gifts and choices

In my procrastination of trying to write up my methods section for RF2 (my next PhD barrier) I came across Jeff Bezos’s commencement speech from 2010. (Not super sure how I reached  it in my click-a-thon).

But I found it to be incredibly important.

After my life got shook up when I fell sick, I had to change how I worked, how I lived to move around shitty symptoms that really brought me down. It made me question everything I was, and who I am, and where I was going.  It hit me when I was on my way up in the intermediate art-world, and brought me tumbling back down to the ground, really hard – really unprepared for this new world – injured in so many different ways. Every time I looked at myself and my life, it was like looking at a mirror that had been cracked a bunch of times. I’m still not over it all.

At times, I feel more broken than I ever was, but I feel at different times and in different areas I have gained so much more. One area is in personal growth. Whilst I’m still trying and learning to be a better person (and sometimes failing,) I realized that I WANTED to REALLY be a better person. I had no idea how I was being supported years before I fell sick, and even still to this day, where I felt incredibly stupid for taking it all for granted.

Some days I literally feel like I’m dying, and with this came a fear of what would be my “legacy” (this is such a loaded and over-the-top word). But what do I want to leave behind? What do I want my work to be? We spend so much of our time at work, doing work – of all kinds – that it makes sense that we should try and enjoy and make the world a better place than what we found it in.  This doesn’t have to be a grandios project – we know it often only has to be the smallest thing that can make the greatest of differences. Listening.  Offering to help someone out.  Introducing yourself.  Donating to charity. To giving someone a helping hand up. The list is endless.

Bezos’s speech really resonated with me, and I think some of his words are good markers. Especially when the road is rough, and rocky, and risky and dark.  So I hope these bits I’ve chopped up here – help you.

In 1986, Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton with a degree in computer science. In 1994, he founded Amazon.com. He was literally selling books from his garage. In 2010, he went back to Princeton to address the graduating class about the difference between gifts and choices — a profound reflection on reconciling being smart with being kind, an illusory choice many “successful” people feel like they have to make.

Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

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Today, I discovered that I’ve forgotten my path, maybe even who I am.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things that you look at change.” — Max Planck

I’ve written about it endlessly before, but I feel like I’m living a new – unexpected – even unwanted version – of my life. i’ve endured years and years of being in pain, delibertating symptoms and fatigue that made it so my old life didn’t fit the way it used to. My old life – and still does when I get close to mirroring it – drove me into the ground.

I love art. I love it with every fiber of my being. It was the thing that kept me awake all night, and i worked and worked and worked on this pure love of mine. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t really money viable – it didn’t matter that I kept 3 part-time jobs down as I jugged residencies and commissions, and writing endless proposals that would mostly get rejected. I loved it. I loved the potential for it to connect people, and ideas, and potentially make a change. Make a difference. I could never see a future for myself where art wasn’t in it. It’s still the thing that helped me keep a part of my self through the big change.

Unfortunately this tidal wave came begging to tear down my dawn, and made me struggle against it, made me choke on salt water. And it changed how i saw the world. I took a bit of a different direction — but I told myself, it would be with art too. But it was hard to see a future when I wasn’t sure if I was going to have one.

Trying to be arty and creative in healthcare is hardwork. Some people are suspicious of your enthusiasm, suspicious of your motivation – they don’t really understand you. Some people just don’t get it. Some people are amazingly visionary and creative and risk-taking too – and super supportive which excites me and I’m endlessly grateful for these people. But it’s hard. And my personal-art practice took a bit of a backseat in my eagerness to better the patient pathway.

I’ve been writing a proposal — another one that will probably be rejected – in true art form – but it’s reminded me of my old life again. Writing pretentiously yet beautifully philosophical sentences feels good for my soul. Writing emotively instead of just cold-facts – blunt, how do science people do it all the time?  I can slowly feel the warmth coming back into my fingers and heart. I can feel parts of my brain working in a way that I’ve missed.

