Finding What Works For You -Day 64 Of #365daysofselfcare

This blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

THE RIGHT WAY IS YOUR WAY.jpgSelf-care means knowing that what works for you is right for you

Yesterday was a big day, I travelled to London to take part in a filming event with Pan Macmillan Book Break for Pride Month. It was an honour to be asked to take part, I had an enjoyable evening, and I met some lovely people. However, going, to new places, meeting new people and speaking on camera causes me a tremendous amount of anxiety. I have woken up feeling utterly exhausted. This is my usual response to a high anxiety event. It takes a lot of mental effort to calm my thoughts and my breathing, and this inevitably leaves me thoroughly wiped out for a day. Today I need to make some changes so that I can have a quiet, restful day.  Ironically, this is making me smile, as it is confirming that my choice to begin the path of becoming a self-employed freelance writer is the right one.

This might sound odd to anyone who doesn’t experience mental health challenges. Why put myself through all of that if I know it will make me crash like this? The answer is because I love what I do and I refuse to let my mental health get in the way of me leading a productive and fulfilling life. I have a massive passion for recovery and change and for empowering people. For so long I have desperately been trying to fit my square peg self into societies perfectly round hole so that I can work in this field. All that did was make me feel like a failure when I inevitably couldn’t manage it.

Having the realization that I could carve my own way forward has been a revelation. I am only in the early stages of self-employment but I get inner confirmation that this is the right path every day. Like today, I can barely move, I’m in bed, but I’m working. Im writing, I’m networking, I’m creating.

I can do things like yesterdays filming, that cause me to have an anxiety crash because  I know I can find the time and space I need after the event to take care of myself. If I was working, in the usual sense of the word, I would have no choice but to take a sick day. That would constantly put me in the mindset of being ill and would, of course, hold me back in my career progress. In being self-employed, I don’t have to declare myself ill or take a sick day, I just rearrange my day to work around my self-care needs and it won’t halt my career progression.

Self-care is liberating ourselves from other peoples definitions of ‘the right way’. There is no right way to do things, only what works best for you.

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Practicing Gratitude – Day 46 to 48 Of #365daysofselfcare

The Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

self care instaSelf-care is developing an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude comes easily to me because I have so much to be grateful for. I am reminded of this from the moment I wake in the morning. Throwing back the duvet, I smile at my hairy, masculine body. I reflect on the previous day, of which I remember every detail without the haze of alcohol or the sting of shame. I speak and my deep voice resonates within the walls of my clean, debt free home. I look at the pictures on my wall and my hearts swells with love, for all the wonderful and supportive friends and family I am blessed to have in my life.

I’ve spent the last few days in Brighton, During that time I have found myself on many occasions, smiling gratefully at just how many wonderful things I have in my life. It is because of recovery that I have this healthy, hairy body. Its because of this body that I am able to have a relationship with a loving and gentle man. Recovery has made me more able to make balanced decisions. Clarity of mind means I can trust myself to make the right ones. It is for that reason that I am back here in Sussex and very happy to be. Recovery has given me resilience and personal responsibility, which means I no longer allow my mental health challenges to hold me back. For this reason, I have wonderful friendships, especially my best friend, who I love sharing the ups and downs of life with.

Gratitude is such a powerful self-care tool. It keeps me clean and sober as I know all of these things would disappear if I picked up a drink or a drug. Gratitude helps to soften the blow during difficult times as really, compared to all the wonderful things I have in my life, difficult times are tiny and fleeting. Gratitude keeps me upbeat and positive as I only have to compare my life today with my life seven years ago and suddenly I am beaming.

 

Deliciously Gorgeous – Eastbourne – Writer’s Café Review

This blog post is part of the Writers Cafe Review series

DELICIOUSLY GORGEOUS REVIEWDeliciously Gorgeous

If it wasn’t for the collection of tables and chairs outside, you would be forgiven for not realising that Deliciously Gorgeous is a café. On arriving there this morning I realised I have walked past this place a few times myself. On a quick glance, it looks like a garishly pink, boutique style chocolate shop. I’ve since discovered this is in fact where its origins began.

Walking inside you find yourself inside a pink Willy Wonker style paradise. Display counters to the left and right as you enter are stacked to the brim with beautiful delicate chocolates of every kind. The décor is a subtler pink inside than its shop front, but it is still lit up like a novelty Christmas tree. Despite sounding like I am judging, I really like it. It should be too much, but somehow it isn’t.

