To all the black women I never knew…

I hear stories, I see images, I read statistics, I consume art, I learn. I learn names of women doing prodigious things that I have never known. Throughout my adulthood I have found myself frequently asking, “why did I never know this?”. Why was I deprived of this knowledge? How could I never know that the first female self-made millionaire was a black woman who earned her fortune developing black hair care until only a few years ago? I am aware we wouldn’t spend each day thanking every person for every invention, remembering every person that came before us in every avenue of life, that’s intense. However I can’t help but ruminate over the days I was made to feel alien because of my curly hair (or very much frizzy at the time) as a teen, in a predominantly white secondary school, having a teacher threaten a uniform report on my natural curls citing it as an extreme hairstyle. The next morning as I dolloped a large amount of of pink or dark and lovely (if you know, you know) in the palm of my hand and ran my fingers through my hair attempting to tame it in the hopes of steering away another similar public disagreement, with not another brown face present to shoot me a knowing nod in relation and support. I wonder, had I possessed the knowledge of this self-made millionaire whether my mind would have floated to Madam C. J. Walker with thanks and I would have walked a little taller, left my hair a little bigger knowing this hair was the catalyst for an idea that brought in a fortune, before I was even an idea in this world, my hair was history, history that had been hidden away for far too long 

Throughout history too many women have been overlooked, too many black women have been expelled from our lessons. Over the past month we at Freebird have released our first three instalments of our ongoing feature “to all the black women I never knew…” we aim to shine a light on the names that have been concealed from our vision. We directed the torch on Phillis Wheatley, Claudia Jones and Olive Morris, but come on, the depth of these dynamic women’s stories cannot be crammed into an instagram square. Though still just a snapshot view of their multifaceted lives, Wheatley, Jones and Morris deserve the brightness directed their way, so we at Freebird urge you to indulge in their stories and dare you to share them, think ‘pay it forward’, intersectional feminist style.

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

The first African American woman to publish a book.

As a poet myself, Phillis Wheatley is dear to my heart. Born in West Africa, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped in 1761 by slave traders and at just under 8 years old was forced to America on a slave ship called ‘Phillis’, that she would later be named after. Surviving this transatlantic journey alone was a feat, it killed nearly a quarter of the passengers. She was ‘bought’ by John Wheatley as a ‘gift’ for his wife Susanna, as a personal servant and in his mind a ‘companion’, taken to their home in Boston and named against her will. When John and Susanna noticed her brainpower, after finding her writing with chalk on a wall, they began teaching her. Her innate talent, along with her studious attitude empowered her to become fluent in English in under two years. Alongside learning English, Greek and Latin, she studied a myriad of subjects mainly surrounding the humanities. 

Her enthusiasm for writing came from within, the tender age of 13 brought her first published poem ,“On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin” in the Newport Mercury newspaper. From here she travelled to London in 1773 to publish her book “Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral”, a collection of 39 poems. The works were published here in the UK as the publishing industry was more established here than over the pond. She was the first African American woman to have a book published, and the works were captivating; consequently scepticism was rife with the questioning of Wheatley’s authorship. Rightly anticipating this may happen, Phillis and the Wheatley’s recruited eighteen of the most notable and respected New England religious and political leaders to sign a document, verifying her as the author. They were well aware this was a political statement and were awaiting the controversy, Phillis’ story was extraordinarily different to many other African people who were dehumanized and enslaved, as she had the opportunity to explore her talent and intelligence. Her works’ popularity across the United States and United Kingdom eventually earned her freedom and she went on to be a pivotal supporter of the colony’s independence during the Revolutionary war.  Wheatley was a creative and an intellect, we at freebird urge for an equal representation of genders across the creative industries. The patriarchy wants us to believe that women as serious creatives is something that is new, yet we have been here, letting our thoughts pour onto paper the whole time. Fighting for equal representation in all avenues in 2020 seems ludicrous when Phillis Wheatley was out here representing in the 1700’s. Thank you Phillis. 

“In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression and Pants for deliverance”- Phillis Wheatley

 

Claudia Jones (1915-1964) 

Political Activist and founder of the Caribbean Carnival (precursor to Notting Hill Carnival)

This year, every annual carnival goers heart was broken (me included), with the confirmation of what we already knew, Notting Hill Carnival was cancelled, for the first time since it’s beginning due to uninvited, ill-mannered Miss Rona. With a Carnival shaped hole in my heart, it feels more important than ever for us to know, understand and celebrate the woman that created a space that allowed carnival to develop into the euphoric honey pot, attacking the senses in all the right ways that it is today.

