Davina’s blog and articles

Less hard, more amazing

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Since announcing I intended to run a marathon I heard two words quite often; amazing and hard.  Both the training journey and the run itself have, indeed, been amazing (one month on from race day and I still tingle with the memory of it)

But was it hard? To be honest, I’m not sure it was – and not because I am so physically fit that I can run 26.2miles without breaking a sweat; that is definitely not the case. My body struggled and occasionally I questioned whether I would even be wearing my trainers on Marathon Day or whether I meet my fundraising target (which mattered a lot to me). My doubts, however, were never able to take a real hold.

During my training I was surrounded by people who were willing me to succeed and prepared to help me in any way they could.  From the CEO of the charity I was running for, family and friends to acquaintances and strangers, I was surrounded by generosity – emotionally, practically and financially. Be it childcare while I did a long run, sidekicks for event planning or bacon buttie chefs; there was always someone who would or who knew someone who could.

The reason I was running though was because of the opposite; the times when we aren’t sure that everything will be okay, when our doubts are overwhelming and life feels hard.

As a young person, your family, friends and school might not always be not be the ones who can help;  it’s complicated but often, somehow, they are all too ‘involved’.  In these times, counselling can make a real difference.  If you are feeling lost or adrift, perhaps not knowing exactly what you need but knowing you don’t have it, you might need to reach out. And so I was running for Youth Concern Aylesbury to support their counselling service for young people, so more young people can access counselling.

Thank you to everyone who made my marathon journey far more amazing and much less hard and who have helped to fund counselling services for young people through Youth Concern Aylesbury.

 

 

 

Every step I take

I am running the London Marathon for Youth Concern (Aylesbury) in a little over a week’s time.

It is still baffling me slightly as to what was going through my head when I proposed I could do this. I am pretty sure I was thinking less about long, lonely training hours and more about the jubilation and achievement of such an endeavour.

Marathon training is a hard physical and emotional journey and it has taught me a very important lesson; to listen to myself and practice self-care.  In the counselling room I am often talking with clients about how we can pay more attention to our thoughts and feelings, to develop a stronger awareness of what our minds and bodies are telling us (for example, the earlier we sense the feelings of panic rising the more options we have to redirect it’s course). I suspect rarely a week goes by when I am not promoted to remind a client or two about the importance of being kind to themselves as they undertake the emotional challenges and explorations of counselling.

And so, over the last few months, I have been doing as I preach and tuning into my body, being alert to aches, pains and fatigues so I can reduce the likelihood of them derailing my marathon path. I have been conscious of my mind behaving like an over-active yo-yo: one minute a determined will to test my limits, an (occasional!) competitive urge to train harder and then a swing to self-doubt and worries of burning out.

I have tried to see my yo-yoing mind as my friend and it has rewarded me by patiently testing out mental strategies that have dragged my body to reach the end of each long run (and some of the shorter ones!).  There have been times when I have returned home disheartened and dispirited,  struggling the next morning and questioning if I have what it takes to give it another go. My practice of self-care has helped me to be kind to myself at those times, gently reminding myself of those who believe in me and are on hand to support me.

On every run I have reconnected to my initial motivation, the energy that drives me, not only in this challenge but in my professional work. The reasons I am running for Youth Concern are hugely important to me. To be honest, I would have been very unlikely to undertake this for any other charity. Those who know me well know I am passionate that free, confidential counselling should be easily accessible to young people. I have seen how life-changing it can be, from sitting in both seats in the counselling room. Over the last 5 years I have seen the marvellous work Youth Concern do and difference their counselling service is making to young people. A common experience of young people accessing this service is that, in the process of protecting themselves from pain and trauma, they have shut away their own voice and part of their counselling journey will involve learning listen closely to themselves, to accept and to practice self-care.

And so I am going to try to run my heart out next Sunday and hope that my body will follow suit. I will hold close the knowledge that each step I take (no matter how fast or slow) will be lending supporting to a young person in need.

 

Davina’s Marathon Giving Page

Young Carers: seeking simplicity

Who might be a young carer?

A young carer may be helping with the physical care of a sibling, parent or grandparent with an illness or long term condition; a young carer might be witnessing and supporting a parent’s mental illness  a young carer may be trying to look after a parent with a drug or alcohol addiction.

A young carer might be

  • a 10 year old whose Dad has a cancer that is terminal
  • a 12 year old who’s caring for her mum with a heroin addiction 
  • a 15 year old whose grandma has come to live with his family when she was no longer able to live independently.

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I was a young carer. I didn’t define myself as one at the time; I am not even sure the term ‘young carer’ was used back in the 1990s.  About 13 years ago I started volunteering at Young Carer groups, supporting at youth clubs and being a befriender to a number of young carers. Now, as a counsellor, I hear young carers’ intimate, often unspoken stories, that at times have echoes of my own and others I have heard over the years

I have learned about a type of a loneliness that young carers often feel. Imagine if a sort of cage separated you from your friends and peers so that, even when you are in the among those you love and have friendships with, you can’t wholly or lightly be part of things, you are not free to just ‘be’ in the games or activities you are doing. Sometimes you may feel you are not free to be the person you actually are. It seems as if the cage has formed around you because you have stepped so closely into another person’s intimate world that you can’t be fully present in your own world of school, college, friendships and activities.

