2018 Round up: The year that has been: New Year by Eleanor

 

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When I look back at this year, 2018, I don’t fully know where to start. It has been one of the most meaningful, eventful, and wonderful years of my life so far, but there have also been sad times.

Outside of work, this year was a very special one as back in April, my fiance Robert proposed to me at the Shard, overlooking London. I said yes and 8 months later we are in the middle of wedding planning and planning for our future (and I found my wedding dress!). The proposal was the most amazing thing to happen this year. Also, two of my best friends got engaged and for one we were involved in the proposal and got to see him propose so that was fantastic!¬† I am looking forward to the weddings ūüôā We also celebrated other friends 30th birthdays, engagements and weddings this year as well as many births of their children which was so wonderful.

Sadly this year, we lost my beloved Grandma in June to Parkinsons disease and I miss her every single day- we were very close.  A month ago, my Grandpa (on the other side of family) passed away after a short battle with cancer, but I was able to fly to Portugal where he lived and see him before he passed and give him a hug, so that was very important. There is also family illness occurring, my father in law to be is very unwell with cancer and mid treatment- and this is very hard for us all but trying to be a positive as possible!

Back in February, My Dad and I went to Romania to the town of Iasi, to explore where our ancestors lived. There was a lot of snow and walking around palaces and churches and finding the synagogues. When we came back, we discovered that my Great grandpas sister and family died in Moldova across the border, at the hands of the Nazis (via the Yad Vashem online database) A very bittersweet trip but we were pleased to see Iasi.

In happier news, after celebrating our engagement with those we love, in July, my fiance Rob and I went on holiday to Israel which was really wonderful. We stayed with close friends and family and also in hotels and had a really special, meaningful, fun and sunshine filled trip! A personal highlight – the swimming pool at the InterContinental hotel in Tel Aviv and of course, walking through the Old City while sipping iced coffee (it was so hot) and visiting the Kotel. When we came back, we spent a weekend in the Cotswolds at my dad with family- a lovely escape. This year too, I also read some great books (like Michelle Obamas autobiography) and watched some fab films/ theatre shows.

In July, I celebrated my 30th birthday with friends and family (thanks Katie for my delicious birthday cake) and then this December, we celebrated Robs 30th birthday at London Zoo light trail.

This year work wise, has been a blessing- I managed (somehow) to secure a book deal which has been a lifelong dream and am working with the fab team at Trigger Publishing and my patient editor Stephanie- thanks to her, Katie and James for their support as I continue to tap away at my keyboard.

Before 2018 began I was in touch with Naomi Greenaway at the Telegraph (Stella Magazine). Thank you Naomi for helping me to tell and share my story in a sensitive way. It was an honour for me to be featured online at the Telegraph and for my story to reach new readers.

Back in January, I met a wonderful editor on Twitter, Yvette Caster, who was looking for new writers for Metro Blogs (as it was then). She looked at this here blog after I sent her a pitch email and commissioned me to write my first ever article for Metro.co.uk on mental health, weight gain and medication. From there, she and her colleagues continued to commission me to write and when she and they left in the summer, I have continued to pitch articles and be published. Thank you to Ellen Scott, Aimee Meade and the current team at Metro too. Being published online by Metro has been an amazing journey and I am proud to write for them on lifestyle topics and mental health, my favourites this year being about the Royal wedding, homelessness and mental health and sharing my Grandpas story.

Thanks also to Bianca London for commissioning my two Glamour articles, this was another amazing bucket list dream ticked. The one on dating and mental illness, bipolar and how I met my fiance (when I wrote the article, he was my boyfriend) was something very close to my heart and it was a genuine honour to be featured in a magazine I had a read as a teenager and one of the biggest womens magazines in the UK. Still can’t believe it.

Thanks to Rebecca Thair, editor of first ever mental health magazine, Happiful magazine for not only being first to publish my story with bipolar back in January (which was so important to me) but also publishing my later articles on social anxiety and a guide to bipolar. I love working with you and the Happiful team and hope to write more for you.  Thanks also to Sonja at UIO Podcast and Sarah Cardwell for interviewing me.