Conceptions of the body are not only central to medical anthropology, but also to the philosophical underpinnings of Being. Western assumptions about the mind and body, and the individual and society, affect both theoretical viewpoints and research paradigms. These same conceptions also influence ways in which health care is research and delivered in Western societies.

Foucault (1972, 1977, 1980, 1988) stated in his writings on biopower that medical technologies frame and focus healthcare professionals’ optical grasp of the patient, with the ‘medical gaze’ that abstracts the suffering person from her sociological context and reframes her as a “case” or a “condition”. Patients are seen as the voiceless, lost in a system that reduces them to their diagnoses, or not even that making the experience even worse, and often fails to understand their suffering. This is exemplified through my own experiences and was exactly the reason why  I – the artist and experiencer – needed to change things.

Clinical biomedicine is the product of a Western epistemology. Healthcare professionals often struggle to view humans and the experience of illness and suffering from an integrated perspective, they often find themselves trapped by the Cartesian legacy. This lacks a precise vocabulary with which to deal with mind-body-society interactions, resulting in the disconnectedness of care throughout a patients’ pathway and beyond.

In writing this, I realised just how disconnected I had become from my own art practice — the person I was – and my experiences. I had to go through archives of old websites to remind myself on what I did in my art years for this application; the time before I fell sick, before I committed most of my energy to healthcare. It just seems like a distant memory now. And I was shocked.

resume2011drawing

It was like in a movie when someone discovered old, worn-yellowed newspapers of events they couldn’t believe happened.  Here existed an amazing list of my achievements, that I had forgotten all about. The pain had erased them. Struggling to survive, and get through each day had taken its toll upon me. I had literally forgotten what had made me who I am.  The crazy thing is, I struggled and worked so hard to achieve all of this. And it had disappeared as quickly as my old life had been taken. What amazed me more was how this was pre-bucketlist. I have since, began to tick a few of my other goals of my past life off, unknowingly. And I have achieved a bunch of stuff that became more important. (It’s als important to note – i’ve been drawing loads & getting paid as an artist/illustrator – it’s just not the same stuff)

But as my radiotherapy studying chapter is coming to a close, I’m starting to feel the eagerness to reconnect with my old life – despite still having all the issues that made me change my life direction in the first place. And it’s confusing.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell.

I let go of the life I had planned, but the life that is waiting for me is unclear. I’m unsure what to do, where to go next. Healthcare doesn’t fully accept me for me, but art doesn’t either. It has so much commodity and rewards so much self-absorbed-ness . Life is precious and there’s suffering – which art can help aid – but the Artworld doesn’t understand what I’ve been through, and felt, and why healthcare needs to be changed so others don’t have that experience.

But who will accept me? And why have I written this? Well, if finding my old resumes and pieces of my old life dotted around like dusty digital footprints has taught me anything today – is that we should be archiving our lives, our work, just incase we do forget what we’ve done. If we forget who we are, or who we were.

And I also know that there’s people like me out there. This here serves as a reminder for future Smizz – who will probably be doing something else completely insane – like a career in maths or something else I can’t do. And for anyone else going through a hard time.

You gotta swim, swim for the music that saves you when you’re not so sure you’ll survive. And swim when it hurts. The whole world is watching – and you’ve haven’t come this far to fall off the earth. Currents will pull you away from your love – just keep our heads above the water. Memories are like bullets and fire at you from a gun. We all get cracks in our armour – but don’t give in. Sometimes the nights won’t end. But you gotta swim for your families, your sisters, your brothers, your friends. You gotta get past wars without cause, past the lost politicians who don’t see their greed as a flaw. You gotta swim in the dark, there’s no shame in drifting, feel the tide shifting away from the spark. You gotta swim, don’t let yourself sink – you’ll find the horizon, please believe me – I promise you it’s not as far away as you think.

