2021, New Year, Same You.. And That’s Okay!

I wasn’t going to write a New Year’s post this year; it felt like there wasn’t much to say, I guess. Well, that’s what I thought until I started to scan through my social media. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it (again); the year we have just been through has been pretty horrendous for so many and in so many different ways. It’s been a time of frustration, anxiety, worry, trauma and stress; all the things we experience in life, but magnificently amplified. 

We’ve had pressure on us to just “keep calm and carry on” when nothing about this year has given us a chance to do so. I follow many scientific, informational, cultural, economic and news posts. I noticed the frustrations, bewilderment and trauma from society; the slight hysteria of the beginning of lockdown in March, the frustrations of a second lockdown and the confusion of what we are now experiencing. I’m not about to go into the politics of whether or not this is a real disease, whether the social distancing is fair or whether or not you should wear a mask; if you care about your fellow human, even if you do not have the knowledge of being a respected epidemiologist or scientist, then you know this is a real disease with devastating effects. COVID’s traumatic impact on society as a whole has been and continues to be, immeasurable. People are dying, so keep safe, wash your hands, social distance and wear a mask. But like I said I’m not going to debate this fact with you. 

I will say that the pressure we put on ourselves to do things this year has been so intense and unprecedented; I don’t know anyone who has learned to play the piano or guitar or is almost fluent in a new language. No, I’m not seeing any people socially, but my practice is hectic at the moment, so I hear a lot from different groups of our society. The consensus is consistent “I should have done X, Y and Z during this lockdown, everybody else did, and now I feel like I’ve wasted my time “. I think the truth of the matter is that we are all somewhere in the middle- some people have done some stuff like learning how to make bread or sew, and for other people, they’ve had to learn to cook just to survive. Everything we’ve done during this lockdown, this pandemic, has given us skills; nobody in our lived experience has lived through a pandemic, but you have. 

2021, well, it’s not going to be much different; I’m afraid, certainly not the beginning of it. I see a lot of people having high hopes for 2021, we’re already starting to see the next year of “I’m going to do X, Y and Z”, “2021 is going to be my year”, “it’s gonna be so much better” et cetera et cetera. Yes, we can hope it’s going to be better, yes, I suspect it will be a lot better, but we have a long hard slog to get through first. Things aren’t going to suddenly change at 12:01 on January 1st because it is a new year and we want things to change. We are still in a pandemic, and we are still struggling. So, you don’t have to start with new years resolutions of “I will do this, and I will do that”. Does it matter if you learn Japanese this year? Or maybe yoga? Had you planned to do these things before the pandemic happened? So why pressure yourself now? Let’s just try and get through the first six months of 2021 as best as we can, let’s not put added pressure on ourselves or each other. 

I keep seeing motivational quotes about mental health- you know the ones, “I’m just focusing on the positives” all of them insidiously assuming that it is your fault that you don’t have a positive attitude. Of course, these can be helpful- affirmations can, and have been proven to help and support psychological therapeutic work AffirmationsPositive Psychology. However, these can also make some people feel really bad about themselves, as they can’t be present with affirmations at this moment in time. “Oh, it’s my fault that I’m feeling so bad because I should just have a positive mental attitude”. Positive mental bullshit, there, I am calling it. It’s tough to be an optimist when the whole world is in a pessimistic place. So, please be kind to yourself- just because someone has posted a beautiful picture of the beach with “think positive, tomorrow is a better day, if you think positively about it”; doesn’t negate how you feel at this moment in time. It is hard to see that far into the future when you struggle to get through that current moment. You are allowed to feel sad, desperate, lost- we’ve all felt it at some point this year.

Remember to be compassionate, other people think and feel the way you do, some people feel worse, and some feel better. These feelings will pass with time, so distract yourself for that moment. Talk to your friends and family, stay connected, one of the most important things that we can do to support ourselves and be compassionate to ourselves and others. Connecting with others is essential to us as humans; it makes us human and is vital to us as a society, as a community. It can help us to have motivation and purpose to carry on. So, focus on talking to people, doing things that make you feel good and not feeling guilty about it. If you’re feeling low, talking to a friend is going to feel hard to do. It’s okay that it feels hard, but the best thing you can do is push yourself and talk to that friend. I know it is difficult, but take it one step at a time; that famous saying of “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is so true, now more than ever. 