Thanks to Francine Wolficz, Richard Ferrer and Jack Mendel at the Jewish News for all the articles and positive support of my mental health work in and outside of the Jewish community this year.  And to Rabbi Ari Kayser at Aish for including my story in Perspectives Magazine with the Jewish Weekly newspaper.

Thanks to writer Olivia Blair at Cosmopolitan/ Hearst for featuring my thoughts on bipolar in several articles which were also published across Hearst publications like Elle Magazine, Prima Magazine and Netdoctor.co.uk . Thanks also to the team at Refinery 29 for featuring me in an article on Seasonal affective disorder and to the fantastic charity No Panic for publishing my personal story with bipolar disorder.

This year I was also a shortlisted finalist for a UK Blog Award for the Health and Social Care Category  in March (thank you Lauren and team)  and invited to come to the Mind Media Awards as a highly commended journalist in my category. (This was incredibly magical).

Going to the Mind Media Awards in November with my Dad at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and hearing peoples stories of mental health across the UK media was just incredible. It was also a fun night of celebrity spotting- Fearne Cotton, Bryony Gordon, Dame Kelly Holmes, Kim-Joy from Bake Off, Stacey Solomon and Loose Women team, Frankie Bridge and many more. Stephen Fry presented the awards and was just remarkable, humble and funny as always. I was so pleased I managed to attend, it was a privilege to meet people. I met Yvette, Ellen and their producer at Mentally Yours podcast and fellow blogger Katie Conibear. My Dad and I were honoured to attend.

This blog has been a joy at times alongside the hard work. Thank you to all my guest bloggers and all sending submissions- you’ll get a proper individual thank you at our 3rd anniversary in March, but I couldn’t run the blog without your articles and careful attention. Thanks To Vuelio and Feedspot for awards too. Heres to a 2019, our third year of Be Ur Own Light! Thanks also to my Twitter followers who make it so easy for me to share thoughts and ideas with them- and for all the online friendships I have made- you know who you are!

This year has been hard at times but there has been SO much beauty and I feel so grateful and thankful for it all. My mental health has taken a hit at times, but I have found a really good therapist for talking therapy- who has helped me so much and I have also spoken to my GP. Its OK to reach out for support. Thankfully I have a good support network.  I have been a little more anxious and battling mild depression but I am slowly getting better again and starting to see the light :).

I just want to wish you all a happy and healthy new year 2019- this will be the year that I please God get married and my best friend Katie (as well as my fiances cousin too!). May it be a year of better health, wellness and joy for us all. And heres to keep fighting stigma!

May the new year be one of dreams coming to fruition and love and laughter.

Love always and thank you for reading,

Eleanor x 

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On Turning Thirty. My Bucket List and dreams

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(image: picturequotes.com)

As many of you know. I entered my fourth decade (!) on 1st July. I am now 30! This is weird because I don’t feel it at all. I remember turning 20 on holiday with my friends in India in 2008 and feeling like I didn’t feel ready to be in my twenties. I even felt old back then. (What was I thinking?)

Turning thirty has been bittersweet. Its been amazing and I am grateful to have made it here, older, wiser and still with hope intact. I have an incredible fiance, family and wonderful friends. But truthfully this has been one of the hardest months of my life- with my Grandma passing away and illness in the family. I have had to focus on some very sad and challenging situations in the past few weeks and spent the morning of my birthday visiting a family member in hospital- which was hard but important.

I did get spoiled with presents and cards and spent the majority of the day with my fiance, so that was lovely and he got me a chocolate cheesecake yum.

I am going to celebrate with friends at a later date too. Hoping to escape on holiday to Israel also with my fiance and just see family and friends, go to the beach and pool, see the Old City and have a much needed break in the Holy land! My best friend has just had a baby so will be good to see her too and meet the baby.

