In less than a week I turn 28, 28 years old, Jesus Christ, I´m getting old. My birthday combined with my travelling led me to do some reflecting. It got me thinking about my life and well how and when it all changed.
Many of you that know me, know me as quite an optimistic, happy, light-hearted, chilled-out kind of person. Some of you laugh at my hippy trends, tree loving ideas and peace spreading hopes. But, I wasn´t always like this, far from it. I used to be a very angry, short-tempered teenage with little appreciation for life or the people in it. I finished college with my head stuck in a book. I hated my college and that for me at the time justified keeping my head down. Despite making only a little effort, I made some good friends and had some inspiring lecturers. Without realising it, studying sociology was one of the best things I did in college.
I went onto university and should have really taken a gap year to figure out what I wanted to do but didn´t. Instead I enrolled and studied history for three years. Again, I hated my university, there was nothing wrong with it per se but it just wasn´t the university I had dreamed of. I was nothing but disappointed and miserable for the first year. Despite my focus being primarily on studying until my head exploded I met people and again made good friends. By the time I graduated I was sad to leave. I learnt to appreciate both the university and what it had to offer a lot more. More importantly, I had this great friend circle which I didn´t want to leave.
I spent my final year trying to work out what to do once I graduated. I was adamant that I didn´t want to get a job. I was 21 year old and would spend the rest of my life working so why hurry that process? Instead I wanted to study some more so I initially applied for aPCGE – the plan was to teach history. I was invited in for a interview and realised that teaching most definitely wasn´t for me. I didn´t want to be in a classroom teaching twenty something kids the first world war. There´s more to life then this and I wanted to do more than just write reports and lesson plans. So, I did some thinking and applied to do a masters in social work.
It was only after I applied did I realise that it made complete sense. I love working with people and helping them and what better profession than social work? I was never going to be a doctor or a nurse (never very good at science) so this seemed like a great idea. Applying for and being accepted onto this course was one of the things that changed my life. I met a lot more students but most of them much older than me and so had bags of life experience. I learnt from them and heaps from the lecturers. All the theories and essays we wrote exposed me to things I had never thought about. The amazing thing was, I could apply some of these theories to both my life and to friends around me. I could understand people´s behaviour more but also discuss external mitigating factors.
More than the lectures, theories and books, the two work placements helped. My first placement was with a women´s organisation who supported women affected by domestic violence. My job was to advocate for these women and provide both emotional and practical support. I had never advocated for anyone prior to this, hell I couldn´t even stand up for myself. My self confidence wasn´t great and well initially I was convinced I wouldn´t be able to handle it. Thankfully I worked with a very supportive team and one woman taught me everything I needed to know to perform well. She taught me a great deal about myself along the way and it helped immensely.
I left having empowered both my clients and myself. I learnt that whilst I´m a great listener, I too love talking, hell I´m a rambler and I too need to be heard. To be able to work in such a intense, crisis based environment, a sense of humour is also required. I had one, thanks to my dad but I lost this somewhere along the way and then re-found it during my placement. As they say if you´re not laughing then you´re crying. Having never known what profession was right for me, I left with a sense of certainty that the profession for me was to help people. It was to serve the community in the best way I could. That gives me great satisfaction, gives me worth and a sense of purpose in life.
By my second year, I wanted to do something that I had never done before, I wanted to move out. It wasn´t going to be easy and I may as well be moving mountains but my heart was set. Thankfully I had friends to support to me and I found the strength to make this happen. Whilst I had this new appreciation of people, I loved having my own space, living by myself with this new found independence. This was my first taste of freedom and I loved it. I learnt to make things happen and yes I didn´t learn how to cook but I was able to live how I wanted to for the first time and it was amazing.
