MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
Mental health is a topic that is very close to my heart. This week myself and the inspiring Sarah Page from award winning insurance company Insurancewith.com had the chance to chat about our personal experiences via Facebook live interviews for the International Business Times and Hello!
You can find the links to both below:-
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY OF SOCIAL MEDIA
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and, as you may have seen, I’ve recently returned to social media after taking a 4 month break. I wasn’t going to say too much about this but much like when I spoke about my experience with PTSD after cancer, I thought there may be people that feel the same way as I do. Some of you might identify with the following and some of you may not, but whatever your stance, I hope this helps you in some way.
It’s fair to say that I have a love/hate relationship with Social Media.
I love that it can connect people and help to inspire or raise awareness about important issues, but I don’t like that everywhere I look now, I see people more interested in their phones than the world around them.
I saw this an awful lot on my trip around the world. In every hostel, people were glued to their devices.
I was careful not to blog during a ‘thing’ on my list. All of my posts were written afterwards so that I didn’t miss out on the live experience around me. That’s not to say I was completely present during all of them.
Last year, I used this photo of me watching the sunset over Horse Shoe Bend in Arizona as my personal cover photo and a friend commented “you like you are so in the moment there Greig”.
She couldn’t have been more wrong. As I sat there watching the sun go down over one of nature’s most incredible sights, all I was thinking was whether I had put the timer on and if the camera was in the right position. I must have taken 7 photos to get the right one. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the sun go down over one of the most awe inspiring sights in the world and the only time I was in the moment was when the sun had eventually gone down and I had put my camera away. I absolutely love my photos and I especially love sharing these photos and places with you guys but I now wish that I had perhaps limited my time taking some of them.
Social media can be overbearing. Studies shows that it’s linked to depression, increased loneliness and anxiety. The average person interacts with their phone a whopping 3000 times a day and spends 145 minutes using it. Researchers found that the majority of that time is spent on Facebook. It’s madness.
Comparing our lives to the filtered lives we see on Facebook and Instagram is so damaging to our well-being, and so too is our need to share every moment of our lives with the world. I have always been very careful in assuring others that a trip around the world doesn’t solve your problems. Travel and experiences most definitely inject fun and optimism into life but I would never want others to look at my trip or my life and feel that it is what you need to do to feel happy. As I learned on my trip, all I was really looking for was a feeling of peace and contentment.
I left social media at the start of the year because it was causing me anxiety.
My travels and blog have brought many new people into my life. I have made lots of new friends, received thousands of messages and did a lot of work for various charities along the way.
But coming back home I struggled to keep up to date with all of the charities, messages and indeed friends. My contact with real people became limited, and I felt like I was living a virtual life. I constantly felt like I was letting people down – both online and in real life – and that I wasn’t a good friend or person.
You may be wondering why this only happened when I was back in the UK and not when my story was in the press during my trip. When my story was featured in the world press I was in the midst of travelling around South America. I made a point not to have a sim card for my phone and only used the wifi network at the hostels I was staying at. As a result I rarely got time to be online, so my time spent on my phone or on social media was brief and functional. When I got home however, this all changed and I soon realised I was paying more attention to my phone than I was to the people around me.
My world also started to feel cancer-dominated. I lost two friends to cancer and my news feeds were all about cancer. It seemed like I couldn’t even turn on the radio without hearing about yet another celebrity who had died of the disease.
I initially made some smaller changes to my life and switched off notifications on my phone, transferred my social media apps to a separate page on my phone and gave myself permission not reply to every message straight away. But it didn’t feel like enough.
So, at the end of 2016 I decided my health came first and came off social media completely. I was partly inspired by hearing that the singer Ed Shearan had done the same thing. He came off social media for a year, for many of the same reasons. He even went so far as to completely get rid of his phone. When was asked at a party why, he simply said “take a look around”. When they looked around the room he said that 50% of the people there were looking at their phones. “That’s why I don’t have a phone”, he said.
Coming off social media felt like weight off my shoulders but it was also a very surreal feeling indeed. I came off at the same time I had moved to an entirely new area. My phone rarely beeped and I suddenly noticed how few phone calls I received. My world became a lot smaller. I was more engaged with the people and the world around me and I was present. I’ve found I have spent the past few months spending more time with my family, I’ve read lots of books, written even more of my own book and I’ve been enjoying so many amazing experiences without feeling like I should blog about them.
I’ve also spent a lot of time researching why I did indeed feel this way and, as ever, been learning to overcome it.
