2 January 2019

8 Silver Linings from 2018

For every cloud there is a silver lining. On most occasions, I take these proverbs with a pinch of salt - "smile and be happy" is about as useful as a chocolate teapot . Nonetheless, in the case of silver lined clouds, I've found the saying to hold true. Last year, I published my 17 Silver Linings From 2017 and received such a positive response. More importantly, I found the process of reflecting and writing hugely therapeutic, so I'm back for another edition!

Let's be honest, 2018 didn't give the world a whole lot to smile about. Every weekend, the papers somehow out-doomed themselves... and would it hurt for News at 10 to include just one 'positive story'? As Matt Haig said on the Deliciously Ella Podcast, there are far too few features on guide dogs! What's more, there are also personal circumstances to consider. As with previous years, 2018 was a tale of two extremes. I returned to University, but I also returned to treatment. I finished my degree, yet it was far from the finish I planned.

I could just as easily write "18 Storms of 2018", which I've no doubt Mr NOA (negative over-analysis) would love... but what purpose would that serve? It certainly wouldn't make me any happier, or make for happy. Like I said earlier, I'm not a fan of the "smile and be happy" teabag (unless the it's made from divine dark-chocolate and the teabag is mint, because that combination is almost as good as Oreos and Peanut). At the same time, there's a lot to be said for reminding yourself of those positives, wherever you can find them. As Samwise Gamgee says:

 There's some good in this world,
and it's worth fighting for."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 

More people than ever before are opening up about their mental health, sharing their struggles and subsequently seeking support. I hope that, some day, every person with a mental illness can access the treatment they deserve; however, we all know this is easier said than done, so I'm a huge believer in the value of experience. I must stress that I'm not a doctor and, what's more, far from a 'model of recovery'. There's no guarantee that what works for me will work for someone else. However, there's always a chance. If my Silver Linings concept can help just one other person, it's worth sharing.
*I did have 18, but seeing as the post was almost as long as my dissertation, I thought 8 would be more blog-friendly!*

  #1 CBT & NEW-SKY THINKING     

This was number also 1 last year too, but I solemnly swear I'm not being lazy! At the start of 2018, I was still doing CBT and very much putting 'preparation into practice' with my return to University. As I said in 2017, every silver lining in this post can be attributed to CBT, as it reshaped my outlook on things. Like I wrote in my last post - 'Tis The Season To Be Sophie.

CBT taught me that I can't control events around me, but I can choose how I respond. If every silver lining has a storm, every storm must also have a silver lining. Instead of thinking "I returned to University, but I also returned to treatment," why not turn it on its head? Yes, "I returned to treatment... but I RETURNED TO UNIVERSTIY" and lived to tell the tale. On that note...


   #2 REDISCOVERING EXETER    

I returned to Exeter! Two years after suspending my studies for health reasons, I returned to Exeter's cobbled streets, its coffee shops, its lecture theatres, its library cave of wonders. I returned to its Sainsbury's Local and didn't cry in the middle of the bakery aisle. This time last year, days before my return to University, I was petrified. Excited, yes, but mostly petrified! It was only for one term, but I was haunted by the Ghosts of Academia Past, terrified of retreading anorexia's footsteps, falling back into the old beliefs I spent two years rewriting.

While I wouldn't say my four months in Exeter were  a vision of mental wellness, I am choosing to look back on what I DID achieve. I think will do a full post on this soon, but receiving a delivery from LoveKnitting and introducing 'The SPEW Crew' to fellow students was definitely a highlight. Suffice to say, the overriding lesson of CBT stayed with me: BE SOPHIE. I was reunited with my Tea Twin (Yas) and Coffee Khaleesi (Sal), who were both still in Exeter and stayed in touch through everything. Both wrote to me in hospital and Sal even visited. I couldn't ask for two better friends. 

The final term of any degree also means one thing: DISSERTATION. I had the opportunity to research and write on a subject entirely of my choice, which combined my love for Children's Literature with my passions for  Primary Education and Mental Health Advocacy"Childhood's Marvellous Medicine: Reading the Works of Roald Dahl as a Manifesto for Growing Down".  Looking back, perfectionism did take over and compromised my mental health; however I will always hold onto those moments of pure joy, as I wrote about something I truly believed in. 

I returned to the classroom in Autumn with my first KS2 Placement, joining Year 3 for two mornings a week. In truth, I didn't love the experience quite as much as my previous placements, but I did learn so much and especially enjoyed working with those who simply needed more confidence. It's amazing to see how much can be gained from two small words: "keep going". 

