• DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Divided even more

    Today marks a day of a very long journey for me. Since June 2016 I was quiet, I lost my voice. Back then, a few days before the Brexit referendum, I posted a quick note about the meaning of the vote. That post marked an end to an era in my experience of technology. It was also an end of a difficult 6 months of watching the pre-Referendum campaign unfold in front of my eyes and feeling really helpless. Even really social media savvy people took on sharing posts promoting lies about EU not realising that this actually helped the reach of those messages. Discussions about echo chambers only really started when Trump actually won. We have started to learn the truth about social media: its landscape and underlying mechanisms reflect how we work as humans. With the help of algorithms but also very basic human biases, we forgot about echo chambers. We became vocal when some of our opinions should have remained offline. I know many of my friends do not agree with this still up till this day, but I see we are finally learning from Facebook’s scandals. In the recent reactions to Christchurch events, for instance, I have, for the first time, noticed a lot of sentiment around NOT MENTIONING facts not to promote them towards biased audiences.

    I call this process resistance. It’s a new word in our new digital reality but I think it works. We do not have to tolerate racism and the divide our political leaders are aiming to cover up their own mistakes. We simply have to resist sharing all our points and think a bit more strategically how our opinions travel in social networks. Do not forget that in social media marketing a mention, any mention (even negative one) is marked as positive for a brand – because any mention is better than none. So the best thing we can sometimes do is…remain silent. Not speaking can be an act too.

    “Devolved Parliament” by Banksy

    Today also marks the day when I am coming back to my more opinionated self. I spent months, years by now, learning more about digital wellbeing. I dived into psychology again to understand our biases. I started figuring out how we communicate online and what is the essence of our digital humanity. Today I know it is the choices that shape us. We all have the ability to act or to remain passive, to speak or to hold silence, to hurt or to protect others. And so as we are going through the really difficult part of the Brexit process I am wondering: what are we learning today? I personally start to see the value in both speaking up and in remaining silent – but both in the right times, strategically. In resistance, but also in active response to abuse and in risking to take a stand.

    In the spirit of this new realisation I have visited the Bristol Museum to see the old Banksy work – a very relevant artwork indeed. It was brought back for the tenth anniversary of Banksy’s museum takeover, but it is pretty obvious that it is yet another response to the current political events. I am really glad that some people do take a stand, in a smart way. I really hope that that the next few weeks will bring kindness and unity back to the UK and to Europe, because we are ever so divided. I personally am really fed up with it and will blog on the mental health impact of those events more.

    For now I would love to know what you have learned from the last few years of Brexit and the rise of less tolerant movements in Europe and what was the role of social media in this process?

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    3 most common digital wellbeing worries

    I read something really good today over on BrainPickings, something I aim to explain to most of my clients, but also something that defines my personal networks:

    “We reflexively blame on the Internet our corrosive compulsion for doing at the cost of being, forgetting that every technology is a symptom and not, or at least not at first, a cause of our desires and pathologies. Our intentions are the basic infrastructure of our lives, out of which all of our inventions and actions arise. Any real relief from our self-inflicted maladies, therefore, must come not from combatting the symptoms but from inquiring into and rewiring the causes that have tilted the human spirit toward those pathologies”

    More often than not my clients ask me to support them with “Internet addiction”, “Fortnight obsession” or other digital wellbeing concerns. Most of which in the end can be narrowed down to behaviours connected to our basic human needs – the need to avoid feeling lonely, the need to have fun, the need to spend quality time together or simply rest after a long day of stressful work. Some of those statements are overused and should not be taken, nor mentioned lightly. I think they should really be explored in more details with our actual context in mind. So today I would like to start by having a look at the three most common things I hear from my clients and friends. Here we go!

