A value that doesn’t edit

Diary, Mental Health, Social Media

Here’s the thing, it’s common for us to compare ourselves against others, I don’t think there’s anybody in this world who hasn’t had a bit of green eye, or just wished for something else, more often it is a passing notion and doesn’t figure too greatly on the list of things to be bothered about in life. But sometimes, that niggle can be overpowering.
I still have my niggles, but in a combination of therapy, medication, brilliant peer support and ultimately taking care of myself those niggles aren’t the big deal they have been in the past. I’ve spent much of my life in the belief that I am a failure, that I am not as good as I want to be, that I haven’t achieved anything, and have worked hard to deal with these overpowering thoughts. I feel like I am in good place as I write this, but I still find myself checking that I am, maybe that’s just a way to keep myself well. I have a personal website that hosts my work as a fine art photographer and mental health blogger, here I can see my work and it is proof I am capable, I do have a talent, and it’s not a bad thing to think that. Yes I said it, I believe I have a talent. It doesn’t make me arrogant or self-centred, it just means I am starting to believe in myself and that’s important.
So why do I write about comparing ourselves to others? Well, with clarity I am noticing the repercussions of recovery, the niggles that I have trying to edge their way back. I’ve realised that social media is very much a double edged sword. In one instance I have connected with people because of my openness about my mental health, formed beautiful bonds with old and new friends and have had conversations that have helped others deal with their own challenges. But the other is the green eyed variety.
We want to portray our very best side, and the presentation of self on our social media pages generally is one that cherry picks what others see. I know this, you probably know this, but it doesn’t stop envy and comparison from occurring all the same. So the fancy holidays, the great jobs and incredible career, the amazing partner, the brilliant children, the spectacular gig, the laugh a minute night out, the evenings filled with living; watching this scroll past in news feeds, from a variety of personalities, can ignite those overwhelming feelings that things aren’t quite good enough in our own personal life.
The what ifs, the was it the right decision, the where did I go wrong, the want to change my personality. The regret? Is social media exacerbating this thought? Is it more visible to see the envious pastimes of our friends through this social media? Internally I used to think I was a pretty rubbish person, that I was never invited anywhere or liked very much, purely because of my inability to interact in an extrovert way, I am talkative once you know me, but can be quite reserved at first, not shy, just accessing situations. I felt that this was a hindrance, there are no photos of me these days hitting the excess, being spontaneous, taking selfies, pouting, grinning, taking risks. But I see these photos slide past me, as I considered my life wasted by being internalised. It bothered me I couldn’t just get up and go, that I didn’t seem as fun as these people. But on reflection, I am who I am, I am unique, a rare personality. It may be hard work at times to be at odds with what society is expecting from us, from what social media is attempting to create of us, it may sometimes feel lonely, it may sometimes feel scary in here. But those sometimes no longer fill me with self loathing. I have value, my value is different, and I accept that. I show the sides of me others would rather keep hidden, I shout loud the issues that cause me unease, I am a quiet trouble maker and as Benjamin Zephaniah says, without troublemakers, change would never happen. I may not be the one who has a huge friendship circle because I can talk easy and can socialise without preparation, but I am the one who makes small changes that hopefully effects a larger society. I can only do that by believing in myself and being honest about myself.
I admire the work of photographer Jo Spence, and it is with this passage I leave you, about the idea of representation and how we perceive the world through the photographs we take, it is the world I chose to portray, tears and all.

The principal question of Spence’s Beyond The Family Album project concerned what was being screened out from family photography. In contrast to the carefully orchestrated images of union, celebration and occasion —the smiles and the laughs of a birthday or the joy of a seasonal holiday together —other images, those perhaps with the capacity to diminish the idea of familial stability and certitude, seemed —in the main —to be missing. Where were the tears, the screaming fights, the untruths and illnesses? Why are these moments being consistently omitted while others were being actively pursued and included?

"The stars at sunrise" work on internal dialogue.

“The stars at sunrise” work concerning my internal dialogue.

This blog is also published on the Time To Change Leeds website.

 

 

 

My brilliant month

Diary, Mental Health, Social Media

This is a series of mini blogs about the wonderful things I’ve achieved and experienced. It will be added to over the course of the week.

