Saturday, 24 December 2016

The best gift of all

I've just spent 5 days in France with  my brother and Jen, taking this year's cumulative total up to 21 days (this is the most time I've spent with him probably in the last 8 years). Not because we don't like each other, but because he's lived in Dublin and now in rural France. It's hard to pop over for an evening. The time I spend with my brother is therefore very special.

He's a total douche, of course, but only in the way that a brother can be. Within 30 seconds of seeing him, he tried to trip me over. Going to the zoo and "pecking me", or making bird noises behind me. Taking the piss out of me like only a big brother is allowed to.

When we were kids I have really fond memories of my brother and I building dens and playing together. One day he made a spiders web across his room as a sort of assault course for me. Another time I couldn't get my Easter egg to break so he kindly kicked it against the wall (chocolate everywhere!). We camped out in his tent in the garden as kids, and played football in the park.

But as we got older, he moved away and work took him abroad. He dated some (awful) women and then settled happily with Jen and his tiny family in his tiny house in France. I stayed at home and focused on work and study, trying to earn as much as possible by working in as many jobs as I can so that I can travel often.

It's so lovely to see my brother, and spend time with him when I can - because nothing has changed. There's never a weird awkwardness, only the already awkward weirdness that I bring with me to every situation - that my brother is very much accustomed to.

Even though time moves on and our lives meander along - albeit his more like a raging torrent and mine like a trickle - there is nothing better than hanging out with your sibling. My first friend and my greatest protector. I'm so lucky to have a big brother - who has taught me so much and who I adore.

So this Christmas, the best gift is time spent with family. The ones who irritate you and annoy you, because they love you.

Monday, 19 September 2016

You can't save them all....

If I had a penny for every time someone has told me that I'm too attached to my work, or that I care too much about a young person, well I would be rich in money. But instead, I'm rich in life. 

You will have read my blogs about young people changing my life, about why youthwork matters to me, and the importance of participation of young people. This one is more personal, this is about my feelings. 

I went to view a property today, and the estate agent cast judgement on me in one foul swoop "why would you want to do that?"...."you're brave, they're the most difficult age group", in response to my explanation of wanting two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one for me and one for the fostering, with a garden for the puppy. She also commented on how young I was, and asked me why I would want to do that at my age. 

Well, here it is. 

It's because I believe I can save the world. 

Ok, over the last 5 months, I've cried more than normal. I've hidden away in my room and sobbed my heart out. The reason for this, is because I actually adore some of the young people I work with, and it breaks my heart when things don't go well for them. I'm pretty good at holding it all together most of the time, and will never show emotion in front of another professional (unless that person is a friend, of course). I'm very good at being the adult, using my theory based judgements, and advocating what i believe in. I'm less good at detaching myself from positive relationships that I have worked hard to build, based on authentic respect and trust, rather than coercion. 

I've been told by someone (trying to be helpful) that I need to stop caring and leave work at work. He's right, I do need to leave work at work, but if I stopped caring to allow that to happen, then I would be cheating myself. 

I live by the idea that there is good in everyone, and believe that everyone deserves an opportunity and a chance. It is part of my innate being to care. With this, my values are based on helping others, supporting them to succeed.  

Sometimes, however, they don't. 

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, how much effort you put in, how much time you give, sometimes, that person will make their own poor choices, and there is very little that you can do about it. 

But you've got to try haven't you. It's hard to tell with a fresh bunch of people, which ones will work with you, and which ones won't. It's impossible to spot the child that in a years time, will have really needed your support. We can't predict the future. That's why it is important to believe in all of them. 

If your starting point is a negative one, "I can't save them all", then the task of trying to pick one or two becomes overwhelming. 

Whereas, if you say "I can't save them all, but I'm going to give it my bloody best shot" then the possibilities are endless. 

So no, you can't save them all. But that isn't a reason not to try to. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


" a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return." 

I first came across this word in the country that changed my life: Brazil. It was here that I made some of the best relationships I have, with people from across the globe. 

Saudades was once described as the love that remains after someone is gone. It's that aching, longing, deep sadness that sits in your stomach for weeks, months, years. It's that feeling that you think you crushed, but has secretly been lurking inside of you waiting for a trigger. 

Today I caught the scent of someone's aftershave, and that was that. I went back to that place, with that person, and then had this deep pang of despair as it clicked that they were gone. 

That's the problem isn't it, people can do that to you. 

But we need people. 

Something that has been whirring through my mind today, is that I need someone. Not someone, because I'm desperately seeking love, quite the contrary I have come round to the idea that being a single person is a much easier life, but I need someone to listen to me. Everyone does. 

We all have good days and bad days, and go home to our loved ones and rant about what's gone wrong, who offer sympathy, support, and reassurance. 