You’re probably wondering why I came back on to Social Media. Well, it’s because I realised that social media and my phone were not the problem – it was me, and how I was dealing with them. So I plan to deal with them very differently now. The truth is I would like my purpose in life to be to help others. Whether that be my family, my friends or those who are just going through a bad time. I have learned so much over the years about physical and psychological health and I would love to share this whilst at the same time sending out some much needed inspiration. Social media is an enormous part of our lives and if used the correct way it can be a wonderful resource of hope and inspiration.
I plan on using Social Media in a less all-consuming way. Notifications will stay off and I will check it when I want to rather than when it tells me to. I now put my phone away when I’m around others and it is no longer the first thing I check in the morning or last thing I check at night. When taking in an experience I will make sure that the quest for the perfect photo is limited to just a few minutes rather than throughout the entire event. And my hope is that my unborn baby boy will never see me staring at my phone instead of his face when he’s speaking to me.
Finally, please don’t read the above and feel you can’t contact me! I absolutely love getting your messages. The support I’ve received over the past few years has inspired and motivated me to keep going (I fully believe that support is part of the cure for illness). All I ask is that you don’t judge me if I don’t reply straight away!
Much love and thanks everyone.
I’ve ticked some pretty incredible things off my list but I always wanted thing 101 on my list to be something extra special. Something so extraordinary and life changing that there was a good chance that it might not even be possible.
About half way through my trip around the world and after staying with various inspiring families and communities, I finally decided what that special thing was – To have a family of my own.
Last year I managed to achieve the first half of that particular thing on my list when I fell in love with the girl of my dreams. What was even more amazing was that she fell in love with me too.
A few months ago Jaime and I got the news I never thought I would.
After years of thinking that chemo may have stripped me of my ability to have children, this little guy suddenly appeared. I still can’t quite believe it. My thirties started off as a nightmare but now they feel like a dream. I feel like I am the most grateful person in the world.
This little miracle will be arriving later on this summer. My greatest adventure yet!
THE AMAZING LYNN – 101 GUEST BLOG
“It’s been one year since I finished treatment for breast cancer. Physically I feel fine but mentally is a very different story. Some days I see it as a success when I manage to get out of bed and make it out the front door.
Buying one of your Tshirts and reading your story is helping me to move forward, although I wish there was a fast forward button in learning to cope with the emotional side.
Here are my first 2 pics with the T Shirt, hiking in Chamonix with the view of Mont Blanc, on a recent holiday”
GUEST BLOG BY THE INSPIRATIONAL ALEXA
“I like this picture because of me and the world around me. I look at the picture and do not care about my funny hair, my long arms and huge hands, my grin, my funny trousers. I see my friend taking the picture on a warmish day, I can hear her laughing and I feel safe.”
I am Alexa. I relocated from Germany to London, my favourite city, in June 2012. In 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a mastectomy, followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy and 3 weeks of radiotherapy, all at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, near to my new home in Chalk Farm. For at least the next 5 years I am on Tamoxifen.
My friends and family wanted me to return to Germany for treatment but I decided not to. I could not stand the thought of living in a guest room while I was ill and feeling down. I wanted to be surrounded by all the things I love, including my new life in London. For every chemo cycle one family member or friend came over to help out for a few days and after they flew back home I had help from friends and colleagues from London. They brought me cooked food, laughter and distraction. It was in this time that I realised that some colleagues turned into real friends.
From Facebook and 52 Lives I came across your Facebook page and bought one of the 101 Things-Hoodies. Please find attached 2 pictures where I wear it:
The first picture was taken by my friend Birgit. I go to see her and her family in Felixstowe, Suffolk regularly. I went there and because the weather was quite nice I wanted to see the port of Felixstowe. The best place to see it and have a good overview is from the Fort Felixstowe.
I like this picture because of me and the world around me. I look at the picture and do not care about my funny hair, my long arms and huge hands, my grin, my funny trousers. I see my friend taking the picture on a warmish day, I can hear her laughing and I feel safe (It´s maybe because of the walls surrounding the fort).
I also like to look at the other people/strangers in the picture. The girl in the right corner seems to thing “What is that crazy lady doing?”. And other visitors do not notice me at all, they just do what they were coming for, to visit the fort.
Sometimes it is such a good feeling that, although my life changed and shifted so much during the last 15 months, the world has not changed much and people keep on doing their things without knowing me or my story.
In the second one you can not see the logo well but I am getting something I always wanted to get, a tattoo. I never knew what design to get and where on my body to put it but when I was diagnosed with cancer I knew it before I started treatment. It is a “C” around my ankle, starting as a black dark letter, turning into a bird swarm.