Nonetheless, my experience was the perfect example of  a silver lining, as I realised what age group I feel most at home with. Speaking of the future, at the start of 2018 I submitted my PGCE application and, three interviews later, I received THREE PGCE OFFERS from Bath Spa, Oxford Brookes and Cambridge. Health meant that, once again, the life-plan had to be rewritten and I'm still coming to terms with that... but it's never too late - I just submitted my application for 2019!

I realise that the outcome may be different, but one can ever take away from those three offers. Cambridge was the place I always wanted to apply to as an Undergraduate, but was advised not to by my school. While the decision was made for health reasons at the time, I subsequently concluded that   I wasn't good enough. Five year later, they said I was good enough. I am good enough. 


2018 was the year I coined WitchCRAFTING Wizardry, my way of describing anyone who finds creative inspiration from the Wizarding World... or who succeeds in knitting their own Weasley Jumper. Crafting and crochet has continued to be an inexhaustible source of magic for my mental health. From imagining new designs and crocheting that first stitch, to setting my beasties free on Etsy, it truly is the best therapy and it would be amazing to see others try it in 2019.

Embracing the Small Biz Life has opened my eyes to so many amazing creators, particularly through IG and Youtube. If you've never watched a Studio Vlog, where have you been?! Just when it seemed that creativity and authenticity were lost in a high-street haul fog, along came Katnipp Illustrations and Ellis Woolley, who are the definition of maker magic. If ever you need creative inspiration, or simply a smile to brighten your day, their channels are golden... and Mr Dougal agrees!

Ps: He's just come from filming our latest studio vlog; however, like any SPEW Crew Veteran, he's always camera ready. I don't like to pick favourites, but we both know he's my chosen beastie... 
   #5  POTTERGRAM: SOCIAL MEDIA'S SILVER LINING         

For me, Twitter was social media's saving grace in 2017. One year later, this title has been captured by Instagram and the inexhaustible magic of Pottergram. Anyone familiar with my Studio Vlogs will know how instrumental IG has been for Etsy; it is the first place I share my crochet creations and people now use #TheSPEWCrew to share their Bumble & Be beastie(s). No matter how many times I see these photos, or read the comments below, it will bring a smile to the stormiest of days.

Beyond maker magic, the Potterhead community is simply SPEWtacular. It doesn't matter what nationlity, gender, house or age you are - I can be chatting to an American mother from the US one minute and the Sweetest of Swedish Slytherins the next. All the matters is our common love for Ms Rowling's Wizarding World; no matter how Mugglesome the human world may seem, we can always be there to welcome each other home. Some may call me idealist, escapist, childish... let them! In a world of Trumps and Brexits, we could do with some Dumbledore Wisdom:

 Differences of habit and language are nothing at all
if our aims are identical and our hearts are open." 
- Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

Ah, Pottergram, a magic beyond all IG put together - except, perhaps, @AustinMills. Without it, I would never have found AmyEmily, Hannah, JanaLouise,  Sophie and so many others. I am a strong believer that you can have 'real' friends online - Nicole is a golden example of this - and  2019 WILL be the year I meet some of these magic people in person. I cannot thank them enough for their kindness, creativity and daily courage to BE THEMSELVES, whether it be mindful living or magical storytelling. In a world of mind-muggles, the value of this cannot be overstated.
||  Moony Mooncalf  ||  Paris Puff  ||  Percy Puff  ||  Polly Puff  ||  Neville Niffler, Peaches Puff & Hetty Owl  ||  ||  Elijah Elf  ||  Oliver Elf & Noah Niffle||  Paige Puff  ||  Pumpkin Puff  ||  Peta Puff & Persephone Puff  || 
  #6 SELFIES, BLOGS & MAGICAL PODS  

Hold the keyboard... am I really celebrating the success of the selfie? YES, when the photographers in question are NicoleHannah, or anyone else championing SELF-LOVE on social media. Perhaps 2019 can be be the year of SELFIE-LOVE, where you post a self-portrait alongside a caption with real substance - aka not #IWokeUpLikeThis #LorealSponsered #VictoriaKnowsMySecret. Simply put, the world needs less "look at me" and more "looking at myself with more kindness".