I had a brief text conversation with someone earlier, seeking reassurance, and all I got was a cold hearted response, telling me to sort it out. Not the kind of nurture and care that I give to people, therefore not the kind I appreciate in return. But who is there for single people to turn to, I mean, I'm fairly limited on people I can just go and visit and cry to, drinking copious amounts of tea. That's not because I don't have good friends, because trust me, I do. It's because they are busy getting on with life, and it's just not the same is it - maybe I miss that intense social relationship that I had with ex partners who might have nursed my emotional state at times like this. 

Allegedly it is better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all. But if you don't know what you're missing, then you don't have the hurt? I'm not one for many relationships, I can count all my exes on 1 hand. The reason for this is because I don't cope well with the pain, the saudades that is left when inevitably things do not work out, and I get that phone call "we need to talk" (or worse). 

Someone told me yesterday that being single was awful, but it's not all bad. Ok I don't have anyone to pour my heart out to, or to snuggle into whilst I sob, or to wrap myself up in. But I do have independence. I am powered under my own steam. If I screw up, it's only me involved. 

But independance isn't a substitute for human contact and care. On Saturday I didn't speak to anyone between 9am and 8pm. For someone who thrives on attention and socialising,  this was not a good day for me. I've got a lot of stored up grief that I'm carrying around, and I need desperately to offload it - but there's no one there, and when there's no one there, what can you do? 

So in my vulnerable state, when I caught this smell earlier, all I wanted to do was fall into this persons arms and cry. There was this deep feeling of being broken, and wanting to be hugged back together to make everything ok. (I didn't, for the record I pumped the music up loud in the car, and drove off with tears rolling down my cheeks).

But it's not like that in real life. People walk in, and people walk out. You rarely get a say on what happens, but have to deal with the aftermath yourself. 

This is true across all relationships, family members, work colleagues, partners, children. People come and go. And it hurts. A lot. Especially when you catch a memory that makes you remember that person, and how it left you feeling. 

The thing is, people remember the way you leave them feeling. They might not remember the words you used or the way you looked, but they remember the emotions attached to that moment or that person. 

When someone catches a whiff of your perfume (dolce and gabanna por femme- for any of my admirers that want to buy me some more), how do you want that person to feel? Loved? Cherished? Cared for? Saudades? 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Can you handle me...?

So yesterday I went back to school, and by lunchtime had cried twice and looked at jobs pages. Not because I'm desperately unhappy, but the prospect of another new year and another 200 students to get to know filled me with dread. I genuinely don't know if I can do it again, the fourth year in a row of building new relationships and then letting go after a year. It's tough. It's tough on some of the young people and it's tough on me, because sometimes it's not just a job. 

I've always felt that youthwork has been my vocation, it's not just a way to earn money (because if it is, I am in the wrong career), it's a way of life for me. I live and breathe youthwork. My very values and beliefs are founded upon the great practitioners: A.S Neill, Young, Bowlby. My holiday reading was "The Perception of Self in Everyday Life" - not your usual relaxing book. 

I've been lucky enough to have a very colourful and humbling career so far, and worked with thousands of young people - some of which are transitory relationships, but some of which are true bonds and I have the privilege of being an attachment figure to. Some of these young people come and go with fleeting interventions, but there are a precious few who remain in your life and in your heart throughout your career. 

The reason for this, quite simply, is that they changed my life more than I changed theirs. 

Young people can be fickle, and one minute you're their favourite person in the world, and the next week they have forgotten your name. But even these short interventions have meaning. If you live and breathe what you believe, you can have an impact on a young person with just one meeting. 

If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with a young person, then you are on to a winner. When I started youthwork, a colleague gave me two pieces of advice:

1. If you put the time in, you will get it back
2. Keep every piece of feedback that a young person gives you

Well, I have kept every scrap piece of paper and note that a young person has written to me, every card, post it, and drawing are lovingly placed into a scrapbook I keep - in fact I have two full books now. Not only are these the most precious things I own, but they give me real comfort in that I do my job well, and that I'm changing lives which is what I set out to do. 

As for putting the time in, it's amazing what results can be achieved with regular face to face contact and consistency. My values are based on honesty, integrity, and commitment. I always try to see the good in every young person, and sometimes it takes a while for that young person to show you that side, but if you give them the time to get to know you, they will. 

It is a real honour to be able to care for other people's children, and to be trusted with that responsibility. People are quite judgemental of my decision to not have children, and when I tell them my dream is to be a foster carer, they don't all get it. But to me, it would be a real privilege to work with the young people who need my time the most. It's all I've ever wanted, and I am on a mission to get to the point where I can offer my own safe space for a young person to flourish and grow. 

