Category Archives: mental health

A new pair of eyes

A new pair of eyes

The problem – I couldn’t see the woods through the tress:

I pride myself on my attention to detail and proofreading ability. It is a skill I have spent years working to hone and improve; and something I have become good at. But recently, since starting my new role, I have become increasingly frustrated by the number of proofing and formatting errors I have been making. Even worse, these errors are being spotted and picked up on by powers that be who are high up, such as managers and directors. Every email and red-penned copy sends shivers down my spine and I found myself starting to beat myself up about it. One of the reasons I was hired is because of my proofreading experience. So I started to feel pretty useless.

Flashback – I used to take it so personally:

A few years ago, perhaps I would have taken this really personally and blamed myself for being a bad and incapable person but over the years I have grown and learned to realise that mistakes do not equal failure and failure does not equal the end of Everything! That in fact, these are great learning opportunities and instead, I decided to apply these principles.

Fast Forward – what I know now:

I decided the first thing to try was to increase the size of fonts and zoom in as much as possible. I now have two screens, which makes this much more doable. However, this didn’t seem to be helping my cause and silly mistakes, such as writing ‘form’ instead of ‘from’; and punctuation errors, such as using commas instead of full stops, kept creeping in. Even formatting errors such as using different sizes and styles of fonts, which I’m incredibly pedantic about, still slipped in!


My next port of call was to book am opticians appointment. After completing my eye test, the optometrist looked horrified when I told her I’d been driving with my current prescription. It has changed so much since my last visit and what a relief to find this out! I immediately contacted my partner to come and help me to choose new glasses because I’m practically blind without them. How could I possibly choose a pair when I couldn’t see!

What I have learned:

I have just collected them and honestly I didn’t know what I was missing. Everything is so sharp and focussed and reading is now so clear! I am yet to test my proofreading skills with them but already I’m noticing I’m spotting mistakes more readily. It’s like I’m seeing the world through a new pair of eyes! And the way I approached this matter proves that my perspective on life has changed, matured somewhat. Younger me would have taken much longer to go and get the eye test done and would have struggled through the constant criticism ad self-blame and eventually started to lose her confidence! What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s so important to know yourself well enough not to always jump to conclusions and put yourself down first as it is equally as important not to blame others.


Resolutions and Reflections

Resolutions and Reflections

This time last year I was looking for a role. In life, employment and as a way to fulfil my sense of purpose. I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I believe that I am significantly closer to fulfilling that role.

I am now in full time, permanent employment at The University of Portsmouth. This has been a goal of mine for several years, having studied there twice, what’s more, I am working in the Research and Innovation Services department.

I still have a way to go to achieve my goals. I would still like to gain a PhD or ProfDoc, move to the countryside and have a horse! But I am much closer to being able to achieve these goals.

So this begs the question, how did I get here? About this time last year, following an interview for a research assistant role in the School of Education at The University of Portsmouth, I received a phone call to tell me, “thanks but no thanks,” feeling disappointed at this outcome, I swallowed my pride and moved on. More interviews followed. A few weeks later, as I walked out of a particularly tough gym session, I got a phone call out of the blue offerring me the job! It was on a part-time basis and a 9 month contract. By no means perfect but it was a great start!

Even better, the Research area was in mental health in childhood and education. The faculty had funded The MICE Hub and I was to be responsible for blogging and maintaining the site – this was right up my street! I also got to be involved in organising events and set up a Twitter account for the Hub. A great wealth of experience to add to my CV.

This is what led me to gain the confidence I needed to apply for my current role – supporting the University’s research themes. I get to be part of a brand new team and vision and get to create and build so much from scratch, it’s very exciting.

It’s great to feel I’m in a much better place and have moved forward so much since last year but this does not come without it’s challenges. For starters, moving from part-time to full time employment is a big upheaval to routine and requires much more intricate planning. Managing to get to bed and get enough sleep is a constant battle! As discussed in my previous post.

These are challenges that can be overcome with time and integrated in to a new lifestyle. The point of this post is to end on a positive note, to encourage you to keep looking forward as you never know where your journey will take you, be persistent and never give up on your goals!