I’m greeted by a friendly chap who takes my order. I ask for a flat white with soy milk. Unusually, here they offer three varied sizes, which doesn’t usually happen with flat white. I order a medium size. I’m given a number and asked where I will be sitting. There is plenty of seating to choose from. Outside there is a small area with a few tables. Inside, directly opposite the door, is a runway of pink lights leading to upstairs seating. Downstairs there is a spacious area at the back. I tell the friendly barista that I shall sit downstairs.

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My exploring leads me to a little snug section at the back. I love areas like this as it allows for a sense of privacy in a public place. As a writer, I like to find a bit of peace but still feel part of the café experience. I choose a table and take a seat.

Despite my senses initially being assaulted by the bubble-gum pink, I really like the way this café has been styled. It feels like you are sitting in someone’s front room. It has so many personal unique touches and you can really tell the difference between a chain café and this independent one.

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Soon after, a smiling waitress arrived and placed my coffee in front of me, along with a sample of chocolate. Don’t mind if I do! I ask a waitress what it is. “Salted caramel,” she tells me. The coffee is hot but not scolding, there’s a nice amount of froth, though this is meant to be a flat white. No fancy leaf on the top, I’m fine with that. Its £2.85 for the flat white, about average considering it’s a bigger size than I usually get. It’s a good coffee and the little chocolate is amazing! I’m supposed to be on a diet but hey….

I’m really enjoying working here so I decide to stay for another drink. I order a green tea. It arrives lightning fast and is served in a pot rather than just hanging over a cup the way chain cafes often present it. I am also given another chocolate. This could get dangerous for my hips.

It’s fairly quiet in here today, the loudest thing is the smoothie machine which occasionally breaks the silence. Its only when the music is turned on that I realise there wasn’t any music before. I welcome the music to be honest as I have been joined by a middle aged woman and her opinionated husband who is talking very loud about politics.

The music is a bit louder than I prefer but I am sat directly under the speaker. I didn’t realise this when I selected my seat. The politics talk gets louder. Thank goodness for earplugs. Another woman joins us in the cubby. It becomes painfully clear she regrets her seat choice as we make understanding eye contact. The loud man and his wife eventually leave, myself and the woman chat briefly to share our relief. Its good entertainment and makes for great writing inspiration! I have visited a number of times now and is quickly turning into my favourite place to write, for the following reasons.

Friendly, welcoming staff

Every time I walk in the door I am greeted with a warm smile and served speedily. This has been the same on weekdays and weekends. The table service is a lovely additional touch.

Ideal writing conditions- great seating, WIFI and electrical outlets

There is no shortage of seating here. There is a small outside area, the downstairs area at the back, an upstairs with a seating area overlooking the café and lots more seating behind that. The upstairs is now my favourite place to write as I found a little cubbyhole at the back with its own table right by a window, so I get some sun and see the outside!

The tables are a decent size and perfect height for writing on a laptop. The tables dotted around are mostly 2 to 4-person seating which I really like. The shared seating you find in some cafés makes me uncomfortable. The seats are comfy too, another must for the hard-working glutes of a writer!

There is free WIFI available. It is easy to sign up to and has a strong reliable signal. I’ve used it a few times now and never had a problem. There are plenty of plug sockets available near to the seating areas

Cosy ambience

This cafe has a lovely feel to the place. It feels as though you are sitting in someone’s living room. The decor is quirky but sophisticated, and it’s bright without being too imposing. Its crisp, clean and has that wonderful independent café personal touch that you just don’t get in chain cafes. I can happily spend hours here writing comfortably.

Just the right amount of background noise

Even at very busy times, the noise in the café is never overwhelming. I think this is because it is so spacious, and you don’t feel like you are cramped in with everyone. When the music is on its never too loud. The loudest thing is the smoothie blender but that doesn’t happen often and where I sit at the back upstairs, it doesn’t bother me. I like that there is a buzz of activity but that it doesn’t stop me from working

Good quality coffee and tea and lots of fresh food menu choices

The coffee is lovely here. Always piping hot and always the right amount of foam. On my second visit, the barista picked up on the fact that I asked for soya milk and asked me if I would like a dairy free chocolate too. I was offered a couple of choices and chose ginger. How wonderful that they picked up on this and that they had alternative options available! The tea is also wonderful, they use the Tea Pigs range and they sell it too which is an added bonus as it can be hard to find in supermarkets. They do a wide variety of dietary options, vegetarian, vegan, gluten and dairy free. Although food isn’t a priority for me, as I am only using the cafes to write in and drink coffee/tea, it is still nice to see all dietary needs catered for. This speaks volumes about the ethics of a café.

