Like many of you, today I feel utterly defeated. Despite fighting through the impact of nine years of Tory Austerity, and trying my hardest to use my voice to speak up for those whose lives have been deeply damaged by it, it wasn’t enough. The 2019 General Election was very clearly fought with Brexit first and foremost in many people’s minds, and the rest of the issues and policies got lost amongst the lies, disinformation, and smears. And for those of us who have been desperately crying out for people to see the damage that has been done, and the damage that will undoubtedly increase under a Conservative government with such a large majority, today is a dark day indeed.
Yesterday I wrote a post on social media, asking people to consider kindness and empathy for the other side no matter which way the result went. Because let’s be clear about one thing, our nation is still very much divided. Even though the Conservatives won a 56% share of the seats, they only got 43.6% of the overall vote share. That means that there are more people who voted yesterday who are disappointed with this result than there are those who are happy with it.
Make no mistake, I’d be highlighting this issue even if it were the Labour Party who had received a disproportionate number of seats based on their vote share. This isn’t a new issue, it’s something we’ve been talking about for quite some time now. The First Past The Post system in this country is no longer fit for purpose, and it’s no wonder so many people feel so disillusioned by politics.
But even more challenging is the division and derision that has become part and parcel of politics in this country (and, in fact, several other countries too) over recent years. We’ve always disagreed on policies and priorities, but now it just seems so toxic. Both sides angrily react and buy into the rhetoric that the other side are ignorant, self-righteous, or selfish. And here’s where I have a real issue with today’s political landscape – whilst we are so busy blaming each other, we are failing to hold to account those who actually are to blame. “Divide and Rule” is an idea that has stood the test of time for one very telling reason, it works. Britain has historically been very good at utilising this tactic for its own gain, and today’s result is no exception.
There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Brexit has completely divided the country. (Or should I say countries, given that it’s looking increasingly likely that Scotland will push for independence and we may end up with a United Ireland, leaving England and Wales to become just one step short of truly becoming “Little England”). And whilst we have to understand that the EU Referendum was far from the start of this Divide and Rule situation, it was a pivotal point in the saga we seem to currently be playing out. Because whilst we have spent the past couple of years arguing over what Brexit means, what kind of deal is acceptable, and whether it’s still the will of the people, discussion about other issues has been easily dismissed by far too many. And for this point alone, I agree with the idea that we need to “get Brexit done”.
But I suspect that what that means to me is completely different to what it means to the vast majority of people who voted for Boris Johnson’s promise. Whilst I want to move on from the deadlock and figure out a way forward, I do not want to do so in a way that causes more damage to those who have already been so terribly let down by the government over the past nine years. Indeed, the sole reason I want to “get Brexit done” is so that we can focus attention on those who are being failed by our system. I want to give no politician the opportunity to deflect questions about policies other than Brexit. And I want us all to fight for a better future for ourselves, for our families, and for those who have nobody else to fight for them.
Because here’s the thing, the next five years are going to be deeply damaging for so many people. It’s going to hit the most vulnerable the hardest, those who are already on their knees. But it’s going to hit a lot of other people too. I am genuinely terrified of what is going to happen over the next five years, because I know what it is like to have to fight to survive when you fall on hard times and I would never wish that on anybody. I don’t want to see it happen to any of you. But the chances are, it will. At least some of you.
Believe it or not, Tim and I are actually going into these next five years in a much better position than we have been in a very long time (perhaps ever). I am due some inheritance money which is going to lift us out of poverty and provide us with financial stability, and that is the only thing keeping me from completely freaking out right now. But it does nothing to assuage my fear for others. Or my feelings of guilt that I’ll be okay when others will not. Because that is not fair. It’s not fair at all. And it breaks my heart to know that in many ways there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.
With such a large majority, the Conservatives will have very little to stand in their way. And some of their policies are really scary. I do not have space in this blog post to go into them in detail, and I’m sure others will have done so in a much better way than I ever could (I shall perhaps pull together a collection of links and share in a later post, if you’d find that helpful). But what I will do in this post is leave you with a message of support and one of hope.
First, the message of support. It is perfectly okay if you need time to step away from it all for a while, to hug your loved ones tight, and to grieve for a loss that feels monumentally huge. The hope that many of us had that we could find a way forward that didn’t sway too far in either direction (left or right) has been destroyed. And the fear for what the future may now bring is massive for some of us. We cannot hope to stand up for and support those in need if we haven’t first allowed ourselves to grieve and regroup.
And finally, a message of hope. There is something we can do. Lots of things, in fact. We can donate to the Food Banks and charities supporting those who have fallen on hard times. We can volunteer to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We can reach out to those who are lonely or scared, offering a listening ear and a friendly smile so that they do not feel so alone. We can signpost people to support they may need but not necessarily know about, because they are just so busy trying to survive.
We can write to our MP and sign petitions and continue to make our voices heard. We can continue to raise awareness of the issues facing our NHS, schools, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and the oppressed and marginalised. We can stand up against racism, sexism, and homophobia. We can make more eco-friendly choices and demand more options to do so from big businesses. We can teach our children about history and religion and politics and anything else which helps them to become actively engaged individuals, because they are our future. And we can hold out hope that someday, somehow, this will all be a part of our history and we’ll have found a way forward together. Because none of us can do this alone.
This is the second of two posts looking at the climate and ecological crisis and the UK policy response. Part one dealt with climate change and carbon emissions. This post will look at nature and biodiversity.
“We have to recognise that every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food that we take, comes from the natural world. And that if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.
“We are one coherent ecosystem. It’s not just a question of beauty, or interest, or wonder. It’s the essential ingredient, the essential part of human life is a healthy planet. We are in the danger of wrecking that.”
An extensive report published in 2019 states that all across the world, ecosystems are under threat, with a million species at risk of extinction due to human pressures. Biodiverse ecosystems are more resilient and better able to survive shocks to the system (like the coming impacts of climate change). Yet we are destroying and polluting natural habitats. We are destroying wildlife, insects and soil. Our food production relies on healthy ecosystems. If they collapse, so do we.
Major drivers behind species decline include deforestation, draining of swamps and wetlands, overfishing, bottom sea trawling, climate change, pollution, and spread of invasive species. Agriculture, urban development, and logging all have a dramatic impact on the land and its capacity to support wildlife, as do chemicals from agriculture (pesticides, herbicides, fertiliser) and pollutants from cars, mining and industry (sources: one, two, three). ‘Dead zones’ are appearing in the world’s oceans, and 75% of land has been severely altered by human activity. Only 4% of remaining mammals are wild animals – 60% are livestock (the remaining 36% is us).
We need to learn to consume less and manage our lands better, and restore natural habitats wherever we can, with scientists calling for a new Global Deal for Nature to return 50% of land to a natural state by 2030. Forests, peat bogs, healthy soil can all help us in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss, because they support many different species and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Not only that, they can help temper extreme weather events such as floods, and prevent soil erosion. So many of the dangers we are facing can be mitigated by the restoration of natural ecosystems; we have to learn to value nature more and give it chance to recover.
State of Nature in the UK
“The UK Government’s own assessment indicates that, although progress has been made, the UK will not meet most of the global 2020 targets it committed to through the Convention on Biological Diversity. The pressures that have caused the loss of biodiversity over recent decades continue to have a negative effect. The State of Nature 2019 report highlights agricultural management, climate change, hydrological change, urbanisation, pollution, woodland management and invasive non-native species as among the most significant of pressures acting upon terrestrial and freshwater wildlife. At sea, climate change and fishing are having the most significant impact upon marine biodiversity… public sector expenditure on biodiversity, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09”
Public sector spending on biodiversity as proportion of GDP has fallen in recent years
Campaigners have criticised the government for failing to meet its own tree planting targets (current efforts are described by the Woodland Trust as falling “woefully short” of what is needed). Plans to spend £15 billion on new road projects threaten many important habitats (as well as increasing pollution), while planned construction of the HS2 high-speed railway would destroy irreplaceable ancient woodlands. Air pollution in the UK is currently at illegal levels, with implications for human health as well as wildlife, and the government is on track to miss water quality targets as well (the quality of river water is actually getting worse, not better). Funding to improve air quality is currently utterly dwarfed by investment in roads (sources: one, two).
The government has started putting forward proposals to address this. The most significant piece of legislation is the government’s Environment Bill, which includes plans to restore wildlife and tackle pollution. The government is yet to set specific targets, but several campaign groups have raised concerns with the current plans. These criticisms include a lack of ambition in cutting out single-use, disposable waste, and a total failure to address the fact that until we remove deforestation from global supply chains, the UK will still be driving habitat loss overseas through demand for imported goods. The bill has not laid out concrete proposals about how to tackle air pollution; it seems more likely local councils will be left to deal with this challenge.
There is also concern that the new regulatory body designed to hold the government to account will not be sufficiently independent or empowered to do the job properly. Currently the EU can fine the UK for failing to meet standards, but the new body (the Office for Environmental Protection, or OEP for short) will not have that power.
The government has claimed that the Environment Bill “enshrines the highest standards in law”. Yet experts in environmental law have written a highly critical letter explaining that it does no such thing. According to the experts:
“it allows for weaker environmental standards to be introduced in future. Its architecture means that binding EU standards across key areas of environmental quality could be repealed – including air and water quality standards that are currently not being met and which require urgent government attention.”
They also point out that the bill gives the government “significant control… over what standards are set, who it consults about them, and whether it will be able to comply with them.” In practice this means the government has the power to set non-ambitious targets and choose to consult advisers who are unlikely to challenge them.
There is also no guarantee the targets will be met at all, and legal enforcement might be difficult to achieve. In fact, another expert in environmental law has described the planned enforcement process as “long and weak”. She also raises additional concerns:
the targets have a fifteen year legal deadline, meaning they create little impetus for urgent action
the government leaves itself room to go backwards in some areas as long as it can say it is improving in others
the Secretary of State (i.e. government ministers) have the power to weaken targets
under current proposals, the OEP will also be appointed and dismissed by government ministers, rather than parliament, which calls its independence from government into question
parliament must approve targets, but it cannot amend them to make them stronger
Effectively, we have to depend on ministers to come up with a sufficiently ambitious set of targets, because they have designed a legal framework which can grab positive headlines, but still leaves them plenty of room to water things down. We have only the word of ministers that they won’t roll back on environmental standards after leaving the EU – this bill provides no legal protection against that. Hardly surprising then that several major environmental charities, including the RSPB, Woodland Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England, have written to the government calling for a more ambitious Environment Bill. They wish to see “reform to the farming sector that prioritises environmental protections, tougher commitments to end overfishing, and a closer relationship with the EU on green issues.”
Of course, we are not able to say with certainty exactly what the government will do on leaving the European Union, but we know that they are facing intense pressure from the US to relax environmental standards in order to secure a trade deal, and they are consistently failing to guarantee equivalent environmental protections in legislation. Indeed, the government recently removed environmental protections put in place by Theresa May from the new Brexit deal.
It is currently difficult to judge exactly how severely lacking government policy is in relation to the restoration of nature in the UK, because the government has yet to set legally binding targets. We do know that the UK has a very poor record in wildlife and habitat conservation, and the new legislative framework proposed by the government is lacking in rigour and ambition. The government’s repeated failure to enshrine at least the baseline of current EU protections in law is deeply worrying, and implies they may indeed be ready to weaken standards at a later date. Once again, I urge UK voters to think carefully about political promises in the run-up to the general election. Human pressure on the natural world has many causes, including agriculture and land use, pollution, urbanisation, and climate change. Who has the most comprehensive vision to tackle these issues?
For further detailed analysis of the political party environmental policies, see below:
A few weeks ago, my friend Cheryl started posting lots of information on Facebook about the climate crisis, and I learnt so much from her. As much as I care about what is happening in our world, I feel overwhelmed by all the data, so it was super helpful to have someone condense it all for me.
As a result, I asked Cheryl if she would like to write a guest post for my blog, and she has done a wonderful job. In fact she has created two posts, this one and another on biodiversity, both with lots of research and suggestions for further reading. I do hope you will find them as helpful as I have. Please share this with your friends and leave Cheryl a comment too if you can, as I know just how many hours will have gone into creating a post like this (it’s a lot!)
So without futher ado, here’s Cheryl:
THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND UK POLICY
This post is an overview of the climate crisis, with an analysis of current UK climate policy. It is the first of two posts (the second will deal with biodiversity, this one will focus on carbon emissions).
The Climate Crisis
In 2018, the UN released a comprehensive report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which explained the likely impact of global warming to +1.5°C and +2°C (we’re already at +1°C). The report recommended that in order to prevent increasingly catastrophic impacts, we need to slash carbon emissions by 2030, and work towards net zero by 2050, whilst also devising ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere. This would give us a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. The UK government recently made it a legal obligation to reach net zero by 2050, but they are currently not on track to meet their 2030 target (let alone the 2050 one).
Despite the warnings of the IPCC, carbon emissions globally are continuing to rise. We are currently on course for a temperature rise of 3°C – 5°C by the end of the century.
To make things even more alarming, scientists have been warning that the impacts of climate change are happening faster than they predicted. Ice melt is occurring at an unexpected rate, threatening more rapid and extreme sea level rise and leaving more people at risk of flooding and coastal storms (storms which will happen more often and with increasing severity as warming continues). Loss of sea ice in the Arctic may also speed up the process of warming, as ice reflects heat from the sun, while the open ocean absorbs it. And as temperatures rise, even more ice will melt. This is just one example of “positive climate feedback” (i.e. a process which, once started, will accelerate the process of warming), and something scientists are very worried about:
“The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected… Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,” well beyond the control of humans. These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”
“As caring professionals we cannot countenance current policies which push the world’s most vulnerable now, and all our children in the future, towards progressive environmental catastrophe… We are particularly alarmed by the inevitable effects of rising temperatures on health: the Lancet’s “biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. We observe escalating extreme weather events, spread of infection, loss of productive land and massive flooding of low-lying areas. We heed predictions of societal collapse and consequent mass migration, both worldwide and within countries. Such societal collapse risks damage to physical and mental health on an unprecedented scale.”
In this context, it is unsurprising that campaign groups and numerous charities have begun calling on governments to step up their ambitions and deliver zero carbon sooner than 2050. A more ambitious target – backed up by decisive action – would maximise our chances of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C (already a dangerous level of warming in itself) and avoid the need to rely on unproven carbon removal technologies (source).
Multiple reports (including the IPCC) stress the urgent need for bold, widespread changes across all sectors in order to give the world a chance of limiting warming below 1.5°C. This includes reforming the energy sector, buildings and infrastructure, land management, finance, industry and transport (sources: one, two, three, four). One of the most recent papers, endorsed by over 11,000 scientists, goes further and calls for a new economic model; one that explicitly recognises our dependence on nature, and puts a halt to “excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems”. They call instead for an economic model that focuses on sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being.
“To limit warming to 1.5°C., not only should no new fossil-fuel-using infrastructure be built, ever again, some existing power plants need to shut down early—and yet today many new power plants are under construction or planned.”
This was the conclusion of a recent study which calculated how much CO 2 existing fossil fuel infrastructure is expected to pump into the atmosphere globally over its working lifetime. With what we have already got, we’re going to push the planet over 1.5°C of warming, and that’s not even counting emissions from other industries (such as agriculture) or the impacts of deforestation. This puts us firmly on track for at least 3°C of warming.
As previously mentioned, the UK already has targets to cut carbon emissions by 2030 (specifically, a cut of 57% from 1990 levels). The government also recently legislated to become carbon neutral by 2050. There are no plans to be more ambitious than this. Unfortunately, the UK is currently failing to meet even these targets:
“During the last year, the Government has introduced some new policies to reduce emissions, but their impact will be only incremental. Overall, actions to date have fallen short of what is needed for the previous targets and well short of those required for the net-zero target.” Committee on Climate Change report, 2019
The Committee on Climate Change is the official body which advises the government on their carbon emissions strategy. Their most recent report concludes that while the UK has made improvements in reducing emissions from electricity, overall the government’s approach is vague, uncoordinated and failing to make progress in other sectors. The CCC state that strong government policy is vital to driving the necessary changes. Action is required to slash emissions from transport, farming, land use, waste and construction. Not enough is being done to insulate people’s homes, install renewable heating sources, plant trees, and build new wind turbines.
Also cause for major concern is the fact that the UK doesn’t even include emissions from aviation and shipping in their targets, though it is a highly polluting industry (and the UK government is supporting the expansion of Heathrow airport, which will also increase emissions – even if it doesn’t appear on the official statistics).
Even the target of net zero by 2050 is not necessarily as promising as it seems. Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP) points out that there are several loop holes in the legislation that may allow the government to avoid making meaningful changes in the UK. She raises 3 main points:
The UK is still neglecting to include aviation emissions in its new target (discussed above).
There is a “get-out clause!” in the legislation, meaning after 5 years the government can decide to downgrade its targets. But certainty helps investors to commit to low carbon projects. The latest CCC report stressed that government policy should be as business-friendly as possible, because we will rely on businesses to make a lot of necessary investments and low carbon innovations.
Under current legislation, the government may simply choose to use carbon credits to “offset” its emissions. This means that rather than changing things much in the UK, they can simply try to fund carbon reduction projects elsewhere (e.g. by planting some trees or funding a wind farm in another country). This is not a very good strategy and goes directly against the advice of the Committee on Climate Change. Recent research concluded that the vast majority of offsetting schemes are likely to fail to reduce emissions.
