Humans

I’ve always been happy in my own company. As a kid, my next door neighbour would knock for me to come out and play and I’d often say no because I was happy enough dicking about on my own. At uni, some of the girls in my halls of residence thought I was odd because I’d take myself off to watch TV on my own while they were all in a room together watching the same show. I just liked the space.

Recently though, after quite a lot of isolation, I realised I’m lonely. It’s a new experience for me and one I’m not massively comfortable with. I wrote The L Word thinking that everyone would think I’m a complete weirdo and so I was shocked by the response. It turns out that LOTS of people feel the same way and people aren’t just lonely because they are physically alone, they are lonely in marriages, in families, in groups of friends, in jobs, in life in general. Loneliness is a very real thing which seems ridiculous on paper given that we live in an age where we are “connected” 24/7 via that little square thing we carry around with us.

So what have I been doing about my loneliness? Well, quite a lot actually:

Work – I mentioned I travel a lot for work. Well, travel has slowed down which means I’m working from home. I love my flat but I get cabin fever. To combat that, I’ve been leaving the house (shock horror) and working from cafes/bars. My neighbour also works from home so sometimes the two of us will go and sit in a coffee shop and work together. She’s hilarious and it’s nice to have such fun energy around. Also, while working alone in a bar one lunch time I ended up talking to a lad who is opening a co working space for people exactly like me which is 5 minutes from my house. So, long term, the work isolation problem is pretty much solved.

Volunteering – You all know I am (in the words of my sister), “a fucking do-gooder” and LOVE volunteering…. well I’ve been doing more of that. As well as all the normal Lewis Foundation and Age UK stuff, I recently stumbled across a fantastic website, Nene Collective, who were looking for writers. Oh Hey! I’m over here! So I met a bunch of cool as fuck women and I’ve hung out with them a couple of times. Also, the lad from the co work space was looking for people to help out with the building project in preparation for opening. Given I’m doing Sober October, (which is a whole other blog post), it’s been a bloody godsend to don the painting gear and be distracted in the evenings. Turns out the co work lad also knows lots of lovely people – winner.

Saying Yes – I’m up for anything (steady!) and I’m pretty good at making the effort to see people and go places but there are times when I might over think situations and end up not doing something. For example with the Nene Collective group – I was anxious to meet new people and almost completely cancelled. But, I put my big girl pants on and did something that was a little scary. Within seconds the anxiety disappeared as I realised they were all just like me.

I arranged a street party back in August for my road and in September some of the neighbours wanted to do drinks. It was a Friday, I was tired and I was going to be out with three couples. I wasn’t sure if it’d be fun 7th wheeling and again, almost bailed. It was loads of fun, in fact too much fun. The kind of fun that ends up with me hugging the toilet bowl all night. Despite the hangover, it was worth it.

I went out one evening to have a quiet drink (on my own) and to write letters for From Me to You Letters. I like a pub setting, having humans around me as well as a glass of wine on the go is perfect. A couple of lads walked in who I know of on a surface level from a different pub in the town (yes, I do go to pubs a lot and no, I’m not sure if it’s a problem…) Anyway, normally I would say hi and go back to what I was doing. Instead I was brave and asked if they wanted to sit with me. One pub led to another and it was 3:00am by the time I got home.

So yeah, I’ve been putting myself out there and things are slowly but surely shifting. It’s amazing how one action creates another and it snowballs. I’m not saying I don’t still feel lonely, of course I do.  BUT I definitely feel less so because I’m building up a network of people, of meaningful connections with humans that I like, in the town that I live. You can’t say fairer than that.

How old are you?

“Excuse me! How old are you?” This simple question sparks fierce debate and involves 5 or 6 of the Venton Wellbeing Centre’s clients. I invite guesses and I’m pretty fucking delighted with the answers that range from 16 to 23. I’ll take that all day long! It’s a Friday and I’m volunteering for Age UK. I haven’t met this group of 25 clients before and I’m assuming they are being kind (or possibly in need of new glasses). “I’m 33” I announce. The gasps and comments of disbelief make me smile. Then the roles reverse and we place bets on the various ages of the people in the room. I’m genuinely surprised at the responses, everyone looks so young for their age.

My company offer community days each year where we can volunteer and be paid at the same time. This is my second visit to the centre and I’m in no doubt that it is much harder work than my paid job. The day consists of making lots of tea and coffee, acting as compere for two games of flower bingo (most I’ve never heard of or can actually pronounce), setting up and serving lunch, offering an arm to lean on as clients move round the centre and talking to people. Not hard work on paper but being on my feet all day is new.

The staff at the centre, who do this every day, are absolutely brilliant and I have soooo much admiration for them. They are literally non-stop and provide a well organised, welcoming and inclusive service. The clients are able to visit the onsite hair dresser, take a bath, play games, enjoy entertainment and have a 2 course hot lunch. The staff know the clients well and have real affection for them. “Watch out for these three.” one of the staff members tells me. “They’re trouble!” she says loud enough for the three ladies to hear. They giggle and play up to their naughty label. The exchanges between the staff and clients and between the clients themselves are easy and friendly. It feels like a family.