Things to improve on

Toilet access

It’s hard to point out any flaws with this café really. I find it to be a writer’s paradise. The only thing for me that stops it from getting a perfect score is the toilet access. Although accessing gender specific toilets is no longer an issue for me, its something I am always conscious as a trans person. I just wish all places would make the move towards gender neutral toilets.

Here, the toilets are individual cubical, labelled male and female. The fact that they are individual cubicles is a little better, as it helps to lessen the fear of walking into a busy toilet. However, it would be so wonderful to see these toilets ladled simply as ‘toilet’ especially as they are self-contained, and this wouldn’t pose a problem.

20180418_140446Conclusion

For myself, for the things I look for in a café as a writer, this ticks all the boxes as being a perfect place to easily spend half a day in and get lots of writing done.

If you are in Eastbourne and need a comfortable and welcoming place to sit and get things done, I recommend a visit to Deliciously Gorgeous, because it really does live up to its name.

The Writers Cafe Review Series – Introduction

20180522_161312One of the many reasons I have decided to pursue a career as a writer, is because it gives me the freedom to work from home. If you have read my previous posts, you will know that my mental and physical health, continues to prevent me from being able to work. At least in the conventional sense of the 9 to 5 workplace environment.

Writers, so the stereotype goes, are not the most sociable of people. It’s another one of the reasons I am attracted to it I guess! However, I am aware that whilst freelance writing it is a fantastic solution to my work problem, I must be careful not to isolate myself too much. I still need to make sure I challenge my anxiety and not succumb to the urge to hibernate in my pyjamas.

Therefore, I am on a mission to look for nice cafes, where I can sit and write. Even if it’s just getting out for an hour a day.  This will also help me to become reacquainted with Eastbourne. Despite being here for almost 8 months now, I haven’t really explored much.

To keep me motivated, I am going to turn this into another writing exercise and create a ‘Writers Café’ review series. Every time I find a place that I really enjoy writing in, I will post a review here. Of course, this will be very subjective. What makes a perfect writing spot for me won’t necessarily be the same for others. In thinking about what makes a good writing spot for me, I’ve defined the following things as important.

  • Quality of my favourite hot drinks – Flat white with soy or oat milk / Green Tea
  • Seating – comfortability, space, plug sockets, outside space
  • Friendliness of staff
  • Ambience
  • Ethos – independent or chain
  • Noise – music or no music
  • Toilet – ease of access, gender neutral – (very important to me for my trans siblings)
  • Food choice and price

This may well change as time goes on and I chalk up a few reviews. It’s a work in progress, like all good things in life! I will update soon with my first review!

 

Practising In Public

P-S-LogoOne of the main reasons I have put off sending any writing of mine out to publishers is because I thought I should wait until I was a better writer. I am my own worst critic, being a perfectionist comes as naturally to me as breathing. The trouble is I am never good enough, I struggle with this continually. I always set the bar way too high and end up knocking my chin on it. Then I just give up even trying to jump.

I worry about being wrong about my ability.  I think I write well, but what if, like those people on Britain’s Got Talent who are so utterly convinced that their playing of the triangle is legendary, I’m actually completely off tune and not at all entertaining? I worry that my spelling and grammar isn’t as good as it could be. I worry that I just haven’t got what it takes.

I could spend years waiting until I am ready. I could do a writing course, and once I am sure I have a flawless grasp of the English language and understand everything there is to know about writing, then I can begin to feel worthy of showing my writing to publishers. However, thanks to Jeff Goins, I realise that this is the least helpful way to go about things. In his book, ‘You are a writer so start acting like one’ he talks about practising in public. Although learning more about the skill of writing is a valid thing, more importantly, I must put my words in public. Receiving honest feedback and criticism is what will help me to improve.

My practising in public has started with submitting short stories to magazines. I have committed to sending out a short story to a magazine at least every couple of weeks. I sent out my first story a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had a reply to say, ‘thank you but it’s a no this time but do keep us in mind’. I wasn’t expecting success on my first attempt so that no didn’t sting as much as I feared it might. I have now submitted the same story to a different magazine and am waiting for a response. My second story will go out on Monday. I will just keep doing this, writing, and practising in public. This formula will work! It just feels so good to be submitting and to know that my writing is out there, rather than hidden inside my computer hard-drive!