I have laid out an overview of the climate crisis and the issues we – and politicians – need to tackle if we are to have a chance of limiting global temperature rise and averting global catastrophe. The scale of the problem facing us is immense. Our response, and our government’s response, needs to be immense as well. Current UK policy is falling well short of what is necessary to give us even a passing chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.
Promises and targets are easy to make, but harder to keep. Any credible plan to clean up the UK’s carbon emissions needs to set out how reductions will be made across all sectors (as well as putting an end to fossil fuel subsidies overseas). As we move into this period of election pledges, I urge everyone to consider carefully which party has best understood the scale of the crisis we are facing, and whose plans go furthest towards meeting the challenge in the most socially equitable way possible?
If you’d like to look into this in more detail, the following environmental groups have posted a more detailed analysis comparing each party on their manifesto pledges:
Something I have come to understand over the past couple of years, thanks in large part to people like Kate from LesBeMums, is that we ALL have privilege and that we need to be doing more to face up to and tackle inequality.
It can be massively uncomfortable to be shown how blind you have been to inequality thanks to your own privilege. And it can feel deeply unnerving to realise there is so much you need to learn and change about your own behaviour before you can expect anyone else to change theirs (why would anyone listen to and respect your calls for change if you’re not willing to change yourself?)
But the point is it’s not meant to be comfortable. Change is messy and hard and scary at times. But it is NOTHING compared to what the oppressed and marginalised have had to live with, often for generations. And their frustration at our lack of awareness and action is completely justified. We need to do better. For them and for ourselves.
I have no idea what I’m doing half the time. I regularly feel that it’s never going to be enough. But I know that people are hurting deeply because of inequality in society, whether that be racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, islamophobia, antisemitism, ableism, or blaming the poor for being unable to find a way out of poverty. And doing nothing is not an option.
How often do we hear people say, “I’m not racist, but…” The only reason they start with that phrase is that awareness has risen to the point where deep down we all know that we have prejudices and that what is about to be said falls into that category. But we have yet to reach the point where we’re willing to change our behaviour so that such “disclaimers” are no longer necessary.
So today I want to hold up my hand and say:
“I’m racist, because my white privilege has made me blind to systemic racism. But I’m going to do better.”
“I’m sexist, because I’ve accepted too many issues affecting women as ‘just how things are’, and I need to do better to tackle such inequalities.”
“I’m homophobic, because I still sometimes have to check my privilege as a heterosexual woman and see where I’m not acting appropriately towards my LGBTQ+ friends.”
“I’m transphobic, because I haven’t done enough to get to know and understand the trans community.”
“I’m islamophobic, because too much of my understanding of Islam is based on information and ideas expressed by others rather than reaching out to and learning from my Muslim friends.”
“I’m an antisemite, because I do not fully understand the issues affecting Jews today and I need to do so much better.”
“I’m ableist, because despite being pretty much housebound myself I still hold myself accountable for my illness, thinking that if only I did better I wouldn’t be so ill. Even as a disabled woman, I place blame upon myself based on outdated prejudices.”
“I’m prejudiced against the poor, because despite being poor myself I still think I could have avoided reaching this point if only I’d tried harder. Old prejudices die hard!”
It may seem as if I’m being overly harsh in my view of myself, and you may be thinking, “that isn’t racist/sexist/homophobic etc”. But that’s the point of my post, we often don’t see things as being racist etc when they really are. And as uncomfortable as that list is for me, it reminds me that tackling injustice and inequality is a lifelong mission.
Oh my goodness, I can’t quite believe I am writing this post. Earlier this year I mentioned that I would appreciate nominations for the Inspire category in The Brilliance in Blogging (The BiBs) Awards this year, but knew it was a bit of a long shot. The BiBs, run by BritMums, celebrate the best Parent Lifestyle Bloggers and Influencers through a range of categories, including the Inspire category for which I’ve been shortlisted. Over the years I have seen many amazing bloggers celebrated in The BiBs, and I know just how talented and passionate my fellow bloggers are. So it is a huge honour to have my little blog recognised in this way, especially at a time when I am still learning how to live well within my limitations.
I Need Your vote!
The next stage is, of course, voting for your favourites. Every vote counts, especially to bloggers with smaller audiences like mine, so please do pop along to the BritMums website and vote for me here. It’s a simple form, you just need to fill in your details and then scroll down and click the button next to The Family Patch in the Inspire category (and cast votes in other categories if you so wish), and then hit the submit button. That’s it, less than 2 minutes of your time. And let me know if you’ve voted, so I can thank you personally. Because I truly do appreciate every single one of you who support my little blog.
Why Should You Vote for Me?
Well, I’m going to give you both a long and short version of my answer to this, because there is so much I want to say but I appreciate that time is limited for most of us, and for many of my readers health issues may also make reading large swathes of text challenging. So here’s the short version:
Despite being incredibly ill with multiple health conditions, I continue to use my voice and writing skills to raise awareness of many issues and offer support to others. I write from my bed, often taking days (if not weeks) to put together my posts, because it is important to me that they offer value to my readers. I research things thoroughly, provide links to other resources, and make complex issues accessible.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly more debilitated by my health issues, and have barely left my house other than for medical appointments for the past 6 months. Many days I have been completely bed-bound, fighting such incredible fatigue and pain that I can’t even put it into words. There is so much I cannot do, but one thing I can do is use my voice to make a difference. This nomination feels like not just a recognition of my work but also the efforts of every single person in the chronic illness community that uses up valuable spoons (energy) to connect with others and let them know they are not alone. It says, to me at least, that we are visible, we are valued, and we are worth celebrating.
Every time I sit down to write a new post, I have the reader in mind. I want to make sure that I provide a friendly voice that knows what it’s like to struggle and is on your side. I want to provide resources that equip others with the tools they need to advocate for themselves, or a link they can share when they simply don’t have the words themselves. Because as I said before, words are my thing. I may be stuck in bed, it may take me several days (if not weeks) to find the energy and strength to put a post together, but I’ll never stop using my voice to try and make the world a better place for all of us.
“Alone We Can Do So Much, Together We Can Do So Much more”
And here’s the thing, everyone has the power to create change, no matter how small their contributions may feel. I have never had the biggest audience, and I certainly don’t have the energy to do as much as many other bloggers do, but look at me – my blog has been shortlisted in a national blogging award! I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking you have nothing to give, or what you do doesn’t matter. I’ve been there many times before, and have no doubt I will be many times again in the future. But when I look back over the years and see how much I have achieved, despite going through some of the hardest years imaginable, I feel so proud. And if I can do it, anybody can!
Don’t forget To Vote For Me!
Of course, I still need your votes to give me a chance of winning the Inspire category in the awards. I’m up against some amazing bloggers, and it really is such an honour to be a finalist. And last night when I first saw I had been shortlisted, my initial thought was, “I haven’t got a chance of actually winning!” But then I realised how wrong I was. I have every chance of winning, because what I do makes a difference. It’s time for me to stop down-playing my achievements, once and for all. And as I said before, it feels like showing the world that those of us with chronic illnesses can have a voice that is heard and makes a difference. So please, vote for me here. Thank you.
Did you know that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which happened in June 1969 and are generally considered a major turning point in the civil rights movement that the LGBTQ+ Community is still fighting today? I’ll admit that I didn’t realise this until I started researching this post, which shows just how important it is that we all open our eyes and ears (and our minds!) to see and hear what is being shared by those within the LGBTQ+ Community during Pride Month and beyond.
As a heterosexual, cis-gendered person, I have lived in blissful ignorance of how hard the LGBTQ+ Community has had to fight over the years to come anywhere near equal rights, as well as how far we still have to go until equal rights are truly reached. I’ve never understood the hatred, fear, and bigotry held by so many, but I was completely blind to just how rife it truly was. That all changed over the past couple of years, as I began to follow a few bloggers who courageously put themselves out there to show people like me just what they faced and what I could do to help make a difference.
So this Pride Month, I wanted to share with you some links to posts that might help you understand the importance of Pride, why we need it, and how you can become an ally. And if you have any other links that you think I should read, please do let me know in the comments or via my contact form.
LGBTQ+ Bloggers and social media accounts
I’m going to start by listing the bloggers and instagrammers that I follow, who have opened my eyes to the challenges they face and encouraged me to try and become an ally. They have the most wonderful feeds about everyday family life, and are the kindest and most generous people you could ever hope to connect with.
Fizzy Peaches – Fizzy Peaches is written by Lyndsay and focuses on family life in Brighton. Lyndsay and her partner V have two young daughters, Violet and Pearl, and the blog is a wonderful document of their early years and the joys and challenges of parenting (which we can all relate to!). You can find them on instagram here.
LesBeMums – LesBeMums is written mainly by Kate, about life as a same-sex, two mum family. Kate and her wife Sharon are mums to T, whose beaming smile brightens up my feed every single day! But it is Kate’s posts about LGBT rights that always make me stop scrolling (particularly on Facebook) and truly pay attention to what is happening. If you follow just one new account this month, please make it this one!
Mark Loewen – Mark Loewen is the author of What Does a Princess Really Look Like? which focuses on who we are rather than what we look like. It all started because of a conversation with his daughter, when he realised they were both falling into the gender stereotypes of what boys and girls look like and how they behave. I can’t quite remember how I first started following Mark on instagram, but he quickly became one of my favourite people to follow, as his posts are so thoughtful and inspiring. He shares snippets of their life as a same-sex, two dad family, raising a daughter via open adoption. What I hadn’t realised, until looking for the link to his website for this post, was the intense journey he went on towards reaching this place in his life, including attending Conversion Therapy (which, as a Christian myself, breaks my heart that this even exists). Please do spend a bit of time today reading his personal story.
Meet The Wildes – Meet The Wildes is written by Amber, which she describes as “a modern love story about two women who fell in love, and the family they made together”. Amber and Kirsty have twin boys aged 4, twin girls aged 2, and a baby, and seeing their updates on instagram always makes my heart melt just a little. Amber writes so beautifully about both the joys and the challenges they face, and is always so honest about their journey. She is also genuinely one of the kindest people you could ever hope to meet. You can also follow Kirsty’s posts at The Little Wildes.
My Two Mums – My Two Mums is actually the first blog written by same-sex parents that I followed, and it was the honesty and openness of conversations that Kirsty and Clara displayed that first opened my eyes to how much I had to learn. They write a lot about their everyday adventures with their son, Monkey, as well as posting about the challenges they face and how we can all help to make the world a better place, where everybody feels safe to be who they are. I tend to follow them more on Twitter, where they regularly post updates and conversation starters.
These are, of course, just a tiny selection of LGBTQ+ bloggers and social media accounts, but I wanted to share them with you because they have all had a very big influence in my own life. You can easily find other blogs and accounts to follow by joining in the conversation online or looking at who others follow on lists such as this one.
What pride is, and what it is not
Pride Month is a celebration in many places, for sure, but it is also a reminder that we still have a long way to go. It is a call to action for all of us to work towards a time when we no longer need Pride Parades, because everybody is accepted just as they are. The fact that people even ask “when is Straight Pride?” shows just how ignorant we can be about our own privilege – we don’t need Straight Pride because we don’t have to try and justify who we are or live in fear of prejudice against us.
So Pride is an opportunity for us all to step up our game, to try to do better, and to work towards a kinder and more tolerant world. It’s not an opportunity for us to air our prejudices, cash in on a fast buck by creating rainbow coloured merchandise, or make mere token gestures and then forget all about it for the next eleven months. Here are a few posts that help show what Pride is and what it is not:
If you live in the UK like I do, I hope that you are aware of the protests against the No Outsiders programme that occurred earlier this year. The majority of the protests, from what I can gather, are based upon religious grounds. What bothers me the most about this is that, if you expect the Equalities Act 2010 to protect your right to live your life in line with your own religious beliefs and to have your religion taught in schools alongside others, then you also need to offer that exact same right to other people.
It’s not about whether you personally agree or disagree with it, it’s about providing children with the opportunity to explore and understand that everybody is different and that it is safe to be who you are, regardless of gender, race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.
As a Christian I am well aware that religious intolerance towards the LBGTQ+ Community is a problem, and I shall deal with that later in this post. But there is also intolerance amongst those who simply hold prejudices against those who are different to them, for no other reason than ignorance and fear. And that is why it is crucially important that we ensure that children are taught inclusive values from the youngest age.
It is entirely possible to teach this in age-appropriate ways at all levels of the school curriculum, providing a safe space for our children to grow up with confidence and security, no matter how they identify. We should want this for all our children, and for ourselves as adults, but we need to be aware that it is particularly important for those who may be feeling unseen, unaccepted, or even ostracised by society.
The fact that such protests are still happening in 2019, 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, is a damning indictment of how far we still have to go, and exactly why Pride is so important. Here are a few posts that highlight this far better than I ever could:
Even when you know that you want to be an ally, it can be difficult knowing what to do or how to help, can’t it? This is true in any area of life where you are an outsider wanting to support a community facing things you will never have to face. But just because it might seem challenging at first, please don’t let that put you off trying.
The very best way to be an ally, in my experience, is to actually ask people what they need and how you can help. There’s absolutely no need to try and guess what is needed, especially when people are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. That being said, you don’t even need to ask to get started, because there are so many posts already out there about how you can become an ally. Here are just a few of them:
As I mentioned earlier on in this post, prejudice against the LGBTQ+ Community based on religious intolerance is a big problem. I obviously cannot speak for those of other faiths, or even necessarily for others within my own religion, but as a Christian myself I find this really hard. The entire basis for my belief is in a loving God, one whose love is shown in the gospel accounts of Jesus who taught us to love one another, and to refuse to accept any domination system of our day which suggests that human laws (including religious ideologies) are above this ultimate love for each other.
Now, I appreciate that this isn’t necessarily the prevailing understanding of Jesus’ message and the gospel accounts of his life and teaching (or the accounts of the apostles). In fact I am very aware of this, because it was upon coming across extremely conservative and fundamental understandings of Christianity that made me run far away from the religion before I’d even had chance to properly explore it as a teenager. So I am in no way suggesting that this isn’t an issue, because it is.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Christians who strongly object to the intolerance that exists within our religion. And this isn’t simply based on purely personal reasons, but because we believe that the Bible verses and religious reasons often given were never meant to be understood in the way they have been. I’ve touched upon this previously in a post about why I support the LGBTQ+ Community as a Christian, and I will continue to read and study the works of biblical scholars and theologians who help me to further understand the context for the scriptures and therefore how to better support those within the LGBTQ+ Community from within my own.
For now, I’d like to leave you with a few links which might help you out, if you’re ever faced with intolerance based upon Christian scripture or religious assumptions. I do hope that they help. And if you ever come across religious intolerance online and need somebody to support you in responding to it, please feel free to contact me (you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or send me a message via my contact form).
I’m going to keep searching for links to add here, but I hope these are a good starting point for helping provide a response to anyone who tries to use the “Clobber Verses” to prop up their own prejudice.
Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day, which is both an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a call for greater gender equality. As the mother of a son, I am very aware of the fact that he is growing up in a world which still treats men and women differently, and that his voice is crucial in helping to change that. Feminism isn’t just for women, and I am determined to help him understand that we all have a part to play in creating a better world. One way I can do this is by sharing books with him which have strong female characters, and I’d love to share some of these with you today.
why strong female characters?
I’ve always been an avid reader, and during my teen years I could be found with my nose in a book most days. I’d read whilst having breakfast, during the lunch break at school, and in the evenings too. I loved immersing myself in other worlds, and literature was one of my strongest skills at school. There is just something magical about reading a book in which the characters become real, and in which you feel like you are right there with them. But even more exciting is when you find a character with whom you can relate, or who inspires you in some way.
When I was around the age of maybe 14 or 15, I randomly picked up a book from my sister’s bookcase called “Wild Magic“. The title really caught my attention, and I was hooked from the very first page. The protagonist, a teenage girl called Daine, was such a fascinating character to me. She had survived the loss of her family, gone through a time when it felt like she had lost her entire identity, and then through sheer stubbornness and willpower she found a new home.
The book was the first in a quartet (The Immortals series), and throughout the series Daine finds herself in the company of so many other strong female characters. There’s Onua, the Horse Mistress, who first gives her work. And there’s Alanna, the first female knight for centuries, who became the King’s Champion. And there’s the Queen herself, who set up The Queen’s Riders, who defend the land and go into battle just as frequently as the King’s Own guard. As an incredibly timid teenage girl, these characters were fascinating to me, and I longed to have their courage and strength, as well as their humour.
introducing tamora pierce, my favourite author
The Immortals series was my first discovery of Tamora Pierce‘s work, but I have since read several other works by her, all of which have strong female characters (and almost always as the main protagonist). Her first series, The Song of the Lionness, follows Alanna as she swaps places with her twin brother and pretends to be Alan, in order to complete knight training.