Trinidad born Claudia Jones, moved to Harlem, New York aged eight with her family, in an attempt to find a better quality of life. They were met with prejudice and discrimination and so her parents struggled to find long term work, leaving them with poor living conditions and consequently, health. Claudia was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, and her mother died prematurely at 37, which she noted as her first major realisation that the mistreatment of black people was costing their lives. Jones is the covergirl of working your way to the top and giving a voice to your community, starting at a local newspaper, landing a position on the communist party’s editorial staff and eventually became the editor of Negro Affairs. Jones advocated for the rights and mobilisation of black women long before Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’. (Watch Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED talk on the urgency of intersectionality, thank us later**).  Forms of discrimination are not isolated, they befriend and work together at the crossroads of oppression. Her most famous piece ‘An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman’ screams intersectional feminism, loud and clear. 

It’s the mid 50’s and Senator Joseph Mccarthy is leading a pro-conmunism witch hunt, and Jones being a key face of the Conmunist party, is charged with ‘un-american activities’ (she wasn’t even american). She was deported, bypassed by her home, Trinidad, and sent to London, unaware of the mark she would make. Her deportation coincided with the windrush generation – she had a community to join and build. She founded England’s first major Caribbean newspaper the ‘West Indian Gazette’, her office located above a small record shop in Brixton, she was the beat in the heart of the culture, wherever she went.

What you’ve all been waiting for… Notting Hill Carnival. The Notting Hill race riots took place over august bank holiday weekend 1958. Racist English defence leagues were growing, inciting violence on black communities. 5 days that left people injured, dead and those surviving, distraught. Jones knowing she had to act for the community, picked celebration over mourning, it was time to honour their heritage and the community – showcase, feel, and bask in all its power and glory. Did you know the Caribbean has more than 700 islands? The culture of our people is vast, with colourful sounds, dance, food and drink in abundance. The Caribbean Carnival celebrates that, inviting others to entangle themselves in the sounds and glimpse into the West Indies. First held indoors at St Pancras Town Hall (I KNOW!!), the precursor to the Notting Hill carnival we know today now has over 2.5 million attendees. Claudia died only 5 years later, at only 49! She achieved what many could only dream of in a lightning amount of time. Carnival, ‘til we meet again.

“A people’s art is the genesis of their freedoms” – Claudia Jones 

Olive Morris (1952 – 1979)

Political Activist and British Black Panther Party Member.

When Claudia Jones passed, Olive Morris would have been 12 years old. As I write this piece, I find myself imagining a spring afternoon outside a Brixton record store and a conversation between Olive Morris and Claudia Jones, had they crossed paths. The things they would talk about and movements they could make, if only Jones lived a little longer, south London’s overlooked icons of their own time. 

Olive Morris moved from Jamaica to South London aged 9, as part of the Windrush Generation. For many political activists there is a pivotal moment remembered, that is the impetus for a life of considered action. For many young people today, it will be the normalisation of the countless lifeless black bodies painted across the TL, it will be 8.46, the number that was given meaning on May 25th 2020, it will be the name Breonna Taylor that appears every time they close their eyes. For Olive Morris the catalyst was the 15th November 1969. Not a headline in the news, but a firsthand experience that would solidify her path. Nigerian diplomat Clement Gomwalk parked his Mercedes near Desmond’s Hip City, a Brixton record store. The police accused him of stealing the car. (Let’s talk about the “sus” law, in which the police were empowered to stop anyone they suspected of wrongdoing. This law was used and abused as a tool to keep black people down. It was hard to prove ill-use. Many organisations wrote reports that demanded revising of the law and it was finally repealed in 1981. Yet, as many systemic forms of racism do, it has just been given a new framework, the official figures for england and wales show black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people, as per 2019-2020.) Gomwalk naturally objected to his arrest (this is where accounts vary), and the police became forceful, 17 year old, 5 foot 2 Morris interfered, confronting the police on their treatment of the diplomat, which riled them even more and the aggression turned towards her. She stated “each time I tried to talk or raise my head I was slapped in the face”. When in custody, she was threatened with rape, forced to undress while police watched to prove her womanhood and brutally beaten. She was fined, given a suspended sentence and released. 