    1. Internet addiction or in other words obsessive, automatic, prolonged time online can often be used lightly. Everyone seems to have it nowadays, but what does it really mean? It is generally a very overused term but in some cases can stand for an actual problem. Spending a disproportionate time online is often a combined result of our inner need for genuine human connection and life in the world which is increasingly lonely. So it’s worth asking yourself some honest questions: why am I doing this? what is missing? what do I gain from going online? and finally: does it actually help? do I feel better? If you feel that going online does bother you it is really worth exploring the real, deep reasons for your concerns. Does it affect your health, work and relationships? It’s really worth exploring all those questions and if in doubt, having a chat with your GP. The Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) was now added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (the bible of official mental health conditions) but with a clear note that it is still not fully confirmed – a lot of research is needed to fully confirm it as a condition. I would recommend this article which explains how it is measured and diagnosed at the moment, but also what challenges lie ahead of us in pinning down the exact impact of the Internet of our mental health. Example: a single, middle-aged, financially independent and fairly fulfilled woman asked me once for a tip on not checking her emails on her mobile first thing in the morning. When we explored her morning routine in more detail something very sad became apparent (she said it but I had to reflect it back at her, she was not even aware of stating her own truth): she was lonely and hated the feeling of waking up in bed alone. In the end, she decided to get a dog to keep her company and tackle her sense of loneliness and stopped checking her phone in the morning.
    2. Fortnight/Minecraft/(any other game)+ obsession is the first thing I hear from many parents or partners of regular gamers, but what does it really mean? Google defines obsession as “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.” but let’s just very quickly look at its synonyms: “fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, enthusiasm, infatuation, addiction,..” As you can see some of those words are indeed negative, but what would happen if we were to replace the word with some positives? What if our child has a “Minecraft passion”? What if our partner has a “preoccupation with playing Call of Duty”? Does this term also describe their actual feelings and state of mind? In some cases, gamers might and will overuse their time online and that habit might and will affect their health, real-life performance and quality of their relationships. But in other cases, in most cases, really, their gaming habits will be a result of something fairly easy to explain: the need to connect with peers (since we cannot really hang out in the street anymore and the youth clubs are shutting down); the need to rest after long day of work/school – simply a quick way to relax or maybe simply wanting to have some fun? Is that really so bad? I would like to add something to this mix: each situation is unique but our personal feelings about other people’s gaming habits might reflect our own issues or needs to. So I would recommend asking ourselves some questions too: am I missing this person? do I want to spend more quality time with them? do I want to join in and feel excluded? do I judge them without having a chat about it? and finally: if we did not have games in our lives, what would be our alternatives? It’s also worth noting that Internet Gaming Disorder is defined in DSM-V but it is also mentioned “that gaming must cause “significant impairment or distress” in several aspects of a person’s life.” You can check the proposed symptoms of the actual disorder but it is still an area that requires a lot of research. Gaming disorder has been also listed last autumn by WHO so you can find more information about it here. It’s worth having a chat with your GP if you are concerned. Example: I worked with a dad who initially was so worried about his son’s “Minecraft obsession” that he decided to ban him from the game for the entire summer holidays. Needless to say, this particular idea backfired. The boy was struggling with fitting in any way and was left with even more reasons to be bullied and misbehave. We have worked with both dad and his son on creative ways of using the game to build, invent and present ideas. During that process, dad learned how the game works and how it can be used for fun, for creative ideas but also for studies (of maths, science or even hand-writing). At the end of our work both dad and son shared the same laptop and both came up with new ideas for creative use of Minecraft. Both found a way to talk to each other and collaborate – within and outside of the game.
    3. The negative impact of screen time on our health is a myth and after 15 editions of Safer Internet Day, we are finally openly talking about it with a bit more grounded and academic context. My son is 13 and through his entire life, he was told by his teachers, health professionals and other adults that spending the time of screens has a detrimental effect on his health. Despite the fact that we did not even have good, extensive research into this topic (all but impact of TV screens, to be honest), we have been telling our children and ourselves that screens are simply bad. Here in the UK that exaggeration became officially demystified this January by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: “The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time. Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children’s screen time overall. Many of the apparent connections between screen time and adverse effects may be mediated by lost opportunities for positive activities (socialising, exercise, sleep) that are displaced by screen time.” We now need to admit that most of us were wrong: it is not the actual screen time that can be damaging, but lack of movement, sleep or human connection. If used wisely and negotiated with our children in the context of its value and benefits for the family, screen time can actually be educational, relaxing and bonding. There is also another danger in making this assumption: by focussing on the mere technology of screens we are moving away from discussing the reasons behind our activities, feelings evoked by specific online activities and their meaning to us individually and as a group. It is a huge simplification to look at our screen time – we really have to think about the why behind our time on screens. Example: I met a mum recently who was worried about the screentime of her son so she decided to introduce a “no screens in the bedroom before bedtime” rule. The rule was discussed together so that her son and all other members of the family could have their opinions expressed. It was agreed that like with all other house rules, everyone would follow it. This small, but collaborative change to their habits improved the quality of everyone’s sleep but also opened up a channel for discussion around other areas of technology used in the house. Let’s face it, screens are really not the next big thing;)