One of the birds is red symbolising a hot spot in my pelvis, doctors found in a full body scan after my diagnosis which could be a metastasis. I always loved birds. So I hope to turn something really scary and horrible into something beautiful.
SURPRISING THE AMAZING OLIVER
Jaime and I surprised a little boy at his School so we could drop off a whole load of kindness courtesy of Winsley School in Bath.
Oliver is 6 years old and has been donating his super duper bone marrow and T-cells to his sister Evie who has Hodgkins Lymphoma.
As we all know it’s not just the person with cancer who struggles but also those around them.
Oliver has been through so much and has only ever wanted his big sister to be well again.
Oliver is Life no. 2 of the 52 Lives School Kindness Project and the children at Winsley School made cards, wrote beautiful letters and made video messages telling Oliver just how brave and kind they think he is. They also heard that Oliver liked going to the cinema so used the remainder of their cake sale money to buy cinema tickets for Oliver and his family.
We can confirm that Oliver is every bit the legend we thought he was and it was so lovely to see his reaction to receiving such kind gifts. His little screech at receiving the cinema voucher was especially awesome!:)
To see the video Winsley school made for Oliver and also see Oliver’s reaction when we surprised him at his school click here; – Winsley School’s message for Oliver
Turn off the news people, the world is filled with kind and wonderful people!
THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD
Last week I started what I believe to be possibly the best job on the entire planet.
I am now the Director of Kindness (I wanted Captain Kindness) for the charity 52 Lives where I am running an initiative called the School Kindness Project.
Each week I attend a different primary school in the country and using a fun interactive workshop, I talk to children about the personal and social benefits of being kind. The aim is to empower them by helping them to see that things that they do and choices they make, even as children, have the power to make a difference in someone’s life.
This is reinforced during the workshops as we share a story about a child in need of help and the children work together to do something kind for that child.
The idea is to encourage children to be kinder in their daily lives.
There is actually a real science about kindness whereby being kind releases a whole host of feel good chemicals in the brain which makes us feel good. Best of all though, being kind benefits others even more.
It’s also the most contagious thing in the entire world so when you are kind, you also encourage others to be kind which improves relationships, strengthens communities and makes this world a far better place to live in.
What better way than to spread kindness than by educating our future generations about its benefits.
I have now delivered the workshop to three schools and the feedback has been incredible. Taking kindness into schools has been a dream of founder Jaime for years now. Jaime set up 52 Lives a few years ago with the aim of spreading kindness and changing a life each week of the year.
Last Monday I headed up to Leicester to visit an amazing school called Barley Croft.
We chatted about kindness and thought up different ways we can be kind on a daily basis before the kids came up with ideas of how to help a little called Tegan. Tegan is 9 years old and has recently been diagnosed with the same cancer I had when I was 7.
The kids at Barley Croft made Tegan cards and friendship bracelets, wrote letters, sent supportive video messages and even sang Tegan a song.
The children were absolutely buzzing from helping someone in need which was the most incredible sight to see.
Winsley school in Bath have already decided to make 52 Lives their chosen charity of the year and have devoted the year to doing kind deeds and helping change the lives of 52 people in need. The kids also used their cake sale money to buy our life of the week, Oliver, some cinema tickets. Amazing!
I have given a lot of talks in my life now but I can safely say that these have been my most favourite. It is incredible to see the joy that both children and teachers get out of helping others.
If you know a primary school who you think might benefit from a kindness workshop then please get in touch gang. We’d love to hear from you and it’s totally free for schools!
If you also know of any children that are in need of some kindness then please also let us know about them.
Click here for more details and to also follow the 52 Lives school kindness blog.
This is a post I have wanted to write for a long time now but for one reason or another I haven’t. Events in recent weeks however, have made it feel more relevant than ever now.
A few years before I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time I wrote to my childhood doctor and the man who saved my life first time round, Dr Craft.
I wanted to give him an update about what kind of person I had become. We hadn’t been in touch since I was a child but something compelled me to write to him and let him know that I grown up to be a good person.
In my message I told him how I now worked for the police as a Crime Scene Investigator and helped catch criminals. I told him I was a good person, who loved his family and was nice to people. He was very good to myself and my family when I was ill and I guess I just wanted him to know that I was now doing some good in the world by helping others.
There were many reasons I did this but perhaps the main one was to help justify my own existence. Fingers crossed you are not reading this thinking that i’m a total nutter but after meeting so many people who have either lost someone or who have come through a traumatic time, i’m guessing not.