At this point she was already a part of the British Black Panther Movement youth group and similar to Claudia Jones, she was thrust into the world of intersectional politics and became an integral mobilizer of black women socially and politically in the 1970’s. She set the first networks for women, both black and asian with her two organisations; the Brixton Black Womens Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), a physical space for women to have their voice heard for the first time. Whilst studying in Manchester between ‘75 and ‘78, her activism didn’t take a backseat, she took it with her north setting up the Manchester Black Womens Co-operative. 

Whilst her activism was broad she had a particular fixation on, housing/squatting and black women and children. In 1972, two black children died in a fire after their portable heaters were knocked over. Morris led a demonstration for more secure heating in public housing outside the local government offices, which resulted in central heating being installed. She squatted in 121 Railton Road in Brixton and created a space for community groups to meet, it also housed the Sabarr bookshop, one of the black communities first. She died of Non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1979. She was 27. All her activism was carried out in just one decade, in the UK and across the world. 

“She represents the kind of Black women who, over the years, have thrown themselves into the struggle of this country and made an indelible, if anonymous, mark” this quote about Olive Morris from “Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain” rings true for Wheatley, Jones and Morris, and many more black women who have been overlooked. The history of black people is rich, overflowing, and is so incredibly varied. We, as black people, are multifaceted leading incredible and extraordinary lives. We are itching to learn, we are itching to share, we are itching to teach, and we can’t wait till all the black women we never knew, becomes all the black women we adore that we know. 

(Keep an eye out for my poem “To all the black women I never knew…”, which will be featured on FreeBird in the coming weeks)

Yasmin Dawes

Further learning: **Kimberle Crenshaw – TED Talk – The Ugency of Intersectionality https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akOe5-UsQ2o 

 

Reality needs a better director

Photo by Alex Avalos on Unsplash

I watched Crave live streamed from the Chichester theatre a couple of days ago.

I’m not sure how I felt about the play itself, but at the end I was overwhelmed with sadness and frustration.

I’d watched the play, stared at the screen, listened through my earphones but I just couldn’t remember what had happened, what had been said. My brain hadn’t caught on to the fact that I was supposed to be paying attention. I’d missed the moment.

This would never have happened in a theatre. I am an impeccable audience member. I arrive on time, I go to my seat early, I stay silent throughout, I don’t fidget, I listen intently, I barely blink, I laugh, I cry, I try to take it all in, I applaud until my hands tire, and when it’s over everything hurts. I’m exhausted. I’ve given it my all.

I think I was born to be an audience member. One of the best. It’s my talent, it’s what I do brilliantly, it’s what I love doing. When I enter a theatre I know my role, lines, steps. I don’t even need to rehearse.

In every other aspect of life, I doubt. What should I do? What should I say? Did that look weird– am I misinterpreting that? What does everyone know that I don’t? In a way, it’s a very narcissistic way to live. But when I sit amongst an audience I forget I’m a single person. I’m part of a group, just a pair of eyes amongst a sea of them. There’s no question, no doubt, just pure and absolute knowledge that at that point I am here. I am watching people pretending to be other people but it feels more real than anything I’ve lived that day.

Nothing is expected of me and this is where I’m at my best. The lights dim and I can practically feel my mind expanding outside of my cranium, refusing to be confined to such a limited vessel when grandiose experiences are taking place mere metres away. It’s not quite enough to feel like I’m actually, really, truly, actually living it, but it’s close.

When I’m watching a show, reality feels so close I could taste it. Those two hours feel exhausting because I’m sprinting the whole time, hoping to catch the present. A bittersweet experience, but in my opinion a better option than day to day life where I often feel like reality is in a parallel and strictly inaccessible dimension.

The past few months have been hard, and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not complaining. But what I’ve learnt from not being able to see live theatre is this: what you see on stage may not be true, but what you live from your seat is real. 

The gasps and the tears and that stunned silence and those chuckles are the purest version of reality. I know how theatre happens, how much work and how many people it takes to create a show. That only makes it better. A group of people wilfully believing the reality constructed by another group of people. Now that’s what I call collaboration. Can we get a bit more of that, on and off stage?

“When you open up, others do also”

Today is the start of biggest week of my events career to date. I’m about to embark on 7 days of intense event management for a festival based in Shoreditch; something my team and I have been working on for 6 months. Now feels like an opportunity show what I’m capable of, and to prove myself to my peers.