Sleep Sucks!

Sleep Sucks!

Here I am again, gone midnight, already been in bed for over two hours, no sign of sleep in sight. I’ve tossed and turned and practiced some mindfulness and then it starts. My mind . . . There’s a reason they call it ‘mind’ ‘full’ ness I’m sure. I can’t get rid of them! These thoughts . . . These ideas . . . Over and over they whirl and churn and grind. Deep, deep, deep in my mind.

They could be about horses, or money . Quite often my career and education. How can afford to do this PhD I so desparately want to do? Am I capable of doing it? Asking myself why I’m still fat and then why can’t I stop eating and I know it’s because I’m not sleeping . . . There’s a whole plethora of hormones and circadian rhythm and other signalling chemicals that are responsible that I just see whizzing around in my head as I lay here in the dark with my eyes wide open! Imagining the inner workings of my somewhat broken body.

And then I feel the stirrings of some ideas, wonders, marvels! Things that will make me rich, successful, fit, healthy, fulfilled. And then I feel annoyed, angry even, that I need this state if inanimation and unproductiveness we call sleep. Why? Why?! You’re just trying to fool my plans I swear. There’s only 24 hours in a day. Why can’t I use all of them to get to where I want to be without you. It’s not fair. I know I need you. The less I see of you, the less I’m able to follow those dreams I dare to hold on to when I do finally meet you. The more my creativity slips away from me with a long lost memory and inability to see within. I don’t want you, if I keep telling myself I don’t need, if I believe in you enough will that make real? Or is it all just one everlasting nightmare. I’ve thought about it for a long, long time through many a sleepless night. Sleep, you suck. Goodbye.

The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

The role of mental health and the responsibility of the author in young adult fiction

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Tom Harris, author of The Amber Room, The Amber Antidote and the forthcoming Wings, Wands and Weird Worlds series, and Hannah Morton, ambassador for Time To Change campaign which took place on Wednesday 7th June at The Spring, Havant. Both Tom and Hannah work for The University of Portsmouth’s Student Union and as such have become increasingly aware of the importance of the student voice for everything. This led them to feeling it necessary to address issues surrounding mental health in literature for young people. As a researcher at the University’s School of Education and Childhood studies, I am also very aware of the importance of this and especially the role it plays in the protection of mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

This translates to the use of language for the YA author. To quote Hannah’s opening slide: “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.” As someone who is researching the development of mental health from the Victorian era to the present day, I find this both fascinating and alarming. Books being written that begin to deal with the turmoil of mental health in childhood and education are becoming ever more prevalent and popular in modern young adult literature but do they deal with the issues sensitively and sympathetically? There are certainly many authors that do but I still feel there are several examples of authors who do not necessarily focus on mental health and wellbeing that can carelessly use language that can cause internalisations that have a serious impact on children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. I am not going to ‘name and shame’ as it were, but a few examples are as follows:

“You’re mental”

“Cheer up, it might never happen,”

“I need my room to be clean, I’m so OCD,”

“Why do you look so depressed, have you forgotten how to smile?”

As expressed by Tom and Hannah, I think it is really important to bear in mind the way words and language are used to convey certain ideologies and expressions. Terminology is especially important as we try to work towards greater acceptance and equality in this world. Children may, for example, come across terminology used by authors that they wouldn’t necessarily encounter and then translate this in to their own everyday use of language thinking this is OK, when in fact, it is exacerbating the situation of inappropriate use of language, this in turn could impact the reader and/or their peers in terms of their self-perception, confidence and overall wellbeing. The initiation of unhealthy thought processes and responses could be triggered by simply not feeling enough, when that was not necessarily intended. For example, “you’re so gay,” used in a negative connotation, or, “You’re far too sensitive,” such seemingly innocent phrases have a plethora of connotations that indicate to the young person that there is something “wrong” with them and that they will be judged for this.

