short, but I’m glad that she was able to turn her situation into something positive, something great.  She will never be forgotten, and I hope that we can continue to fulfill her legacy in some way and make the world proud.


Guest Post: What it’s like living with depression and anxiety disorder

Rhianna shares her story about what life is like living with depression and anxiety disorder, as she tries to defy the “depression stereotype”.

“Just sleep on it, you’ll feel better in the morning”. The most common thing I hear from people. However, depression is not something that you can sleep on. Things don’t just miraculously “get better” in the morning. Depression is more than just a low mood or a sequence of bad days; it is a very real illness.

I’m a young person and I suffer from severe depression, alongside anxiety disorder. I’ve been suffering from depression for five years, been clinically diagnosed three times, and “overdosed” is printed out on my doctors records under the title, “important information”.

I was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder, although I’ve been aware of it for longer. I’ve hidden self-inflicted scars so I wouldn’t be judged by people in a world where depression is brushed off as being weak and just too pathetic to deal with the hustles and bustles of life. Suicide has also been a common underlying thought.

My journey with depression and anxiety disorder has been a roller coaster. It’s been consuming, overwhelming, frustrating, life changing, and above all downright tiring; it’s been exhausting.

Photo by somecomputer and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by somecomputer and used under Creative Commons License.

Although over the years I’ve had fleeting moments of happiness, joy and hope, the majority of the time I’ve felt helpless, hopeless, disconnected, cold, careless, numb, stupid, paranoid, worried, doubtful, and overall an overwhelming sense of not belonging. I’ve also felt empty or extremely disconnected from everything in this world, struggling to find a purpose. These are only but a few of the emotions I battle with daily.

A while ago I decided that I couldn’t continue this way and I needed to talk to someone. Although I had previously been to a counsellor a couple of years ago, it wasn’t very effective as I was unwilling and unable to open up to the counsellor and they regarded me as being quite “aggressive”.

I decided to call the doctor at the end of last year, and they referred me to the Croydon Psychological and Wellbeing Services IAPT, where I have been on a waiting list to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This was a big decision for me, as I hate to talk to anyone about what’s going on with me, but I got to a point where I missed the spark that used to exist in my life.

Depression and anxiety order can also affect you physically as well as mentally. I’m constantly tired, during the night I wake up every few of hours, I often feel weak, some days I can literally feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, and often times even taking the deepest breath does not make me feel even the slightest bit relieved; these are a few amongst other symptoms.

Not to mention the lack of motivation to do anything – even the smallest task of cooking, struggling to get up each day, and the inability to stay focussed on one thing for more than five minutes without zoning out.

Anxiety disorder and depression affect every aspect of your life from relationships with family and friends, to working with people, to carrying out tasks. It can leave you feeling isolated, alone, and misunderstood because initially you feel that no one understands what you’re going through and you feel embarrassed and stupid telling people what’s going on with you, especially when it’s hardly a fatal situation that you’re going through.

It’s even harder when you don’t understand what’s going on with yourself. You often feel ashamed for feeling so weak and helpless in regards to controlling your emotional and mental well-being. Although everyone deals with their depression differently, this is definitely something that I experience.

Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by geralt and used under Creative Commons License.

A lot of people I know who find out that I suffer from depression and an anxiety disorder are normally surprised. I’ve heard “you don’t suit the depression type”, “you’re so bubbly though” to, “but I thought you were so confident”.

But who exactly is the “depression type”? I refuse to become the “depression stereotype” – someone who stays in their pyjamas all day in the house, who sits in the dark not doing anything, walks around alone in a daze looking teary eyed. However, I do not judge anyone who does decide to deal with their depression in this way.

I won’t deny that I’ve had dark days when I’ll cry on and off, when I just want to sit on my sofa and watch TV, listen to music in bed, felt suicidal etc, but I also love to laugh, support my friends and see them happy, hang around family from time to time etc.

Basically I do enjoy a distraction. I just don’t deem it necessary to showcase my mental disorders and thrust my mood on those around me. However, having these disorders has inadvertently affected the way I behave with those closest to me, although I do try my hardest to stop when I realise that I’m letting this illness get a hold of me. I especially do not want or need attention from people, and having them pitying or feeling sorry for me.

Depression and anxiety disorder do not define me, but it’s something that I deal with daily. I do admit it’s changed me, but in life what doesn’t?

To all of those who suffer from any mental disorder, do not be afraid or ashamed to speak out. Don’t suffer in silence. This isn’t a life choice, it’s an illness. Acknowledging that is your first step to recovery. Don’t be afraid of your battle. Feeling this way does not make you weak or below anyone else. Opening up and letting someone in is all the strength that you need.

Rhianna is a 19-year-old from Croydon, who is working towards becoming a therapist in the mental health field.