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!

 

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Removing the Shame In Talking About Mental Health

UntitledI have been very honest about the fact that I am in the middle of a mental health crisis, one that I am finding very difficult to manage. My usual ways of coping just haven’t been helping. A lot of the time I have been so fatigued I haven’t had the energy to do the simplest of self-care actions.

Recently, I saw the hashtag #365daysofselfcare on Twitter and followed the link to the website Blurt. I decided that this is just what I need right now. It will get my focus back onto my self-care. Posting about it each day will help me to rebuild the habit and keep myself accountable.

Its been two weeks now since I started participating in the daily hashtag and it has indeed been very helpful. I am paying much more attention to taking care of myself and making time for self-care every day. There has also been an additional unexpected outcome of posting daily, it has got me talking about my mental health.

This really shouldn’t be a revelation for me, I write and make videos about my mental health all the time. However, when I write or make a video, I do so after the fact. I do talk very openly, but it is done in retrospect. My sharing is delivered in a reflective and measured way.

In contrast, the daily sharing I am doing with the hashtag on my Instagram and Twitter is raw and uncensored. I am sharing what is happening on that day, at that moment. In posting this way, I have often caught myself thinking, “I sound like I am a right state”, worrying what people will think of me. Its been a surprise to notice that I still carry shame around my mental health, despite being so open about it.

Shame and stigma is a corrosive side effect of mental illness. It stops people asking for help and puts them more at risk of harm, isolation and worsening overall health. The shame is senseless, its an illness, what is there to feel shame about? Physical and mental health is part of everyone’s everyday life. We don’t shame someone for having a broken leg and tell them to pull themselves together, do we? We help them, supporting them whilst they heal. The same compassion needs to be extended to those who have mental health problems.

I am so pleased to see so many people and organizations talking openly this week as part of mental health awareness week. This must continue, not just this week but permanently. Living well with and recovering from mental illness, begins with removing the burden of shame.

Day 4 of #365daysofselfcare

This Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

IMG_20180503_235112_019-01After yet another bad nights sleep , unsurprisingly, today has been another tough day. However, having self-care at the forefront of my mind, I decided to be gentle and allow myself a day in bed.

I really wanted to get some writing done so I simply wrote from under my duvet, in the comfort of my pyjamas.

I got up briefly to cook a decent meal, sing to some music, eat the meal, and then got back into bed.  My biggest act of self-care today, is reminding myself that sometimes the basics are all you can manage, and that is OK.

Day 3 of #365daysofselfcare

This Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

2018-05-03_00.38.03-01Today can best be described as a, ‘wading through treacle’ day.

I had a  counselling this morning. It helped to share how I’m feeling and to vent my frustrations at my additional health issues. Having someone to talk to is so vital.

I felt quite lost once back home and very frustrated with myself. I did lots of gentle talking to myself  and reminding myself that my feelings were both understandable and valid.

I managed to find some motivation later in the afternoon and made a video for my channel. I also made nutrient packed salad despite the temptation to buy junk.

However, I wasn’t mindful of the time and sat editing my video until almost 1am. I tried not to get cross with myself and just set the morning alarm for a couple of hours later.

I decided it would be helpful to take a little more time to wind down before getting into bed, so I made myself a hot chocolate and sat in bed reading a chapter of a book before turning of the light and settling down at 1.45am

Tomorrow is a new day.

 

 

The 365 Days Of Self-Care Challenge

self care by finnThe last couple of weeks have been good mental health weeks for me. In realising the need to let go of some old ideas and refocus my direction, I have felt a welcome awakening of hope and possibility. I have really enjoyed feeling motivated and driven, a feeling that has been greatly lacking for several months now.

However, over this bank holiday weekend, I feel my mood has lowered somewhat. I have been finding it hard to get out of bed again. After making huge strides in getting my comfort eating under control, I have reverted to using Ben and Jerry’s as a mood lifter. The salad has gone brown in my fridge and the tomatoes have withered.

I find it extremely hard not to overthink things when a mood change happens. Being in a dark place is incredibly painful and when the light returns and warms my skin, I want to grab hold of it and never let it go again. When it inevitably does, the sadness of it leaving, in turn, adds another layer to the low mood. I begin to worry about how long the sun will be gone for and what I can do to get it back. My head churns over the question, “Am I going to feel like I did last week again or was that a one-off fluke?”.