    I hope this very short introduction to the core three questions I am working with nowadays will provide a bit of context to how complex the digital wellbeing of our lives can be. Please remember that the research in this area is still new, but already substantial. We now know that our digital activities are complex and there is not one size fits all solution. We need to explore our motivations, impact of our activities on our lives and keep having honest conversations to nurture our relationships: with each other and with ourselves as well.

    (Please note: these are my experiences and my understanding of the above-mentioned topics, if you have other experiences, I would love to hear from you – please leave a comment!)

    Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Happy Holidays 2018!

    It’s been a very intense university term for me here in Bristol so I was really quiet on all my blogs. I am still here and I am learning so much about human nature. I am starting to put my new counselling skills into practice already. Supporting people with mental health issues and challenges is the most humbling work I have done so far. I feel really privileged to be in this place in my life together with all our friends, colleagues and family. 

    It’s been a strange, very intense and grounding year. Full of major gains and major losses. So I am spending this Christmas resting, meeting friends and re-evaluating my life. Our university homework is to write an autobiography in preparation for psychoanalysis studies in spring, which gave me an opportunity to start something I have been meaning to do for a long time: write up my life experiences in form of a private book.

    It seems to be a Korsak family tradition to write and self-publish books for friends and family and so I am glad that I can continue it. It’s draining. It brings up a lot of forgotten, darker memories, but it’s also very healing. Sometimes it’s also fun – hugely thanks to the Internet browsing for long lost places, people, stories. Reflective writing and reminiscing are said to be good for us – I strongly recommend it. 

    I am using this time of the year for reflection. It’s quite astonishing how much my boys and I have achieved just in 12 months of living in Bristol – it’s quite overwhelming to look back at those months without getting dizzy. We are all really happy here, surrounded by people who actively react to the UK and world events with kindness and everyday validation of our humanity. 

    I hope your year was good and I hope the next one will be even better!

    Happy Holidays from all of us!  

  • DIGITAL

    In response to a Twitter conversation and on digital parenting

    So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter which really bugs me since over a week now. I read this exchange of tweets between my academic and life hero, Sonia Livingstone, and one of her readers. For those who are not aware of Livingstone’s life work, basically, she is one of the thought leaders of actual academic research into the impact of tech on young people and their families. She wrote books, studies, numerous articles and blog posts about the topics doing her best to demystify the current, very simplified discourse of mainstream media around tech and kids. The discourse which in many instances aims to scare parents, ban children off tech and preferably shut us down in a dark room with books and a fountain pen until we are about 18, at least. I am exaggerating, but seriously. Isn’t it about the time we look at our sentiment of conversations around the use of digital technologies of children and young people and simply calm down? Isn’t it time to finally move the tech into the category of tools and focus on the important parameters: education, parenthood, play, actual landscape young people grow up in? Not just tech, all of it together. In all its complexity.

    So there is this image that I have seen on Twitter. It has really haunted me. I know something was deeply wrong with it since the minute I saw it in the rather trolling tweet-response to Livingstone’s original tweet. Look at it and think about it for a second. Do reflect on the feelings this image provokes in you. Does it bother you? Does it upset you? Does it feel balanced and every-day?

    What is wrong with it and what really enters your mind the moment you look at it? I had mixed feelings. Anger to see such simplified point. Someone took a lot of time to set up this scene and we all know it’s not the reality of modern parenting. I really do not know a small child that could sit so far away from fluffy toys are would not love to mess around with paints. (I do not think so young they would go for crosswords on paper, they would indeed try it on an iPad, I agree with that). There was also guilt – because like many parents today, I do wish I had more time with my son and I do wonder if sometimes his gaming is a result of my lack of time for him. I know it really isn’t, but I still feel guilty when I look at this image. There was a lot of anger about the stupidity and ignorance of the comments included in the tweet but I have this rule: when I drink or when I am angry, I don’t tweet. I did make a note of the tweets and decided to think it over a bit.