One of the most intriguing parts of this series, for me, was how many male characters supported her, once they found out the truth. First there was Corum, her manservant, who was in on it from the start. Then there was George, the King of the Thieves. And finally there were Prince Jonathan and his cousin Gary. Whilst Alanna was more the capable of completing the knight training (even though physically it was harder for her in many ways), the support of others made a massive difference. There’s even a brilliant scene in which she has her first period and panics as she has no idea what is going on. She sneaks into the city to ask George’s mother what she should do, and it’s really sweet to see her find a maternal ally in such a male-oriented world.
strong female characters in a man’s world
Alanna and Daine are not the only strong female characters Tamora Pierce has written, either. There’s Beka Cooper, an ancestor of George, who joins The Provost’s Guard in order to uphold the law. The work is dangerous, but the combination of her tenacity and intelligence help her to crack the toughest cases. And in Trickster’s Choice (and Trickster’s Queen) there’s Aly Cooper, daughter of Alanna and George, desperate to prove herself a capable spy. She ends up being abducted and sold into slavery, and yet still manages to earn trust, create a spy pack of her own, and uncover a threat.
But the one I found most intriguing was Kel, who in The Protector of The Small, becomes the first female to enter knight training since Alanna’s gender became known. In many ways she finds it harder than Alanna did, because knowing she is a girl from the start means that people are just waiting for her to fail. Alanna isn’t allowed to support her, in case people think Kel only succeeds because of additional support. And some of Kel’s teachers consistently choose not to see how talented she really is. She has some supporters along the way, but it isn’t until she is left in charge of what is thought of as a “safe space” away from the fighting, that people truly accept her importance. Because when that “safe space” becomes a key target, Kel keeps everyone safe.
What I love most about Tamora Pierce’s female characters is that they are all living in what it very much a “man’s world”. Over time they begin to change perceptions, but there is always resistance from some people, and even when the law is changed to create more equality (e.g. in allowing girls to train as knights), equality is still a long way off. This is true in our world today, but exploring it through a different lens somehow makes it seem clearer in many ways. It’s so easy to become accustomed to “the way things are” in our everyday lives, so seeing these themes in fiction always reminds me to look again.
the importance of strong female characters in children’s and young adult literature
As I mentioned before, I first came across the idea of strong female characters as a teenager. My childhood reading had consisted mostly of Enid Blyton books, and as lovely as they are they don’t have the most modern concept of what it means to be a woman, do they? So it really helped me to find these amazing characters during my teen years, when I was first discovering who I was as a girl, and who I wanted to be as a woman.
But as important as it is for girls to have these strong female characters they can relate to in the books they read, it is just as important for boys to see them too. As I mentioned at the start of this post, feminism isn’t just for women, it’s for men as well. We all have a part to play in creating a better world, in which men and women are equally valued. In fact, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Balance for Better, focusing on this very idea that we all need to work together on this.
Which is why I love the fact that there are some brilliantly written female characters in a wide range of books these days. I asked some friends and family if they could share with me their favourite female characters, and here’s who they came up with.
Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter by JK Rowling)
I’m pretty sure that most people know who Hermione Granger is, thanks to the popularity of both the Harry Potter books and the movie adaptions. She is a beautifully written female character. My friend Jen says, “Hermione Granger reminds me of Jane [Eyre]. Intelligent – almost to a fault, because books have become her comfort. You can always depend on books! A big heart she tries to pretend she doesn’t have because the structure of logic is ‘safe’. The courage to stand up for and fight for what she believes in.”
The thing I am always struck by when thinking about Hermione is that, whilst she is a supporting character rather than the main protagonist, she is as crucial to the success of defeating Voldemort as Harry himself. If it weren’t for Hermione’s intelligence and ability to stay calm in a crisis, Harry and Ron would probably have been killed long before the series ended, possibly many times over! It’s no wonder she has become a feminist literary icon over the past couple of decades.
Tiffany Aching (from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett)
I asked my husband, Tim, if he could share any strong female characters he’s come across, and this was the first one that came to mind. Tiffany Aching is a young witch, who is befriended by the Nac Mac Feegle, who are a right rowdy bunch of tiny, blue men, who help her to go into Fairyland to save her little brother. She fights off the Queen of the Elves with a frying pan, of all things, and gains the approval of Granny Weatherwax, which is quite the accomplishment!
It’s interesting that the Tiffany Aching books were also the ones he recommended I read when first exploring Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – he obviously knows how much I love a good female character.
Princess/Doctor Pearl (from Zog by Julia Donaldson)
When I asked in a blogging group for recommendations of strong female characters, Jules from Pondering Parenthood reminded me of how much I love Princess Pearl from the Zog books. Here is a feisty female, who refuses to accept her role as a princess, and instead befriends a dragon and chooses to be a doctor instead.
“Don’t rescue me. I won’t go back to being a princess and prancing around the palace in a silly, frilly dress. I want to be a doctor and travel here and there, listening to people’s chests and giving them my care”. – Princess Pearl
I was delighted to discover the sequel, “Zog and the Flying Doctors,” and how even when forced back into her role as a princess, she still refuses to submit to what others think she should do. What a fantastic role model to find in a book aimed at the youngest of children. It’s never too young to start showing children that they don’t have to conform to outdated gender roles.
Jane Eyre (by CHarlotee Brontë)
My friend Amanda told me that her favourite female character is Jane Eyre. I have to admit that I’ve never read this book, because I tend not to enjoy more classical literature. So I looked it up on Goodreads, and discovered that Jane is a character who has an indomitable spirit, in a time when women were generally expected to simply accept their role in life.
Amanda says that Jane is her favourite character because, “she’s forgiving, and kind hearted but strong enough that she doesn’t give up on her beliefs or morals for a man, even the one she loves.” Now if that isn’t a role model for what it means to be a strong woman, then I don’t know what is!
jo march (from Little Women by Louisa M Alcott)
My sister-in-law, Amy, shared that her favourite female character is Jo from Little Women. This is another one of those books I’ve never read (see, I’m getting as much value from researching this blog post as anyone). But at least I know a little bit about Jo, because she’s one of those characters that people seem to really remember from their childhood!
Amy tells me that Jo is, “defiant and bold. She challenged expectations and was fiercely loyal.” These are all traits which inspire us to be uniquely ourselves, especially in a world which often demands that we stay within pre-defined expectations. And they also remind us that it is more than possible to be fierce and bold, without losing our love, compassion, and loyalty to others.
katniss Everdeen (from the hunger games by suzanne collins)
Another one from my friend Jen, who describes Katniss as, “similar to Jo March – fiercely loyal to her family, willing to do the things she is afraid of doing to protect them, and clever enough to take on any challenge.” I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read the Hunger Games either (I know, I have a lot of reading to catch up on, hey?) But having read the synopsis, I can see why she is considered a strong female character.
She volunteers to replace her sister in a televised fight to the death, only to then team up with another contender to defy attempts to make them kill each other. Who doesn’t love a character who finds a way to turn a potential enemy into an ally, and in doing so takes on the establishment which is the real enemy?
what about female characters who stick with us, even if not necessarily “strong”?
One of the more interesting conversations that came out of my request for favourite female characters, was that our favourite characters might not always appear to be “strong” in the conventional sense of the word. And yet, there is something about them which sticks with us. My friend Cheryl reminded me of this, when she chose Fuschia Groan from The Gormenghast Trilogy as her favourite female character.
I’ve not read the books (or see the TV adaption), so had no idea about the character, or her background. I did a little research, and it sounds as if she was terribly neglected as a child and, as a result, struggled with the relationships in her life. In many ways, this makes her more compelling, because often fictional characters overcome odds which many of us would struggle to deal with. Perhaps characters like Fuschia Groan remind us to question what “strength” looks like, to see it even within those who may appear at first glance to be quite weak?
As Cheryl writes, “I’m not really sure whether I’d describe her as strong or not, it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about her. Peake describes her as strong in a physical sense several times, but I think emotionally she’s quite vulnerable. She’s a very lonely person with depressive tendencies, who has been chronically neglected. I like that she doesn’t really fit in to any conventional female archetype. She’s very eccentric, passionate, loving, sometimes bratty though she grows up quite a bit. She lives in her own head a lot of the time. She’s not smart, but has more common sense and emotional intuition than the damn TV show gave her credit for.”
creating my own strong female character(s)
All of this has me thinking about how the characters I have loved have inspired the characters that I create myself. When I first started writing The Brethren (way back in 2010, before pregnancy and then the early years of parenting put it all on hold), I knew that I wanted to create a story with a strong female character as the protagonist. I particularly wanted it to be a strong teenage character, because that was what I found most influential in my own teen years.
When I read through that first draft, I can see that I had begun to develop a good lead character, but she still needed some work. She was a little too patient and, whilst she had moments of annoyance, she was far too forgiving of those around her. She was a bit of a pushover, to be honest. So as I work through each chapter, making edits, I am rewriting her with a bit more strength of character. And in some ways I think this reflects how I have personally grown over the past few years.
Back in 2010, I was still living a reasonably privileged life. I hadn’t experienced the financial insecurity and poverty that austerity would throw upon us. I hadn’t known what it was like to become so debilitated by health issues that I had to learn to find strength in my weakness. And I hadn’t experienced what it was like to lose friends over standing up for a cause that many would like to ignore. I was at best naive and at worst ignorant of the challenges faced by many in society, and seeing some of these first hand has made me all the more determined to explore them in real depth.
the importance of strong supporting characters
Which also means that some of the supporting characters in my novel are getting rewrites too. The female friend who has health issues, is being rewritten to show strength in weakness. The male friend who refuses to follow in his family’s military footsteps is getting a more fully-formed backstory. The military friend is becoming an unexpected ally. And the bad guy is being rewritten into the story in a charming and unexpected way. Because, at the end of the day, life is made up of so many different interesting characters, and nobody is simply a supporting character without a distinct story of their own.
I’m reminded of the supporting characters in the stories I love so much, and how it is they who help the strong female characters to grow into who they are meant to be. Often it is the friendships formed between characters which are the most compelling parts of the story. Just as it is the support that we give each other in life, which makes the world a better and more balanced place to live.
Today I want to talk a bit about Patreon, and how it is helping people like you and me support the creators they love, even with minimal time and funds. If you’ve never heard of Patreon before, the concept is both simple and brilliant! It provides a platform for Creators to access ongoing financial support from patrons, who commit to paying a certain amount per month to support their vision. This means that independent Creators can focus on doing what they’re best at, without worrying constantly about funding their work.
Of course, Patreon wouldn’t work at all if it didn’t have Patrons, which is why I wanted to talk to you a bit about the benefits of being a Patron today. I have been aware of Patreon for quite some time now, having seen some of my favourite yoga teachers sharing links to their own Patreon pages. But, as you know, money has been beyond tight for us this past year or two, and ongoing funding was something I simply couldn’t guarantee.
However, it was my birthday in April and I received more money from family than I had expected, and so once I had bought the things I really wanted/needed, I still had around £30 to spare. Instead of simply spending it on something I didn’t really need, I decided to put it aside so that I could cover the costs of funding someone for the next 12 months (by which point I’m hoping we’ll be a little bit more financially stable and able to carry on supporting the Creators I chose to support).
support your favourite creators for as little as $1 per month
Yes, you didn’t misread that – I’m supporting not just one, but two Creators on Patreon for a whole year for £30! Isn’t that amazing? £30 doesn’t sound like much, does it? But if just 10 people put that into the pot each year then it begins to add up. And, of course, other Patrons who are able to can choose to pay more per month, because Patreon offers tiered funding options to all Creators. Which means that people like me can become Patrons from as little as $1 per month (which is less than £1) for some Creators.
“But what’s in it for me?” I hear you say. Well, I’m glad you asked. As with most crowdfunding options available online these days, Patreon allows Creators to offer incentives to their Patrons, as a way of saying thank you for their support. Incentives can include things like behind-the-scenes footage, early release copies of content, and conference calls with the Creators. Incentives tend to increase with each tier, but even those of us offering just $1 per month get goodies just for turning up and supporting them.
support creators whose work you already admire
One of the best things for me about Patreon is that it enables me to support Creators I already love. The two that I chose to support (who I will talk about in a minute) are both yoga teachers, creating change one step at a time via free YouTube videos. I’ve benefited from having access to their channels, and love their vision to expand what they do beyond this medium. They both want to get out there and help others discover the joys of yoga, whilst continuing to provide free content (which, if it isn’t already obvious, may be free to the viewer but certainly isn’t free for them to create).
I am incredibly limited in what I can do at the moment (both physically and financially), so to be able to make a difference by adding to the pot in this way feels amazing. It really does take in the whole ethos of yoga as well, that simply showing up and doing what you can, even if that looks a millions miles away from what the teacher is able to do, is what is most important. By supporting these two creators, I am showing up in the best way that I can.
cosmic kids – the first creator i’m supporting
You’ve heard me talk about Cosmic Kids in the past, because we absolutely adore them and have done ever since we first came across their Star Wars adventure when Little Man was 3 years old.
We even had the absolute joy of attending Cosmic Kids Live and doing yoga with Jaime at Google HQ in 2015. That was actually the last time I managed to do a proper adventure with Little Man, and I almost didn’t apply for the chance to go as my health was already starting to fall into a quick decline. So I am doubly glad that we made such amazing memories that day, and whenever I’m asked what my favourite blogging opportunity has been, it is supporting Cosmic Kids as much as I’ve been able to.
But I still wanted to do more. I still wanted to be able to support them on an ongoing basis. So they were my first thought when I realised I had some money to invest in Patreon. Here’s what Jaime has to say about the difference your support can make:
I joined them on the Super Banana level, paying just $2 per month, which I set up through PayPal, so I could put the money for the year in there and not worry about it. This is their most popular tier, and it means I get access to exclusive news, behind-the-scenes footage, and video updates from Jaime.
Holla with your dolla – The Second Creator I’m Supporting
Holla with Your Dolla was set up by Shiv and Ceemaj, who I originally found in 2015 when I first discovered Kundalini Yoga. Their Yoga to Feel Better, Beginners + Beyond Intro Class was my first real experience of Kundalini Yoga, and I was hooked from the very first moment.
I’d been to a yoga class in my teens with my dad, and had tried to practise it intermittently over the years since, but I’d never found anything that made me feel quite so in tune with my body! As you may know, I have the Hypermobile form of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS). This is a genetic condition that affects the collagen in my body, causing joint pain and instability and issues with my Autonomic Nervous System. And in 2015 I was beginning to experience a rapid decline in my overall health and well-being, which was both terrifying and frustrating.
So finding a form of yoga which focused on a combination of movement, mantra, and mudras was pretty much life-changing for me, especially when taught by someone as down-to-earth as Shiv is. You only have to look at their YouTube channel – Shiv and Ceemaj The Feel Better Way – to see just how much they share with others about their life. There is a true openness and authenticity about the way they create their videos. Shiv recently told me that she’s a “one-take” kinda gal – they hit record, she shares what she needs to, and then they upload with minimal editing. In a world of heavily edited videos and photos, it’s so refreshing to see the all-too-human moments when she gets distracted or stumbles over some words. Because it reminds you that it’s okay to be who you are, in every single moment.
There are over 800 videos on their YouTube channel, and there really is something for everyone. There are 3 minute meditations, kriyas to help all kinds of issues we face in life, a whole Q&A series on Kundalini yoga, and general snippets from their life. Whatever you need at any given moment, you can be sure to find something to help on their channel. Which is why I was so delighted to be able to support Shiv and Ceemaj on Patreon too. They have a beautiful vision for creating change globally, starting with YOU. $1 really can make all the difference, and that’s why they called their campaign, “Holla with your Dolla”. Here’s what Shiv has to say about it:
Isn’t that amazing? Can’t you just feel their passion for creating change and doing it together with you? And I have to tell you, they really do mean it when they talk about coming together as a community. Over the past few months I have had lots of wonderful little glimpses of what they’re up to via updates they share via Patreon. Even though I am on the lowest tier, I get access to so many things. Between the updates on Patreon and instagram, I feel like I have come to know Shiv so well. And the more I get to know her, the more I care about what she’s doing.
You really can make a difference with just $1. So why not head on over to Patreon to check out Holla with Your Dolla. If you join them you’ll even get your very own video welcome. They’re so much fun, and seem to get crazier with time. Here’s mine:
tHere’s a creator for everyone!
There are, of course, so many different creators you can support via Patreon. Just a quick glance at the “Explore Creators” page shows how varied the range of talent and focus areas are, so why not head on over today and see who you could support. It really is a wonderful feeling, to know that you’re helping to create real change with even the smallest amount of money.
I wanted to take a few moments today to reflect on the changes that have been happening in my life over the past few years. I don’t mean the external changes, although there have been plenty of those! I mean the internal changes that have helped me to look at my life from a whole new perspective, leading me to redefine my own sense of self-worth.
It feels almost impossible to know where to begin with this, because the way I view my life has changed in so many ways over the past few years. But I think the most logical place to start is in my teen years, when I first began to develop a warped sense of self-worth
Self-Worth from a High-Achiever’s Perspective
I’ve spent the vast majority of my life believing that my value came from the things I did, rather than simply who I am. As a naturally high-achiever at school, it seemed almost inevitable that this would happen. I got consistently good grades (often the highest in the class), and then I went on to study at one of the UK’s top universities. By the time I graduated, aged 22, my entire life had been about academic achievement. And yet, despite this, I never felt “good enough”.
It doesn’t make much sense, does it? I achieved so much as a teenager and in my early twenties, academically at least. You’d think that this would provide a solid foundation for confidence in my skills and abilities, but in reality the exact opposite was my experience.
I actually really struggled with self-worth a lot whilst at university, and when my dad asked me if I was finally proud of myself on my graduation day I honestly said that I wasn’t. I felt like I had completely bluffed my way through, and was a fraud.