I should be nervous, but also excited. I should be able to take this opportunity. The only problem is I’m panicking – and I don’t mean butterflies in my stomach or the nervous feeling you get before doing something new. I mean panic attacks, although I don’t know I’m having them at the time. It feels like that feeling you get when you’re falling in a dream. It’s that – except there’s no waking up. It’s every minute of every day.

Colleagues keep calling my name over the radio. I should respond, should give the best account of myself that I can. But I’m lying on the floor having the first panic attack. I genuinely feel like my life is at risk, such is the intensity of the symptoms. The sensible thing to do would be to tell someone, but I can’t, I won’t. I think that if I reveal the extent of the situation to my colleagues I’ll give them the perception that I cannot cope. I don’t want to be considered in that way; I work hard, I know I can work under pressure and this has never been a problem before. I also don’t know what this is. How can I explain something when I don’t even know why it’s happening?

As the day progresses I continue to pretend, with increasing failure, that I am fine. I am not fine; my hands are trembling and my heart feels as though it’s about to burst out of my chest. Skip forward three hours; I have had four panic attacks and I am currently being treated by the first aider, after it became impossible to conceal my condition any longer.

Even at this point I am still trying to keep it a secret. My mind is dominated how embarrassing this is. Eventually, the first aider requests that one of the festival runners take me back to the hotel. I get in an Uber and even at that stage it starts again. I have to get out; I leave the Uber not even halfway to the hotel and start running through Bethnal Green. I don’t even know how to get to the hotel by foot. I finally reach the hotel room and climb into the bed. I spend the next two hours crying, distressed by the symptoms and my embarrassing failure to meet expectations. It also happens to be my birthday; happy 25th birthday Kym. 

Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a long period of poor mental health, and far from my lowest moment during that period. I never went back to the festival after my birthday. I couldn’t. Everything I had worked so hard on over the last few months felt wasted. I never got to see it take place, and I felt a huge amount of guilt for leaving my colleagues to pick up my aspects of the festival. Surely they’re angry with me? Surely they view me as weak? These thoughts fed my anxiety and encouraged it to flourish. 

After around two weeks, I forced myself back into work, convinced I would lose my job otherwise. I didn’t lose my job., and strangely no one said anything to me. In some ways this was a relief, but not knowing that everyone though played on my mind. I needed some sort of closure and assessment of what had happened. Over the next week or two I continued to struggle to be normal, crying before work, scared to get on the tube in case I had a panic attack. ‘Imagine all these normal people looking at me’ I would think, waiting for tube with concealed tears. Most of the time I’d let 3 or 4 tubes go before I could even get on one, for fear of another episode of panic and the symptoms it carried.

I was diagnosed with Pure O when I was 22, which is a less well known form of OCD. It consists of intrusive, unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts. Unlike the OCD most people think of, I have minimal compulsions, so you could be with me all day and not even know I was having an episode. This, alongside the anxiety that I cannot shift, continues to blight me until a second particularly bad day forces me back into exile.

I am sitting at my desk, still struggling with panic attacks and trying desperately not to have one, and not to let anyone see that I was struggling, when the intrusive thoughts start to overwhelm me:

“When I get the tube later I am going to jump in front of it and kill myself”.

I spend the next 5 hours repeating the same sentence over and over until I am convinced this is going to happen. I call my boyfriend in hysterics, begging him to travel into central London and collect me from work, like a child being collected from school. This is another humiliation that lowers my self-confidence even further.

A subsequent GP appointment results in me being formally signed off work for a longer period of time. During the time I was signed off work, many things happened that still to this day I find hard to think about. It’s very hard to associate myself with that person, who seems so unlike the real me and the person I so desperately wanted to be at the time. My mental health declined that much that I refused to be left alone, starting going to work with my boyfriend and sit in a coffee shop as close to where I knew he was as possible. I would not get on the tube and couldn’t enter any busy public place without having a panic attack. At one point I even called myself an ambulance when left on my own.

Eventually I was prescribed Citalopram by my GP, alongside I also paid for private therapy after being told of the 9 month waiting list to access NHS treatments. I finally started being able to function, and I mean function. I still was nowhere near myself, but I could manage basic tasks like being on my own for an hour or briefly going to the shop. My comfort zone expanded slightly. My boyfriend encouraged me to travel on my own, to keep pushing the boundaries every day. I had to learn how to be independent again from scratch.