When a shift in mood happens, I serve myself much better by just accepting that it is how it is. It may just be a low couple of days, it may just be because I’m tired. It may be because our British weather is as bipolar as my mood. Last week we had the ‘Beauty from the West’ and I was on the beach with my shirt off. This week we have the ‘Beast from the East’ and I am wearing the entire contents of my wardrobe whilst hiding indoors from the torrential rain.

Adapting to my mood is the most useful thing I can do rather than worry about it. After all, that is the entire reason as to why I have reorganised my life. Rather than my life having to come to a halt every time I cycle into a low phase, I am building a life that works around whatever mood I am in.

The most useful tool in any mental health tool kit is self-care. Adapting our self-care to how our moods present is vital. I know this, but when a low mood hits, all ideas of self-care go out of the window and I have to use every effort to make myself grab that tool kit, find something, and use it. Conversely, when I am on the upswing of a mood, I can forget that I need to still use self-care because I feel okay.

Self-care is vital for everyone but even more so for those of us who struggle with our mental health. Regardless of our mood, we must always make time every day for it. Some days, self-care is simply a promise to ourselves not to beat ourselves up when we simply can’t get out of bed. Other days it’s making sure we stop working at a sensible time in the day and reward ourselves with a warm bath or put our feet up with a film.

I need self-care more than ever now if I am going to venture into a new business of writing for a living. I need to make sure it stays being the positive thing that I intend it to be, not another reason to put pressure on myself and beat myself up when I’m not feeling on top form.

I noticed the hashtag #365daysofselfcare on twitter and felt intrigued. Researching its origins led me to a website called ‘Blurt’ who describe themselves as a ‘A social enterprise dedicated to helping those affected by depression’. On their website, there is a self-care starter kit which is available for free download and it contains a wealth of wonderful self-care information. The idea is to make self-care a daily habit and they encourage people to share each day of their self-care journeys using the hashtag #365ofselfcare on their social media platforms.

This is such a fantastic idea, it will keep me accountable and serve to remind me to practice self-care every day. It also means I can connect with other people across social media who are also on this journey. Connecting with people with similar experiences is another vital tool in any mental health toolkit.

I would love you to join me over on Twitter and Instagram with this! Tell me about your own journey with self-care, how do you find it? What works for you?

Keep on keeping on my friends!

The late bloomer. “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

InspirationalQuotes3.pngOne of the hardest things for me in recovery from addiction and mental health challenges, and in going through gender transition, is the deep grief felt at the wasted time.

I began my recovery from alcoholism at the age of 37.  Finally, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, I saw clearly how drinking had not served me well at all. I drank since the age of 13, this had stopped me pursuing a career, building a life, making proper relationships and even growing up.  It felt like I had slept my life away. In suddenly seeing how wonderful life could be, I wished so much that I hadn’t waited so long to get sober. If I had addressed it earlier my mental health issues wouldn’t have got as bad as they did. I would have realised I was transgender a lot earlier and I would have had many more years to enjoy this beautiful planet and to make something of my life.

Waking up at the age of 37 has made me a late bloomer in every aspect of my life. It is only now, in being sober, that I am able to return to study and make a career for myself. It’s only now, having learnt to identify and sit with the various emotions I feel rather than drinking on them, that I can develop healthy platonic and romantic relationships. Because I have also gone through gender transition, this adds additional new aspects to my life that most folk deal with when they are young.  I have had to rebuild my identity, discover who I am as a man, get to know my new body and discover my sexuality. I am 44 years old now and only just starting out in life. I am a pubescent boy in a man’s body!

With so much being still so new, there is so much I yet need to learn and whilst I am not old by any means, neither am I young. There is so much joy in this newfound life but also so much sadness at wishing this life could have started years ago. Of course, I realise that had things been different, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have skills and qualities, only gained precisely because of the path my life has taken, but still, the grief needs to be acknowledged. It is both valid and understandable. Accepting the loss of time means that I can transform it into a determination to make the most of the time I have now.

Being such a late bloomer may well mean that I can’t do a lot of the things I wish I could. However, I can find other ways to fulfil those dreams, simply by adapting them. For example, I’ve recently accepted that I must shelve my plans to be a therapist. I have too much healing of my own to do first. The motivation underlying that career choice lay in my passion to help people, to make a difference to the world and to people lives.  Instead of giving up that dream, I can search for new ways to fulfil it. Moving instead into writing as a career, using my psychology studies and my personal experiences, mean that I still get to follow my passion and in fact may even make more of a difference by following this new path.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been”.  It may just mean you need to adapt the way you go about achieving it.

 

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