If you’re feeling low, it is hard to do anything, even fun stuff. Then we can get stuck in a perpetual cycle of loss; we feel bad so we stop doing some of the things that make us feel good- in a pandemic this could be going to meet friends, going to a coffee shop, gym or cinema. These are things we may not be able to do at this moment in time. Not doing these things makes us feel worse and lowers our mood- I feel depressed, so what’s the point? So, we do less and even stop contacting people- c’mon, how many of you are now avoiding those Zoom meetups with friends? Avoiding texts or calls? A connection keeps us going, and it is something small that we can do to improve our mood. It is about acknowledging that things are tough right now, so be kind. If your friend said they felt low, what would you do? Would you talk to them? Make them laugh? Send them a text or a card? Organise a Zoom call? Okay, that’s wonderful- you genuinely are a good friend  But, hang on a minute. If you would do that for a friend who is feeling low, why would you not do that for yourself? You are just as important, if not more important; it could help to see it in this frame of reference; we all need help and support at times.

But you know what? That might be too hard right now. It’s New Year’s Eve, and life looks very different from how we planned it to at this point. So a Zoom meeting is too much- honestly, who wants to put on clothes and take off your pj’s anyway? So, grab a shower, a bath. Change your bedding or pj’s. Have a cup of tea whilst sat on the sofa, or dancing around the kitchen. It doesn’t matter what you do but show yourself some kindness if you can. What have you got to lose by trying? Tonight might be rough for a lot of us, so let’s just get through it. Tomorrow is a different day; it may not be better, but it won’t be the same as today. Have a lovely evening; whatever you are doing. If you’re alone, try to do all the things you love the most, and if you’re with people? Well, it doesn’t have to be fireworks, you know. A quiet night in is okay. This time next year, everything will look different, and I hope you will be with all your family and friends. After all, 2021 can’t possibly be as bad as 2020… can it? Happy New Year, everyone!


1.     Psychotherapy Relationships That Work. Volume 1 Evidence-Based Therapist Contributions, John C. Norcross (editor), Third Edition, Hardback (August 01st 2019)

2. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-positive-psychology-definition/

Thank Goodness That’s Over… I Hope?

Well, what can I say? 2020 has been the strangest, most challenging year we have faced yet. Some of us have fared ok, and some of us have struggled. Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when we relax, have fun, spend time with our chosen family and friends, but this year looks very different for many people.

The struggles we have faced this year have been some of the hardest in my lifetime- mental health difficulties have increased, financial struggles and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Never mind our health and how worried we may be about ourselves and our loved ones.

I have spent most of the year in shielding, and it has been quite an isolating experience, even with a large family. We have missed out on so many celebrations, and we have lost family members. As I am typing, my town has now gone into ‘Tier 3’ due to the seriousness of the situation. We live in some very worrying times.

There are so many reasons to take care of ourselves, but we quite often put others first. During this challenging time, I want you to be compassionate to yourselves- we have had such a challenging year, and we often overlook ourselves. Being compassionate to yourself is difficult, but we afford so much compassion to others, why not focus on yourself for a little bit?

2021 may well start easily- however, we face more challenges with this new COVID strain, which is more easily transmitted, and there will be further difficulties ahead. A vaccine is here but will take time to roll out. Please remember to be careful, social distance and wear a mask- doing these things shows caring for yourself and others, even if we don’t realise it. Reach out to your family and friends, even if you think they are busy or have a place to go at Christmas. Quite often you may find that they don’t- we are very good at hiding our difficulties sometimes, and during a pandemic, we are no different.

Try not to put pressure on yourself for an ‘amazing’ Christmas; new year’s eve will be very different, too. So what if you didn’t learn French, or how to play the piano. So what if your friend is now an expert artisanal baker- we are all coping with this pandemic in the vest way we know how to, and for some people, just getting out of bed and making a cup of tea is about all that they can muster. We have all achieved so much this year; just getting through 2020 has been challenging, but we have kept going due to our resilience. Your friend who is the expert baker, didn’t do it because they needed to be a baker, they did it to keep busy and focused- we have all done this in some very different ways, and it is how we have coped and got through 2020. We are going to need this fortitude for next year, too.

I wish all of you a safe and peaceful holiday period; 2021 will be different, and hopefully better, but we need to be patient and take our time. Have a lovely holiday, and I will see you all in 2021.

Pride 2020

This year, I have left my annual Pride post until near the end of June (and on actual Global Pride day), as I have been taking the time to read, learn and educate myself over the global difficulties of the last few months. Pride is such an important event and it has coincided with a global pandemic and civil unrest- Black Lives Matters is such an important organisation and issue, and is intrinsically linked to Pride, also.