Stepping outside of the cage for any length of time can feel impossible for some young carers, perhaps because of daily caring responsibilities, perhaps because of the emotional burden of feeling you want to help make somebody else ‘better’.

Complex emotions are compressed into the cage as you try to maintain an exterior of normality and connection with others your age. While a unique intimate relationship is growing with the person you are caring for, a jumble of powerful emotions need to be contained. Love, responsibility, resentment, worry, anger, frustration, fear and guilt might be just some of the emotions squeezing into the cage. Sometimes these emotions might feel contradictory and confused.

As a counsellor I was trained in the discipline of stepping gently into another person’s inner world while keeping a foot firmly placed in my own. I am struck by what a big ask this is of a child or young person whose own developmental footsteps are, understandably, not yet steady or sure.

Friends and teachers often don’t notice the cage  – many young carers I have met are swift at pulling an invisibility cloak over it, working hard to keep separate their home and school/college lives. To add to this, some young carers feel they must keep their caring world hidden for fear of bullying, particularly perhaps if they are caring for parent with a mental illness or drug/ alcohol addiction.

As loneliness takes root, it becomes harder to believe we can be understood, that we are not alone. If we can’t make full sense of what we do, see and feel, it is natural to wonder how friends might be able to understand.

There is a cruel irony that for many young carers, by the time their friends of the same age may have the emotional wisdom to ‘really get it’, the young carer is likely to now be an adult. They are possibly still caring and still someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, but they are no longer a young carer, no longer balancing between different worlds.

BBC Radio 1’s Teen Hero in 2014, a young carer, Caitlin Buckard (then 15) seemed to recognise that kind of loneliness:

“Caring at home can make you feel isolated, but having someone to talk to can mean you realise you are understood.” 

It can feel fragile and risky sharing your inner world, especially when it is so closely entwined with another’s. Being someone who young carers talk to, I know that loneliness is something that fundamentally changes with connection.

Imagine if the emotions inside the cage begin to be understood, calmed and feel safe. Imagine that together we carefully take the cage down so you can step forward into adulthood with awareness, acceptance and readiness.

Recently a young carer gave me a straightforward answer to how she wanted her adult life to be.  ‘’Simple’’.

My response? “That makes sense”.

 

This is not intended to be a definitive narrative of all young carers’ experiences. There are many other stories, differing experiences and understandings. I welcome hearing these and learning more about the experience of young carers so please feel free to comment and join in conversations. Best wishes, Davina

 

For more information about young carers and support take a look at these sites and conversations

Carers Uk

Action for Children

Children’s Society Include Programme

Young carers support in Bucks (Carers Bucks)

 

 

Counselling young people: what happens when the phone’s off?

Young people come to counselling for a myriad of reasons and as a counsellor, my hope is that each will have a positive experience leading to new understanding and discovery. I first sat in a counselling room when I was a teenager and I am seeing that counselling for young people today offers something it didn’t need when I was 15, something it didn’t probably didn’t need to even five years ago. Counselling today offers something potentially unusual and increasingly important; a space where phones are turned off.

For some young people the counselling room may be the only time all week when their phone is turned off or ignored. Many young people find ample opportunities to check in during the school day and the average 18 year old will check their phone over 50 times a day. At bedtime and through the night, when one might assume we are alone with our thoughts, many teenagers are still checking in with others. (Cardiff University reported last year that more more than one in five teenagers “almost always” wake up during the night to check or post messages on social media sites).

This isn’t about judgement, the digital world is bringing connectivity and enrichment for young people, a generation who are technologically driven and will lead the digital world; exciting times. There is, of course, well documented and oft-commented unease about the social impacts of the digital world and understandable concerns about the psychological damage of cyber bullying and trolling. Young people are charting new waters of connectivity and adults are often left questioning how do we help them?

Young people’s identities are emerging in both the physical and digital worlds and so building a solid foundation for adolescent identity is more complex than it has been for previous generations. When connected through social media (e.g facebook, Instagram, tumblr, yik yak) a young person thoughts, ideas and opinions are open to constant critique; the upvoting and downvoting of the identity you chose to share. And all this is happening at time when our childhood self is stretching out into adolescence and adulthood, often described as being like a standing on shaky ground. Confusion and feeling emotionally isolated can occur simply as part of the natural order of ‘growing up’.

And so, regardless of the reason for counselling, having an hour to connect, uninterrupted with ourself is a rare thing for some teenagers. A place to talk and be heard without judgement or repercussion is uncommon in a world of likes and comment boxes. The counselling room has always offered a space for identifying and exploring inner thoughts, emotions, fears and anxieties but for young people in 2016, it has an added dimension.  The counsellor creates a place of trust and safety for something quite unique to be experienced; the development of the relationship with ourself, a relationship that is away from the popularity contest of likes, favourites and the pressure of pleasing and impressing followers. For many young people it begins a journey of whole-self acceptance, not just for those identities we portray or hide on the screens of our phones.

This article has been prompted by my work with young people but it applies to adults too, especially those embracing digital and virtual worlds.

References
  • average 18 year old checks their phone over 50 times a day: Titcomb, J. (2015) Are you a compulsive phone checker? The Telegraph, 08 September