I eventually got myself to a place where I could go back to work and I continued to work there for another two years. I worked the same festival the following year, in a much better place and with my confidence somewhat restored. I got a second chance to give that good account of myself, and I took it. The reason I am sharing with you, the FreeBirds, is to convey the lessons I learnt. 

Firstly, I want to let you know that you are not alone if you are going through a similar struggle. It’s happening to people you might not realise it’s happening to. It’s more common than you think, and when you open up others open up also. 

Secondly, although it’s hard try to be open with your employer about your mental health, it’s important and they might even surprise you with how understanding they are. My work wasn’t the main factor in my breakdown, but trying to hide it at work only made my symptoms worse. Once work knew about my situation it gave me the opportunity to be open and ask for ten minutes on my own if I need it. My employer also appreciated the honesty and were, once we finally had those open conversations, willing to be supportive. 

Finally, your mental health does not define you and your abilities. You can achieve what you want to achieve and you will do. Even if it takes you slightly longer than it might have done otherwise, you will get there. 

I still have bad days and I always will. Sometimes that’s hard to accept; but I know how to cope with it now and so will you. Be kind to yourself, especially at the moment. 

10 Things We Learned This Month – Growth

I am sure that I am not the only person who considers herself a different person to the one who entered lockdown. Each day I have discovered a new understanding of myself; of my mental health, my ambitions, my privilege and my feminism, my ever-loosening belief in the importance of underwear. A month ago we spoke of growth and, despite the difficulties of this apparently never-ending cycle of lockdowns, the opportunities it has given us to pause, reflect and grow together (in solidarity if not in person). If you can forgive the pretentious use of a Marcel Proust quote to give this article any kind of weight… “My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.” 

With that in mind, I wanted to share just a few of the things we’ve learned this last month, from the horrifying to the trivial. 

1. One packet of menstrual pads can contain as much plastic as 5 carrier bags, and that up to 90% of the pad itself can be plastic

More than 800,000 people are menstruating on any given day and our reliance on disposable products is having a destructive impact on the environment, not to mention the questionable chemicals and materials used in their manufacture. To learn what our alternatives are you can check out our recent chat with Hannah (coordinator for The Red Box Project and Environmenstrual Ambassador for the Women’s Environmental Network) about the connection between menstrual health and the environment.

2. Trump spent $70,000 on his hair.

His HAIR.

Photo by Ben Wolf, sourced from @washingtonpost instagram

Image by Ben Wolf, sourced from The Washington Post @washingtonpost

3. A clock has been installed at Manhattan’s Union Square that gives a countdown to how long the world has left to act before the climate crisis becomes irreversible.

That’s right, as of 5.30pm the day this article was published, we have 7 years, 92 days, 18 hours and 20 minutes until the Earth’s carbon budget is depleted, based on current emission rates. The two artists who unveiled The Climate Clock (Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd) said that it was their way to “shout that number from the rooftops” and that “the world is literally counting on us.”

4. In 2017, Whanganui river in New Zealand became legally recognised as a living person with “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities” of a legal person.

David Freid’s new short documentary The River Is Me looks at the negotiations carried out by Former Attorney General Christopher Finlayson between the indigineous people of New Zealand and the government to recognise legally what the Maori tribes of Whanganui have always considered, that the river and all its physical and metaphysical elements is a person. It opens up a lot of interesting debates about the Western concept of ownership and the rights of nature. Perhaps this is a powerful way to protect the world from environmentally destructive practices, or maybe it is just an opportunity for people to sue a river for flooding their back garden. 

5. Biodiversity loss has a direct relationship with the spread of pandemics.

According to demi-god David Attenborough, “Scientists have linked our destructive relationship with nature with the emergence of COVID-19.”

In his new BBC documentary Extinction: The Facts, scientists spoke of how 31% of emerging diseases have originated from land use change. The programme also highlighted the drastic need to minimise consumerism. While we may have a relatively low population growth in comparison to the rest of the world, the average Briton actually consumes four times more resources than the average person living in India.

6. Appoximately 80% of fast fashion garment workers are women aged 18-35, earning £74 per month (that’s around 25p per hour).

While we’re on the subject of consumerism, the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries in the world. Not to mention the ethical implication of the thousand of workers, mostly women, who create our clothes for just 25p an hour. Fashion is certainly a feminist issue, as Sophie Koumide of Kou Kou Kreations says in our recent chat

 

Image by one of our favourite social media pages @soyouwanttotalkabout

7. Joe Biden may or may not support either a ban or a continuation of fracking, may support the Green New Deal as long as it’s not called that, definitely does not support Medicare for All, but is definitely up for an increase in military spending.