Taking The First Step Into Writing As A Career

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Having declared myself to be a writer, I now need to develop this into a business which will allow me to write for a living. Currently, I am not quite sure what that will look like. However, it helps me to remember that I have a lot of experience. Although deciding that I am a writer has taken a long time, being a writer, I realize now, has been ongoing since childhood. In school my strongest subject was English. I loved writing stories, my Teachers often remarked on the imagination of my writing. There was even an incident where my Dad was called into school, as I had described in blood-curdling detail how my parents were killed in a shipwreck. It seems when a ten-year-old writes, “My Dad’s flesh was torn from his body as it was hurled against the jagged rocks,” is a bit of a red flag to a school Teacher.

I’ve also kept detailed journals since I was very young.  I loved writing about my life, about my feelings and reflecting on the world around me, and I still do.  My YouTube channel and my Blog writing, are also not the first time I’ve shared creatively about my life on a public forum. I began in my early twenties, on My Space, that wonderful retro social media platform where all the cool kids hung out, before Zuckerberg’s empire took over.  There, I shared poems and short pieces about living with mental health.

I have always secretly dreamt of having a book published, and indeed started many yet never finished. Over the last few years, I have had lots of chance encounters with writers, who have encouraged me to write. I feel like the universe has been telling me for a very long time that this is my path. I have listened, but I haven’t believed it. I haven’t believed in my ability and more importantly, I realize now, I was waiting to become a writer, rather than declaring myself to be one

I am still marveling at the series of events which have brought me to this point of realization. I greatly thank the friend who emailed me the link to an LGBTQ writing competition. It was in writing a short story for that purpose which then set off a chain of events and here I am, declaring myself to be a writer.

Where I go from here I am not entirely sure, but, at least I now know my path. As long as I keep writing, I am a writer and that is the most important thing.  The places my writing goes to, I believe, will evolve naturally as I find my voice.  Whatever the outcome of the story competition, the seemingly simple act of entering, has burst open the backlogged dam of creation and beautiful crystal-clear water is, at last, running free!

I Am A Writer – The Ahhh Moment

 

2018-bright-celebrate-769525.jpgIf you are familiar with me across all my other social media platforms, then you may have noticed some changes happening. I’ve been fiddling about with header images, taglines, personal bio’s and generally spamming your news-feed with all these changes (sorry about that!). Lots of you have been asking, “What’s going on?”

Grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and let me tell you.

I have recently experienced one of those glorious moments where, after months of feeling so utterly terrible, a flash of clarity suddenly appears. I love it when these arrive, it’s like having a thought orgasm, it fills you with a rush of, “Ahhhhhhh!” and, “Oh God!” Suddenly everything is warm and fuzzy, and you are pregnant with ideas.

This has been a long time coming, I have been stuck for months and thanks to this beautiful baby epiphany, the way forward is beginning to make sense.

Since I entered recovery from addiction seven years ago, my life has changed beyond all recognition. Once clean and sober, I was able to look beneath the surface, to the cause of a lifetime of mental health issues. This allowed me to realize I was transgender and to begin gender transition. It also enabled me to learn to better manage my mental health.

This incredible internal change, awoke a passion to pass it on to others. If I could come from such a dark place, then I knew others could too. I wanted to make a difference, to support and inspire people to find their own path to recovery, whatever that might be.

The most logical way to make a living doing this seemed to be by becoming a therapist. I hadn’t been able to work for several years, due to my severe mental health issues. I needed to start slowly, to not jeopardize my recovery. I decided to begin a psychology degree with the Open University. Alongside, I could gain experience by volunteering as a youth worker and support worker. This would allow me the flexibility I needed, to be able to work on my recovery and undergo gender transition.

Around the same time, I decided to create a YouTube channel, to share the process of my gender transition in a video diary. The channel evolved very quickly to include not only my transition but also my recovery from addiction and poor mental health.

Surprisingly, lots of people began to watch my videos and interact with me. People left comments about how inspiring my videos were, and how much difference they made to their lives. Before long, my subscriber count grew into the thousands. I suddenly found myself doing exactly what I hoped to do, to make a difference, to inspire others to find their own courage to change. YouTube became my passion. I have wished so much that I could do it full time as my main career but making a living from being a YouTuber is rare. I also faced the additional issue that pursuing a therapy practice would mean giving up sharing via YouTube. It would not be ethical to have my personal life online for clients to find.