After lunch most of the clients watch a singer perform in the other room. A few people stay behind to continue working on a jig saw or to read the newspaper. I sit next to a Jamaican couple affectionately referred to as Helen and Mr Helen. They are smartly dressed. Mr Helen wears a shirt, slacks and braces. I discover they have been married 20 years. “What’s the secret?” I ask. They look at me like I’ve asked them the hardest question in the world (I guess I have). “Work together” Helen answers. Mutually satisfied by the answer we talk about our families, my job, Helen’s health. They are warm and engaging. I sit with another lady who is busily crocheting. “I’m making blankets for the old people” she explains with a chuckle. I ask her what she enjoys about coming to the centre and she explains she likes the company and listening to people. We agree on a love of people watching and I let her continue in peace.

The day goes fast and it’s soon time for the buses to collect the clients and take them home. I walk back to my flat and wonder what the older people would have done today if they hadn’t attended the centre. Watch TV? Maybe a neighbour would visit? They say loneliness is one of the biggest problems facing older people. I’ve mentioned before I know the feeling well and I’m out and about a lot more than the Venton Centre clients are….. The services Age UK are providing definitely lengthening lives, I’ve no doubt of that and I’m proud to be a tiny part of it.

Blog-iversary

A year ago I fucked up an entire wall in my spare room, brainstorming what I could do to make the world a slightly better place. The only thing I could think of (that I might be any good at) was writing. So, I took a punt. I just figured that even if one person, out of the 7.5 billion people on this planet, could be positively impacted by something I wrote, then it’d be worth doing. So a year ago TODAY I posted my introduction and I set my stall out: About – Why am I even here?

I didn’t know what I was doing (I still don’t). I didn’t know if anyone would read what I wrote or even if I had anything worth saying. With the encouragement of two wonderful friends, Pia and Mark, I set about posting my thoughts for the world to see.

I’ve been reflecting on what’s happened over the last year and where that brainstorm has taken me and it’s pretty cool:

25th August 16

  • Introductory blog posted

September 16

December 16

  • Interview for Age UK Annual Review and Your Time magazine published about my experience volunteering

January 17

  • Contacted The Lewis Foundation about volunteering opportunities (I now regularly volunteer for them)
  • Contacted Macmillan about writing a guest blog (I’m now working on blog number 6)

February 17

March 17

  • Travelled to India for 3 weeks (I am now writing a book about my experience)

April 17

  • Nominated for a Spirit of Age Award for the volunteering I do for Age UK (I didn’t win but to be nominated was ridiculously amazing)

May 17

  • Contacted The Happy Newspaper about writing an article for them
  • Attended Eden Project’s Community Camp
  • Sent initial letters to neighbours about a street party
  • Helped create a Wonderwall of messages of support in Manchester with Emily Coxhead following the Manchester terrorist attacks

June 17

July 17

August 17

  • Street party takes place and is filmed by Eden Project
  • Facebook Live interview with Ife Thomas about coping with grief and depression

Aside from the above, in the past year, I’ve written 32 blog posts for my website, volunteered, built up an online community, travelled to 8 countries and countless cities across the UK and managed (somehow) to hold down a full time job and maintain friendships. When I look at it like that, it’s no wonder I’m tired all the time!

The things listed above might all seem very small in isolation but it’s really proven to me how every action, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect that spreads far and wide. For example, If I hadn’t contacted the Lewis Foundation, I wouldn’t have learnt about and attended Eden’s community camp, where I wouldn’t have been inspired to arrange a “Big Lunch” (which bought 60 of my neighbours together). I wouldn’t have met my neighbour, Ife, who then invited me to talk on her facebook live broadcast about grief (which 500 people have now seen). That one action, wanting to volunteer for The Lewis Foundation, has had a positive impact on my life and other people’s, and that’s just based on what I can quantify. There are loads of connections and threads that have linked everything I’ve done with It’s Character Building. Some of which, I can clearly see the impact of, some of which, I may never know about.

Now I’m not writing this as a “Look at me, aren’t I a fucking hero” post. It’s more just as proof that we CAN all make a difference to the world. So much has been happening lately that makes us feel like the world has gone crazy but I want you to know that you aren’t helpless. Everything you’re doing is important and is shaping your life and the lives of those around you. It’s having profound and far reaching ripple effect that you may never know about.

It’s also reminded me to step back and take stock every now and then. I can’t believe what I’ve achieved in the last year. My words have reached thousands of people across 32 countries. I would never have believed that was possible 12 months ago. Have a think about what you’ve achieved this last year. It will be extraordinary, I promise you.

I’m not sure where the next 12 months will take me but I’m glad I started this positivity journey and I want to thank everyone who has been involved. Thank you for the lovely messages, the support, the likes, the shares, the inspiration, the motivation, all of it. While it’s not always been easy, it’s definitely been worth it. Here’s to Year 2 🙂

I Don’t Have Time

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The Right Words

What is it they say? “The pen is mightier than the sword” I mean yeah, there’s got to be something in that. Words are our communication, they are our thoughts, our intentions. They show our beliefs, who we are as people. If they didn’t matter, people wouldn’t die protecting them.  I mean, obviously I rate […]