The current’s will always try and drag you away from your love- just keep your head above the water and swim.

Art is part of my being. It’s what makes me tick. It’s what makes me feel truly happy. But I also know I can’t let inequalities, and issues that exist that I know can be fixed – happen without any input.

So even though I had forgotten 80% of my art life. I’m going to put it down to trauma. I don’t necessarily think people are born as artists, but they certainly die as artists. I’m always going to be an artist – even if I lose my footing a bit. And I look forward to building more goals to combine art and suffering into better change.

I never want to forget who I am again.

 

 

Hoping for a 2016 where we open the doors wider and take care of each another

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I am hoping for 2016 to be a year where we open the doors wider and take care of each another

Susan Sontag wrote in her “Illness as metaphor” (1978) essay ,

“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. “

I’ve found myself asking myself, “Smizz, how do you get from here to there? ” I’ve spent the last few years trying to find my way back to the kingdom of the well. 2015 was all about screwing up maps, getting really, really lost. Like I’ve been using Bing maps instead of google maps.  I feel like my good-healthy passport needs renewing.

I get good days, even weeks, only to be knocked down by by more complications, more intense symptoms.  Life wasn’t going my way, but that’s something I’ve been learning to get used to and it happens to us all. I definitely cope better now,  but what I can’t get used to is the feeling of being broken.

And what’s scary is that most of this is happening to us all, in some shape or form: depression, low-self-esteem, a loved one being sick, unemployment, abuse, bullying, war. ect. At some point, we all loose our footing. And in the wake of trauma, sure footing can be hard to find.

When all this started, and I thought I was going to loose my life,  I was full of regret.

I had a good life –  But  why did I spend so much time on Facebook ? There was so much more I wanted to do, places I was worried I was never going to see. I always wanted to have a border collie puppy. I always wanted to own an american fridge with an ice maker (not sure why, I don’t even like ice in my drinks). But here i was thinking I’d never have any of that. And what about my artwork, my art-life? I had dedicated nearly 7 years of my life to what I was doing. And I had left it behind, without saying a word to most people except close friends.

I wrote a will. I settled my affairs – they told me to. And i was terrified because I’m an artist – and i was seeing a future where if I go blind, I might not get to do my work anymore.
But I’m alive. I’m alive! And I’ve learnt that there’s a big difference between surviving and living.

 

So in 2013, I was slumped over with fatigue. I barely got out of bed. But what I do realized then was that I couldn’t just keep living my same old life anymore because it just didn’t fit anymore. The stakes had changed. My life view was flipped. All that stuff i thought was important, turned out not to be that important.

In 5 months time, I HOPEFULLY will be a qualified radiotherapist.  I’ve spent the past 2 years being pulled through my course by my amazing friends and family whilst managing horrible, horrible side-effects/symptoms?.  I will be qualified to deliver radiotherapy treatments, create treatment plans,  innovate and care  for my patients and their carers going through the cancer pathway.  And I’m super excited and shit-scared. I took on this course for a number of reasons: One was to help me cope & have some understanding of the human body, and genetics and control, 2 was to give back to the NHS and to emulate the great care I was given & to irradicate the poor care I saw too. But ultimately it was to help make the difference I want to see, to make the pathway better for others. To enhance and help empower patients and their carers narratives. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt is when you’re sick – you feel vulnerable and voiceless.

And at first, this change was really, really hard. I’ve questioned my decision maybe a 1000 times. But it still feels right, even when I have to do 100 pointless academic tasks and I miss having free days to make and draw things I want to make.  But together with my friends we organized the (2014 & 2015) first student led Raditation oncology conference, I made the first radiotherapy patient information app, got a drawing published in journal of medical imaging and radiation sciences, won an award for my app, and presented at the international  Design4health conference, did some clinical experience in North America,  and went viral with this blog post about what we do in radiotherapy,  raised £850 for Doncaster Cancer Detection Trust and some more. All through combining art and radiation practice and empathy. All in 2015.