My second placement was a statuary placement with Children Services in Camden Council. I was a student social worker with a caseload. I did home visits, I met parents, I completed assessments, I wrote up reports and boy was it scary. I was supported and had this great team but it was still rather daunting. I mean I was what only 23 years old and who was I tell a mother that she was a bad parent or ask a young person why they needed housing. I realised the idea of social work appealed to me more than the profession itself. I didn´t want to be part of this bureaucratic system which essentially does police families and judge them even though social work values state otherwise. For me, I left feeling disillusioned with the profession of social work as a whole; they will always be blamed regardless of what they do.
The two years I spent studying social work, led me to become more independent, more appreciative, happy, social, confident, funny and grateful. I still have days when I´m shy or anti-social but I guess that´s ok because that´s just me. The day I handed in my dissertation was the same day I had an interview for a domestic violence advocate post. I did the best I could and knew with all my heart that I wanted to work with this women´s charity and help people. Initially I didn´t get the job but a month later I got a call, a call that changed everything.
I spent the next three years working in this field, I met some amazing woman along the way, many of whom became my very good friend. I was also able to move out again but this time I was lucky enough to share a flat with my sister´s good friend Suzi. We were not best friends and to be honest I knew very little about her but I knew we were in the same boat, we both wanted some independence. Living with her was a breeze, we are both so similar, so chilled but organised. I learnt to cook in the year and a half that I was at the flat, I was able to cook for my parents and friends which for me, was a miracle! I learnt to enjoy life more, to let my hair down and just dance it out on a Friday. Suzi became more than just my flat-mate or friend, she became my sister. I was able to ramble on about work, dreams and family to her and encouraged her to do the same. We are both similar in many ways but different.
It was thanks to her, friends both in and outside of work that I learnt to chase my dreams. To go out and make things happen. I was always very good at making a list, a list of all the things I want to do or see but I was never any good at following them through, in actually making them happen. But, that all changed when I started to research volunteering aboard. I researched and signed up with a charity last year July and had my flight booked for October. I couldn´t get unpaid leave so I quit my job with a heavy heart and I moved my things out of the flat to my parents house. A lot of changes but I decided that this was right for me and some how managed to take this leap of faith into the unknown.
That´s my story, the last ten years of life, every decision I made, every person I met, had some influence on where I am today. I changed from this angry, resentful, anti-social person to this grateful, kind, happy, sociable person. I thankfully learnt to appreciate people, the impact they have in our life is immense. I know that my life would be very different if I hadn´t studied social work or if I hadn´t moved out. If I had done any one of things I did above differently than I don´t know which turn my life would have taken. I am the way I am because of all the amazing people and not so amazing shit that happened to me. I was helped, inspired, taught, supported, lectured along the way and I continue to receive this. This in turn shapes me, it enables me to help others but it´s also a choice I make. I choose to make the most of every moment, I try to stay positive and to find the joy.
People say find the joy, find what makes you happy and go after this. Or do something makes you happy and for the large part I believed this. I was all for this until recently. For me, more than the joy or the peace what´s key is freedom. How can we be at peace if we are not free? How can we be happy or find happiness if we are not free? This idea of true happiness stems from having the freedom to make decisions and have choices with what we do and where we go. I loved my job and to an extend any jobs ties you down no matter how much you love it. But at the same time there is an element of freedom, I chose to go into that line of work, I choose to advocate for women and support them. And when it was all too much for me, I decided to take a break. Of course there are many people who can´t just quit there job and so many of these people hate their jobs and their life subsequently.
I´ve learnt a lot from everything I have experienced, from all the people that I have been fortunate to meet and all the friends I have. I value them all incredibly and am grateful for them listening to me and offering me advice. I now see that along with happiness and peace, what I want and what many of us really want is freedom. Freedom from society, social norms, traditions, people, money and religion. Once you find this freedom, it´s refreshing and here´s the thing, you don´t want to let it go, you don´t want to come back and live in the ´real´ world where the idea of freedom exists as nothing but a glorified concept. The real sense of freedom is out there and it is down to us to go out there and find it, preserve it and celebrate it. How ever short liven it is, how ever difficult it maybe, it is worth it. For there is nothing more valuable in this world then this sense of being free.