I was chatting late on Saturday night to a friend about my very specific plan, and at the end of my explanation, he stopped and paused, before turning to me and telling me I was amazing. That's the first time I have heard that and listened to it. That same day, a friend whom I respect enormously, told me "I happen to know that a whole lot of kids feel that you are their superhero". 

I've never thought of myself as amazing or a superhero. I've always just stuck to my values and worked to the very best of my ability. I've given young people my time and remained consistent. I've nurtured them and tried to meet their needs, from their starting point. 

One of these same friends shared a poem with me a long time ago, which is pinned to my wall. It is about the relationship between a father and son, but to me it encompasses my work and why I do it:

I feel that the confusion inside of me

My doubts and fears,

Would shock you

If I brought them out.


I know you know

All of that exists,

And you know it exists in me,

But you would rather,

Let it all remain anonymous.


And so I am alone

With my uncertainty about God,

My preoccupations with sex in a sex-orientated world,

My worries about my education and future,

The ambiguous relationship to you,

And the difficulties with my friends.


I know you are afraid to become vulnerable:

You would be embarrassed

To see another side of me

And to show another side of yourself;

And you don’t want our relationship to change

Even though it is phony in parts;

And above all

You want everything to remain predicatable

Because you love your peace too dearly.


And so I have very little choice

But to keep everything inside of me

To try to work it out



But if you let me talk,

If you invited me to talk

And could listen

Without being shocked

Without remaining aloof for your protection

Without immediately having all the answers

(even though I think you have answers

And good ones too)

Without playing therole of the knwoing parent,

If you could enter into the process of my life

And be beside me,


That would mark the passage

From father/son to father/friend

And we could see each other in a new way:


We would be brothers.

You can be someone's superhero. You can change their lives. Let them change yours, I don't promise it will be easy, but I promise it will be worth it. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Mind over Matter

So, today I looked in the mirror for the first time in a long time, and thought that I looked ok. 

Maybe not ok, maybe more than ok. 


I started running on the 1st November 2015. I used to run a year before, but it only lasted a couple of months. I'm nine months in now. I run a lot. 

I only started running to avoid a meltdown. I needed to burn off the negative energy and deep sadness before it engulfed me; before I fell into the trap again. 

People always say that exercise is good for emotional wellbeing. I've wondered though, for someone who can't get out of bed, how on earth would they get out to exercise. I believe now that the trick is to beat the black dog before it gets to that point. 

Staying motivated is tough. Really tough. I run 5 times a week. It might not be marathons but it's always at least 25 minutes - that's the starting goal, anything above that is a gift. 

One of my inspirations and guiding lights, is a good friend who is basically superhuman. He's faced adversity head on, and told it to "do one". He's always been very supportive of me, telling me that I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it.

That's the trick isn't it - putting your mind to it. The body will achieve remarkable things, but only if the mind allows it to do so. I hated PE at school because I believed I was bad at it. This time last year my three things I couldn't live without were my black patent stilettos, my phone, and my little black dress. Now it's a different story - I'm rarely seen without my Fitbit on, I've got my trusty 1l water bottle in hand, and my running shoes are always with me. 

Funny how you can change your mind on things. 

I cycled to my brothers last week, well, cycled approx 50 miles. When I got off the boat, I wasn't sure myself that I would be able to do it. I kept putting obstacles in the way - it's too hot, too far, I'm not fit enough, my bags are too heavy... But my mind kept focused on the target. My mantra, entrusted by my dear friend, "just keep going forward". It doesn't matter how slow you are, as long as you keep going. 

Since being in France, I've cycled over 100 miles. I've been trying to distract myself; to forget about things. There's been some trauma recently and it needs to be unpacked. It's hard to forget things that hurt you, situations that challenge you, and people who move you. Sometimes, life can be really mentally tough and draining. That's when you need to use that energy for something else. I'm well known to embark on art projects when I'm not feeling my best; but now I have my other secret weapons - the bike and the running shoes. 

Motivation is the key. There's a saying that if you do something for a certain period of time, it becomes habit. But trust me, no matter how long you run for, it's still a struggle to put on those shoes after a day when everything has gone wrong, you crawl in from work at 9:30pm, it's dark and it's raining. That's when the motivation needs to kick in. 

My motivation has changed over time, the main goal is to avoid emotional disaster. However, alongside that has been: proving a point to a disbeliever, raising money for charity, wanting to beat my personal best, racking up the Parkrun total, and trying to work out what that extra something is. There are so many things that can motivate a person, the important thing is to grab hold of that glimpse of motivation - it may only last 5 seconds - but use those moments to your advantage. 

Go out there and get what you want. 

Life is too short to waste on "should I or shouldn't I" - the time you spend pondering is wasted time - make a decision, seize the moment and take responsibility for your life. 

Empower your mind to take control. 

Your mind is your greatest asset, and your worst enemy. 

Who are you going to let win? 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Look how they shine for you

Look up. Look at the stars. 