If you asked me 5 years ago if I saw myself here – the answer would have been – what’s radiotherapy? And errr nO?! If you asked me at the beginning of my course if I would be in 3rd year now, I wouldn’t have been so sure. But now here i am, trying to adapt healthcare research with creative methodologies.

l’ve experienced chronic pain and fatigue. I realized how debilitating it can be, and how rarely we take the time to understand it in others.  But this lesson is still being learnt. The experience is humbling and, more than anything, made me much more aware of – and empathetic to – the hurt that we ignore.

This, in particular, is my motivation going into 2016. My resolution (although I hate the word “resolution”; it sounds flimsy and self-obsessed) is to take more time recognizing the pain in others and offering solace whenever possible. I aim to keep the dialogue open with all of you, whether online or in-person. I want us to be open, and warm, even in the face of the unknown. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it – and one person CAN change the world.

2016 maybe full of joy for you. It maybe full of challenges. It’ll probably be full of both. However it all plays out, remember that we have each other. Don’t wait to be asked for help; you’re already being beckoned.

I started 2015 feeling lost in transition, the pain was really, really grinding me down. I cried like twice on clinical placement because I felt behind & that I’ve got a lot to loose, I gave up my art life. There’s no roadmap to picking up the pieces of a broken life.  So I’ve been drawing my own roadmap, and somewhere along the way, I’ve started to feel like I’m living again with the help of all of YOU – my friends.  I’ve visited 5 new countries this year. I chased the Northern Lights with my friends, we rode under Niagra Falls, we drank thrugh the worst icelandic storm of 30 years. And as I  have watched the ocean many times this year, it reminded that the suns set, but it will  rise again and everything keeps moving. But we don’t get forever. And that’s ok. We just have to make sure the stuff that counts, really fucking counts.

 

I hope that 2016 will hopefully bring me some more closure, and I’m hoping for less headahce, much less fatigue, more adventures, taking more photographs, seeing friends, better email action, laughter, fun, love and hope. And finishing & passing my degree without a nervous breakdown (lol) . And hopefully a job offer, if I’m lucky. You never know what the road has planned though.

Happy New Year friends,

With so much gratitude for you for getting me here

Unconditional love, lets make the world a better place in 2016!

Your good friend Smizz x

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I don’t want to waste any more of my time. That’s all: A look back upon my 2015

 

Why the student NHS Bursary is important #BursaryOrBust

The Tory government believe that Nursing students (And I’m sure it will then lead onto other allied health care professional courses such as Radiotherapy, radiography, physiotherapy, ect) don’t need a NHS Bursary to help them fund their course and cost of living.

And  they’re so wrong believing this. It’s just another way to repress the NHS as we know it. And it’s bad for these reasons.

Firstly, I would never – EVER – have had the opportunity to go to university if I got no maintenance grant (for a normal – fine art course). I entered university in the first year  that tuition “top-up” fees came into play. Now, I had no sense of money so the debt didn’t really worry me too much.  And I still don’t have any money.  But I came from a family that had NO money too. I was brought up below the poverty line. No one in my family has any qualifications. There were about 12 out of my 6th form (of 250+ students) who went onto university in the area i’m from. Are you sensing all this lower-social-economic working class, less privileged stuff here?

My mom jumps from minimum wage temp job to temp job. Ruining credit scores after credit scores – but we get by. Thanks to door-step loans and borrowing from my nan  – back and forth.

When I went to university the first time – I kept a bunch of part time jobs, I had the summer to earn more money. I would wire my mom extra money to help her out too. I didn’t get ANY help. I worked in the USA on unpaid internships because I worked in the bookies in my spare time. I left university 4 years later with a debt of around £23,000. That was my tuition fees & living loan. I had also got a maintenance grant and a university bursary. And I can’t believe ‘normal degree students’ won’t get that in the future now either. I didn’t party too much, but I had to go to London a lot as part of my course and art materials and an art degree show is expensive to put on. But I made ends meet and I don’t ever remembering feeling like I was truely money screwed. But I lived in my overdraft. I didn’t care. It was free.