And the thought of moving into employment terrified me, because I couldn’t ever see myself feeling confident enough to cope in the workplace. You see, for me, my self-worth had become so intrinsically linked with my achievements, I felt huge amounts of anxiety and fear over maintaining that high level of accomplishment. Anything less than “the best” felt like failure to me.
the ongoing impact of low self-worth
As a result, I did everything to avoid going into roles that might really challenge me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time working in childcare, retail, and student support. I’m a sociable person, and working in roles that involved meeting lots of people was lovely. But I never stayed anywhere long enough to advance up the career ladder. It didn’t matter that my employers could see my potential, giving me greater responsibility than my role actually required, I couldn’t see my worth.
And for most of my 20s I felt like I was just biding my time until I got married and had kids. The one thing I had always been sure about in my life was that I adored children and couldn’t wait to be a mother. I convinced myself that I wasn’t career driven or ambitious, I was just holding down a job until my real role in life would begin. So I was overjoyed when I fell pregnant in 2011, just a few months after our wedding. But my joy was short-lived.
when life throws you a curveball, it’s easy to doubt yourself
As you may know, I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy. It was, quite honestly, sheer hell. I knew, without a doubt, that I couldn’t possibly face another pregnancy, because my first one almost broke me. But so did the decision never to have another child. I have never been so angry with God than I was during that time.
I remember crying through angry tears, asking why I had been made so maternally driven if I were only ever to be allowed one child. The one thing I had always felt so sure about, that I would devote years of my life to raising a young family, was suddenly snatched from me. And it broke my heart. I absolutely adored being a mother, it was everything I had ever dreamed of. But in my grief and confusion, my lack of self-worth started to seep into this area of my life too.
Any parent will tell you that having a baby is exhausting beyond belief. It feels relentless and scary, to be solely responsible for the welfare of this tiny being. And that’s before you even begin to look at other things that can make it even harder. We all have things we struggle with when we become parents. For me it was the combination of trying to recover from the trauma of my pregnancy whilst: caring for a baby who never slept; trying to deal with terrible issues with oversupply (which felt like my body was letting me down yet again); and supporting a husband who was beginning to suffer from depression. So, it’s not all that surprising that my thought process turned to beating myself up.
the destructive power of doubting yourself
I knew and trusted myself enough to know that I needed help to avoid spiralling out of control into a pit of despair, so I asked my doctor at my 6 week post-natal check for a referral for mental health support. I ended up having 7 months of CBT, and honestly I credit that with keeping my head above the water. But even with that, I still lacked the self-worth to follow my instincts and allow myself time to heal and process what had happened.
My inner chatter began to say things like, “why would you even believe you deserve to have more children when you’re already struggling with one?” and “what gives you the right to stay home and enjoy being with your child, when your husband is struggling so much at work?” I began to question everything, and whilst I look back on that first year with happy memories of sitting for hours just cherishing being home with my boy, I can see how I ended up taking the next steps that I did. Because I didn’t believe I deserved to enjoy being a stay-at-home-mum, nor did I feel like I was doing enough in my life. I felt like I needed to do more.
In a series of what I can now see were misguided, if well-intentioned, choices, I found myself pushed beyond my limit and close to a complete breakdown by the end of 2014. I returned to work when my son was just 15 months old, far sooner than I ever thought I would, and whilst I enjoyed the work immensely I also missed being with him more than I can say. At one point I ended up working two separate part-time jobs, and when one offered full-time hours I took it as it seemed easier than balancing two roles. But it was a role in which I felt incredibly isolated and which, due to the nature of the work tapping into my own personal trauma, almost broke me.
To any outside observer, 2014 should have been a high point in my career. My book was published and hit the top 10 for books in its genre on Amazon. I was interviewed live on national television. And I was working in a role that enabled me to support women all around the country. But I was falling apart inside in ways I had never, ever experienced before. And it was all because I hadn’t trusted myself enough to follow my instincts when they had repeatedly said, “this isn’t what you’re meant to be doing”.
sometimes the best lessons in life are the hardest to learn (because we resist them so much)
Near the end of 2014 I wrote a post called Warrior, because I felt like fighting was what I needed to do. But a few weeks later, in a moment of sheer desperation, I prayed to God in a way I’d never done before. I said, “I’ve tried everything, and I don’t know what I need to do any more. Please, you have to show me the way. It’s your turn now!” And I truly meant it.
I had spent so much time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life, to give my life meaning, if I wasn’t meant to spend this part of my life raising babies. And I had found a purpose, no doubt about that. I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into campaigning for better awareness and care of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, so that one day no woman would have to make the same heart-wrenching choice never to have another baby as I had. But that wasn’t my purpose. That wasn’t what I was here for, and I was finally beginning to accept that.
But I was still very much caught up in the movement in a way that was deeply damaging for me, as well as for those I worked with. And I couldn’t see a way out. But, do you know what? Within moments of passing control over to God, I received the most overwhelming feeling of peace. It just washed right over me, and I heard the word, “Surrender“. And I knew that was what I was being asked to do. I wasn’t being asked to fight for (or against) anything, I simply had to surrender into it. And boy, did I surrender!
answered prayers often take us to places we could never have imagined
Within weeks of my prayer, I had been made redundant; been turned down at three separate interviews for being “over qualified”; and battled with a letting agency after our house move fell through unexpectedly. And yet, I felt nothing but quiet assurance that all would be well. I even began to think about trying to go it alone, finally finding the courage to look at my blog as a business opportunity, a chance to do what I was best at (communicate), rather than simply a hobby.
But in the end, I still didn’t trust myself enough to do that. I still felt as if that was something other people got to do, and it was silly of me to even contemplate the idea. Which is crazy, because it was around this time that one of my blog posts was chosen as one of the Blogger Keynotes at a blogging conference, and I got to read it in front of a room full of bloggers in June 2015. But still, I felt as if I wasn’t “good enough”.
So I eventually ended up in a part-time role, which I loved, but which was physically exhausting. My body had never really recovered from my pregnancy, all the symptoms connected to my EDS had increased, and my fatigue was at an all time high. I began to spend 3 days a week working, and the other 4 feeling like I had the flu. I could barely move, and began to get sick regularly on top. At the time I was gutted. I had thought I had finally said goodbye to the stress that had taken such a toll on my body.
But it was like my body was doing everything it could to make it impossible for me to continue ignoring the fact that I still wasn’t listening to my intuition. Every time I tried to find a purpose, things seemed to get immeasurably harder. I spent most of 2016 seeing multiple specialists to try and figure out what was wrong with me, and in the end I was given a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.
life will keep sending you the same lesson until you get it
Even with this diagnosis, I still refused to stop and look at what I really needed to learn – self-worth. I left employment after 6 months on sick leave, but set myself up as a freelance VA and web support. I wouldn’t have dared dream of doing that until my sister-in-law asked me to do some work for her and suggested my skill-set was actually really valuable to other businesses. But with enough encouragement from her, along with two coaches I was lucky enough to work with (Pippa from Story of Mum, and Michelle Reeves), I took the plunge and set up Shortman Media.
My aim for the business was to build it up enough so that I could train Tim in the work I did, so that he could start working from home too. We knew his days in regular employment were numbered, and really wanted to avoid the UK Benefits System, which we knew was notoriously bad for supporting people like us. And for a while, it seemed as if this would work. During 2017 I managed to work with 6 different clients, and gained two amazing testimonials that boosted my confidence a bit.
But it wasn’t to last. By the end of 2017 I was working the absolute minimum hours (less than 10 per month), and even then I was struggling. And yet, despite knowing my health was in a rapid decline, I still had the most ridiculously ambitious plans for 2018.
when you “get it”, you really get it
I was still trying to “fix” my life, to find some purpose within the madness, so I didn’t have to face the fact that I needed help. So my body continued to send me messages I could not possibly ignore. I began suffering with migraines that lasted for 2 weeks every single month. I caught every virus going. I became practically housebound, barely leaving my house for the first quarter of 2018. I was literally reliant on others for pretty much everything.
And it was hard. Oh, boy, was it hard. I fought with feelings of guilt, and failure, as it just seemed to be one battle after another. The last 6 months of my life have felt like the darkest pit. And yet, once again, as I began to hit rock bottom I found my faith growing. I clung on to the hope that we would, one day, find our way out of this mess. And I began to realise that the only thing I could really do was focus on looking after myself.
I realised I couldn’t change what was happening to us externally, but I could change how I felt about it internally. I began trying to do things that eased my soul, and chose to trust that the Universe had my back. But it was hard. For instance, there were 3 weeks in which we were unable to bid on any council properties. This was then followed by several weeks when the only option were flats, which I knew without a doubt would be a terrible move for us.
There was one week when I really began to doubt myself and wonder if we should bid on a flat, just to get out of the house that had become almost prison-like to me. But I held faith, and lo and behold the very next week our dream bungalow became available. And even though it felt too risky to even dream we might get it, I just knew it was ours and felt like I was simply waiting for confirmation of what I already knew. And a week later, it really was ours!
letting go of the ego to find a true sense of self-worth
Of course, moving when you’re as ill as we are is far from easy. I had to swallow my pride over and over again, asking publicly for help with everything from decorating to doing tip runs. But do you know what I learned from this? I learned that people were more than happy to help, because they valued me for who I am, rather than what I could do. And it was a real revelation!
The more I asked, the more I received, and I began to see how truly blessed I am. In the moments when I felt like the biggest failure, I reached out for help instead of trying to hide my shame, and received so much support it was incredible. And it reminded me that, all along, I’ve been supported, I just didn’t want to believe it. Because I didn’t feel worthy. I felt like I hadn’t earned it.
But all that was changing. When I felt like I truly had nothing left to lose, I realised I had gained so much more than I could ever have imagined. And slowly, but surely, I began to redefine self-worth. I began to truly understand what it meant to honour yourself as worthy, just as you are. To “stop playing small” and fully embrace the beauty of who you are. I began to accept what I had written a few years ago, about us all being made to shine. And I began to trust myself again (or maybe, even, for the first time ever!)
when you trust yourself, you begin to find your way
This all brings me to the past few weeks, in which a huge amount of inner healing work has taken place. It all started with Rebecca Campbell’s new Work Your Light Oracle Deck, which I kept seeing on instagram.
I have several oracle decks already, and used to use them quite a lot. But in recent years I just haven’t felt connected to them at all. So it surprised me to be so attracted to this new deck, especially as the artwork was so different to what I would usually be drawn towards. After seeing it multiple times, and feeling a gut reaction to it every single time, I decided to trust my instinct and order it. And, wow, was that the best decision I have made in a very long time!
The deck itself is so incredibly beautiful, and the emphasis on the idea that You Are The Oracle really spoke to me. You can read about my first experience with the deck here, which in and of itself is incredible. I’d never shared anything quite so “New Age-y” so publicly before, and it felt really scary to open up that part of my life and express how much it means to me, especially as someone who also describes herself as a Progressive Christian.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve touched on this in the past, but I’ve never authentically shared how it fits into my own personal life, nor how important it is to me. And that felt like a terrifying thing to do. But it also felt so right. As I wrote in my instagram post, “I’m finding the courage to share all the aspects of my faith and spirituality. Because I do connect with both “New Age Spirituality” and Progressive Christianity. I truly believe they complement each other and do not have to be an “either, or” option when it comes to faith. This is my path, and I don’t want to hide it any more.”
finding the worth in your own, unique story
Thankfully, several people liked and commented on my post, giving me the added reassurance that it was safe to share my story in this way. And it opened up so many doors for me. Because, for the first time ever, I began to see the worth in my story and the power in sharing it openly.
I’ve been blogging since 2006, and right from the beginning I wanted to write about faith and spirituality and how beautiful it can be when it is truly inclusive. But as a 22 year old, I felt like I had no right to be writing about such things – what did I know about life?
So I began writing about things that seemed “blog-worthy”, based on the types of topics other bloggers were writing about. Things like homemaking, crafts, and parenting. But the truth is, that wasn’t what I needed to write about. I needed to write about faith. And I needed to write about it in the context of life itself.
By that, I mean, I didn’t need to have it all figured out, I simply needed to write authentically as life happened. Because there is power in being open and raw and vulnerable, especially in a world that is so hell-bent on aiming for perfection. My beauty lies in the unfiltered parts of my life. And my worth is based on who I am, not who the world wants me to be.
changing “only” to “Amazing”
And so, I began to simply write what was on my mind, rather than worrying about whether it was share-worthy. And I began to trust that it would find those who needed to read it. Because a few weeks ago, in what I can only describe as an inspired moment of clarity, I suddenly realised I had been looking at my blogging journey all wrong.
For many years, I’ve felt like a failure for blogging for so many years and still only having a fraction of the reach that other bloggers have. I felt bad that I get “only” 2,000 visits to my blog per month, that “only” 147 people follow me on Facebook, and that “only” 660 people follow me on instagram. But in that moment of clarity, I changed my “only” to “amazing”.
I realised that it is truly amazing that my blog is viewed 2,000 times per month, despite me doing pretty much no social media promotion whatsoever. And it is beyond amazing that people not only follow me on Facebook and instagram, but they also encourage and connect with me whenever I post, despite my posts being irregular and likely to be lost in such a fast-paced environment.
just share your story, that’s all that matters
I couldn’t possibly reach as many as I do people without my blog or social media. So it is a true blessing to be able to share my story in this way. And I’m beginning to see the true value in sharing it, no matter how many people read it.
Funnily enough, the Universe was determined to help me remember this, as I suddenly came across a video series by Gabby Bernstein, in which she encourages you to simply get out there and share your story. In her first video she even mentions someone who arranged a public talk and only one person turned up. And yet, after her talk that one person thanked her for such an incredible experience. If we simply share our story, the rest falls into place.
And so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to share my story. I’m not going to worry about how long this post is, or whether it’s “of value” to anyone else. It’s of huge value to me, and reminds me that I’ve been sharing my story all along. It’s just, now I’m doing so with intention. Now I’m sharing it because I understand that it has value simply because it is true and authentic. And because of that, it is also healing.
Today I want to talk to you about the UK benefits system and how it is letting down the very people it is supposed to help. This isn’t my usual topic of conversation on the blog, so I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt when I say this is a crucial conversation that we all need to be having.
I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, but two things have stopped me. The first is fear of the negative reaction I may bring upon myself for writing this honestly. And the second is that I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do so, because I have been so busy trying to fight for the support we need whilst struggling with severe health issues. But after the week we’ve had, I’m making time to get this written.
what is going on with the uk benefit system?
I’m not even sure where to begin with this, because there are so many things happening within the benefits system at the moment. In fact it would be impossible to cover it all within one single blog post. But for the purposes of giving a short overview of where we find ourselves, here are some key facts and figures:
The DWP has spent over £100m on disability appeals, with over 66% of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and 68% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals being ruled in favour of the claimants who had previously been denied support by the DWP.
These are just four quick snapshots of what is happening within the benefit system at the moment, but they give a clear indication that something is terribly wrong. We are letting down children and those with health issues in a truly horrific way, whilst also engendering an attitude of suspicion and bitterness towards those who are on benefits. How have we reached a place where we look down upon those who are most in need, rather than supporting them?
the stigma of benefits
There is no denying it – there is a massive stigma attached to the idea of benefits. The charity Turn2Us published an in depth report about this very stigma, based on an independent Ipsos MORI survey carried out in 2012 and an analysis of media reports between 1995 and 2011. It is a long read, but there are two points that really stood out for me:
Benefit stigma rests heavily on the perception that claimants are “undeserving”, and that claimants appear to be seen as less deserving now than they did 20 years ago.
The media is often blamed for driving this stigma and, whilst there is some evidence of this, it is more important to note that there are specific ways in which this can occur. For instance, whilst the media shares both positive and negative representations of claimants, there is a distinct bias towards the negative view. And whilst negative coverage does not appear to be more prolific than it was in the late 90s, there seems to be more weight added to the “effort” that a claimant makes these days than in previous years.
I found the second of these points really quite profound. In the age of social media, it is easier to balance out the positive and negative views. However it is also far easier to be caught up in the idea that, “you can achieve anything, if only you put your mind to it!”
And it is an admirable sentiment, for sure. But how many of us can truly say that we have never faced a challenge that we simply couldn’t fix on our own? We all have areas we struggle with, times when we fall to our knees and need a helping hand. Whether it’s financial, relational, physical, or emotional, we all have our battles. And yet, because of this ideology that we should be able to cope on our own, we suffer in silence and expect others to do the same.
the benefit system exists for a reason
In 1942, William Beveridge published “Social Insurance and Allied Services” (known as the Beveridge Report), which set the stage for the post-War Welfare State. I’ve recently been rewatching Call The Midwife , and have been struck by the huge difference the Welfare State made in those post-war years and the decades that followed.
Social housing enabled so many families to move out of poverty and into homes that were safe and warm. And the NHS gave families access to healthcare that was free at the point of care. As a family who struggle with multiple health issues, we are constantly grateful for the fact we still have access to see a GP or consultant without worrying about financing such care.
It bothers me greatly that the NHS is being failed so badly by our government, to the point where its future is so uncertain. Just as the high levels of homelessness and families struggling to afford their rent worry me. I find it so difficult to understand how we have found ourselves in this place, where even working families are struggling to survive financially, and those who need support often aren’t able to access it.
we need to change the way we think about the world
And yet there’s a part of me that knows exactly how we got here. Looking back over the past 20 years, which is pretty much my teens and adult life, I can see just how often I was taught to believe it was possible to live a good life by working hard and being “responsible”.