 Whatever we may or may not know about Joe Biden and his policies, one thing is certain: he is not Trump, and, if Americans do not come out in force in November to remove the comic book villain, the world may actually end. 

8. Sainsbury’s is currently running a “buy 6 bottles of wine and get 25% off” promotion. 

Just in case the above list of our unchecked rampant consumerism, environmental destruction and political disasters has got you down. 

9. Ruth Bader Ginsberg studied at Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School and graduated joint top of her class in 1959 and yet did not receive a single job offer after graduation.

This could become an essay if I let it, so I’ll just gift you two of my favourite Notorious RBG quotes: 

“I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

“[I would like to be remembered as] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”

10. And let’s not forget that this month, the UK learned from our illustrious leader that the Rona mostly comes at night. Mostly. (After 10pm, anyway.)

Duh, Aliens reference. 

Our Guide To Working From Home

With an increasing amount of the population working from home, many people are discussing the benefits of the setup. Your meetings no longer happen in conference rooms, you totally avoid Starbucks (when you want to), and you officially have no commute. Not bad. But, if you’re not careful, work-from-home positions can also come with legit downsides. If you’re the sort of person who easily falls into the dreaded pit of distraction, I feel you.

As someone who has been working from home for the past 6 months, I wanted to share some ideas with my fellow Freebirds on how to stay motivated and how to take a break when you need to. I’ve been fortunate enough to keep my job during the pandemic and although I’m grateful, working from home has definitely been a huge adjustment. Finding a comfortable chair to work from, maintaining a reasonable level of productivity and getting used to daily zoom calls whilst colleagues stare into my kitchen are definitely fresh challenges myself and many of us have faced since March.

Photo by Georgiana Barbu on Unsplash

FIVE WAYS TO CREATE A SENSE OF CALM 

1. Bring in greenery, we love a good plant – we all know and love the greenery. Are you even a millennial if you don’t own at least three house plants? For me, it’s been helpful to have some of mine around me to give me that sense of calm and let’s face it, oxygen as I’ve been chained to my desk swamped in emails and calls. 

2. Candles – no explanation needed. 

3. Notebook – one of my favourite things in life is the perfect notebook. As a visual individual, I find sitting down with my coffee and writing out my list for each day the perfect way to start. I love my personalised one from my favourite, Papier. 

4. Get yourself outisde babe – one of the biggest struggles about WFH is the lack of work/life balance. We’re so used to getting up, dressed for whatever the day brings and heading straight outdoors for that commute, we almost forget the huge part that plays when being forced to work from inside our homes. Get outside, get walking, get that fresh air on your face. I know the days I stayed slouched on the sofa in my loungewear without a single step outside were definitely the days I found hardest. 

5. Take regular breaks  – this is one I feel slightly contradictory on, because I definitely didn’t do this when actually in the office. Be kind to yourself, you don’t want square eyes and let’s not pretend our usual switch off from the computer screen doesn’t mean we’re not jumping straight onto our iphones. One of the biggest things for me in lockdown was that sickly sweet Monday morning update from my iphone, to passive aggressively tell me my screen time was coming in at 9 hours a day. TAKE A BREAK, be kind to yourself, you’re not a robot and more importantly, will the world collapse if you don’t check your emails or instagram for those 10 minutes?

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

FIVE TOP PODCASTS 

Five fantastic kick ass podcasts to make that time between zoom calls more bearable…

1. How to Fail – Elizabeth Day
2. Table Manners – Jessie Ware
3. Desert Island Discs – Sheryle Sandberg
4. The High Low – Dolly Alderton
5. Squiggly Careers

FIVE CALMING SONGS FROM THE FREEBIRD SPOTIFY FOR YOUR MORNING COFFEE START 

  1. On A Beach – Etta Bond
  2. Greed – Tash Sultana 
  3. Now I’m In It – Haim
  4. Early – Jay Crookes
  5. Sleep Talk – Patricia Lalor

FIVE GREAT BOOKS FOR TAKING A BREAK FROM REAL LIFE 

  1. Queenie by Candice Carty Williams
  2. Educated by Tara Westover 
  3. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 
  4. Flat Share by Beth O’Leary 
  5. Girl, Woman Other by Bernardine Evaristo

We know finances are tight right now, and for the foreseeable, so we have maintained a cost effective mindset while creating this WFH guide.