Fast forward to right now.

I’m in my last year of my 3 year Radiotherapy & Oncology degree. And I CONSTANTLY feel like I don’t have enough money to survive.

I’m doing this degree because after a horrific health experience I wanted to both give back to the NHS that has saved my life, and given me so much in compassion and help. It rocked my world-view. Falling sick changed who I was as a person and my old life just didn’t fit in the way it did before. But it was also really important to me to enhance patient care further,  to get rid of those moments of care where I felt misunderstood as a patient and not really listened to. Sometimes we all just need to be listened to, even if there’s nothing you can do about the issue at hand. And there’s so many systems and pathways that can be made so much better.

And so, I thought that the NHS could do with someone like me, someone who had already done work with patient experience, who can empathize what my patients are experiencing, who thrives on doing a great job and helping people, making things, and whose passion for social justice and a better society motivates everything I do.

But falling ill had made me even more strapped for cash. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t do my freelance job. I lost work, I lost hope. For a whole year. When I decided that studying radiotherapy would also be good for me as a coping mechanism and as a routine to get me back to functioning in the real world – to make me feel a bit human again and to understand the system that I loved and hated – i knew because my course was funded by the NHS I could ‘afford’ to do it. This was a hoop that wasn’t going to hinder me. I wasn’t discriminated against because I didn’t come from money.  If that bursary wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it.

But here’s the thing. The NHS Bursary barely covers living costs anyways. And they want to chop it?

Being a healthcare student isn’t like being a ‘normal course’ student. On my art course, we started late September, had a few essays, researched a lot, constantly worked (though this wasn’t logged) in the studio (realtively stress free) and you’d have a few assessments and shows along the way. You made it what it needed to be. As time consuming or dedicated as you wanted. We’d have a nice christmas break, and a nice Easter break. No exams. We’d break up for the whole summer around May time. And the cycle would happen again. I could work weekends if i wanted to because i did all my work during the week. I could work evenings because – well – i could go and work in the studio whenever it suited me. I had 4 months of potential time to save up from a part-time job and/or get extra experience in my area.

A healthcare course is much, much, much more and very different. We work 35+ hours a week on clinical practice. Helping patients, cleaning and setting up equipment, cleaning up patients,  letting them cry on you. You, as students, do carry quite a bit of the work – that keeps the NHS moving. But you’re being watched, constantly. You have this constant feeling of stress because you know you need something clinical ticked off, or you need to do more case reports, or case discussions/clinical examinations, you’re constantly being stretched and observed and building your professional knowledge, confidence and persona. And it’s not like the art studio, if I mess up – i can’t just come back to it, it’s someone’s life it’s affecting. Add 1-2 hours of commuting to work each way. And then time for cooking tea and tomorrows lunch. Then add on ALL of the academic work that you need to do that night and get up and go to work the next day again.

You have ePortfolio, exams, assignments after assignments, clinical competencies, IPE, dissertation, more exams. And you work ALL summer too. No Camp America for you. This is all on top of 35+ hours. But guess what, if you was doing a business degree, or a marketing or computer science degree with a work placement – You’d be paid for your work placement. What about us?

What about this Bursary?

Unlike normal degree students – healthcare students get sent across the region and the country for their clinical practice. They can be in Doncaster one placement and then in Sheffield the other. On my course people can be placed as far as Newcastle and Leister. Commuting from your house in Sheffield to Newcastle is probably going to be a no go. So guess what, you have to pay for 2 rents – often UP FRONT – out of your own money. But get this. That NHS Bursary barely covers your Sheffield rent anyways. Where are you going to get this extra cash from? How are you going to eat? How can you afford the bus to work? Sometimes it’s just cheaper to rent a place then it is to actually take public transport (which is pretty horrific) If like me, you’re just a poor kid from the Donx, whose mom can barely pay her own rent anyways, where do you get this extra money from? What happens if you’re a parent? What do you do then?