I grew up with the belief that there were enough jobs to go around, and that you could easily keep a roof over your head and food on your table. So imagine my surprise when I graduated from university in 2006, struggled to get a job, and could barely afford rent even in a house share. The financial crisis in 2008, and the austerity measures that have damaged so many in our country have only made things worse. And yet we continue to cling to this idea that if only people tried harder, they would not need support.
Which is why I felt compelled to write our story, to show that those of us seeking support from the benefit system have not only worked unbelievably hard to stay out of a system that is downright cruel, we are also having to deal with the most awful treatment within it.
our story as a family with two disabled parents
Let me start by giving you a basic overview of the situation we currently find ourselves in, and why this is so important to me.
I’m Amanda, a 33 year old graduate and freelancer. My current health diagnoses include: Fibromyalgia; Endometriosis; Joint Hypermobility Syndrome; and Postural Hypotension. I also suffer from chronic migraines that can last for days, IBS, and eczema.
Tim is my husband. He is 36 and his current diagnoses include: Small Fibre Neuropathy, Fatty Liver, and Depression and Anxiety.
Our son is 6 years old and was recently diagnosed with Autism.
Tim and I are both currently out of work for health reasons. This is not something we chose – we have both tried incredibly hard to stay within work:
Over the past 10 years I have worked in numerous positions including: childcare; student support; tourism; PA; volunteer management; sales; and most recently as a freelance copywriter and VA. I even did a short stint as a dinnerlady whilst suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy – if that isn’t a sign of how hard I have tried to work whilst suffering from debilitating symptoms then I don’t know what is!
Over the same 10 year period Tim has had 3 different careers – plumber, healthcare assistant, and admin assistant. He left plumbing when the pain in his hands and wrists became too much to continue in that line of work. He retrained as a healthcare assistant and worked in hospitals for almost 5 years before moving into an office based environment. This second career change came about because the shift work began to become too difficult to manage with his developing symptoms of Small Fibre Neuropathy. Unfortunately, despite multiple adjustments made at work, he lost his job last Summer due to the severity of his symptoms and the number of absences he had as a result.
As you can hopefully see from this, Tim and I have worked immeasurably hard over the years to remain in work. In fact, when I had to leave my final place of employment after 6 months of sick leave at the beginning of 2017, I set up my own business (Shortman Media) in an attempt to continue working around my health conditions.
I was determined to avoid having to apply for ESA, and had hoped to build up the business enough to eventually bring Tim on board as well. We knew his days were numbered in traditional employment and I wanted to find a way for us to continue to “pay our own way”. But the reality is that both of us are simply too ill right now to do that.
Since the beginning of 2018 I have barely left the house, other than to occasionally take our son to school. Some days I barely leave my bed, because the pain and fatigue and nausea is so bad. If Tim didn’t bring me food and drink I don’t know what I would do, because on my bad days I cannot cope with the stairs down to the kitchen. Even on good days I often have to go up on all fours because of the pain and instability in my hips and pelvis.
And whilst Tim is faring slightly better than I am, he is still struggling immensely. There are days when he wakes up vomiting from a combination of the pain and anxiety. There are days when the pain is so bad he can barely move, and he regularly cuts and burns himself due to sensory issues with his hands. And there are days when he cannot stop crying because of the awful situation we find ourselves in, and the battle we are facing simply to get the most basic of support.
We are doing our absolute best to support each other and keep our little family safe and emotionally stable throughout one of the hardest periods of our lives, but it is so hard. We are not new to this, we’ve been living with health issues for years. It’s just, right now, we need support to help us to rest, recover, and get back on track. But the very process of trying to get that support is actually making us more sick…
the benefit system is damaging those who are most in need
At present, we are surviving on a combination of ESA (for me), Child Tax Credits, Child Benefits, Housing Benefit, and Council Tax Reduction. Even with the best of budgeting intentions, this isn’t enough to make ends meet. Our rent alone is £540 per month (and due to go up to £555 next month) for a privately rented house that has had two major leaks within two years (I’m talking damage that required a whole new wall and ceiling, leaving us living in damp conditions whilst waiting for repairs!)
Thankfully I was put into the Support Group for ESA. But I was denied PIP last year. I could have taken it to appeal, but I was experiencing migraines that lasted for 10 days at a time, so I simply wasn’t well enough to do that within the month given. I have just reapplied, on the advice of Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), but I thoroughly expect to have to go to appeal. They simply don’t accept how sick I am.
Tim, however, was denied ESA completely as the DWP found him “fit for work”. The decision letter actually states that they do not question that he is ill, but they see no reason why he could not find a job in a “modern office environment with reasonable adjustments.”
Now this, in itself, doesn’t sound that unreasonable, does it? But the fact of the matter is that Tim previously worked in a “modern office environment” and made all sorts of “reasonable adjustments” including specialised equipment and reducing his hours, but it still wasn’t enough to help him keep hold of that job. He was dismissed due to a high level of absence caused by his health conditions.
The DWP knows that he previously worked in an office environment and lost his job for health reasons less than a year ago. So the logic that says he should somehow be able to secure another job and miraculously find an adjustment that he missed in his last workplace is massively flawed. And yet that’s where we find ourselves.
On top of all of this, Tim has had the mobility aspect of PIP which he has been receiving for the past 3 years taken off him, despite the fact he is more ill now than he was 3 years ago when he was first assessed. How does that make sense?
This past week I have had to fill in his ESA appeal form and the mandatory reconsideration form for his PIP because the whole thing was too stressful for him. And when I say stressful, I mean I am seriously worried about his mental health and he’s due to see the GP again tomorrow.
Now here is where it gets hard for me, because in order to show you how damaging this system is, I have to share some of the darkest moments of our life. You see, over the past 3 years, Tim has had a couple of suicidal episodes. Twice I have had to try my absolute hardest to talk him down from the most harrowing place, trying to somehow get through to him that the world would not be better off without him. Because that’s honestly how he feels. There was also a time when he walked out of the house and I had absolutely no idea whether he was going to come back or not.
This is the level of depression and anxiety that he lives with, and yet despite being told this on numerous occasions the DWP seem to believe that he only suffers from “mild depression” and that finding him “fit for work” won’t have any serious implication to his health. To that I respond bullshit. There is no other way of saying it. If you can listen to a couple share experiences of suicidal episodes and then find that person to only be suffering from “mild” depression, then there is something deeply wrong with the system!
The DWP makes arbitrary decisions based on a flawed system
If you’ve never had to apply for either ESA or PIP then you probably have no idea how the system even works. So I want to give you a little bit of background. I’m going to focus specifically on PIP for this, but the ESA system has many similarities.
To start with, you have to call a number to start your claim. This is hugely terrifying for some people, and the process hasn’t even begun yet.
Then, you get sent a ridiculously long booklet you have to fill in (for PIP it is 15 questions) and you only have a few weeks to do it in. For people who are struggling healthwise, this is a mammoth task that is both exhausting and dehumanising.
The next step is a face-to-face assessment. This is carried out by someone with previous healthcare experience, but is basically a case of someone asking you a series of questions and typing the information that they feel is relevant onto a laptop.
But here’s the shocking part – the person who carries out the assessment and actually sees you in person is not the person who makes the decision regarding your claim. That is carried out by a “decision maker”, who may have absolutely no medical training whatsoever, and who has never met you.
the points based system fails to capture a range of conditions
The worst part of it all is that the system is set up to try and ensure as few people as possible are eligible for support. Just a cursory glance at the PIP descriptors shows how hard it is to qualify for even the most basic support (which requires you to score at least 8 points in either the daily living or mobility section).
Even though the DWP’s own guidance now states that these activities needs to be done reliably and to an acceptable standard, this is still open to huge interpretation. From what I have read, the term “reliably” should cover people like us who can do the activities, but doing so causes immense pain or fatigue, or takes us more than twice as long as somebody else. But my experience is that this isn’t always the case…
For instance, both my own refusal last year and Tim’s this year have stated that we do certain things (such as going to church and doing the school run) as proof that we are okay. Yet we have made it clear time and again that we have to rest for hours after the school run, and that doing so is incredibly painful.
We’ve also had our medications used against us. According to the DWP, I can’t possibly be in as much pain as I say I am because I do not take prescription painkillers that a lot of people with my conditions do. Except I told them I don’t take them as they make me too sick, and my Rheumatologist advised me not to take them. Tim received the same message, that he could only possibly be in “moderate pain”, despite taking the maximum doses of Pregablin and Tramadol, and having had to stop taking Amitriptyline and Oromorph due to side effects.
mental health is treated in the most appalling way
When it comes to the mental health side of things it gets even worse. The DWP seems to have absolutely no understanding of mental health, nor the severe impact that the system causes to those who are already suffering.
As I mentioned above, Tim is considered by them to have only “mild depression”, despite previous suicidal episodes and severe distress at present. This is because he was able to talk to the assessor and because he is only on a mild dose of antidepressants (again, because of negative side effects). I find this the most shocking of all, I think, and certainly the most distressing. Because I am the one trying to console my husband as he despairs at the state we are in and how much it feels like the world is against us.
I am actually generally a very positive person, I have my own periods of despair but my faith and natural optimism get me through most things. But even I am struggling mentally and emotionally with the burden we are facing right now, and the stigma that comes with the position we find ourselves in.
Nobody wants to be reliant on benefits. Nobody wants to have to spend every day worrying about how they’ll make ends meet and whether they’ll ever feel well again. And nobody ever wants to be treated like a second class citizen (which is putting it nicely).
I fear for the mental health of my husband right now. I fear that a day will come when it will all become just too much. And I feel guilty that there is absolutely nothing I can do to help him, because I’m too ill to fight the way we need to just to access the most basic of support. And nobody should ever have to feel guilty for needing support.
so let’s change the conversation, let’s support those in need…
If any of what I have written above has moved you in any way, please consider sharing this post with your friends and family. Let’s get the conversation started about the true cost of the benefit system in our country.
Let’s tackle the ongoing narrative that benefit fraud is a big problem and the current system is fair, because it isn’t. This brilliant article from The Huffington Post is a few years old now, but it is a great overview of how small benefit fraud is compared to other things such as tax fraud. It also shows how benefit fraud costs us less than 1% of the total cost of benefits and pensions. How have we blown it so out of proportion?
Well, a lot of it is due to the constant obsession with eliminating the budget deficit, which is actually harming our country. I’m not going to go into this in detail now, as there are people who understand it and can explain it far better than I can. To get you started, check out this brilliant article by The Guardian.
I feel like there is so much more I could say, but all I really wanted to do was to get the conversation started. My husband and I are currently in the heart of battle with this cruel system, and I won’t stop fighting until those in need start to get the support they deserve. Because it’s not just about us as individuals, it’s about us as a society. And I, for one, hope to build a kinder society for my child to grow up in!
help and support for claiming benefits
If you’re trying to access benefits, or want to know what help you may be able to access, please try some of the following places:
8th March is International Women’s Day, an annual event which celebrates “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women”, as well as calling for greater awareness and movement towards gender equality in all areas of life. It’s a day which I have become increasingly aware of over the past few years, and today I wanted to mark it with a post about the power of women.
why focus on the power of women?
When I first started thinking about writing this post, I considered highlighting the areas in which I feel women are both disadvantaged and disempowered. To be honest, that might have been a quicker and easier post to write, because there are clearly many areas in which this happens. I mean, just look at the following facts:
The Gender Pay Gap is widening, with, “women in their 50s paid on average 18.6% less than their male colleagues”, whilst the gap for women in their 20s is now “five times greater than it was six years ago”.
Two in Five women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with women being “three times more likely to have been seriously sexually assaulted” than men. Now, I want to add here that I am not dismissing the fact that men also experience sexual harassment. I think it is truly despicable that anybody should ever experience any kind of abuse or assault, and we need to work towards removing this threat for everybody! However, the point I’m trying to make here is that women are at greater risk than men.
These are quite sobering facts, especially when you consider that they relate to the UK where women have far greater rights than in some countries. However, it is possible to see advances being made in gender equality and, whilst we have a long way to go, I want to focus on the many amazing ways in which women are embracing their power to create change.
the tides are turning
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there has been this monumental change over the past year, particularly in the past few months. Movements such as the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns have united women around the globe to stand up for themselves and each other. For far too long, women have been betrayed by those who abused their power. They have been held down as victims, beaten by a system that made them afraid to speak out. And yet, suddenly, one voice turned into two, which doubled to four, and continued to grow exponentially until the power of women showed its beautiful strength in the form of solidarity.
Men and women came together to demand a better way of being. And that’s the beauty of the power of women – it is all-encompassing. Feminism isn’t about a battle between the genders; it isn’t a fight to be “better than”, rather it is a call to be equal. And once you hear her call, it’s hard to resist, because it is so beautiful. It speaks of a kinder, gentler, more balanced way of being. It nurtures all, and empowers everyone to speak out about injustice and demand a better way of life. Just look at how the #MeToo movement opened up the space for Brendan Fraser to speak about his own experience of abuse in the industry…
i am woman, hear me roar
In the words of Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore, and I know too much to go back an’ pretend. ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before, and I’ve been down there on the floor, no one’s ever gonna keep me down again”. Every year more and more voices join the call for equality. Change is being made, little by little, and slowly we are creating a better world for ourselves and our children.
We’ve still got a long, long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come I feel blessed to be living in a time when people all around the globe are standing up and being counted. Social media, for all its faults, is providing a platform for change on an epic scale. International Women’s Day is trending across the major social media platforms today, as women embrace their power and use their voices to call for a better future. And it’s connecting women who wish to work together to enact the very change they wish to see in the world.
the power of women in action
Which brings me back to my aim for this post, to celebrate and highlight the power of women in action today. There are so many initiatives that empower women to smash gender stereotypes. These include (but are certainly not limited to) This Girl Can, Women in Science, and The International Women’s Day own campaign theme for this year, #PressforProgress.
But what I really want to do is share with you some of the smaller initiatives being created by individual women or small groups of women collaborating together to enact change within their own sphere of influence. Because what could be more inspiring that seeing the difference you can make with even the smallest changes? You don’t have to be a public figure or have lots of money and influence to have an impact. We all have an impact on the world, as these women show us so well…
one-to-one mentoring offer
Emily, who runs the hugely successful A Mummy Too, has decided to offer a year’s worth of mentoring to not one but 5 different bloggers this year…
To celebrate women and all we can achieve, I’m offering to mentor 5 female bloggers this year. If you’re keen, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how you think I could help. If more than 5 email, I’ll pick as fairly as poss. #IWD2018#internationalwomensday2018
Ceri Gillett of This Welsh Mother and Aby Moore of You Baby Me Mummy launched the #SayNoToShiny campaign this year, aiming to collaborate with 1000 women online in the hope of impacting 1 million more women with their message. Their message? Our authentic selves are more important than so-called “perfection” that we often feel we need to strive for, especially on social media. Find out more here.
Hannah, who runs the gorgeous shop Apples and Pips (and also writes at Budding Smiles), has created a wonderful Random Act of Kindness Scheme. Hannah and her “Kindness Tribe” are handing out gift vouchers and notes across the UK, to let parents know they’re doing a great job and that they are appreciated. Why not join Hannah or create your own Random Act of Kindness today…
I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me that the #APKindness random acts of kindness scheme is not only up and running, but already making a difference 💕
Debbie from My Boys Club has written a thought-provoking post on how we can empower ourselves to create change by focusing on the women who have already made great change in our world. She starts by sharing 7 women who inspire her, and then goes on to introduce the idea of “Herstory”, which involves looking at history (which is often written from a male point of view) and finding the stories of women which may not have been told. Why not read Debbie’s post, and share the women who have inspired you…
Welcome back to Share The Joy! Each month I shall be helping Christina to host this linky, and we’re both looking forward to reading all your joy-filled and positive posts. This month, I am focusing on the joy of receiving, which is something I have long struggled with…
Like many of you, I am a giver by nature. I love to give to others, whether that is time, money, or attention. But whilst that means that I naturally expect others to be okay with receiving my gifts to them, I have a hard time receiving things myself.
I don’t just mean I struggle to receive gifts (although this is a major challenge for me!) I actually really struggle to receive love and care, especially when I need it the most. Over the past few years I have become increasingly dependent on the support of others, as my health has plummeted dramatically. But the guilt and shame I feel over being unable to care for myself and those I love has caused me to feel unworthy of receiving. Do you ever feel like that?
a skewed perception of worth
I know that this comes from a skewed perception of my worth, and I’ve been working on this recently (as you can see in my previous post). I have this crazy idea that in order to receive something, I have to first give something of equal or greater value. And it’s crazy because I don’t expect that same kind of give and take when I give to others. So why do I feel it when someone wants to give to me?
I know, it makes no sense. But how often do our personal hang-ups make sense? Of course, none of this is made any easier by the fact that I have become so ill lately that I am reliant upon receiving help in most areas of my life. Whether it’s support from a listening ear, help keeping Little Man occupied on my worst days, or financial support to help make ends meet, I am learning how to receive with grace in abundance right now. And, wow, it is so hard!
re-framing the idea of receiving
We are taught, from a very young age, that we should be self-reliant, aren’t we? We’re told that if we only put our mind and energy into something, we can achieve it. We hear this very message from everyone: at school we’re told to “reach for the stars”; adverts urge us to aspire to “living a better life”; and social media is awash with people telling us how they got success and we can too!