We love reading and there is nothing better than curling up with a paperback book. But, those books are expensive, we don’t all have £8.99-£18.99 to spare for our dream reads. FreeBird’s top tip is to check out Apple Books, Audio Books or Amazon– you can download straight to your phone, laptop, ipad or any syncable device. We purchased Education by Tara Westover for £4.99, for example.

It’s worth remembering that whatever your current circumstances, you’re still living through a pandemic. Working from home in 2020 isn’t just working from home, it’s being isolated and not having access to many of your usual coping mechanisms and full support systems. I hope these recommendations give you some time to yourself and act as a reminder that just because you are technically living in your office doesn’t mean you should be working 24/7. Resting, recharging, checking in with yourself and those around you are vital steps in protecting your health, your home life and your work life.

Photo by Michelle on Unsplash

Growing Pains

I’ve been thinking about what growth looks like.

As a child, it’s the notches on the doorframe that show how tall you’ve gotten since last time, and how much you have left to go until you reach your sibling’s height.

As a teen, it’s the grades you go through year by year, numbers growing with the pressure of ‘real life’ looming over you.

I’ve been out of the school system for a good while now, and any further growth spurt is looking unlikely. So how do I know whether I’m growing?

Sometimes I envy plants. Not the ones I’ve had– they tend to have very short lifespans– but the ones that you see being tended to with love by gardeners and other green-thumbed individuals. Their leaves, petals, roots, everything about them is a tool to communicate how they are and what they need.

Then again, maybe the issue isn’t the absence of signs of growth, but the lack of tools to detect them.

My sense of self is fickle at best, and certainly not strong enough to maintain itself day after day, telling me if I’m doing better or worse. No, everyday I wake up with a collection of memories and a template of what an average day looks like. And I try to figure out what I’m going to do with the new one. What the being known by my name and wearing my face would do, should do, will do.

Is there growth in repetition? Is everything that isn’t a Groundhog Day-style time loop moving forward?

Is asking questions a way to avoid finding answers?

I don’t feel like I’m growing as much as I’m moving along a random capillary branch. Like lightning, sending out multiple tendrils – the first one to reach the earth is the one that gets illuminated and goes back up. It becomes the chosen path. At the end of my existence, that path will have been my life. Will I have grown or just moved around, displaced some energy, and then stopped?

Traditional social cues that signify ‘growth’ – getting married, buying a house, having children – don’t feel applicable anymore. At this very moment, I’m unsure when I’ll be employed again. Picturing anything beyond the rest of my afternoon is a struggle. I’ve never felt particularly attached to any of the goals I just listed, but recently I’ve started to realise I don’t actually envision them happening to me. Which is fine, but I don’t want this to mean I’m done growing.

Do I replace them with new ones? Do I accept that life isn’t a linear track with regular milestones along the way? How do you differentiate growth from change?

Growth implies a positive shift, a sense of direction, a goal. A defined next step and a known final stage.

Turning away from these social cues may take away the pressure to conform, but it also takes away the sense of direction. Never mind the road less travelled, this is more akin to standing in a field without a path in sight. I suppose the only thing to do is embrace the unknown and figure out what the next step is.

So here I am standing in a metaphorical field, goal-less, riddled with a never ending list of questions and very few ideas for how to answer them. I’ll start by following a very useful piece of advice I often see cited to help with anxiety. When you don’t know what you’re doing, when you don’t know what you want, when you’re spiralling into an endless whirlpool of unanswered questions, break things down into smaller units. Smaller tasks, smaller steps, smaller questions. Easier to face.

Perhaps when you’re building from scratch you need to use smaller bricks. Once you’ve thrown out the plan, you don’t just start putting up random walls– you go back to the drawing board. Or you test your idea on a smaller scale. With a Lego house.

That could take out the pressure of having to design something new immediately. So what if it’s not perfect, it’s Lego. You’ll fix it later. So now you’re building a Lego house on the foundations of an abandoned brick house. It won’t protect you against the rain but the walls are colourful and you’re having fun.

Maybe growing just means living, and trusting that every day the cumulative versions of you that you have been push you to make new choices. Better ones that you’ll enjoy, worse ones from which you’ll learn. Hopefully the lightning will wait until you’ve built the best house you can, the one that fits you best, the one that resembles you most, before it hits.

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