Although I identify as agender, this is not something that has caused me difficulty in my lifetime- an invisible difference, that only a few knew (now the world, may I add!), I wanted to really listen to the voices of the LGBTQA+ community, and the reality of the here and now, growing up with the difficulties a new generation faces. What better way to do this than to introduce a ‘guest’ for this blog- a 17 year old, Magdalena, an Autistic, Non-binary lesbian, studying at college, who writes thoughtfully on the effect of the history and what it means to be LGBTQA+ in the 2000’s. Thank you, Magdalena, for sharing your thoughts.


Identity, intersectionality, and self-reflection, or where we went wrong with Pride 

As a part of my English literature coursework, I’ve spent the past few months studying the gay culture and history of the 1980s. It seems strange to categorise time in such recent memory as history, but for the queer community, the 1980s were massively destructive. The rise of AIDs and the complete lack of accountability from any government means that so many members of the queer community are no longer with us. This has had a profound effect on how gay culture became fetishised within the mainstream in the early 90s and lead us to today’s ‘Rainbow Capitalism’. This Pride, I think it’s vital to take inspiration from the Gay Communities of the 1980s and re-politicise our identities.

To be gay in the ’80s was inherently political – life and love were ruled by legislation. For anyone out and proud, violence was common and expected, employment was tenuous, and family ties were often cut. There was absolutely no way to be gay in a socially acceptable way, and at most tolerance could be expected from cisgender heterosexual friends. But this had a stimulating effect on gay communities – to be an active member of these communities was to ally yourself with other similarly oppressed people.  At first, this was true within queer communities, but soon the complete disenfranchisement from systems of power led to more and more radical politics. Socialism and Civil Rights movements were common within queer communities (not to say that the gay culture within the ’80s was perfect, but that without any ties to bigoted systems of power often people would champion other marginalised groups).  A fascinating example of this is the Lesbians and Gays support of the miner’s movement. For more information, I highly recommend either the film Pride or this documentary made by the group in 1985; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHJhbwEcgrA

With this complete politicisation of identity in mind, I invite you to consider not only queer culture now, but also how the world views queer people at large. One could argue that queer people are now acceptable to society, and the fight for gay rights is over. This is patently untrue – a specific type of queer person is acceptable to society. These people check most of the following boxes: white, able-bodied, cisgender, skinny and either Christian or atheist. Money also helps.

A perfect example of this is Ellen DeGeneres – after she was forced to come out as a lesbian in the mid-90s, she became the most palatable queer person in the media. She was white, skinny, conventionally attractive and already established in the industry. Her talk show is now a staple of American TV, and she has become a household name. Ellen DeGeneres is also now one of the mega-rich; friends with George W Bush (who not only attempted to ban gay marriage constitutionally, but also started the Iraq war – killing an estimated 151,000 – 160,000 Iraqis in the first four years, most of whom were civilians), and is infamous within show business for her alleged terrible behaviour. The only thing that sets Ellen apart from the rest of the 1%, is that she is a lesbian – but based on the above behaviour, how much does she care about the queer community?

This post is not a strange and long call-out post for Ellen DeGeneres, but she serves as an excellent example of what I want to explain. As it becomes more and more acceptable to be queer (providing you are of course massively privileged otherwise), there has been a political shift within communities for us to moderate our behaviour to make other people more comfortable with our identities – we must become entirely non-threatening to be ‘accepted’. This is a step backwards for Queer rights – we cannot align ourselves with bigoted systems of power and present it as progressive. Support for queer people cannot be conditional, because by adding these conditions, we betray the members of our community who fight for us the hardest.

This modern marketing of queer culture harms trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, the disabled, and the poor within our communities. These are the people on the frontlines, making changes. The first Pride was a riot, and trans women threw the first bricks. To celebrate Pride, you cannot opt-out of the political side of being queer – to quote Adam Eli “Queer people anywhere are responsible to queer people everywhere.”  I urge queer people reading this to think about how they identify – not just their gender and sexuality – but who they identify with. Do you sympathise with the people upholding and profiting from bigoted systems of power more than those suffering? Do you identify more with the security of your whiteness than the queer community? Do you consider other people’s pain to be somehow their fault?  

Our identities exist within the context of the world around us, and so the question of identity is far more complicated than the mainstream media would have you believe. There is more to being Queer than loving who you love and being who you are because we must be queer in solidarity with others. This Pride, I invite you to remember our history as revolutionaries and support people who are suffering under the same system you are.