And yet all of these messages forget to mention the one thing that always makes a difference – support from others. We might think we’re completely self-reliant and we can create whatever life we wish for, but the truth is that we all need something to help us get there. For some, like me, it might be help meeting very basic needs. But for others, it might be the support of a mentor, the meals cooked by a partner whilst they work late into the night on a new project, or even the word-of-mouth advertising from previous customers.
We all receive things from others every day. It might be as simple as a kind word, a piece of advice, or a pat on the back, but it’s all part of that act of receiving. And re-framing it within that context is really helping me to feel okay with receiving, even when it is something I feel totally unworthy of. After all, I might not be giving a lot back, but what I am giving (in my love for my family and friends, for instance) is all part of the give and take nature of life itself.
the joy of receiving with love and gratitude
Which is why, this month, I am focusing on receiving with both love and gratitude. I am incredibly blessed in my life, truly I am. I might struggle on a daily basis with my health and very basic things, but I have never felt unloved. In fact the exact opposite is what I feel – loved beyond measure. And instead of trying to justify why I get to be so loved when others aren’t so lucky, I am trying to be more grateful for what I receive.
And this includes the most beautiful gifts that keep coming my way from an anonymous sender. You may remember that last year I wrote about my Gifts from the Goddess (as I called them). Ever since January 2015, I have been receiving regular gifts without any kind of note as to who they are from.
I feel like this photo simply doesn’t do the painting justice. It is so beautiful in person, with the colours and highlights changing depending on the light source and your position in relation to it. But as you can see even in the photo, the painting is simply gorgeous.
the healing power in receiving
This painting, which stands at around 3ft in height, arrived just like all my other gifts. It was completely unexpected and had no message within it to tell me who it was from. It also arrived at the most perfect moment, as I was sitting in bed sobbing at how ill and weak I am right now. And in an instant my whole energy changed…
As we peeled back the protective packaging, my breath was taken away by the beauty within. I have seen prints of paintings by Tiana on our trips to Glastonbury, and even admired the large pieces of artwork within the Goddess Temple and Goddess House. But never could I have dreamed of having a piece of my own to hang in my home and gaze at every single day.
This past month I have been trying to sit and meditate with healing mantras every day. My experience has been that even if I cannot physically do more, simply sitting and focusing my energy on the breathwork, mudra (hand positions) and mantra is powerful. I feel the energy building up and can visualise it healing both myself and those around me. And this has only become even more powerful since being able to do so whilst sitting in the presence of this beautiful painting.
the gift of inspiration
Green is a healing colour, and when I shared the photo of the painting with friends online, everyone saw something slightly different. Some saw an Angel (Archangel Raphael in particular) – this is what Little Man sees in it too. Others saw a Goddess, Green Tara, Mother Mary, and even Eve.
This experience has shown me, more than anything else, just how powerful creative works can be in speaking to different people in different ways. It reminded me that one of my greatest gifts is my ability to create experiences and evoke emotions by weaving words in my own way.
By accepting the gift of another artist, I am inspired to go out and create my own works – they say it is in giving that we receive, but sometimes it is in receiving that we can finally give…
So this month I am celebrating the joy of receiving. And I’d love to hear from you about what gifts you have received and the impact they have had on your life. Do share your experiences in the comments below, I receive them all with love!
join in with share the joy
If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:
1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!
2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.
3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!
The linky will remain open for the entire month of February, and Christina and I will read and comment on them all. Don’t forget to tweet me @thefamilypatch with the URL to your post using the hashtag #sharethejoylinky so I can retweet it. You can also tag Christina at @LadybugHome1.
Feel free to invite your friends to join in – JOY is always better when it’s shared!
Welcome to this new series – WordPress for Beginners. The idea for it came when I realised that I personally knew several people who are struggling to get to grips with WordPress. Some are fellow bloggers who wish to switch from another platform (such as Blogger), others are business owners who have outgrown the free sites offered by Weebly and Wix. All of them are finding the steep learning curve that comes when you first start with WordPress challenging, and so I decided to create a series for them.
wordpress for beginners: a step-by-step guide
I remember my own feeling of overwhelm when I first started using this platform, even though I’d been blogging for around 8 years by that point. It isn’t that WordPress is overly complicated – once you know how it works, it’s really very simple to use. No, the problem is that there is just so much to it. WordPress is such a powerful platform – there really are no limits to what you can achieve with it. But first, you have to find your way around.
Which is why I’ve decided to create this series with annotated screenshots and step-by-step instructions to help you get to grips with WordPress as quickly as possible. I hope to take the frustration away and replace it with a sense of satisfaction as you begin to discover the joys of using WordPress.
A series of 10 tutorials
As there is so much to learn when you first start using WordPress, I have broken it down into 10 easy to follow tutorials. This is the first, and the others will follow shortly.
The Dashboard – Finding Your Way Around WordPress
Themes – How to Choose and Customise A Theme
The Page & Post Editor – Creating Your Content
Plugins – How to Choose and Install Plugins
Back-Ups and Updates – Keep Your Site Secure
SEO and Yoast – Optimise Your Site with Help
Widgets & Menus – Create Your Sidebar and Footer
Settings – Fine Tune Your WordPress Experience
Jetpack – Advantages of this WordPress Plugin
Troubleshooting – Finding Support When You Need It
So, are you ready to get started with WordPress?
first things first…
This post relates to using the self-hosted wordpress.org rather than the free wordpress.com platform. It also assumes that you have already sorted out hosting and installed WordPress. If you haven’t already done this, you might like to try Salt and Light Solutions for your web hosting. They helped me to switch to WordPress back in 2014 and I have been very happy with their service ever since.
why start with the dashboard?
When I started to plan this series I realised that many of the WordPress for Beginner posts available on the web assume that you already know your way around WordPress. But unless you are familiar with the layout of the dashboard, telling you to “create a new post” will leave you wasting valuable time trying to find the right place. So I decided to start right at the beginning.
how to access the dashboard
To access the dashboard (which is the name given to the back end of your website), you need to log in first. To do this you need to visit yourURL/wp-admin or yourURL/login. You will see the following screen.
You will have chosen (or been sent) your username and password when WordPress was first installed on your web host. It is likely that this will have been emailed to you, however if not you can access it by logging into your web host, or contacting them for help finding it. Once you have it, I suggest using a system such as LastPass to securely save and remember your username and password, avoiding the need to re-enter it each time.
the three parts of the dashboard
Once you have logged in, you will see the dashboard. It is split into three distinct parts – the main screen, the sidebar, and the notification bar at the top of the screen. These are highlighted below.
The simplest way to describe this is that the main screen is where most of your work happens, whilst the sidebar acts like a menu allowing you to choose what shows in the main screen. The notification bar is pretty much what it says – a bar where you get notified of updates and comments that may need your attention. Let’s look at all three sections in turn.
the main screen
When you log in to WordPress for the very first time, you will most likely be welcomed by a section on the main screen helping you to create your first pieces of content and start setting your preferences, as shown below.
You could, simply work your way through those links and create the beginnings of your website. However, I’ve always preferred to understand where everything is right from the start (which probably explains why the welcome message is still showing on my screen years after I started using WordPress – I’ve ignored it so much that I’ve never thought to remove it!)
If you’re like me and want to find everything on the dashboard itself, rather than following the quick links offered on this front page, then keep reading. I’ll cover each section shortly.
But before we move completely from this main screen, I want to point out a few helpful shortcuts that you can find on this first page when you log in…
at a glance
This section highlighted here shows you a snapshot of your website as it currently stands. It’s a helpful little “at a glance” view of how many posts, pages, and comments you currently have published, as well as how many comments are currently waiting in moderation.
Another helpful little section is this one, which allows you to quickly type in a post title and ideas for a post and save it as a draft. I’ve never actually used this, as I tend to go straight to the post editor, but if you’ve logged in just to make some quick notes for future posts then this could be quite useful.
updates and messages
Finally, as you begin adding more content and plugins to your site, you will begin to see updates and messages on the main screen when you first log in. These are often from plugin creators asking for access to something, feedback from you as a user, or even offering you the chance to sign up to their newsletter.
Most of them I simply dismiss, but it’s always worth reading them properly before dismissing, as sometimes they are really important – such as when WordPress rolls out an update (more on this in part 5 of this series).
You may have noticed that in the image above there is a little blue box around the bottom part of the sidebar. This is because, as I was mentioning plugins in that image, I wanted to show you where access to most of the plugins you install will show up.
But what else is in the sidebar?
access to pages, posts, comments, and feedback
Near the top of the sidebar is a section which provides access to the main content on your site. This is how you access the page and post editors, which allow you to create new content or edit content already published or in drafts. You can also access the comments left by your audience and, if you have a contact form installed, you can access submissions using the “feedback” link.
You’ll notice that my sidebar has lots of orange circles with numbers in them – this is how WordPress lets you know that there is something which needs your attention. When I took this screenshot I had 4 comments which needed moderating and a submission to my contact form.
access to site settings and tools
Slightly further down the sidebar is a section with links to you site’s appearance, plugins, users, tools, and settings. Appearance is where you change theme and customise your chosen theme. Plugins are additional bits of software which enhance your experience of WordPress (more on this in part 4 of this series). And users is where you can add people as authors and editors to the site, if you want others to be able to access your site and upload content.
Tools and settings are both really important in helping you to get your site to run exactly as you want it to. We’ll cover these more in part 7 of this series. For now, just have a look – a lot of it is self-explanatory.
The notification bar
Finally we have the notification bar at the top of the screen. It is a really helpful overview of the key things within WordPress.
From left to right you have:
The W sign – click on this to access WordPress support Your Site Name – click on this to view your site Arrows + Number – this is the number of updates you need to do, click on it to access them Comment + Number – this is the number of comments awaiting moderation, click to access them + New – this is a shortcut to create a new page or post
(When you are in the page or post editor, you will also see a “view post” option, which you can click to see a preview of the post. Certain plugins, such as Yoast, will also show notifications on this bar).
Front End View
If you click to view your site, you’ll notice that the notification bar will still be visible, as shown below.
Click on your website name again to go back to the dashboard. Or click on the paintbrush and “customise” link to go directly to the theme customiser (more on this in part 2 of this series).
Finally, on the right hand side of the notification bar you’ll see your name and another comment box. Clicking on your name enables you to edit your profile or log out. The comment box let’s you know when someone has replied to a comment you have left on their site, if you have done so using your WordPress login (usually via having a WordPress.com account and linking it to your WordPress.org account via Jetpack – more on this in part 9 of this series).
To be perfectly honest with you, I tend to ignore the right hand side of the notification bar, so don’t worry too much about this.
and that’s it…
Congratulations – you now know your way around the WordPress dashboard. I hope that this has been a helpful introduction, and that you’ve had chance to click on different sections to explore them a bit. I’ll cover each of the main sections in more detail in the rest of the WordPress for Beginners series. If you’d like to be notified when a new post is published, you can subscribe to the blog via email using the link in my sidebar (to the right) or by adding my URL to your blog reader.
And if you’ve found this post helpful, please do help others to find it by sharing using the buttons below,. I’m always particularly grateful for shares on Pinterest. Thanks.
Welcome to Share The Joy – your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration! Since September this year, I have been co-hosting the linky with three other wonderful bloggers (Carol, Christina, and Lizzie) over on my other blog. However earlier this month I decided to bring everything here to The Family Patch, and it’s wonderful to welcome you to the linky here for the very first time!
what is share the joy?
If you’ve never taken part in Share The Joy, then you’re in for a real treat. Bloggers from across the world and spanning all genres join in by sharing posts that have made them smile. It really is a lovely linky, with several bloggers linking up week after week, and new faces joining in as we begin to spread the word. If you’ve never taken part in a linky before, it’s really very simple – you simply add the URL to your chosen post (new, or old) in the link up at the bottom of this post, and then visit and comment on at least one other link added by another blogger. The aim is to share the joy far and wide, and find new blogs to enjoy along the way.
what has made me joyful this week?
This week has been a really challenging one for us in so many ways – Tim and I have both been very ill, jobs we needed to get done have been postponed (leading to an ever-growing to-do list), and life has just felt hard.
However this weekend reminded me of the wonderful community we are a part of, and what a difference that truly makes in our lives. We spent Saturday at our church’s Christmas Fair, and had a wonderful time chatting to friends whilst Little Man did his Christmas shopping. Oh, how it filled my heart with joy to watch him eagerly write out a list of people he wanted to buy presents for, and then choose presents and pay for them with his own money.
And then, today, we went to Cafe Church and had a wonderful time chatting with friends about our plans for the coming weeks, how we’re planning on going to the Advent Study, and whether we might make the Folk Carol Service on Christmas Eve and even the service on Christmas Morning. This time last year was a turning point in my faith journey, as I began to realise I could fit in here. And this year Tim really wants to take part too, so we really do feel like we have become a true part of the community, and that is so exciting to me.
My favourite post from last week’s linky
Of course, there’s another community I love as much as the one in my local area, and that’s the online community! One of the greatest joys of co-hosting this linky is reading through all the posts each week. When it is my turn to host I try to choose one which really stood out for me, even though it is really hard to choose just one sometimes.
Last week there was a post which really spoke to me, and that was the one by Rachel from Rachel Ridler: Mum on a Mission, about the app for her local council. Reading how Rachel is using the app to report issues to the council, providing the “eyes and ears” that they may not have in the local community, made me realise just how often we feel out of touch with those who run our towns, cities, and countries. How often do we feel like our voices do not matter, or there’s nothing we can do to change the situations where we live? Not very often, it seems, these days.
And so to see a local council trying to change that, and a local resident taking it on board and really running with it, made me smile. Do go have a look at Rachel’s post from last week if you can, to find out more about it and how she’s using it to try and support her local community.
And so, to this week’s linky…
If you want to join in, it couldn’t be easier. Just follow the simple steps below:
1) Link up a creation that has brought you JOY – all genres are welcome, new or old favourites and as many links as you like!
2) Include the Share the Joy badge (below) or a text link back to this page in your own post.
3) Please comment on one of your hosts’ posts and a few others. Let’s Share the JOY through commenting as well as through our posts!
Well, hello there! I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have the new look Family Patch back up and running. Once I had made the decision to rebrand the site and integrate all the stuff from Spirit Kid Network into this single blog, I felt the creative flow suddenly burst open and I couldn’t wait to get writing again. But of course I had to do all the behind the scenes preparation first, and as I’m not in the best of health right now it has taken me near on two weeks to sort out the new look.
But it’s finally done and I am so happy to welcome you back to my little corner of the internet. What do you think to the new look? Do you like the logo? What about the choice of fonts and colours? And the layout? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it… I personally love it, but does it work for you? I love the clean design, the clear sections, and the fact it is all set up ready to let the content I create shine. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? I’m a writer and a creator and I want that to be the main focus here, not some fancy design that takes me forever to create and distracts me from what I love the most.
So what’s new?
Well, Tim and I are about to start recording the daily poems for my Advent at The North Pole series. This is something I created way back in 2009, but the videos I created then were terrible. They were recorded on my laptop webcam, so you can imagine the quality! I’ve wanted to redo them for years, and now I finally am. We’ve got the gorgeous characters below, a Christmassy backdrop, some festive music, and a better camera. The plan is to post a new video every day during Advent over on YouTube and we’d love to see you there.
what else is new?
I’ve also got a free Activity Advent Calendar the whole family can enjoy. This is something I created last year for Spirit Kid Network, and we loved doing the activities within it. There are 24 colourful activity cards to print out and each one has a whole A4 page of supporting material to help you make the most of them. There are even blog posts and Pinterest boards to give you even more ideas for some of them. Oh, I am so excited about Christmas this year.
You can download the Advent Activity Calendar over on my new and improved Freebies page. There you’ll find 5 different freebies that you can download directly from the website. There’s no need to sign up to any mailing list in order to download your copy – just click and enjoy!
it’s all about the love of blogging
All of these changes reflect the fact that I am finally rediscovering my love of blogging. I first discovered blogging way back in 2006, long before it became the big business it can be today. Back then it was all about sharing your heart, and nobody worried about social media strategies and marketing. Over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to feel like I wasn’t doing a very good job as a blogger because I wasn’t investing the same time on those things as other bloggers do.
And all of it has done nothing more than make me feel like a failure. It stifled my creativity, made me think that I had to separate my content into different sites, and even made me consider giving it all up. So to find myself back at this place where I am simply enjoying blogging for the sheer love of it is so amazing. I can feel the passion for it running through my veins as I type this, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.
But for now I’m going to end this post so I can get cracking with the videos. Have a wonderful week, everyone!
I’m linking up with my Share The Joy Co-Host Christina this week, as this post has certainly brought me a lot of joy! Do check out the #sharethejoylinky for your weekly dose of positivity and inspiration.
You’ve probably noticed it’s been rather quiet here at The Patch lately, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve been really struggling health-wise, and in an attempt to keep going through everything that has been going on, I decided to focus on other areas such as Shortman Media and Spirit Kid Network. However I really, really missed writing here and so I am finally making the time and space to come back to this wonderful little blog of mine.
Last week we headed down to Glastonbury (my favourite place on earth) for an impromptu holiday, and for the first time in so very long, I knew what I needed to let go of in order to begin creating the life I want. The things I want have changed so much over the past few years, and it all started when I went from wanting to have a big family to trying to force my grief over my pregnancy (and loss of more children) into something positive. I poured all I had out into campaigning for others and trying to make the most of a situation I found so incredibly challenging, and in doing so I failed to recognise what I needed most – to embrace all the parts of who I am.