When I was a kid, I believed that those I lost went to the sky and became stars. The stars have always been a sort of "guiding light" and held a comfort for me. 

The stars are romantic, they are timeless and infinite; a certainty in life that there will be stars. 

Stars shine every night, and I take comfort that somewhere in the world, someone else I know is probably looking at the stars the same as me. 

Something that amazes me about stars is their power - they shine continually, and if one dies, a new star appears.

I was bought a star, so somewhere in the galaxy is my star with my name. I own a small piece of the night sky. 

I used to be scared of the dark, but now I feel calmed looking up into the deep black oblivion. 

Stars have been one of my favourite things for years, and I shared my stars with someone else. Staring at the sky, and catching a glimpse of some shooting stars - making a wish. 

That wish didn't come true, in fact it backfired. 

I saw a shooting star two days ago, and made the exact same wish. Not because I'm a fool, but because even if once your wish doesn't come true, that is no reason to give up. Sometimes things don't go the way you plan first time around, but you shouldn't let that dampen your fire. 

Stars don't shine without darkness. 

We all need a little darkness so that the light shines brighter, and so that you can see the value and beauty of it when it does. 

Darkness isn't always a curse, sometimes it is a time of self discovery and reflection, to help you find your passion and reach for it once more. You mustn't let darkness engulf you, quite the contrary you should wander in it awhile and search for the light. 

Just because my wish didn't come true last time, doesn't mean it won't ever. It's no good giving up on your wishes because then they have no hope. 

I'm a romantic, and like poetry and philosophy, because feelings are real and meaningful. 

You should never be afraid to look up, for a while I stopped looking at the stars because it hurt too much, but the first time I stopped and stared, I caught a glimpse of what could be, and how beautiful this universe really is; vast and glittering. 

Don't ever be scared. 

Look up. 

Make a wish. 

Don't stop looking up. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Get down from your tower

Beauty and the Beast is my favourite Disney movie, I guess I relate to it - nerdy, rather plain brunette has the leading role, meets a brute of an animal and converts him to love, before uncovering that he is actually a handsome, charming prince. 

As a young woman, it's kinda natural to always be dreaming about meeting Prince Charming and what your perfect wedding would be like. It's ingrained into you from the tender toddler years, where you're brought up on Disney princess movies - the helpless princess waits around for the handsome prince to come and sort her life out. 

If I had a pound for every time one of my relatives, or friends asked me when I was going to "settle down and get married", I would have moved to Australia by now and married a hot surfer. But seriously, why is there such a huge demand for young women to be married - or even to be driven into being in a relationship? I've had no end of people telling me that "you'll meet the right one when you least expect it" - I haven't been expecting it for years and no one has swept in wearing shiny armour... A couple of muppets in tinfoil maybe... 😉

But why do people feel the need to comfort me on being single - I didn't realise it was such a hardship - being able to go out when you want, see who you want, spend what you want. Actually, I've got a sweet deal. Ok so I might never get valentines cards, a wedding, or flowers sent to my work - but does everyone need that?

 It's like the children argument, people are persistent with about "when you meet the right one you will change your mind" - actually, I won't. I know I won't. So, stop trying to tell me otherwise. Don't get me wrong, I'm not heartless and a child hater, quite the contrary - I see myself as an auntie to the world, and I cannot wait to have children around, just not in the conventional way. The children I plan to have in my life are the ones who I know I can make a huge difference to, the ones who need my skills most. That would be a real privilege. 

The older I get, the more I see my friends getting married and settling down, and the more I get quizzed about my personal circumstances. Just because the dominant discourse is to follow a certain route, doesn't mean that path is for everyone. In fact, I would much rather take a machete and make my own path than follow blindly the trail before me just because I felt I should. 

I've been naively waiting around in my tower for a knight in shining armour to come along and save me, so that I can live out my days with Prince Charming. But life isn't like that.

Life shouldn't be like that. 

Young women everywhere need to be empowered to believe that they can make it in this world without following what society is trying to dictate they should do. Young women need role models of strong females who have made it alone. Girls don't need guys to come along and save them, it's not the 1950s and women don't just exist to cook dinner for their man and produce children. 

Victoria Pendleton is my favourite athlete, and she never relied on a man to win her races, she won through hard work and determination. 

Yes I'm very happy for all my friends who are in healthy relationships and happy with children etc, but for those independent women out there - don't feel pressured to follow the crowd. You are your own person, and you do not need to have a man to qualify who you are. 

Mutuality doesn't exist, there is always a broken middle and you don't have to do what everyone else thinks you should. Be more like Antigone, less like Sleeping Beauty. 

Everyone else - stop pressurising women to fall into a routine - let them live out their dreams. 

Princess, get down from your tower, and be the queen you were meant to be.