Moving onto blogs, this is where I usually write a short essay on each link. However, in light of my 2018 pledge to ramble less, I am not going to waffle! You will simply have to trust that each and every link below are truly magical, full of meaning and must-reads for the new year. What's more, I'd far rather you read their words than see me turn them into waffles. We'll leave that to donkey...


||   See Yourself through Someone Else's Eyes - Call Me Amy   ||

||  Using Negative Emotions - Blue Jay of Happiness  ||  Authenticity Online - Abbey Louisa Rose  ||

||  On Recognising Ehat We Really Need - Sophar So Good   || 

||  Allowing Ourselves to be Happy - Sophie Cliff  ||  Positive Journalling - Natalie Leanne  ||

||   Small Victories: Why We Should be Celebrating Them - No Space for Milk   || 


Just when I thought that Pods couldn't get as magical as MuggleCastalong came 2 of my favourite Ravenclaws with Fantastic Geeks and Where to Find Them; aka, the podcast sensation that should be gripping all nations. My other staples are Happy Place and Deliciously Ella, which have some truly amazing guests and deserved a whole post of their own - coming next week! Yes, I've actually  scheduled content for 2019 and, trust me, the SPEW Crew are as shocked as anyone.... or perhaps they just want their own cup of butterbrew? Grumpy Mule are pretty SPEWtacular.
   #7  FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH TREATMENT  

 "I'll be there for you, when the rains starts to fall" - this Friends quote pretty much encapsulates the 9 weeks of my life between June-August. The plan was to have a short admission, stabilising my food alongside my diabetes, so I could be in the best place possible for my PGCE year. What we didn't contemplate was Mr Diabetes going rogue, nor the wisdom tooth infection that had me on 3 courses of antibiotics in 3 months. The dentist's advice - "avoid eating too many solid foods" - was ironic to say the least! 4 weeks turned into 6, which turned into 8 and then a few more days after that. 

What got me through were my fellow patients PEOPLE. Half a dozen kind, courageous, inspiring souls, who put up with my hot mess moments, my Pygmy Puff Poffle taking over the lounge, my Roald Dahl rambles and who taught me that a bit of trash TV is actually okay. My saving grace came two weeks in, as I liaised with the University from hospital and learnt that my final degree result would be delayed. That same day, I received the most magical snail mail from B - a crochet-inspired deathly hallows pin, which I've included a picture of below! 

She's one of only two patients people I've met up with 'in the real world' and whose friendship goes far beyond treatment. The other girls were there for me too, through the tears, the hold music... more tears. Suffice to say, #7 was going to be my graduation, but if there's one fact I reaffirmed in those 9 weeks, it's that no life plan matters more than health. Planned or not, Health IS Life. Ultimately, it was the steady nutrition and daily fortisips, which gave me the energy to forge those friendships; to rediscover those parts of me I'd lost in previous weeks.

I always knew that returning to the world of academia was a risk - I was putting months of CBT into practice and I failed. I learnt. No, it didn't go perfectly... but then nothing ever does. Nothing is ever 'perfect'. One of the girls I met through treatment, who I still keep in touch with to this day, had similar struggles with perfectionism and we always try to encourage each other. Before my PGCE interviews, I received this incredible HP-inspired card through the post and carried it with me all the way to Cambridge. I've included a picture of it below too, as it is simply SPEWtacular. 
  #8 SEEING OFF 2018 FROM HOME    

Once again, I am able to enjoy NYE from the comfort of my home, with three of the four people I love most in this world (yes, dogs are people too), my favourite Happy Pear Pie and a glass of Prosecco. I also got to celebrate the first Christmas hosted by my sister, including her boyfriend and my other favourite fluffball. The exploding oven situation wasn't ideal, but both Turkey and Quorn Roast lived to tell the tale and we rounded off the day with a new holiday favourite: Nativity.

There were many moments in 2018 when I couldn't say "all was well"; what's more, I'd not exactly the line I'd choose to end chapter 2018, unlike Ms Rowling and her Deathly Hallows epilogue. Nonetheless, as I type this now from my bed at home, snuggled up with a cup of peppermint tea and my Ravenclaw blanket, I am determined to "dwell in possibility."

 Happiness can be found in the darkest of times,
If only one remembers to turn on the light." 
- Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban 

Each time the mind-muggles try to pull me under, I will hold onto these 8 strands of light - 18 little lifeboats that, together, can help me "just keep swimming".  If I ever question that "I can", this post has 8 records of "I did". And who knows? Perhaps they can help you see beyond the clouds too? Whatever storms come your way in 2019, remember that you can always find one silver lining.

Never lose hope.
 What were your Silver Linings of 2018?
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