    So here is what really bothers me about this picture and the answer came the following day. I went to work (Off The Record, Bristol-based mental health charity for young people) and happened to chat with a colleague about my upcoming counselling studies. Somehow our conversation navigated towards the changes this career path tends to evoke in people, sensitivities and new radars for feelings. He actually mentioned that since his new counselling courses started, he is way more cuddly with his mum. He really appreciates the physical touch, the love shared through a simple hug. And that comment made me realise that what really bothers me about this picture is the lack of the parent. Here we are, preaching about the roots of problems with kids when yet again, we are not really talking about the role of parents in the process. Some studies conducted by Livingstone show that parents in the UK increasingly do worry about tech and kids, but also try to look for solutions. I think the sentiment of those discussions is changing. But I really do not think we need oversimplified images of children abandoned with an iPad and toys, regardless of their location. What we really need to see, are images and stories of people who sat down with their kids, made time and discovered how those new technologies can benefit their parenthoods, childhoods, family lives together. And working out boundaries, risks, pitfalls too, of course.

    This picture bothers me, because it is seemingly balanced, where in reality it shows a way the deeper problem with have with our perception of technology for children and young people. We, many of us, think that it is there to be added to the toy basket and kids will work it out themselves. Yes, I am sure many of them will. But just like with crafts and arts, fluffy toys and books, so with technology: they will never ever learn to enjoy the togetherness of human connection if we do not teach them, show them, lead them by example. Us, parents. It’s on us. Not on kids. It’s time we get this and start including those young humans in our joint technological discoveries. It could possibly prove to be quite a powerful way of sharing, playing, learning and connecting even more. I know it can.

    Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Digital detox

    This weekend means resting after the intense holidays for my family. I don’t have problems with my tech-life balance but this quiet weekend made me think more about my personal tips for healthy, balanced weekend offline. So here are my tips:

    1. Prepare. Warn your friends that you will be mostly offline and important updates can wait till Monday. They could alos call you instead. If you work in social media or need to have content our in your branded channels, plan it in advance. Most tools allow social media scheduling. If you do not like scheduling, plan light posts – for example sharing your weekend morning reads to your social channels. It will only take you a second.
    2. Check in but don’t surf. Unless you have a specific project in mind or need to switch off and want to surf the web and social media channels on purpose, don’t allow yourself too much time online. Check in in the morning or in the evening, or as often as you think it is really necessary (if your friends or family members are travelling you might wish to follow their updates, obviously). Be strict and sensible about your screen time. Stop for a second and think very carefully about your weekend alternatives: maybe a book or just cloud gazing from your garden bench would be much more fun right now?
    3. Manage incoming messages thoughtfully. To get things done and avoid a long to-do list on Monday you might need to address some emails or messages now, on the spot. If tasks are small, do it now and forget about it. Relax. If tasks are larger, manage people’s expectations and warn them that you might need a few days. You don’t have to get everything done on Monday and you do not need to think about those tasks over the weekend.
    4. Manage notifications. Check in, untick, forget about them. If they are still bothering you, move the relevant apps with a lot of notifications to the second screen of your mobile – this way you will not see them each time you glance at your phone.
    5. Relax and have fun. Screen is just a sign of your connection. Connection is actually really good. Having a chat with an old friend can make you smile – there is nothing wrong with virtual collective happiness. As long as it works for both of you. Play games. Choosing your task and completing it means achievement – those make us happy and proud. In a good way. Choose a game, choose your level, complete it. Focus on your feelings – if you are still relaxed and a bit cheered up, it’s a sign of fun. Fun is OK. Fun can be addictive, but is that really such a bad thing? Research a new topic or a household hack. Learn something new. Brain stimulation with news and learnings is good for you. Browse friend’s travel photos not with envy but with admiration and a bit of dreaming: why not aiming to go there one day too? Dreaming is what makes us human. In all this remember that screens and Internet connection do bring us together and expand our horizons, but there are other ways to connect with the world. Use them all for your own benefit.

    Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

  • DIGITAL

    The digital we don’t really talk about

    I have to admit it: I did it too. I focussed on the negative impact of the digital so much recently that I stopped looking out for positive stories. Stories of inspiration. Stories reminding me just how wonderful, life saving even, digital worlds and online connections can be. Today I came across this story of Lauren, a chronically ill teen girl, describing how technology and online connections helped her through her really difficult and challenging (to me quite unimaginable!) times. Careful, it is a moving but also shocking read for those of us who do not have a lot of experience with hospitals or doctors. The reality of this girl is not something I can relate too, but I do know the overwhelming feeling of reaching out to new friends online and meeting them after years of online conversations. I know that feeling of knowing so much about the other, even though you have just met for the first time now. Because here is the real truth behind our online and offline lives: in both worlds the relationships we build can be quite real and deep. It really depends on our honestly, our willingness to share and to work towards a thriving relationship. Each connection can be different – some are stronger than others. But we cannot assume that the offline connections only will matter in the end. Because it is really down to us to give all those connections meaning – regardless of their channel. Sometimes a coffee shared in a local bar means a lot, of course. But so does a giggle shared over a silly photo of our pet at times when even smiling is can be hard. Our shared experiences of our communication are the glue of our relationships. We must not forget that.

    I am so glad to see platforms like Narratively reminding us the less trendy, but incredibly important stories – where tech and digital are just tools helping us find humanity in each other.

    Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

  • DIGITAL

    Social media and kids – facts not myths

    I had an interesting conversation in a bar last night with a young man concerned about the mental health of his younger, teen brother. Despite a very heated discussion (him: against social media based on media-fed fears, me: pro-social media based on recent research), I have managed to at least make him question his own assumptions. I am really concerned about the level of our general assumptions about the real impact of digital technologies on young people and as a consequence, the lack of dialogue between generations. In this particular situation, just after a short chat, I have identified at least two other reasons why this young person would struggle – not related to the tech at all. But that is a job of a counsellor and bar is not a place to address them. Not with a family member – with the young person themselves.

    I came home and reflected on the tonality and the flow of that conversation. I have realised that I was really emotional and I really need to lean into people’s realities even more in order to find a base for a dialogue with them. Because work with assumptions and biases needs to be really careful and respectful, most of all.

    This morning I woke up to a new link from LSE leading tot he 2017 Global Kids Online study which I could have quoted the night before, but even with the numbers, I am not certain if I would come across as helpful. The study identified few core issues:

    • “Most of the hurtful behaviour occurred offline, not online.” This point means that young people still experience bullying, mocking, isolation, economical disadvantage, aggression offline a lot! But young people are smart and join safe online spaces where they can switch off unpleasant experiences and report the abuser. Most kids choose private chatting rooms and manage their emotions in a peer group rather well.
    • “Only a few 9- to 17-year-old internet-using children (between 1 and 11%, depending on age and country) experienced hurtful behaviour online in the past year; most of this occurred just once or twice.” – This is a surprising piece of data for many because no one really talks about the digital literacy of young people, their ability to create their safe online identities and to surround themselves with trusted friends.
    • “Children find a wide range of online experiences upsetting. Between 14 and 36% of internet users aged 9–17 experienced something upsetting online in the past year” – this is a very important point. The current media and legislation discourse are focussed primarily on cyberbullying and “harmful content” exposure but the actual negative experiences can really vary and every single person is different. For example – when my son was smaller, he was for a while terrified of trains after watching a YouTube video of a burning train – something I personally really did not feel would affect him at all. If we focus on one particular form of harmful impact of the web on our kids, we miss out on a lot of problems, we simplify a very complex area of young people’s lives and most of all: we do not engage in active conversations with them about what is really upsetting them and how we, adults, can support them in thriving digitally online.

    And I know that many parents reading this will probably get stuck on my last point – “thriving digitally online” – as something completely irrelevant to kids. However, we must not forget that access to information, to innovation and to connect with peers is the basic human right of our children. We need to finally accept it. We need to look very hard at ourselves and reflect on our relationship with our kids. We need to learn to talk to them and work on their online safety with them!

  • DIGITAL

    Mission accomplished

    This is a quick update on our 5K walk done on Sunday for OTR Bristol. Laura and I met at 9.30am in the Castle Park with our families. Park was busy and really, really hot – just look at the state of grass!

     

    We have agreed on the tactics – it was a super hot day so we have decided to focus on catching Pokemon, not so much the fast speed of our walk. We have started tired, but excited!