Years ago I wrote constantly. I’d scribble things on napkins in cafes as inspiration hit, I’d spend hours reading and writing about the things I found most exciting or intriguing, and my whole life revolved around communicating (I was a language student, after all). And for a while there I completely lost that side of myself. I got caught up in trying to “be a good blogger”, following advice from others rather than simply writing from the heart. And I did this because I felt I had lost who I was, and so I couldn’t identify myself without turning to other people’s interpretations of what it meant to write a blog.
And in my life as a whole the same thing happened, as I tried to figure out what it meant to be a mother, a successful employee (and then freelancer), a wife, a friend… I didn’t allow myself to be sick, even when I was sick, because I didn’t think that was what I was meant to be. I tried to keep up with people far healthier than I am, hoping to somehow redeem myself and my worth through being something other than who I am. And I never allowed myself to feel the grief and the pain and the anger over where I found myself, because I didn’t want to accept them as a part of who I am.
And all of that led to an intense loss of self, a situation where I forgot that as humans we are beautiful, multi-faceted beings, who sometimes fall so very low and need to stay in that darkness for a while before climbing back out into the light. By trying to lighten my situation constantly, I ignored a whole part of my soul, and ended up splitting myself in so many different directions I had no idea where my centre lay anymore. And the more I did this, the harder I fought to keep up the charade.
My time in Glastonbury changed that, however. I had some wonderful Soul Healing at the Goddess House, where a wonderful lady called Mandi Thorne explained how she could feel my resistance to let go. I have been clinging on to a false sense of control for so long that I am terrified of letting go and allowing all the emotions to bubble up to the surface. They scare me. And that needs to change.
So I’m taking tiny steps towards embracing the whole of who I am, rather than trying to be who I think I should be. And a large part of this involves closing down my other site (Spirit Kid Network) and bringing the spiritual resources I was trying to create over there to The Family Patch. When I set up SKN I did so because I didn’t think the resources fit here. And that was a mistake, because they are a huge part of who I am.
You only have to look at my posts over the past year to see I have written far more about my faith here at The Family Patch than I ever did over on my spiritual site. And that is because I pigeon-holed that site too, making myself believe that if it was about me and not a resource for kids it didn’t really belong there. I ended up losing my voice completely by splitting the parts of who I am so strictly.
So over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be rebranding The Family Patch to reflect this new integration of all that I am. No longer will I worry about whether it’s a craft blog or a health blog or a spiritual blog or whatever else I think it should be in order to fit in. It is a beautiful, complex, and disorganised place where I can share my heart as I journey towards better health and healing through honouring all that I am. And I am so delighted to be moving in this direction.
I chose the name “Instagram Queen” for the amazing Harriet from Toby and Roo, because it just fits her perfectly. With over 80 thousand followers on instagram, it is clear that she really is the bees knees. Her hilarious accounts of what it’s like to be a parent of young kids (the “I just wanted a bath” video being a classic example of this) have captured the hearts of so many. But as Harriet herself said, “if content is queen, then engagement is her king”.
I’ve been lucky enough to know Harriet for several years now, having first met her at another conference way back in 2014 (that’s a long time in the blogosphere, don’t you know!) And it has been a joy to watch her passion and skills lead to great success in her online work. So it was absolutely no surprise to me that her session at the Blog On Conference this past weekend was packed to brimming
There was so much information given out during the short 45 minute session – it’s been a long time since I have needed to write as fast as I did to get it all down (I really must learn shorthand one day!) I kid you not, I have 4 pages worth of notes to share with you, and even with all of that Harriet was still gutted that she couldn’t fit more in. That’s why she’s the Instagram Queen, and that’s why I’m sharing my notes from her session with you all – because they are awesome.
Instagram is keyword searchable – make sure that both your profile and your images take this into account.
600 Million people use instagram every month. It is estimated that 68% of those are female, and 90% of them are under 35.
Analytics will tell you when most of your followers are online – use them to help you connect with others more efficiently. You can access analytics if you have a business account. If you don’t have a business account, you can try third party apps like Squarelovin.
Post consistently – if you have under 10k followers, post 2-3 times per day; if you have more than 10k followers aim for 1-3 times per day.
If you post more frequently than this, your engagement will drop. Instagram no longer works like a timeline – it shows your posts to those you are most engaged with you, so if they see multiple posts from you it will come across as spammy and they will stop engaging.
Equally, if you don’t post consistently, you won’t give your followers a chance to engage with your content and they will become less likely to see it in future.
Put your niche before your name in your profile (e.g. Harriet’s says, “Parent Blogger. Harriet” not “Harriet. Parent Blogger”). This means that when people search for parent bloggers to follow, you will come up in a search easier than if your name was first.
Add an email address to your profile – make it easy for people to contact you.
Also make sure your website is in your profile – it is the only place on instagram where you can add a clickable link, so use it!
Your profile image should be on brand – that means either a photo of you or of your logo. People want to see who you are.
Have 3 things that you are known for and stick with them (Harriet used the example of two of hers, which are always using emojis, and swearing!)
Don’t try to copy others or worry about how successful they are – build your own style and success.
It is possible to be too niche – don’t worry about doing something slightly different from time to time, as long as you can make them relatable to your core niche. Brands will look at your feed, and it is if too narrow, it may result in you losing potential opportunities.
Harriet used the example of how she worked with a Nails Inc and created an image of how she found time to pamper herself as a busy mum, as that would speak more to her audience than a photo of her painted nails alone – see below.
A post shared by Parenting Blogger Harriet (@tobyandroo) on
HOW TO GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM Account
This is where Harriet’s brilliant phrase, “If content is queen, then engagement is her king” comes in…
Follow other Instagrammers within your niche.
Comment on other photos within your niche.
However much you comment, comment more! People will see these comments and come to your profile to find out about you – this can (and does) lead to new followers.
Like things, a lot. However, don’t do it all at once as you may get blocked by instagram. You will usually get a warning from instagram, followed by a “soft block”, which can last anywhere between 12 hours and a week. Finally, if you keep doing it, you could have your account deleted.
If you see the hashtag #ad, comment to support your fellow bloggers and instagrammers.
But remember that your niche is not other bloggers (support them, but remember your niche is not “blogger”).
Unfollow people if you’re not engaging with them – you aren’t helping them by being an unengaged follower.
THE BIG NO-NOS
Never buy followers or likes – it is obvious when you have done so.
Avoid follow for follow opportunities – they’re aren’t supportive. Instagram is ratio sensitive and so they will know. You are actually capped at following a maximum of 7,500 accounts, and some brands will ask that you follow less than 2,000.
Don’t play the follow/unfollow game with your fellow bloggers – this is popular in the US and a lot of businesses do it on instagram, but whilst it works it really annoys a lot of bloggers.
Don’t use automated systems for commenting and liking – instagram is slowly shutting them down and they don’t help with engagement anyway (plus they annoy people and are often really obvious).
hashtags and keywords
People won’t find you unless you market yourself, so hashtags and keywords are vital.
Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags on a post, so use them all! Think of them like flyers – you wouldn’t print out a load of flyers and only hand out a third of them, so why only use a third of the hashtags you’re allowed to use.
Always place hashtags in the first comment rather than the caption – this avoids making people scroll down incessantly.
Research relevant hashtags and keywords using the instagram search function, and aim to get into the top 9 results (i.e. those that show first on the search results screen).
The number below a hashtag or keyword on the results page shows you how many people are using it. You will have far more luck getting into the top 9 results if you use a less popular hashtag, rather than one which has 100k+ people using it.
The top placements in the search results are worked out based on the speed of engagement in ratio to the followers someone has, rather than the total number of likes per post. This means that smaller accounts have a better chance of showing up in results.
Have presaved lists of various hashtags and keywords you can use for different types of posts. This makes it much quicker and easier to use them when posting.
Be aware that instagram is moving away from using hashtags to keywords, so make sure you use carefully selected keywords in your caption to compensate for this.
This change in the use of keywords instead of relying on hashtags alone has led to various speculation over “shadow banning”. Shadow banning is not a thing – The Social Media Posse have done some research which shows this change towards using keywords for SEO functions, rather than hashtags.
HOW TO BOOST ENGAGEMENT
Instagram’s algorithm is based on speed – it’s all about how many people engage with your content within a certain time frame.
Join in with like for like threads (i.e. those where instagrammers share an image they would like engagement on in return for engagement on one of your own posts).
Use hashtags and then comment and/or like the top 9 results for each hashtag used straight after you post your image. They are likely to return the favour.
You should be making use of this feature.
Aim for between 5 and 30 stories per day.
Do one just after you post, so followers know you are on the app.
They are ideal for supporting other things you have done, to direct people to a blog post or specific instagram share etc.
If they are sponsored, they must include the #ad hashtag.
MAKING MONEY FROM INSTAGRAM
Instagram is second only to YouTube in terms of monetary value.
The standard rate is 1-10% of the number of instagram followers, if you engagement is good (e.g. 10k followers = £100 per post).
Engagement rates for standard users is around 1% – to work with brands you want yours to be between 2-5%. If it is higher than this, make sure you say so when talking with brands. However it’s important to note that some niches will always have a higher engagement rate than others.
Your overall theme is what matters – numbers aren’t enough if your feed isn’t well curated.
When pitching to a brand, show them examples of previous posts that had a good engagement, and make them relevant to your idea for the work you want to do with the brand. This helps them to see your vision and know that it will lead to good engagement.
PITCHING TO BRANDS
Brands will often contact you with information regarding current campaigns – if you want to be involved with a brand try contacting them and asking if they have a campaign you could collaborate with them on.
Look at what other bloggers are working on – which brands are actively seeking collaborations with bloggers and instagrammers.
Check the hashtags #ad, #spon# #sponsored, #advert, and #collaborative to find current campaigns.
Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find the name of the person you should contact at the brand you wish to work with. Sending an email to the right person will make a big difference.
Utilise contacts from previous campaigns you’ve worked on.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Check with your apps can do – some apps have access to your account and can like things for you. Not all of them do this, but some do, so it’s important to monitor your account.
Phew… can you believe Harriet managed to fit all that into 45 minutes? It has taken me longer than that to type it all up! I do hope that it has helped you feel more confident with growing your own instagram account – I know I have got a lot of action points to follow myself.
If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I love nothing more than a blogging conference! I love the opportunity to get together with like-minded people, actually have a chat over a cuppa with people I usually only ever speak to online, and attend sessions from some of the most inspirational bloggers around. So it’s no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend another conference this year.
My biggest concern this year is not nerves, but rather a hope that I will be well enough to enjoy the event as much as possible. Last year was the first year I didn’t attend a conference since 2012, and it really upset me. This year I’m determined to make it to at least one, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I’m having a “good day” on 21st May!
I’ve never been to BlogOn before (despite hearing amazing things about it), so it’s doubly exciting for me to be preparing to attend it. Which is why I decided to take part in the Linky, to try and “get to know” some people before I get there. Blogging conferences are always quite a blur of names and faces, and so it’s always handy to have a vague idea of who you might meet (to save you staring at another person’s chest, trying to make out their name and where they blog).
So, without further ado, here are my answers to the BlogOn Linky…
Share a recent picture of you:
Um, okay, most of my recent photos are selfies from my bed, so here you go… I promise I won’t be wearing PJs on the day!!
Describe yourself in three words
Determined, Passionate, Stubborn
How long have you been blogging and what made you start?
Over a decade now… I started in 2006 as I was coming to the end of my final year at uni. I was looking towards the future – what did I want to do, what were my dreams, how might that happen etc? Blogging just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me, as a linguist and a writer…
What was the inspiration behind your blog name?
My very first blog was called “Dream of Living” (based on my above questions!). When I met my husband, I changed to “Me and You at 22” (we lived at number 22, it wasn’t a play on our age). Then in 2010 I left my full-time job to explore other options, as I knew I wouldn’t be well enough to start a family and work full-time.
At that point I upped my game a bit with blogging, posting 5 times a week (I still wasn’t big on using social media though) and changed the blog to “Amanda’s Patch”, so it became my patch of the internet, and was a play on the fact I wrote about gardening and crafts.
When Little Man was born in 2011 I realised I wanted the blog to reflect the changed nature of my life, and so I changed it to “The Family Patch”. I sometimes wonder if it still reflects what I write about, but I can’t imagine being anything else now.
What is the best thing to come from your blog so far?
Friendships. I have some blogging friends I made way back in my early years as a blogger, people I have never even met, and yet they are still people I truly care about and who genuinely care about me too. I’ve also made some amazing friendships with people I have met at conferences, which is even more exciting as they become IRL friends as well.
That, to me, is the greatest gift blogging gives anyone!
Your most remembered thing from your childhood
Oh gosh, I’m not sure I can choose just one thing. Can I share a few?
Holidays at the caravan with my Grandparents Having free access to the sewing kit and being able to create whatever I wanted Getting up before anyone else at the weekend and writing stories Spending my pocket money at the Church Bazaar to buy Christmas presents Reading books under the covers when I should have been asleep!
Something interesting you might not know about me is . . .
Oh this is a tough one – I am such an open book I’m pretty sure I’ve shared most things on here at some point or another…
I suffer terribly with Imposter Syndrome and low self-esteem, and am constantly expecting people to rumble me and find out I haven’t got a clue and have been winging it this whole time. I undervalue my skills, feel like the smallest fish in the very big pond that is blogging, feel completely blessed that people actually like me, and am more likely to think, “I can’t do that” than “I can”.
I think this may actually surprise quite a few people, because despite battling these feelings every single day, I’m very determined and refuse to let it beat me. Sometimes I think I’d quite like a quiet life where I don’t feel sick to my stomach with worry before doing something like trying to grow my blog, walking into a crowded room, taking part in an interview etc, but then I remember how good it feels to have come out the other side and I keep going. (And, actually, once I’m doing it I usually enjoy it, it’s the worrying beforehand that gets me).
So, if you see me and think I’m a confident social butterfly, know that I’m actually just too stubborn to let nerves and shyness beat me!
Which social media platform best describes your personality and why?
Instagram. I love the intimacy that comes from sharing snapshots of your life, and am inspired by the more staged shots too. I think my life and personality is very much reflected in the delicate balance between real-life and what we show to the world on a daily basis!
What is your happy song?
Oooh good question… at the moment I think it would have to be Cleveland by Jewel. I absolutely adore this part of the song:
From the air things look so ridiculous Our fears so small, our fights so vain I wanna pilot a plane with you So all our problems look small, too It’s only an inch from me to you Depending on what map you use
What is your favourite alcoholic drink
I don’t really drink alcohol – even the smallest amount makes my head spin, my stomach churn, and my body feel all antsy.
That being said, I do quite like a sip of my husband’s whiskey, or coffee Baileys at Christmas!
What is your favourite cake?
Chocolate… anything chocolatey will do fine, thank you very much! Preferably without icing/frosting… I find that too sweet for me.
I’m quite suspicious of takeaway food… My husband was sick after Chinese food at the beginning of my awful pregnancy, and the first time I had a gluten free pizza delivered I was sick all night too (although that was more likely due to working late and eating too fast and getting terrible heartburn, but still, we don’t have a good track record with takeaway food!)
Where is your dream holiday destination and why?
In the UK, it will always be Glastonbury. That feels like home to me.
Abroad it would probably be Sweden. My aunt comes from Sweden and whenever she describes it I think, “wow, I really want to go there and experience that!”
What would your superhero name be?
Haha, I’m serious… you remember I said I am always waiting for people to figure out I’m just winging it? Well, I’m actually pretty good at it… I once led a 2 hour seminar at uni on the railway motif in Dr Zhivago and I hadn’t even finished reading the book at that point!
If you had a magical power, what would you want to have and why?
The power to heal… because I know how truly awful it is to both suffer and see those you love suffer, and not be able to do anything about it.
What one weapon would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?
I would most likely die in a zombie apocalypse… partly because I get everything going, so if a virus turned half the world’s population into zombies I’d be one of the first to catch it, and partly because I haven’t watched enough zombie movies to educate myself on the best kind of defense!
If you could send something into space, what would it be?
A copy of all the space themed books, films, and tv series I could think of… wouldn’t it be funny for someone to come across our visions of space exploration from things as far ranging as Star Trek, Star Wars, Galaxy Quest, Babylon 5, Firefly, 2001: A Space Odyssey… (I could go on, but that would just be ridiculous!)
What would you have on your gravestone?
Other than my name? Probably that I lived my life as well as I could, brought more joy than despair to the world, and am heading off on a great adventure into the unknown.
You make headline news around the world in 2 years time… but for what reason?
I’d like it to be for some kind of social reason – e.g. I was part of an initiative to change something like housing, healthcare, justice, religious tolerance etc which is having a deep impact on the health and wellbeing of many.
If an EMP wiped out all mechanical forms of transport, how would you get to BlogOn?
I’d walk… I’m assuming social media still exists, right? So I’d blog and tweet and instagram my way there, asking for suggestions of campsites and places to eat as I went. I’m not sure how many days it would take (with the state of my health right now I’d probably have to leave in February haha) but I’d try to make an adventure out of it (plus it would be great blogging fodder, wouldn’t it?)
