Monday, 4 May 2015

Unexpected Outpouring of Generosity for Nepal

It all started with a simple idea.  Instead of a whole bunch of people driving to Aldershot, I would combine efforts and collect a few things from local people who had things to donate and drive it all to the Army base for Ghurkas.  It would save time and petrol.  And it meant I could finally do a little something for the people of Nepal who had lost everything in the horrible earthquake that hit last week.  It was only a small gesture.

After arranging to use our local village hall in Old Windsor as a drop off point and enlisting the help of a fellow resident, we discovered that the containers going to Nepal from Aldershot were already full.  I had committed to people that their donations would go to Nepal so I needed to make sure that happened.  But how?

In a Twitter storm, I initially received a vague commitment from the British Red Cross that they would take our donations.  It later transpired that what they meant was they would take our donations and sell them in their shops for cash.  I was unhappy with that arrangement as many of our items would be unsuitable for resale in the UK as they had been specifically chosen with the survivors of the disaster in mind. 

Having filled my car with the donations from that day and due to demand, we secured the hall for a further drop off slot for the following evening. I spent the night looking for an organisation that would sort and ship the goods for us.  Purely by chance, Twitter came to my rescue.

I spotted a tweet by the Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Councillor Denis Hyland, 
@CllrDHyland.  The tweet was a photograph of a flyer attached to a lamp post indicating that goods donations being taken at Eltham Leisure Centre and Woolwich Town Hall would be shipped to Nepal supporting the local Nepalese community.  Greenwich apparently has the largest Nepalese community in Great Britain.  The next morning I set off to Eltham.

The Leisure Centre was shocked by the quantity of goods we donated.  I indicated that I would be returning the next day with the same again.  I returned to Old Windsor just in time to open the doors of our village hall for the next donations.

What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams.  The room started to fill up.  Within the first 15 minutes, we had surpassed the volume of goods donated the day before.  The parking lot was full.  People were arriving with cars filled with bags.  People brought tents.  We received over 15 tents.  We received sleeping bags, some used, some brand new with the tags still on them.  We received baby nappies and food and wipes and clothes.  We received shoes and boots and slippers.  We received blankets, probably 100s of blankets.  We received coats, hats, scarves, gloves, mittens.

As we neared the end of the three hour collection window, it became abundantly clear that I wouldn't fit it all in my car since it was already full.  We had run out of room in the hall.  We had filled my car and people were leaving bags just outside the door.

Once again the power of social media swung into action.  With more than a little from from my friends, we secured a small truck courtesy of Frontline Logistics, to meet me and a few others at the hall at 8 am on Friday morning.  We loaded the truck FULL and headed off towards Eltham.

Mid journey I received a tweet from a member of the Nepalese community asking if we would deliver to Woolwich Town Hall as the sorting and packing centre was located there.  We modified our destination and continued round the M25.  

Arriving at just after 10 am, we were greeted at the door by a member of the borough.  With the help of the countless volunteers, we set to unloading the truck.  I was shown to the sorting room where a large number of Ghurka widows were sorting items and boxing it up.  It was an incredible operation.  Every box had to be labelled with contents itemised and weighed.  The room was full of goods and volunteers.  What initially looked like chaos was, upon careful inspection, a fine oiled machine.


I hand delivered a bag of baby shoes that one woman had handed to me saying that they were her children's baby shoes and had been kept carefully preserved in her loft all these years.  She was donating them because the children of Nepal needed those shoes more than she needed those memories.

I also hand delivered a lovely 100% wool blanket that must have cost a fortune.  It was given to me by a woman who told me it was her mother's who had passed away.  She could still smell the scent of her mother on the blanket.  Again, she felt the people of Nepal needed that blanket more than she did.

I wept at every story.  

I was introduced to the leaders of the Nepal community and they were touched by these stories. They were overcome with gratitude at the volume of goods we had come so far to deliver.

I was lucky to meet these leaders.  Notably, I met Sonia and Fatta Thappa, who run Skills and Care, a dynamic, community-led, Nepalese social enterprise organisation.  Fatta was the individual I was exchanging tweets with.  I also met Sushila Karki of Nepalese Nurses, who have already sent doctors, nurses, and goods to Nepal and were planning to send more over the next few days.

I was satisfied that our community's donations would make it to the survivors of the earthquake.  On Saturday, 2 May, 500 kg was shipped and 1600 kg will be shipped tomorrow, 5 May.  

Our job is not done.  Due to our overwhelming response, funds are needed to pay the cargo.  You can help our goods get to Nepal by donating HERE.

I would like to personally thank Sarah Wants who helped me collect goods at the hall both days, even on the day of her son's 6th birthday and helped load the truck.  Also, a big thanks to Chris at Frontline Logistics who donated the use of his truck and Fiaz who did the driving and loading/unloading at both ends.  Also, thank you to the Old Windsor Memorial Hall who donated the use of the village hall and committee room on both days.