When  I turned 20, I could never have foreseen that I would achieve so much personally Рmy degrees, travelling, new jobs, making new friends, dating and meeting my one, fundraising and volunteering- but also that there would be many years of heartache due to ill health.

The past decade, my mental health and heart were ripped in two and I had to piece myself back together after being in hospital and suffering from the worst depression (and mania) that I had ever faced. It is frightening because you never know when you will get ill as bipolar is chronic, but being on good medication to hold moods as well as extensive therapy really helps.

I have been learning to seize the day and embrace a positive mindset. As I am typing this, James Arthur is singing on youtube and the lyrics ‘The sun will rise, thank the lucky stars that you’re alive.. beautiful life ‘ just played.
The sun rises after darkness and will continue to again. I know as long as I have my support network and team around me, I will be OK.

This decade I want to achieve- my bucket list:

  1. Be a published author and have a successful book which helps me become a speaker and advocate on mental health
  2. Travel to the USA, Maldives, Thailand and Vietnam, more countries in Europe- islands, Croatia and go back to Madeira! Also go on safari in Southern Africa and see Zimbabwe
  3. I would love to become a mother, with my husband
  4. Get on the property ladder if possible
  5. Write for the BBC, Cosmopolitan and other newspapers and continue my freelance writing career
  6. Meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge re mental health work
  7.  Be happy, live well and live fearlessly. Seize and love each day
  8. Study more Jewishly and deepen spirituality
  9.  Finally pass my driving test!!

(image:  favim.com)

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Heres to a new¬†decade, with dreams manifesting and love abounding. I hope G-d blesses me and some or all of the dreams come true! We make plans and He laughs… but I think its important to clarify vision.

Thank you to all who raised money for Gigdev Ghana for my birthday and raised £520. It will help women there so much.

How am I 30?!  I still feel 18 in my heart :),

 Eleanor x

Why I am fundraising for women in Ghana at Gigdev for my 30th Birthday.

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(image: E Segall)
In 2010, I set off for Tamale, Northern Ghana in West Africa, with the Jewish development charity Tzedek. There were 8 of us volunteers including three of my best friends from school- Anna, Katie and Hannah- and we were all placed at different NGOs and organisations to learn about sustainable development- and make a small impact on the communities we volunteered with.

My fellow volunteers were placed at Morning Star primary School, NGOs working in rural communities- some went into villages or wrote funding applications and I and my fellow volunteer Rachel were sent to Girls Growth and Development NGO known as GIGDEV.

Girls Growth and Development was set up by the mother of Ms Selina Iddi Abdulai, in order to help combat the poverty and disadvantages that are often found in the Northern region of Ghana- and to focus on women aged 15-25 who are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Many women leave the Northern region to go to the more prosperous Southern capital of Accra in search of work- known as ‘Kayaye girls’.

However, they often become homeless, do not find work to financially support them and are at risk of exploitation by others. A lot of the women at Gigdev fall pregnant in their teens and are ill treated by men (and family members).

‘¬†GIGDEV offers an integrated approach towards achieving self reliance for adolescent girls at risk for exploitation by offering lessons financial literacy, leadership, and health into their vocational training program. In addition to their vocational training program, GIGDEV also runs an early childhood education program as well as an advocacy and mobile outreach program on reproductive health, good governance, and human rights.’

Gigdev gives these women hope by teaching them a trade such as dressmaking, giving them education, shelter, food and child care.

I arrived in Tamale in July 2010, after a six hour journey across potholed roads feeling very sick, but amazed by the beauty of Ghana- lush green palm trees, cities, street sellers and the women selling food and cosmetics on their heads. A totally different culture- yet so incredibly beautiful.

We were staying in a village outside Tamale called Fuo, which has mud huts and goats roaming free. I and Rachel started volunteering at Gigdev, teaching basic literacy and grasp of English and Maths to groups of women. We used Ghanaian textbooks but also used our own knowledge to help. We also taught the women basic ICT skills so they could prosper in the future and we played with their children in the nursery, while they were studying dressmaking and hairdressing.