As I get closer to my graduation next year, I find myself incredibly torn about what to do. The career I originally wanted, is what I am already doing via YouTube. It seems ridiculous that I will have to give up doing what I love in order to make a living. But I have to make a living. Over the last couple of years, I have been mulling over options to find a way forward. One idea has been to use my psychology degree to move into research rather than practice, where I will still be able to make a difference. Importantly, I would be able to continue the work I do via YouTube.

I have also been writing. After being told by many people that I should write a book, I finally began putting my memoir together. I hoped that perhaps having a book published may be a chance for a career break of some kind, allowing me to make a living from YouTube.

However, nothing is happening in any of the above-mentioned areas. I have looked at a few post-degree research options and as yet do not feel inspired. I have several thousand words of a memoir but just cannot seem to put them together properly. I haven’t progressed any further towards paid work, my mental health and transition surgeries keep preventing me from doing so.

My mental health is currently a rather big issue. Unsurprisingly, as the last 12 months have been challenging on many levels. I am beginning to realize though, that this current mental health crisis could actually be a blessing in disguise. It has awoken me to some truths which, as is the nature of sudden truths, I can’t believe I didn’t realize before. The counsellor I am seeing pointed out to me that, in the grand scheme of things, seven years is not a very long time. I’ve put this huge goal on myself to get clean and sober, mentally well, fully transitioned and qualified as a practicing therapist in those seven years. It’s a bit of a big ask, isn’t it!

Looking at this in a new light, I now realize why I still haven’t managed to progress from voluntary work into paid work. Seven years is not long enough to develop the mental and emotional stability needed to practice. I need longer. However, I’m 44 now. If I keep waiting to be well enough to practice, I’ll be retired before I embark! I’ve been doing a lot of honest reflection, and as much as it hurts to do this, it’s time to say out loud that I am not able to pursue a career as a therapist.

In addition to my counsellor’s comments, a few other chance events helped me to suddenly see the light. A friend sent me a link to a writing competition, calling for submissions on the theme of pride. At the time I saw it more of a way to motivate myself to write, as I was struggling with my memoir writing.  Having not written a fictional short story for a number of years, I sought out a book to help me. I picked up, The Easy Way to Write Short Stories That Sell’ by Rob Parnell. It turned out to not only be a book about short story writing but also about how to get yourself into the mindset of a writer. Importantly, this book made me realize that I could actually make a living from writing.

Having really enjoyed the mindset exercises to develop oneself as a writer, I looked for a similar book. I found, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ by Jeff Goins. This book is fantastic and has changed everything for me. The part which particularly resonated was about building a platform. Thanks to this book, for the first time, I can see how my YouTube channel and my writing can work together.

I feel like someone has just turned on a light and I can finally see a way forward. The reason I have been repeatedly declaring I am writing yet not making progress is not that I wasn’t sincere. I really did mean it, every time I said it. The trouble is I’ve been viewing writing and creating videos as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. It felt like a big dream and I should just wake up, sort myself out and get a real job, as I’m not going to make it as a writer and creator. You see the issue wasn’t that I didn’t mean it but rather that I didn’t believe it.

Isn’t it strange that when things make sense its so obvious that we feel silly even saying it because it is so obvious!

So, what has changed? Well, everything really. I am shelving the therapist path. I shall still finish my degree, I love the topic of psychology but for now, my path lies elsewhere. Now I’ve said that out loud I can fully concentrate on writing. The wonderful thing is that I can start now. I don’t have to wait to be well, writing can be worked around my mental health needs. I realize now that I can make a huge difference, not only with my memoir but also with short stories around the themes I am passionate about, change, recovery, gender, and sexuality. I’m pursuing all different kinds of writing and I am excited. My YouTube channel now feels like it has a proper place and purpose. I’m also seeing a fresh start for this WordPress site of mine too, once stagnant, now it can contain my writing process and progress, to supplement my YouTube updates.

This is why you have been seeing so many changes in all my social media platforms. I’ve been refocusing them, away from support work and towards writing and creating, streamlining them and tying them all together. At last, it feels like I have a direction.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. (Thank you Jeff).

I am incredibly excited to share this next phase of development with you all!

Much love and light

Finn