And lastly a big thank you to all of you who responded by opening your hearts and giving.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Disgusted with Charity

The earthquake in Nepal has hit me hard.  I can't watch the television or read the newspapers without ending up in floods of tears.  I feel so utterly helpless.

These people have so little and we have so much and then the earth literally moves under their feet and what little they have is taken away from them.  They have lost their friends, families, homes, jobs, everything in just a few minutes.  They are sleeping in the open.  They are living in constant fear and they are grieving.

Charities race into action.  My television, my email, my phone is flooded for requests for donations.  They all want money.  Money. Money. Money.  I get told that it is easier and cheaper to source goods locally than to transport second hand goods.  I get told they don't have warehouses and sorting centres.  I get told it's too hard for them to take goods to disaster zones.  I'm told to donate the goods to the local charity shop who will sell them for MONEY.  I'm told that transportation costs are too high (and yet flights are still arriving in Nepal).

I find this disgusting for so many reasons.

  1. Not everyone has money to give but everyone has the capacity to give something.
  2. A charity which aims to help people in need are unwilling to tackle the difficulties involved.
  3. When offered donated goods, charities turn their noses up.
Yesterday I collected bag after bag of badly needed supplies to help the people in Nepal in just a few hours.  People like me who didn't have money to give, or maybe had already given money as well, took it upon themselves to give their belongings.  We received things badly needed in Nepal like sleeping bags, tents, blankets, coats, shoes, hats, scarves, children's clothing, kitchen utensils, dry food.  I was so touched by people's generosity that I found myself on the verge of tears all day.

We have another collection scheduled for today.  But now I'm not sure what I am going to do with the goods.

Originally, these goods were destined for a British Army collection in Aldershot but the outpouring of generosity meant that these containers filled up very quickly and by mid morning they were full.

My car is full of these goods because as of this morning I have no where to take them.  The British Red Cross initially agreed to the transportation and distribution of the goods.  What they were really agreeing to was for me to drop these things off at one of their shops so they could resell it. 

I've spoken to DEC only to find that all they want is MONEY.

Global Hands can't help me because I'm not an official organisation.

Age UK, Oxfam, British Red Cross, and the lot only want my goods for resale in their charity shops.

I am trying to contact the Ghurka division of the British Army to see if they are interested.

NEWS BULLETIN:  No one in the UK needs a second hand wooden spoon.  Thousands in Nepal need wooden spoons to stir their meagre rice being cooked over an open flame in the outdoor in a crowded tent camp.

I have been in contact with the Nepal Youth Foundation who help thousands of children in Nepal.  They are desperate for our goods.

I was warned this might be difficult.  When we first communicated our desire to collect goods, there were a couple people who warned us not to do it.  We dismissed those naysayers because it was the right thing to do.  I still think what we are doing is the right thing to do.

But I need your help.  If anyone out there knows how we can get these items to Nepal, please contact me urgently.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Me versus the Depression

For a long time I thought the depression was going to win and here's the thing:  when you are depressed you always think the depression is going to win.  But here's the other thing:  it doesn't if you keep fighting.

When I was first diagnosed I wanted to know when I would get better, how long is the recovery period?  Like when I broke my ankle, I knew I would be in a cast for 3 weeks, then physio for 6 weeks and then I would be almost good as new.  For the most part, this was true, give or take a few weeks.

With depression, there is no defined recovery period.  I have seen people bounce back after a 3 month dose of citrolapram and never look back.  I've seen people who have fought all their lives against this insidious illness.

In the early days, my psychiatrist assured me I would get better.  I asked him how long that would take.  He said something vague like "a while".  When I pressed him for something more concrete, he was unable to provide any time frames.  At the time I thought he must not be very good at his job.  But now I can see that there really isn't any way to predict recovery.

The effectiveness of medication changes over time.  The effectiveness of therapy is wildly variable.  What happens in life is outside a clinical study and therefore cannot be factored into a recovery timetable.  In other words, you just have to ride it out and have faith that eventually you will get better.

But if you think that getting better means going back to the same person you were before you were ill, you are in for a big surprise.  You never come out of depression the same person you were going in.  Many of the behaviours and thoughts you had before were the very things making you ill.  It's like drinking poison, recovering, and expecting to stay better but going back to drinking the poison.

Everyone comes out of depression fundamentally different than when they went in.  Same as when cancer survivors come through but their lives are fundamentally changed thereafter.