Then lets consider all this academic work on top of your clinical placement rota. Each 20 credit module equals 200 hours of study or teaching. Since you’re on clinical practice, that 200 hours is your own study time. But you’ve already worked 8 hours that day, you get home around 6-ish if you’re lucky. You need to do that work. What employer is going to be that understanding of your dodgy work pattern? And you’re probably going to be REALLY tired after finishing a whole day of clinical placement ontop a whole shift at Boots,  then go home and try to do some ePortfolio and do this ALL again. And people DO IT. That’s not the debate. But could you do it if that bursary wasn’t there at all? i don’t think so.

When you get a NHS bursary (which FYI is at the most around £380 a month) you don’t get any extra help from the university like you do on a ‘normal course’. You’re exempt from quite a few hardship funds in place within the university. And student loans will only lend you up to £2,200 a year – max. You have to work clinical placement all summer remember too.

Then lets consider all these extra costs which you won’t think about.

Your uniform has to be clean on each day. That’s 5 days of washing straight up. It’s white – that’s an extra load of washing. If you’re living in student accommodation – your washing is going to run you around 5-10 extra pound a week. You’re working all week,  and there’s something about clinical placement which makes you WAY more hungrier than in real life. And hospital canteen food is ridiculously expensive – so you have to plan ahead and pay extra in your food shopping to run the costs of a decent packed lunch to get you through the working day. There’s all the extra things too. You want to be ahead of the game for ePortfolio and job hunting – you need to go to conferences – often way expensive – even for students. But that’s part of your professional conduct and identity. Then you have your normal course costs. Really expensive course text books.

Then if you’ve survived all of this, and get to the end of the course and want to get a job. You have to pay for a licence to practice and a membership to your college of your profession to ensure you have insurance – before you’ve even got a job, a pay-check. This is around £380 before you’ve even started. I have no idea at this point where my money will come from to pay for that. We’ll see.

I’m lucky because I’m poor I get the full bursary. Others aren’t but their parents don’t help them out because they can’t afford to either. Many student accommodations are over £4000 a year rent now, which is more than your years bursary.

I work as a freelance artist so most of the time i can work within my own time-frames. However my health still sucks balls. I struggle with fatigue like you wouldn’t believe. So often I get home, and all I do is sleep. It makes doing my school work even harder on top of trying to do freelance work too. But I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

Others aren’t that lucky. Despite having my bursary and working my freelance jobs – i’m talking many jobs too – I barely make ends meet. I’ve ruined my credit score on this degree even further than before. I’ve got to the end of my over-draft and even had my card declined. That never happened to me before. But it’s because I’m paying up front for rents, for train tickets for clinical placement. For food that’s not covered by my loans.

Healthcare students don’t fit your normal format. Most enter the degree much older than your average student population. Many have children and family. They need this bursary. They too probably already have a degree like me. Their story is probably similar. They saw a loved one close suffer dilibertating illness that inspired their calling into healthcare; after having children they wanted to become a midwife; or sometimes they just needed time to mature to discover their true calling.

The NHS treats a population as diverse as you can imagine, and it needs staff that represents the population it is treating. We don’t want a select few who can afford to take on the debt or that their parents will pay everything for them. We want them as well as the people who know what it’s like to be down and out on your luck, who know what it feels like to suffer in constant pain, who have children and know what a parent may be thinking, who know how tough times are. We need people who are compassionate, and creative and passionate and brave. And I don’t want them to be priced out.

My mom has always brought me up with the belief that I shouldn’t make money a barrier. This has hindered me in different ways  – like buying things I shouldn’t have because I can’t really afford them – but not everyone is brought up with that belief and some people don’t have the emotional or financial support to be able to take a leap and do a course without any Bursary help.