Mother

I spent the last couple of days with my mother in her new flat, which is starting to look very cosy. Time spent with my mother now, is more precious than when I was younger, we didn’t really talk to each other much and I don’t remember a mother/ daughter relationship like I hear of from my girl friends. I talked a little more openly to my father back then.

But I wouldn’t change the relationship that we have now, I may be getting older, but I feel that we are getting closer as a result. The surprising thing that has happened is the existence of my blog.

Since volunteering with Time To Change Leeds I have been able to talk about myself and my mental health with far more ease than beforehand. For many years it felt like a weakness to be so open with people, a victim of the stigma that surrounded me and my own views on the subject. But opening up and talking has been the biggest assistance in my recovery than any drug could offer. The Living Library experience is especially rewarding, the positive reactions from complete strangers about how it has changed their opinion and maybe allowed them to open up too is a great feeling of achievement. It has also helped me to become more confident when talking to people about myself, something that I have not felt comfortable with, being my own worst enemy when it comes to positive self representation. Writing openly on my blog and sharing my story with others is also another way I can encourage my recovery, understand myself better and hope that in being so frank it helps others to not feel alone in their inner turmoil.

My mother reads my blog, because of this she now comments on what she has read in the news or seen on TV, her understanding of me and my illness has developed and making us so much closer as mother and daughter. I no longer fear talking to her, or fear that she will not believe me or understand me, this has been my biggest hurdle with accepting my illness and recovery, my family’s support. It has made a huge difference to talk with my mum, and the biggest difference is the fact that she now feels she can talk with me too about her own experience and that of my grandmother’s. I always thought empathy was a foreign word in my family, but now I understand it was just fear, but by being open myself, it has given me and my mother a second chance and I’m glad my blog has made this possible.

Exhibition

Back in October, last year, a seed was sown. I’d graduated from Leeds College of Art and was struggling to find work and keep my foot in the door as an artist. My boss, Hudson, had supported me during my time in higher education and wanted me to pursue a career in something I was good at, with my visual art and charitable aims, something not normally encouraged by your employer. We talked about the art on the walls in the pub, and how we should put on a show. At this point, I had an idea, similar to what the Arts and Minds Network does, to showcase local art from amateur and professional artists alike. My only theme was that it was something that the artist felt was good for their mental health. So whether that was as a therapy, enjoyment, as a conversation starter, the submission guidelines were extremely flexible.

This has been a huge learning experience for me, I’ve felt fear throughout, labelling myself a failure because I had to make alterations, panic that nobody would be interested or take me seriously. At times I felt that maybe I should give up. I’d written the submission guidelines, received positive responses from artists and received the backing from Tricia and Time To Change Leeds, I guess I was being taken seriously, this encouraged me to keep going.

The hard work was keeping the momentum going, keeping the interest alive, from October to May over 7 months. I’d planned out my schedule, what I needed to do, and kept a work plan of the project. The final weeks saw local blogs talking about the exhibition, the Yorkshire Evening Post running a piece and twitter conversations building up.

The month of May has showcased the work, and it’s been a pleasure seeing the walls adorned with such an eclectic mix of beautiful art. I have achieved, and that is something I would never have felt possible. I can do it!

Inspiring Webs

Diary, Social Media

It goes without saying, that this is very much a world driven by the Internet. As much as physical networking is still important, it is hugely influenced by the web. With that in mind, more and more I am finding myself researching how to make even a small ripple in the fabric of the web, and reach out to people interested in what I am doing or saying. Being in the creative industry is challenging in itself, but having an online presence is imperative to be noticed for what you do, it brings about an even greater challenge with how to use the myriad of tools that are out their to promote yourself and engage.

Earlier I wrote a blog about how I use twitter, but that it is only one element of the social media choices out there, the old age saying of being a Jack of all trades and master of none, really ceases its purpose here. I have my specialism, and that is photography, my focus mainly on Wellbeing and mental health, but in order to give my skills and passion the audience they deserve, I need to be a master of all when it comes to social media. The simple fact is I can reach many more people in this manner than I could purely from physical networking alone. Although I do not discount meeting face to face, it is still very important to have meetings and interaction in this manner, for it’s here you see, to use another phrase, the proof is in the pudding, but a high percentage of these meetings are now generated through an online presence.