    But The challenge of walking 5K in an hour (average speed of walking) became tricky, dangerous almost. Walking in the sun was OK, but not easy. We had to shift between sunny areas and the park. The place was on fire! And truth to be told all other hunters decided to hide in the shadows very fast.

    It was fairly easy to catch the first 50 Pokemon though – it took us 30 min to do so. Here is the proof – before and after screenshots of our mobiles:

     

    Knowing that I am not much of a PokemonGo geek you can probably guess which screen is mine;) After the first 30 minutes of our walk, we have decided to review the situation. Even with the constant supply of water and a backpack full of snacks, with the support of our families, we would not be able to walk 5K in an hour in this heat. So we have decided to compromise, be sensible and adjust the goals: walk 2 miles in an hour and then walk another mile afterwards, without timing. So here are both distances from my Strava:


     

    To complete the walk we took a little group photo, sat down for a picnic and rested.

     

    I really enjoyed the walk, even though it was full of challenges. First of all the weather was terrible for any physical activity and all of us were tired after Saturday work too. Secondly, walking and catching Pokemon is really not easy and requires high levels of focus – which in a park full of geeks is a bit of a challenge.

     

    Additionally there were interruptions too: my friend called me, our allotment association called to tell me that we have won a prize from a summer social hosted the day before (I know, right?), towards the end of the walk people from the Bristol PokemonGo group started recognising us and chatting to us too. Luckily the connection was good and the app worked well for both of us.

    I loved the walk through – it was full of fun and collaboration. We had to focus, document it, discuss tactics in real time and work with the circumstances. I really did not expect the PokemonGo Community Day to be so complex, but it really was. We have marked the 1 mile, 50 pokemon and final milestones with photos to remember the journey:)

    I would like to thank Laura for joining me on this bonkers assignment! It was so much fun to walk with her: she is the most positive person I know!

    I would like to thank Kathlin for sharing our walk plans with the Bristol PokemonGo group – it was nice to feel even more part of the community than before.

    A huge thank you to our families for supporting us on the day! We couldn’t have done it without you all!

    And last, but not least: thank you to all the lovely people who have donated over at our fundraising page – we have reached our goal and we are leaving it up for another month. If you haven’t donated but feel inspired to do so, please click over here.

    Thank you all so much!

  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Social isolation is a bitch

    I find it difficult to talk about social isolation but I think my current fundraising challenge and new work at OTR Bristol is a good opportunity to start this topic on my blog. It’s also prompted by a comment I have posted two days ago in response to the new Facebook “WhatWeDoTogether” video served to some of us about the value of Facebook community. (Which is positioned to support your sense of community but really links to setting up new groups – Facebook’s attempt to take over the market of LinkedIn groups).
    I am a tech enthusiast and I believe in the power of positive psychology even though many therapists still cringe and dismiss this fairly new field. I agree that our positive outlook on life defines just how easy it is to cope with challenges. I just worry about the automated algorithmic solutions that most of the time get us but now and again simply hurt.
    I personally found the Facebook’s community video really painful to watch. Instead of featuring my friends it featured my selfies surrounded by stock photography. It reminded me of my long period of social isolation which I really don’t like to go back too. It triggered the memories of a small conservative town I lived in for ten years with hardly any friends there, and mostly very shallow, artificial friendships. Also a controlling friendship too, which did not help. (I also must add a bit of context: when I saw the comment about the Facebook video I was thinking about grief that day, which made matters worse, I might have overreacted a bit). But the responses and follow up discussion was very meaningful and bonding. Showed just how meaningful and supportive Facebook friend can be. They reminded me that beyond my town I really had a lot of valuable relationships that took me through that dark time, saved my sanity.
    But I still worry about social isolation. One can be ever so lonely in a large group of people, in the crowds even. We talk so much about the need to disconnect when what we really need is re-connecting: to ourselves, to each other and to our communities. I moved away from talking about politics but that does not mean that I have no political views anymore. I come from a childhood under Communism and lived a few changes of systems so I see and feel the times when the leading, privileged group of people aim to manipulate and control the “poor folk” (i.e. us) simply by turning us against each other, by making us feel less and weak and lonely. Because in a thriving community we feel empowered to ask, question and demand. Communities increase civic engagement and that’s not exactly what a leading party or any individual country leader would like to see. I just don’t think Facebook is here to solve that, we need to do it offline.
    But here’s the thing: social isolation only hurts if you are truly on your own. A fellow blogger posted a response to my comment which was kind, supportive but also firmly reminding me of other aspects of online social networks: by doing that she actually proved me wrong and reminded me about the power of validation. When we hurt and others listen, respond and act – it makes all the difference. We had an interesting training at OTR Bristol this week on why we do what we do and why we are a social movement not just a charity. I think new times are coming because people are getting fed up with being expected to solve all their problems on their own. I think social media contributed to isolation but also the realisation that individualism has its benefits but also pitfalls. We need to have time for ourselves, but we also need strong, supportive groups and communities. We need to thrive and remember about self-care, but we also need to allow others to take a good care of us when we are in need. We cannot and should not live in complete isolation.
    This is something that is most painful when you are young, so if you agree with the sentiment please support my 5K walk in support of @OTRBristol who tackle it already. Thank you!
  • DIGITAL,  WELLBEING