The truth is I have always felt guilty about surviving cancer. Much like PTSD, I had always associated survivors guilt with war and veterans. Soldiers who had lost their friends and colleagues and found it difficult to understand why they had survived when others didn’t.
When I meet people who have lost someone to cancer I immediately want to curl up into a ball and not mention anything about myself or 101 Things To Do When You Survive.
After surviving cancer for the second time and then struggling with PTSD, my self loathing was at its worst. How dare I feel so sad and scared when so many others had lost their life to cancer. I absolutely hated myself for feeling this way.
When I came up with the idea of 101 so many doubts went through my mind. Would my story be seen as scare mongering, would it upset people with cancer and would admitting how scared and sad I felt after surviving cancer upset those who lost someone to this awful disease.
These fears were fully realised when my story was in the press in 2013 – 2014. Along with thousands of positive and lovely messages, I also received a few negative ones.
Some called me smug whilst others said it wasn’t fair that I had survived when their loved ones didn’t. Some just missed the point and berated me for having the money to do go on my trip.
The positive comments far outweighed the negative ones but in true Amazon and Trip Advisor style it was the negative ones that had the greatest impact. I wished I hadn’t let them get to me so much at the time. I know who I am and what I was trying to do. I was always taught growing up… ‘when you are dealt a lemon, make lemonade’ so that’s what i’ve tried to do.
I, like many seem to feel guilty on a daily basis. My Facebook and Twitter accounts are filled with things about cancer which sometimes really gets to me and makes me feel sick and sometimes bad for posting a happy photo or story. The truth is, like many others, I feel happiest when I feel like i’m helping someone but I am also sent so many fundraising requests that I feel awful for not helping with them all.
Over the past few years I have met many people who have lost friends or relatives far too early. One woman, who lost her son told me that sometimes she sometimes catches herself when she feels happy as she feels guilty because he isn’t there anymore.
Survivors guilt is a very real and awful thing and something nobody should feel.
I have been doing a lot of thinking about this over the past year and especially this past week. I am truly tired of feeling guilty and bad about myself.
I thought about how I would want people to react if I had died. I most certainly wouldn’t want them to feel bad or guilty. That would break my heart. I would only want to see them happy and to enjoy the life that has been given to them.
None of us should feel guilty about surviving anything at all. I said this in a recent post but it is so true, we really do owe it to those that we have lost to live the best and happiest lives we possibly can. Otherwise what is the point in living at all.
The main reason I’m sharing this is to let people know that they are not alone in feeling this way and you are certainly not crazy. Us humans are an odd bunch and our minds are very tricky things indeed. Acknowledging survivors guilt can be the first step in overcoming it.
Live the best and happiest life you can gang. You deserve it I promise you…. we all do. The people who aren’t still here would want that for you.
RALEIGH ALUMNI GLOBAL CONFERENCE
“Never underestimate the impact you can have as an individual. The ripples of your actions will spread further than you can ever imagine”.
This was my closing message when addressing the Raleigh International Global Alumni conference last weekend.
Speakers from all around the world attended the event to inspire positive social change and action. Raleigh was thing no.3 on my list and without doubt one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. I was extremely honoured to be the closing speaker at this wonderful event and very proud to be a Raleigh Alumni.
Definitely one for your list!
Through all of my experiences – with cancer, with my list and with my two years of travelling, the biggest lesson I have learned is that life is not about the places I’ve been, and my happiness does not come from ticking things off a list. It’s about people, and love and kindness. My greatest sense of fulfilment has come from people – volunteering, working alongside good people, doing things to help others and , above all, sharing life with those you love.
So get out there gang, and do some good. It is the best self-help medicine there is.
A VERY SAD WEEK
It is with great sadness that I write this post to let you all know that both Rowena and Ali sadly passed away this week. They were two of the most incredible and inspiring people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
They were given just a short time to live when first diagnosed but both have lived years longer than doctors predicted. In that time they showed us all that a terminal diagnosis doesn’t have to be the end of life but can be the start of a new life.
Ali and her incredible family have fundraised tirelessly for cancer research and she was the inspiration in setting up a Team 101 at this years Ascot Relay for Life.
Rowena inspired thousands of people with her television documentary about life with terminal cancer and her laugh and positive energy infected everyone who had the honour of meeting her.
I had been visiting Rowena in her hospice these past two months and it has broken my heart to see her in such pain. The only comfort we can take from their loss is knowing that they are now free from any pain and suffering.
Our love and thoughts are with the families of these amazing girls who will stay in our hearts forever.