I’ve been researching, reading, following, looking, listening and learning about how I can make myself stand out and be noticed. I’m still job seeking, wanting to work in the arts and community, public or third sector, but without having a lengthy background in the latter, I’m having to work hard to finally find what I am seeking for. I love working hard however, I am meeting fantastic new people, learning amazing things, being involved in wonderful projects and that I wouldn’t change for an easier life. So what of social media? How does this help me? On this blog I can share what I learn, share what I am involved in, share what I am creating, share what inspires me, share updates on my projects and no application form can allow this amount of insight into how I work and what I do.

I am redesigning the front page of this website to reflect my skills, as my website is a showcase of me, I need to make my home page give me the best introduction I can. I read a blog about creative CVs, an online version of the usually 1 dimensional paper job seekers gift to employers, has to have more punch than lists, fancy fonts and big words. I’m setting myself a task here, I’m not a designer, but I wish to complete this challenge by the end of April, when I will be ready to open my first big, self directed project to a huge audience! If all goes well I hope to take on more projects like this and really prove I can do it.

However, to push traffic to my website, I still need to utilise all the available online tools out there. Hard work and persistence pays off, if I can make an impact from what I am doing, it will be down to having a belief that I can make a difference, and the fantastic people out there watching what I am doing and having a belief in me too. And social media.

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Social media and me

Diary, Social Media, Tutorials

Yesterday I did a little research on social media and how to improve mine. I’m fully aware of its capabilities, but like everything in life, if you want to win at something you have to persevere until you can reap the rewards. It’s not enough to expect it all to come to you, waiting for someone to show an interest on the off chance is very likely not going to happen. You need to go out there, make connections and talk to people, it’s called social networking for good reason!

You also need to make sure you are prepared for the long haul, to establish yourself and become a name on people’s fingertips. I find a lot of people I speak with don’t get Twitter, thinking its all about sharing tweets of updates about your lunchbox contents and television habits. Twitter isn’t Facebook, if you want to chat to friends about your latest lasagne success complete with photos or let the world know you’ve overslept, Facebook is your platform. I find that Twitter is more about creating important* conversation, sharing information and letting your followers know what exciting projects you are involved with. That’s what hash tags # create, conversation.

I use Twitter as a brand of myself, as an artist and a recent project manager, it’s a platform I can contact people I wouldn’t normally be friends with on Facebook, to see what’s going on in my field of interest, by choosing to follow accounts that have relevance to me both topically and locally. This is the key thing here, when deciding who to follow.

There are a lot of spam followers out there, attempting to follow all 500 million users to promote their business. I always like to check who has followed me, I tend to ignore the Plumbing Firm from Bolder, Colorado, since I have no geographical need to use their services. But a local artist or service from Yorkshire will grab my interest and I’ll check them out. If I like them I’ll follow back, I imagine many people do the very same, it builds up an audience of like minded individuals and useful contacts. I’ve built my network and found information that has helped with my burgeoning career in this manner.

Similarly what you tweet has to be engaging. There is no point in tweeting about nothing, or your dinner, it will only get lost in amongst all the other 200 million active users tweets…

I write a blog, as is obviously evidenced here, but without the use of social media, it would probably go unread, the probability of an interested person stumbling across my website is extremely low. The power of the retweet is limitless. I wrote a blog post inspired by something I read, after I had clicked on a link tweeted by an account I follow. Tagging @ the author of the piece in my tweet, using this simple and personal interaction, the author was interested in what I had to say, and retweeted my blog to her 500 different but like minded followers. And so the snowball grows.

Here are my 5 top tips!

  1. Socially selective – decide which social platform works best for you.
  2. Personable – don’t blanket tweet, it’ll become annoying and we all hate spam, speak to individuals and tweet like the human you are.
  3. Conversation – join in the conversations, create conversation, contribute.
  4. Connect – follow accounts that are interesting to you, don’t follow every one in the world just to boost your follow count, it’s a waste of time and energy. Instead…
  5. Engage – write something worth reading, and people will be interested.


*by that I mean, important to you, whether that’s political, televisual, health, fashion, charitable, global, local etc. it’s your conversation!

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