As I began to teach the women spellings, verbs, numbers, multiplication, division, English phrases and songs- we all began to bond. Some women would sit in my classes with their babies, others would compete to see who could get their sums right the quickest and there was a lot of laughter and jokes between us all.

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(image: E Segall)

All the women were so different and I got close to them – and didn’t want to leave them by the end of my 7 weeks of volunteering. I remember two particular girls- one called Zubaida and another very cheeky one whose name escapes me (in photo above) and her friend Mama.

Zubaida loved to learn and was exceptionally bright, top of all my classes and had a real thirst for knowledge. She was especially good at Maths. A lot of the women found Maths easier to contend with than English, even though English is one of Ghanas official languages, a lot of them spoke in the local dialect Dagbani or in Twi.

I had been teaching Zubaida for weeks and we formed such a bond. I never fully knew her full story- but she was bright and kind and eager to learn. When I had to leave, we were both so sad.

I was so honoured to know this woman and all the other incredible bright lights of women I met. I had several very funny and cheeky women in my class (as you can see by the photos) who used to crack me up with their jokes and fun nature. The woman in the photo above would joke around with me and her friends- I have so many pictures of them all laughing. They loved taking photos on my camera too.

I think this is what touched me so much about these so called ‘Kayaye girls’ who had been at risk but who Gigdev was looking after. That they had hope. They had passion. They had joy. And they embraced me as a privileged white woman- I feel like they didn’t see colour and neither did I.

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(image: E Segall)

I remember them plaiting each others hair and putting new weaves in.¬† I remember them singing and dancing and laughing. One day at the end of the class I taught them the penguin dance – ‘Have you ever seen a penguin come to tea?’, which they loved and we all stood in a massive circle and did the actions. They found it brilliant because it¬† was new to them and they could just spend time laughing with their friends.

They supported each other and loved each other. I saw their strength. And their desire to have better lives.

Because of them and their positivity and the amazing staff at Gigdev- I became a better and more informed person.

They taught me far more than I could ever teach them.

And this is why for my 30th birthday, as I enter a new decade- I want to help new women to have the same opportunities, care and help that Selina and the Gigdev team provide.

Please give whatever you can towards building a shop which will sustain the GIGDEV project. The women will sew clothes to sell and sell water bottles too- as an Income Generator for the NGO.

You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education

Here is a snap shot of of Ghana experience from my diary back in 2010:

‘I am working at Gigdev as a literacy, numeracy and IT teacher for women aged between 15 and 25. I also worked in the nursery for the womens children ‘Kiddicare’ for three weeks until it closed for the summer, assisting the teachers and looking after the children.¬†

I am finding teaching the women at Gigdev so rewarding, and I hope they are benefiting even on a small level. To be able to teach and build relationships with women around my age (i am 22!) and of a different culture, is very special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life. It is so interesting to see their reaction to what I teach them, whether that be a song as it was today, or reading, english verbs, to fractions…. which confused them at first but they soon picked up. I wish however I had more time to teach them and not only one hour a day!

I learnt that¬†the education I have recieved is a luxury…that I can use a computer to communicate, that I¬†am literate and numerate¬†and can read books (let alone buy books)¬†. I learnt that despite not having much and gone through so much, the human spirit in the women I worked with was strong, and BRIGHT and incredible……..and I hope that they go on to live good lives

Coming home from Ghana has been a very odd (and nice!)¬†experience. At first it was so hard to acclimatise back¬†to¬†a culture so alien to African life, particularly in a fairly¬†rural village¬†surrounded by mud huts and¬†goats where people get up with the sunrise and go to bed when it gets dark (6pm there). I found myself being confronted with contrasting lifestyles. It is hard to explain but I found a simplicity of life in Africa- without gadgets or material influence… people spend more time face to face talking together and there is a huge emphasis on community. ‘

 

ellieghana

 

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fundraising-gigdev-ghana-shop-for-girls-education