You wouldn’t expect a kid to pay for their apprenticeship- you give them a terrible wage (which FYI- apprentices need to be paid more too). Nursing students, like all healthcare professionals DESERVE a LIVING WAGE. The bursary isn’t a living wage. But it’s something. Taking that away is disrespectful, it doesn’t acknowledge the hardwork and the goodwill that comes with the healthcare courses. The NHS does benefit from students. We don’t ask for much because we’re passionate about making the system better, about caring for society. It’s NOT about money. EVER. But this is forcing people not to have an opportunity, and potentially change the face of the NHS.

The consequences of not  having a NHS bursary in nursing are SO much bigger than you’d ever think on first inspection. We’ll loose our social mobility of the profession, the career progression, the mentorship, we’ll loose people applying for the course, and have a shortage ina  time that’s already suffering a shortage.

It’s bad news. And it’s not what the NHS stands for. That’s why I am standing with Nurses and all healthcare workers – for both the junior contract and the student nurses bursaries. We’re all one in the NHS. We work across professions and care for our patients and their carers and we need to look out for one another too. To the future of nursing, and all healthcare professions, and our care and the NHS.

 

 

Post Traumatic Growth – Trying to Make Sense of Things

One thing that my friends know about me, is that I constantly think about our existence.

As a kid, during computer club after-school – after printing out a million pictures of Lil’ Bow Wow to add to my collage shrine to the pint-sized rapper – I then pretended to be a 16/17 year old on a Philosophy Forum (I was about 13/14). I didn’t grow up with books, no one in my family is interested in the human condition – in fact I grew up with the plight of survival – the art of just getting by. On whatever that was. Ketchup sandwiches for lunch because that’s all we had in the house, and the rent was due – and in massive arreas. But I constantly thought that there must be more. I would devoure and try to understand these philosophical ideas on time, and fate, and existence. Ultimately – being.

By the time I got to university, by myself, by my own hardwork – and my own investment and time – with some guidance from a few teachers that believed in me at school – I started to think that the shit that I had endured years of my life – was part of a destined path. An experience I had to learn from. It taught me about social justice, the differences between in having very, very little and having a decent amount, it made me know that society is unfairly distributed – the marxist in me. I thought that it was practice – to give me a sense of what it’s like – and that I had got to where I was (uni) so I had some tools, a way to help make a difference, using this experience in hand. I had – and still continue to do so – imposter syndrome though. I thought I’d drop out, that I wouldn’t be smart enough, ect, ect. But the complete opposite happened and I always quote my best friends at uni as the reason why I fell head over heels in love with art, with learning, with working even harder than I ever had before on this passion of mine.

I’d think of all the factors that lead me to meeting them, and decided it was fate. That I had acted in a specific way, met all these people- specifically for a reason. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have had a specific experience, they wouldn’t have helped me, ect. That it was kind of written in the stars.

Now, maybe it is – probably it isn’t. The logical person in me says – no way. It’s just coincidence and it would be the same outcomes irrespectively because I’m a pretty decent judge of character.  The person – which is by far a bigger part of me – knows that psychological this is some sort of coping mechanism. And that actually, every person brings something different to any and every situtation. And I know a kid from my background has actually jumped a bunch of odds, and so I believe it’s some sort of fate thing. But i know I haven’t got here alone.

When I fell sick. I couldn’t get out of bed. I think back to when I was around 24 – and I actually can’t remember that year very well at all because I spent so little of it conscious. I couldn’t reply to emails – I’d go to sleep at 6-7pm, and not get up until 1-2PM and I’d force myself to get up – I’d attempt some drawing commission work for 3 hours or so. Waiting for 5-6pm to come back around as a decent time to get showered and go back to bed and replay this whole cycle. Over and over. Every minute awake felt like I was being crushed, I’d have day-chills, nose-bleeds, nightsweats, and the worst pain.