Well that was certainly an interesting series of questions… If you’re going to BlogOn too, why not check out the Linky and join in with it too?
I’m going to begin this post with a little disclaimer; I have been registered as self-employed since Spring 2010 and have, during the years since, done the odd bit of freelance work here and there. I’ll be even more honest with you, when I first registered as self-employed in 2010 I had every desire to go 100% freelance as soon as possible. However, back then I was far more naive about what it would take to succeed as a freelancer, and I had all but given up on the idea of earning more than an extra bit on the side by the time 2011 rolled around.
So when my sister-in-law approached me about redesigning her company’s website last year, I must admit I was slightly dubious about the idea of turning my side hustle into an actual business. After all, when your self-employed earnings are simply an added bonus on the side, it doesn’t really matter if it succeeds or not, you’ve still got your employed earnings to fall back on. And, being the “responsible” adult I always try to be, it seemed rather too risky to put all my eggs into one basket and simply go for it when I actually had a job which paid the rent and which I utlimately enjoyed.
However, following my sister-in-law’s advice and encouragement, I set up Shortman Media as a way of bringing all my online media and communications experience under one roof. It meant that I could invoice her for the work I did more professionally, and I had the basis from which to expand my services as and when I wanted to. At that point the idea was still to run the business as a side hustle, rather than my main income provider, taking on work as and when I had the time. But it seems that life had different plans for me after all…
What followed were several months of increasingly challenging health issues. At my worst, I could barely get out of bed, and I spent the vast majority of 2016 being tested for one thing after another. I was signed off work in July 2016 and never made it back, because my symptoms were simply too complicated and erratic to enable even a phased return to work. And throughout it all I began to see everything slip away – my health, my financial freedom, and my ability to do work which gave me a sense of both satisfaction and accomplishment.
Which brought me to the very end of last year, when I gained a certain amount of clarity regarding my future. Instead of seeing freelance work as the riskier option, I needed to look at it as the more flexible option, which would enable me to return to work far sooner. You see, the work I do is mostly based on the computer – I can do that in my office on good days or from my sick bed on bad days. Being freelance also means I can work at 7 o’clock in the evening if that is when I feel at my best, rather than being tied down to standard office hours.
And let’s not forget that freelance work pays me at least double, if not more than the hourly wage I had been bringing in through employed roles. Even taking on board the need to save up for NICs, tax, quiet periods with little work, and unpaid holidays, this difference in pay means I wouldn’t have to work as many hours to still make ends meet. That’s got to be a bonus for anybody, but especially somebody who is chronically ill.
Now I don’t want to paint a perfect picture here – the decision to go 100% freelance was not an easy one. I am well aware that most businesses fail within the first 5 years (often sooner), and that there is a huge risk in trying to start up at the best of times. I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy and I’m not going to worry about where the work is going to come from.
But the fact remains that going freelance is still my best option right now – the alternative would be relying on my employer to keep my position open beyond the 6 months they already have (which I am incredibly grateful for!) and hoping to qualify for ESA as my SSP entitlement runs out. Out of those two options, I’d much prefer to take things into my own hands and try to make this freelance thing work, wouldn’t you?
So, it was with a heavy heart that I approached my employer about ending my contract due to ill health and made the leap of going 100% freelance last month. I shall remain connected with my employer on a voluntary basis, because I really did love the work itself, but the time had come when it was in all our best interests for me to leave. And as shocking as it may sound, I am actually starting my freelance journey with not one but three clients on my books.
If you’d told me this is how I would start 2017 I wouldn’t have believed you. But the truth is that when you put your mind to it you can make this happen, even when you’re feeling beaten to the core (I have spent the vast majority of December and January very sick and yet I’ve still managed to get this sorted). All it takes is courage to face the unknown, reach out for support, do your research, and then just go for it.
But what’s different now to where I was in 2010 when I first tried to go freelance? Why did it fail to kick off then but is doing so well now? Well, age and experience have a lot to do with it.
In 2010 I’d been blogging for 4 years, but blogging was still relatively unknown and social media still hadn’t taken off in the way it has done in recent years, so the idea of making money from online media as an unqualified (but experienced) blogger just didn’t seem doable to me back then. In the almost 7 years since, I have developed this blog, launched a second one, assisted employers with their social media, taken part in charity campaigns, co-authored a book, attended multiple conferences, spoken at a blogging conference, and become active in blogging groups. All of that combined is a huge amount of experience that I simply didn’t have in 2010.
I’ve also had the wonderful experience of being supported through one-to-one coaching sessions both personally with Pippa at Story of Mum and professionally with Michelle of Michelle Reeves Coaching. Between the sessions with these two wonderfully inspiring women, I came to realise the potential of what I had to offer and that I can do this, even when I am struggling healthwise. In fact, my health issues even make me more aware of my strengths and abilities, because I have had to learn to adapt and grow at every stage.
I’ve learnt about the importance of developing multiple income streams, so that the work I do with clients via Shortman Media isn’t my only source of income. Those quiet moments between clients need some kind of passive or alternative income stream, and so working on both this blog and Spirit Kid Network enables me to focus on ways to boost my income when needed. But because I have chosen to work with clients as my main income, I feel less stressed about making my blogs as profitable as possible, which is something that I know would cause me more stress than necessary.
And that’s the biggest lesson I have learned throughout my freelance journey so far – you have to do what you love, otherwise you simply won’t get up and do it. Because let’s be fair – it’s hard enough to motivate yourself to go to work when you’re being paid a salary, so forcing yourself to do something you really dislike to secure that next contract, really isn’t going to work, is it?
So that’s where I’m at – after years of being self-employed with the odd bit of work on the side, I have finally taken the biggest leap of my life and decided to go 100% freelance. I know it won’t be easy at times, and I know that what I do will change over time (already my services on my website don’t truly reflect the work I’ve ended up doing), but I have confidence that this time it really will work. Because it has to. And, because I know I have the support I need to make it work this time.
I’m going to be updating my freelance journey on here, if there is interest in hearing about it, so please do leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear from you if you do any freelance work – how did you choose to go down that path, and is it what you expected?
A few weeks ago, Parcel Hero contacted me to ask if I would be interested in taking part in a charity campaign they were running. They were asking craft bloggers to decorate a little wooden box and make a small handmade gift to go in it, which would then be auctioned on eBay to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (GOSH). How could I say no to that?
Their charity campaign last year raised nearly £1,000 for Oxfam, and this year they are hoping to beat that and raise £1,500 for GOSH. That’s enough money to cover the cost of a portable heart monitor! How wonderful would it be to reach that target?
With that in mind, I set about creating something truly special for the auction. I wanted my box to appeal to eBayers looking for a treat for a loved one, and so I decided to create a wintry themed necklace. I pulled out my jewellery making bits and bobs (which haven’t been used in far too long!) and set to work creating something that reminded me of frosty mornings and nights dusted with just a little bit of snow.
The end result was this – a two strand necklace made with turquoise chips (of two different sizes) and seed beads in both clear and blue tones. I was so happy with how it turned out, especially as I’ve never made a two strand necklace before, and really hope that whoever wins it in the auction will treasure it for years to come.
I knew I wanted to combine a blue tone rather than going full-on white for my wintry theme, and the turquoise reminds me so much of the pale wintry skies we get during this time of year. And I’m so glad I managed to add a semi-precious stone in here too, because I love crystals and wearing them in a necklace is a great way to benefit from them.
Turquoise is a really great choice of crystal too, as it has so many healing properties. A quick look in my favourite crystal book told me that turquoise helps to balance the energy meridians in the body and so can support all of the chakras. However I have always associated it with the throat chakra, and its ability in assisting us to speak with truth and integrity. If you want to know more about the properties of turquoise, as well as its influence across the globe throughout history, then do check out this page.
Of course it wasn’t just the necklace that needed making, I had to find a way to decorate the little wooden box it would be placed in. I decided to go with decoupage in order to merge the different blue and white tones which reminded me so much of this time of year. This time, however, I went with a slightly darker theme than the necklace, to reflect the longer winter nights rather than the frosty mornings! I completed it with a royal blue painted inside and complementary gold trim, to add a bit of that Christmas sparkle – the light in the darkness.
But don’t just stop there – why not check out the amazing range of hand decorated boxes complete with wonderful gifts inside. There really is something for everyone, and if there’s someone on your list you have yet to find the perfect gift for, you may just find the answer on eBay!
Some of my favourites include the:
“Live The Life You Love” Box, which has inspirational quotes, 3 healing crystals (I spot rose quartz, clear quartz, and a heart which may be moonstone, perhaps?), and a sweet Christmas decoration. It is a really lovely selection, and having realised it was made by the wonderful Becky of Baby Budgeting I am not surprised – Becky is so lovely! I may even have to drop a few hints about how much I love this box, to see if Santa may make a bid or two for me…
Crocheted Wrist Warmers in a Fashion Styled Box, because who doesn’t love a good pair of wrist warmers for the bitterly cold days ahead? They look both warm and snuggly and gorgeously detailed, and as a fellow crocheter I can appreciate the work that would have gone into them. They were made by Vicky of Blush Crafts, which is a blog that is immediately going on my bloglovin list!
Christmas Stars in a Christmas Box, which contains enough golden stars to really add a bit of sparkle to your Christmas tree. It was made by Natasha of Serenity You, another blog I am going to enjoy exploring! I love the fact that the box itself is so clearly made for Christmas – can you imagine bringing it out year after year, maybe filling it with small after dinner treats or little inspirational quotes to hand out at the end of the day, making the magic last that little bit longer?
There are so many more boxes than this in the auction, so please do pop along and have a look. You can find all of the listings by checking out the Parcel Hero eBay listings page, or you can see updates about each item on their blog.
Have you tried Livestreaming yet? Do you even know what it is? Livestreaming is a big thing right now… it began a few years back with Google Hangouts and developed further with Periscope and now Facebook Live (my Crochet Chats are done using Facebook Live). Snapchat and Instagram Stories bring even more ways of connecting with your audience, and so it’s clear to see that “going live” is where it’s at right now.
Each of the different platforms mentioned above bring their own unique ways of connecting with others in real time, and choosing the right platform for you will depend on what you want to get out of it and where your “tribe” (those people you instantly connect with) are. It’s like any kind of social media, really, some will suit you better than others.
But it can be overwhelming when you first start out, with so many options to choose from, which is why it’s beneficial to connect with others to discuss what they’re doing, how they’re finding it, and why you should really give it a go! And that’s exactly what the Live Broadcasting Support Group on Facebook is all about, and why we’ve recently started holding a weekly Twitter Chat (#321LiveChat) in order to connect with others across multiple platforms.
I haven’t used Twitter very much this year at all, so getting involved with the Twitter Chat has brought me back to the platform I once loved and used so often. And today I discovered the new feature of Twitter Moments, which I am already starting to fall in love with! So, I decided to make the most of it and pull together my Top Moments from the #321LiveChat last night and embed them in a blog post here at The Patch. I’ve chosen tweets that provide a varied view of Livestreaming and I hope they prove interesting and helpful to you.
Why not give Livestreaming a go, or connect with us on the Facebook Group for daily chat and support. The group is a very friendly place where you can give Livestreaming a go without doing so publicly (a great way to build up confidence and get hints and tips from fellow Livestreamers). And don’t forget you can join in the Twitter Chat every Tuesday between 8:30 and 9:30pm. We’d love to see you there!
Well hello there! I hope you’re having a wonderful day?
I wanted to pop on today to tell you about a new feature I’m starting over on Facebook, taking advantage of the Live Broadcast feature. It’s called Crochet Chat, and it’s a chance for me to share with you all the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) about crochet. I am completely self taught and rely massively on My Crochet Guru to help me out when things go awry or I simply want someone else’s input into something. And I want to offer you that same option of having someone to turn to with your burning questions… and so Crochet Chat was born.
Have a watch of the first replay (you don’t have to catch the live broadcast, although it’s easier for me to respond to your questions and feedback if you do). Let me know what you think, send me your questions or requests, and follow me on Facebook so you never miss a broadcast.
Well hello there – welcome to our new look! What do you think? Do you like it? I certainly do. I’ve been wanting to redesign this blog for quite some time, but I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then suddenly this week I just decided to go for it. And oh how glad I am.
It feels great to have a crisp, clean look to the blog, and it is really inspiring me to get back on here and write, write, write. There wasn’t really anything wrong with the old look, it just didn’t inspire me anymore. It felt outdated, like it reflected who I was two years ago when I first migrated my blog over from Typepad to WordPress, and I’m just not the same person I was back then.
I felt trapped by the old design, and constrained by the themes that I had written about so heavily since having Little Man. It’s been a tough few years and whilst I have appreciated having a place to share all of that and raise awareness of certain things, I felt the need to step away from my past and focus on where I am right now – moving forward with hope and positivity. Life is still hard, believe me, but my mindset has changed completely over the past few months and I want to share more of that with you.
I thought long and hard about how to structure the new design, what categories to include, and even whether I should rename the blog itself! But in the end I realised that this blog will always be a place to talk about life, and that includes life as a family. I still felt it needed a better theme though, something that expressed what I hope to gain from continuing to blog here, and so I came up with the “like coffee with a good friend” tagline.
I’ve benefitted so much lately from chats with friends (either in person or over the internet) and love the support and encouragement that comes from being able to talk about everything from the big, life changing stuff right down to the most mundane of moments. And that’s what I want from this space, a chance to connect with you all and talk openly and honestly about everything, both big and small.
I also want this space to retain its friendly and encouraging style, sharing with you all the things that are helping me and my family get through some of the toughest times in our life with grace and gratitude. So you’ll see that I’ve added a new page to the site – Resources We Love – where I will be sharing some of my favourite people, places, and organisations that have had a positive impact on my life. I have more links to add, however I am awaiting permission to use logos for some of them, so please bear with me on this one!
I think that’s everything I need to share with you right now – I’m looking forward to connecting with you more over the coming days, weeks, and months. Let’s try and really embrace the “like coffee with a good friend” feel to The Family Patch and get to know each other some more. I’d love it if you could pop a comment below and let me know who you are (or if you’re a long time reader, let me know what you think to the new look!) and what you’d like to see here at The Patch so that I can be sure what I write really does encourage and support you.
And if you want to chat some more, you can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram if you’d like to connect off the blog – I’m just getting to grips with Facebook Live videos and absolutely love the community over on Instagram. Perhaps I’ll see you there?
It’s the middle of July, and if you have kids that means that you’re either already enjoying the long summer holidays or you’re about to start a 6 week break from school. And as exciting at that is, it also presents a lot of days when “I’m bored” could easily become the theme tune in your house!
Which is why I’m so excited to host a giveaway that I think you and your kids are going to love. Following on from our visit to London to meet Jaime from Cosmic Kids Yoga, I am now able to bring you an opportunity to enjoy Cosmic Kids wherever you are with this fantastic DVD.
The DVD is entitled, “I Love Being Me!” and brings together 3 Yoga Adventures along with 1 Zen Den Mindfulness Meditation, giving you just over an hour of awesome fun. Each one of these is aimed at boosting confidence for kids aged 3+, which makes it perfect not just for keeping boredom at bay but also for helping younger children who are worried about starting Preschool or transitioning from Nursery to Reception. I seriously couldn’t think of a better time to start enjoying Cosmic Kids Yoga, can you?
So what are you waiting for? I have 5 copies of this DVD to be won and because I love Cosmic Kids so much and want as many of you to experience the joy of doing yoga with Jaime as possible, I’ve made it super easy for you to enter this giveaway.
All you have to do is pop over to the Cosmic Kids YouTube Channel, have a look through their videos, and then come back here and let me know which one you’re most excited to try, and why. I’ve made the link open in a new window, so that you can check it out and come back here with just a simple click or two.
And that’s it. No need to sign up with anything, no confusion over multiple optional entries, just one simple task – check out the awesome Cosmic Kids YouTube Channel and then scroll to the bottom of this page and leave your comment. Make sure you answer the question though, that way I know you have been over to Cosmic Kids and really want to win a copy of their DVD!
That question again is this: “which video on the Cosmic Kids YouTube Channel are you most excited to try, and why?”
In order to make sure that the giveaway is fair and legal, please check out the Terms and Conditions below.
1. There are 5 prizes available to win, with each prize consisting of a single copy of the Cosmic Kids Yoga DVD – I Love Being Me! The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.
2. The prize draw is open to UK residents only, and excludes relatives of Shortman Media (the prize draw organiser).
3. The closing date for all entries is 11:59pm GMT on Monday 1st August 2016.
4. Entries can be made on either The Family Patch (www.thefamilypatch.com) or Spirit Kid Network (www.spiritkidnetwork.com), however entries are limited to one per person – if a participant enters on both sites, only one entry will count.
5. Entrants must visit the Cosmic Kids Yoga YouTube Channel and then leave a comment on the blog, answering the question “Which video on the Cosmic Kids Yoga YouTube Channel are you most excited to try, and why?”
6. The winners will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
7. The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date and will need to respond with a postal address within 14 days, or a new winner will be chosen.
9. The prizes have been provided by Cosmic Kids Yoga, however the prize draw is being organised by Shortman Media (www.shortmanmedia.com) and promoted across its two sites The Family Patch and Spirit Kid Network. All queries should be sent to email@example.com
10. Shortman Media is responsible for the prize fulfilment and prizes will be sent within 14 days of receiving the winner’s address.
11. Entry to this prize draw confirms that participants have read, understood, and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.