Here are some of the things that have helped me recover to the point where I am today:
  1. Take the prescribed medication as and when your psychiatrist prescribed it.  Don't mess with that.  If you think you might be ready to make a change, discuss these with your psychiatrist and agree a plan.  Follow that plan to the letter.  Trust me.  I once took myself off my meds because I thought they were making me worse.  That was simply put, one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life and probably set my recovery back a year, perhaps more.
  2. Get a tribe.  You will need to be surrounded with people who get you and get your disease.  You will need people who will allow you the freedom to discover a new you.  You will need people who will love you unconditionally.  You will need people who will come to you even when you tell them to go away.  This tribe will consist of some old friends and some new friends.  Family may not or may not be included.  My children get it better than my husband does.  Maybe that's because children generally get unconditional love better than adults.  I have lost a few people I thought were my friends along the way but I have more than gained in the overall friendship sweepstakes.  Ask that tribe for help when you can.  Give back to that tribe.  They are invaluable and deserve your investment.
  3. Find contentment in the present moment.  Don't strive for happiness.  It is fleeting and impossible to sustain.  Instead be at peace with what is happening, good or bad, in the present, right here, right now.  When the shit hits the fan, feel free to duck and cover but be at peace with the exercise.  Know that this too will pass.
  4. Invest in yourself.  Increase your self awareness.  Change your habits if you don't like them or just accept them as part of your rich tapestry as a human being.  Be as kind to yourself as you are to others.  Forgive yourself and those around you.  Embrace yourself as a totally unique individual that has limitless potential.  Sounds new agey and hippy groovy, but when you stop having expectations and judgements of yourself and others, you will start to feel contentment in the moment.  Avoid drama.  Not your monkeys, not your circus.
  5. Breathe.  When all else fails, breathe.  I know this sounds stupid and I've lost count of the number of times I've rolled my eyes when someone tells me this.  But it works.  When you think you can't face another moment, stop.  Stop thinking.  Stop moving.  Just stop everything.  And breathe.  In slowly.  Out slowly.  And again.  All day if you have to. 
I am certain my journey has not ended.  The shower (& bath) proves to be an ongoing nemesis.  I find contentment when once in I'm there but getting there is a major struggle every day. So I've changed what it means to be ready to face they day.  That may or may not include, as is more often the case, a clean and fresh smelling me.  My tribe loves me regardless.  Social situations are challenging but I am taking them one at a time and engaging more often than not these days.

But the proof is in the results.
  1. I am writing again!  This is the biggest achievement so far.  I abandoned my first novel as it had me in knots.  I started a whole new one that had been assembling itself in my brain for a few years and in just 10 days over 110,000 words came out of my head through my fingers and hit the keyboard.  I hit save.  I'm actively sending it out to potential agents every day and have some interest.
  2. My life modelling becomes a bigger and bigger part of my life.  I model nearly every week at least once and most weeks more than 3 times.  It helps me to be still, physically literally and mentally in practise.  I use the time for positive affirmations, meditating, and breathing.  It also helps me to accept the beauty (both inside and out) of who and what I am in that moment.  I can't envision how I would have recovered without it.
  3. I don't listen to others thoughts on how or what I should or should not be doing unless they are part of my tribe.  Even those in my tribe, know that whilst I may take their advice under consideration, I am free to choose what I feel is best for me.  And they love me still.
Near as I can tell I am winning, 1-0.
 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Work of Art

Since dipping my toe in the water of life modelling back in October 2012, I think it would be fair to say that I have whole heatedly embraced it as a career.

I am now modelling several times a week most weeks.  A few weeks ago I modelled 7 days in a row and some days had 2 assignments per day.  Those days I am exhausted and by the end of that week my body ached.

You may ask yourself what is so hard about sitting still for 3 hours.  I dare you to try it and not be sore.

Some weeks I have no gigs scheduled, like last week.  That give me some time to rest and recuperate.

I have some regular groups that I model for and some people have been drawing me for years now.  Others are thrilled to the first time to discover that I am a curvy model who is proud of her bulges and scars and stretch marks.

The artists are very complimentary of my ability to sit perfectly still for long periods of time.  One once accused me of not breathing or blinking.  Rest assured.  I am breathing.  And I think I blink.  They also often ask me what I think about when I sit there.  To be honest, I'm not sure.

Most times I think of nothing.  Nothing at all.  What a glorious feeling it is not to be worrying about something or someone, or making a grocery list, or remembering a phone call I need to make or an email I need to write, or tidying the house, or unloading the dishwasher, or nagging the children to do their musical instrument practise or my husband to clean out the garage (ahem!).

Modelling is the time where I allow myself to simply be.  To be still and quiet while having your body turned into glorious pieces of artwork that is as unique and beautiful as each artist is an inspiring opportunity.  They all see me differently.  They all have different abilities and tools.  They all produce art in their own individual styles.

I'm proud of my work as a life model.  You should try it!  If you want an opportunity, just leave me a comment.