I felt like I was going to die. I was angry, upset, in pain, why me? I had lost who I had spent so many years building. Smizz the kid who’d reply an email in an instant, who could juggle a bazillion things at once, who kept down and writing and who couldn’t understand why others couldn’t be as committed to making the change. I lost that. I had lost my identity. But it didn’t matter anyways – because was it even important? Crisis, or what.

But through my health experience, I naturally did what I had done throughout my life. There was some sort of reason why this had happened to me, surely. Just another lesson. I still feel shit, and I have a bunch of stuff that constantly keeps happening to me.  I knew this awful experience – throughout the healthcare system – meant that I could change it – even if it was just being there to listen to patients. My shitty health changed me.

Occasionally I feel stronger than I did before,  more spontaneous and open to new experiences and even quicker to laugh. I might still sweat the unimportant stuff – like ePortfolio, an exam, but I know deep down it’s kind of meaningless in the greater scheme of things.  Not that I haven’t struggled. I still have to deal with disorienting symptoms daily, and there are still days when I’m stopped in my tracks by grief. I still mourne the loss of the old Smizz. I constantly see my GP – like every few months, a plead with him that there’s got to be a way to stop feeling this fatigue, to stop feeling the pain.  Even so, I try and use all these experiences as a springboard.

I made the RADCARE radiotherapy Patient information app – which won an award. I won the Health & Wellbeing Student Award for Leadership, I’m quite proud that my patients seem to give really nice feedback about me to my mentors on clinical placement, I’ve drawn loads of stuff to help change patient experience, patient involvement, to engage people across the spectrum – from enhancing Prostate cancer care, to Dying Matters and the End Of Life Care Pathway, and now I’m going to Toronto – and Harvard over the next 2 months to learn more and bring back these experiences to see if I can begin to invigorate the pathways for better supportive care.

People always think jumping from art to healthcare is a jump. And perhaps it is. But I don’t really see it as that. In my many hours spent trawling through the internet looking for explanations, looking for things that can help with my pain/fatigue. I found that there’s a name for how I’ve built myself.  post-traumatic growth (PTG), a term coined by Richard Tedeschi, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. Dozens of studies have shown that trauma survivors can change in profound ways. And it goes well beyond resilience, or bouncing back from adversity. “With post-traumatic growth, a person who has faced difficult challenges doesn’t just return to baseline, which is what happens with resilience,” explains Tedeschi. “They change in fundamental, sometimes dramatic, ways.”

Whilst I still mourn my old life, how I could stay up later and was pain free -and ultimately more care-free. I’m not super sure I would change it on reflection. I feel wiser, I feel more emphatic, I know what’s important – my family & friends, I’m less of dick now, I feel even more motivated to get out there to help others, I’ve built the most unlikely friendships – even with my doctors – and working in healthcare has opened up way more opportunities for my artistic practice than I ever hoped to believe. I never knew that actually now is the time to be a healthcare worker artist!

now I’m not saying every bad thing has to have a happy ending, acceptance nor do you have to oozze rainbows and sickening positivity – sometimes I think that can be counterproductive too. I think it’s finding meaning on your own terms to give you some ownership to the shitty things that happen that are ultimately usually out of our control.

When I won the award for my app – I felt a huge massive amount of pride. Something I’ve not felt in a really long time. And I think it’s because I designed it – with my experience in hand – with my patients stories in the other – with my passion for making things and wanting to help people. I wouldn’t be here right now if I never fell sick and my life changed in a way I didn’t want it to. I can still barely see where I am going, I’m still amazed I’m still on my course, that I’m still alive. I think I felt the pride because i realized that to get here I’ve had to trust myself, to learn from my bodies failure. To know that I have the bestest friends and family behind me 100% of the way in whatever I do. Because, like I said, without them anyways – i wouldn’t be here now – regardless.