What is interesting is that many of these phrases were originally coined as medical terminology; for example, idiot, imbecile and lunatic were used during the late 1800s to describe people expressing particular behavioural traits. The word spastic was first used in a medical context to describe people with the condition, cereberal palsy. It was only later that these words were adopted as insults as language evolved, as its nature. For that reason, it is essential to ensure that we, as authors, evolve with it so that our use of language parallels the generation(s) that we are writing for. Some suggestions for swapping some of the following expressions and phrases to more ‘mental health promoting’ ones could be as follows:

“s/he was feeling down/sad/upset” instead of depressed.

“Oh that’s alarming!” instead of mental/crazy

“S/he is a psycho,” instead say, “this person suffers with [the illness].” Or, “s/he has been diagnosed with [the condition].

“You’re so bi-polar,” or, “s/he’s got such a split personality,” or, “s/he’s such a moody . . .” these phrases should not be used to describe someone who is indecisive, of two minds or experiencing severe mood swings. If someone you know is exhibiting such symptoms, do not be off with them, instead ask them, “Are you OK?” You may perceive them as being ‘moody’ or ‘off’ towards you when they are in fact experiencing severe inner turmoil and require support or someone to ‘lend an ear’ to listen.

Film Review: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Film Review: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Introduction: As I have already written up the book review, I’m not going to bore us all by repeating what’s already been said. To find out the background of the story, you can read the post here:

The Fault In Our Stars – Book Review

But as far as being true to the story goes. I was pretty impressed with this. I’d only finished the book a few days before watching it and I got what I was expecting. My only disappointment was the lack of confetti in in Amsterdam! I was a little concerned about the authenticity in relation to this beautiful city, but I think they did a fairly good job.

The Actors:

I have to admit, this is not how I envisaged the characters in my mind at all, especially Willem DeFoe as Peter van Houten! But I went along with it as I think they did stay pretty true to the voice that came through in the book. Also, I did struggle a bit to get my head round the fact that I’d just watched the divergent series in which the actors who play Hazel and Augustus were brother and sister as Tris and Caleb and were now lovers!

Hazel: Looked far too healthy to pass as a girl terminally ill with this type of cancer, though I suppose this hits a lot of moral nerves and perhaps tackles some much needed addressing of stereotypes. Came across as more annoying and at times, unnecessarily sarcastic, than I imagined. Quite withdrawn and sometimes the words and the feelings being portrayed didn’t quite add up for me.

Augustus: Definitely not how I envisaged him, I would not have picked this actor to play him. I find him a bit too cutesy and preppy boy looking rather than ‘athlete with sex appeal’ which is what I had in my head. I despised the cigarette thing even more than in the book – it and he, I found very irritating to watch. I think the arrogance came across well. I think some aspects of the reality of Gus’s deterioration were missed.

Peter van Houten: Not what I imagined at all, this actor would have been among the last I would have picked to play this character, for one he is very slim and I had visions of a swollen, bloated, red-faced drunk and this actor is quite the opposite. Also, I couldn’t get over his ‘Americanness’ his attempt at playing a Dutchman I just didn’t feel was authentic at all. However, he is a very good actor and what I did find authentic about him, which came across even more so than in the book, was the genuineness of the tragedy he’d suffered from regards to his daughters’ death, also of cancer. Here there was some genuine indication of the impact that bereavement can have if one doesn’t grieve and the long-lasting trauma it can cause.

As an aspiring YA author with a particular interest and focus on mental health in young adult fiction I felt that in both the book and the film, this issue was somewhat overlooked. Yes – Green and the directors tackled the ‘in your face’ heartbreak of the impending doom of the situation Gus and Hazel face and completely romanticised the teenage dream in to a heartfelt love story, this I get, but I think that ultimately opportunities to address some hard-hitting truths about the impact of terminal illness on the sufferer, carers, and loved ones were missed. I am yet to read them but I have heard there are a few YA fiction authors who have nailed mental health issues. And yes, I understand this book is not about mental health, it’s about terminal illness – cancer to be exact, but I think that fundamentally mental health is always going to be an issue that needs to be addressed where terminal cancer is concerned.