Monday, 30 March 2015

A Week in Cornwall

A week in Cornwall can work miracles, at least that is how it appears to me.

As many of you will know, I have been suffering from the debilitating effects of depression and anxiety for several years now.  I have been hospitalised on 3 different occasions.  I take no less than 13 pills every single day to keep the chemicals in my brain finely balanced.

The good news is, they appear to be working finally.

I remember when this all started asking my psychiatrist how long it would be until I was better.  He said "A long time."  I thought he meant 6 months, maybe a year on the outside.  I had no idea that it would take several years and several tweaks of the medication, several more years of psychotherapy, and even more time just trying to overcome the demons that ranted inside my head.

For now, the demons are quiet.  They aren't completely silent.  I can tell when I've missed taking my medication.  So can my friends and family.  I leave the house regularly now without the pit of dread tightening in my stomach.  I still find social situations uncomfortable which is annoying because that isn't how I see myself or how I used to be.  

But the demons have reduced their screeching to a mere whisper.  And some days, I don't hear them at all.

In mid-February, a very generous friend offered us the use of their seaside cottage down in St Ives in that gorgeous southwest corner of England known as Cornwall.  The cottage is absolutely delightful and exceeded every one of our expectations.  We took my daughter's best friend and her mother with us.  It was an eventful few days to say the least.

On the first day we were there, our one-year-old black Labrador puppy, Guinness, decided to take a flying leap (literally) off a sea wall.  I have that moment of her suspended in midair between her jumping and her falling etched into my mind's eye.  She looks like a cartoon.  She fell 30 feet to the rocks and grass below.  I ran to see her landing on her rear haunches, yelp, and try to stand.  She struggled and whimpered.

My husband managed to get down to her.  He tried to get her to walk but it was clear she was hurting and had a minor cut on her knee.  She was shaking and her heart was racing.  She was going into shock.  My husband carried her down the hill and went to get the car.  We raced to the vet.

Fortunately, after several hours at the vets on a fluid drip, antibiotics, opiates, and tranquilisers, she made a full recovery and was just sore for a couple days.  Talk about stressful!

The next night we were informed that a combination of spring tides (when the tides are at their highest) and rough seas caused by the gale winds and torrential overnight rains would mean that the sea was likely to breach the seawall at the harbour in St Ives.  Our cottage was perfectly placed just a few doors up from the seawall at the harbour which was a great location until that warning was issued.  

Every few hours we made our way the few steps down the street to evaluate the threat.  It was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure as the waves crashed over the wall and into the buildings on the seafront.   In the end, this also passed without any real danger posed to man or beast.

We spent the days walking on the beaches (there are no fewer than 5 beaches around St Ives) and walking around the town exploring galleries and art museums and used book stores and odd little shops.  We ate out.  We cooked in.  I even got breakfast in bed one morning delivered by my daughter and her friend.  What a treat!

I was surrounded by positivity and tranquillity on the trip. When I returned home I felt as if a fog had lifted.  I started writing.  At first it was just in my head.  A story had taken hold of me and was busy organising itself.  Then 2 weeks ago it felt like the harbour wall had collapsed and the sea of words was rushing to get out.

I sat at my computer every day, some days for more than 14 hours.  I managed to write over 110,000 in 10 days.  It was emotional.  One day I started crying about 5 pm and kept crying through the night until about noon the next day.  The tears lasted on and off until I was finally able to finish that chapter.

The book, All My Loves, is about a woman dying of a brain tumour.  She is in the hospital and in the final stages of dying.  She is revisited by the memories of the men she loved and those who loved her.  Some are good memories.  Some are excruciatingly painful memories.  Same are hilarious.  Woven into the story is also the love of her parents as they divorce and remarry, and the love of her grandmother towards her alcoholic husband who died with their youngest son in a drunken car crash.  It is about how love changes us, not always for the better.  It's a little bit saucy.  What book about love could possibly avoid sex?  It's sad but it is also hopeful, I think.

I am now in the editing phase.  I have edited the first three chapters with the help of a very dear friend of mine who is labouring away on the next 8 chapters.  The editing was more difficult than the writing.  Who would have guessed?

I am now looking for a literary agent.  I have someone who has expressed a possible interest which is very exciting but I'm not counting my chickens until a contract is on the table.

The road to publication is long and winding.  But the words are still flowing out of me.  So, I am back to blogging.  I also have an illustrated children's book that I completed a few years back with a very dear friend who did wonderful illustrations for me.  I've got to get that all gathered up and repeat the agent process for it.  I have several more ideas for novels inside my head.  I need to let those organise themselves but one is already starting to take form.  I might be back burning the midnight oil when that comes out of me.  Finally, I've got the novel I started before my depression took over my life.  I want to go back to it and see if I can do anything with it.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my musings.