I also want to add to this post- that I will be discontinuing my Facebook page, both personal and professional, in the very near future. Why? You may ask- the answer is simple. Social Media can be used for amazing gains- the spreading of knowledge and information to society is essential, especially when the media and government is trying to twist our understanding of the current climate, and maintain the current untenable white supremacist, racist, homophobic and transphobic culture that black, coloured and LGBTQA folk experience on a daily, hourly basis. Part of the problem, I feel, is the lack of accountability on platforms such as Facebook, to actively manage and discontinue the spread of false information and hate speech. I do not feel that Facebook, in particular, has (or will do) an effective job of this, and I am voting with my feet. There are many forms of protest that one can take, the one option I have available to me is this; the ability to leave, to say no and to not buy in to the offensive, racial, homophobic and transphobic narrative that these platforms help to spread.

Until such a time as I feel the various media outlets, like Facebook, are listening to morality, I do not want to be a part of the machine, so I am removing my cog. Thank you for following this page, I am still active on Twitter (who are actively trying to address the bigoted, socially unjust narrative spewed by the likes of Trump) and my own webpage, www.wandahowell.com


As the black author Eldridge Cleaver said- “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Like all of you, I have been working from home, trying to educate the kids whilst working with clients, admin and writing my progression for my thesis- COVID-19 has kindly set me back a bit, like I am sure it has many of you! So, this blog is going to be short and concise… unless I end up waffling!

This week marks an incredibly unusual Mental Health Awareness week for us all, with everyone coping in the best ways that they can. The theme for this year is ‘Kindness’, but I would ask you “what do you think about when I say ‘kindness’?” I am sure most of you will think about being kind to others. However, particularly during these stressful times, what about showing kindness to yourself? Have you thought about that?

Most of us have an abundance of compassion for our friends, family and even strangers, but what about compassion for ourselves? When do we think about being compassionate towards ourselves? When are we actually compassionate towards ourselves? What do you think being compassionate towards yourself is? What should it consist of?

Being compassionate towards yourself is difficult- our brains are hard-wired to assess for danger at all times, and goodness knows we are in a dangerous situation right now, with COVID-19 causing concerns globally. Jobs, health, schooling and friendships feel like they are all at risk, and some may well be. Now is a really good time to start to be more compassionate towards yourself.

Being kind can consist of many things- volunteering, helping a friend, a random act of kindness or making a cup of tea for yourself because you have had a hard day. I guess I am thinking about the home-schooling parents here- wow, what a term, eh?? Congratulations for getting through it- it has been tough!

Helping others gives us an amazing sense of satisfaction and happiness, but it can be difficult to volunteer or help out whilst this current pandemic is happening. We do, however, have the internet to help! We can virtually check-in with people and see how our friends and family are. We could skill-share online- I could teach you yoga if you teach me knitting? Given that most of us are actually stuck home and cannot get out to help others, it feels to me that right now is a really good time to practice your kindness towards yourself.

When something goes wrong, or doesn’t turn out as you would have liked or expected, what happens next? What words go through your head? Are they kind words? Are they words you would use to a friend in the same situation? 

We use our Internal defensive behaviours to keep the self from experiencing difficult internal situations or emotions and can include dissociation, substance misuse, harming oneself, and constantly reminding oneself of one’s faults, flaws, and weaknesses.

External defensive behaviours are intended to help the individual avoid harm from others, and include blaming the self, silencing the self, being submissive and non-assertive, distrusting others, and keeping others at a distance (Gilbert & Procter, 2006)

So, If my friend failed their driving test, am I going to commiserate with them and support them or am I going to tell them that it isn’t surprising as they fail at everything and are totally useless? NO!!! So, if I failed my driving test, why do I have those thoughts about myself? This is what I mean about being compassionate towards yourself- ok, I failed the test, but it isn’t the end of the world. I can take the test again; I can take more lessons and I can get better. Everyone fails something at some point in their lives. 

Part of compassion is about being realistic- who are you comparing yourself to? There isn’t really much point in me comparing myself to Taylor Swift, is there? I am not under 30, a pop star or a millionaire, so the comparison isn’t fair to me. Even if my brain thinks it is!

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself, so it is just as import to recognise when you have given enough of yourself- feeling tired, overwhelmed or frustrated are really good signs that it’s time to be kind to yourself. Don’t overdo things- so many people in this pandemic situation have decided to learn things or bake things. If you don’t feel like learning something, just because others have, doesn’t mean you have to. Back to comparing again, aren’t we? Their situation will be different to yours, so maybe they have more time and energy to actually do new and different things. It is ok to have not learnt French, the guitar or how to make the perfect sourdough bread before we all go back to work, you know.

For support:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

https://youngminds.org.uk

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk

Reference:

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353–379.