    Walking, catching, supporting

    It’s been over a month now that I have joined the OTR Bristol. Time flies! I still feel very overwhelmed with the kindness of people in the office and I still catch myself thinking: I wish I had this support when I was young.

    I set up my own fundraiser page about a week ago and I was aiming to promote it, push it, ask for money and talk about OTR work a lot on my blog too. But life got in the way in a most ridiculous way and made this fundraiser truly relevant to me: I have received bad family news. I started grieving. Not really grieving for the people who are slowly slipping away, but for myself – for the childhood, I had or did not have. And so I have stopped my bereavement volunteering for now (I am obligated and quite frankly too close to the topic at the moment) but I know I can go back anytime.  Things got a bit emotional in my private life and I started to think a lot about the reality of my childhood. I stopped posting and took time to rest and think. I spent a lot of time with my friends and family reminding myself who I am today and how I got here, but also where exactly I have started from.

    We all have stories, you see, stories we do not want to talk about. I am always open about my controlling mother, ex, past friends and I am not worried about the current contacts assuming the role of an abuser – because a long time ago I have learned that I was never really a victim. E. Rosevelt said once: “One cannot humiliate you without your consent” and I think she was right, but there is more to power in a family set up. People who are close to us tend to assume they know us and can or would take advantage of our weaknesses. However it is their version of our relationship and we can still have our take on it, and that take can be very different. We can stop the power game simply by not getting involved. We can define our own boundaries and lines of safety with or without the involvement of the abuser. We just need to be clear on our self-worth and our own goals. This way, instead of hardening, we become even kinder and more empathic. It works. But we also have to keep our darker stories in mind and must never forget – because there are other people, young people, out there who need help today.

    I did not have OTR, but I had teachers, priests, literary role models, friends and positive outlook on my future. There was always a part of me that knew my worth. I have experienced a kind, bonding fatherly love and I have received a great compass of values (not always applied, I’m not perfect, but at least known!). So after a week of contemplating my own, complicated childhood and a week of grieving the one I did not get to have, I have also realised just how far I have come thanks to all those good people in my past life. I wish I had a space and people like the OTR folk back when I was a young person – my own battles would have been much faster, stronger, more – but I had others who were there for me in smaller, slower experiences. I had hope and I knew kindness.

    So today I have just one message to my readers: let’s stop for a moment and think of all those young people who need help, but also those who do not even understand the idea of hope, love and kindness. Let’s just for a second imagine how their reality must feel like.

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    And let’s have a very good look at our life, count our blessings and convert our experiences into hopefulness. I took my new Canon camera out and treated myself to time for photography. I took a few photo walks in this amazing sunshine and streets of Bristol, admiring street art and warm, friendly people. I planned another two walks with friends this week. I made time for art which always makes me feel a bit better. But here is the thing: I can do it because I spent 40 years of my life coming to this point, fighting and constructively converting my hate and pain into work and action. Which is why I love OTR so much.

    So this is my first ask – I kindly ask you, if you are able to do so today, to donate to our 5K walk to help OTR teams help those who might just be young and hopeless now. Thank you!

     

    Here is the full link: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/5kpokemonday – I will be walking, catching Pokemon and supporting an amazing organization! 🙂