Having the right support

So I finished up work “for the summer” last Friday, seems so empty to say this year. This academic year has been turbulent to say the least for me (and that’s not even including going into lockdown) but I made it through only with support though there is no way on earth I’d have gotten here by myself that’s for sure.  Support comes in many forms my daughters are my world and have been amazing this year (2 are adults and one is a teen) but all live with me so have been my immediate rocks though they should not have to but its fair they understand how I am. My mum is my ultimate rock and like all mums knows what’s wrong before you even say it. My family have been so important during this time to me in keeping me going and they know I love them all (since I have about 3 million cousins lol one of those families!).  And naturally my friends as well especially my besties. Keeping me going all the time.

It was work I guess that got me into writing this blog at the start of lockdown and to use it as a way of me to tell everyone about my journey with anxiety. It gave me the push to get back into blogging again more regularly.  At work I had a super small circle of folk who knew as firstly I didn’t want to be a bother and I just wanted to get on with my work and yeah not ashamed to say totally thought I’d be judged for having anxiety. Was difficult for sure opening up to those few but totally had to be done for my own wellbeing. I absolutely without a doubt love my job 100% teaching is just in me, despite the anxiety I have found my place in the world I know I was meant to be here for this reason. I have always ALWAYS wanted to teach it just took time for me to find my calling as to where and what stage and now I have that dream job. Laugh if you want but its totally true, I had a job before going back to uni and while I met some nice folk through it, it wasn’t the best and just wasn’t me.

Support networks are important and for me have been a total lifesaver, having the support in and out of work makes such a difference and kept me going through both good and bad days. Probably the one question I got asked a lot as well by health professionals was about my support network to ensure I did have folk that knew and were able to be there if I needed them (turns out I can talk an awful lot of nonsense if my anxiety is high – or I’ll go quiet and need to go for a walk). Again its all about getting to know yourself and understanding how you are feeling and looking for what triggers the anxiety and eventually I was able to find strategies to help with some triggers at least. It takes time though and patience is key, I used to get so frustrated with myself when I had a bad day but soon realised theres no point just let it happen and move on.

To my support network I thank you all for being there through this year your being patient & listening & not judging & generally just putting up with me really has made such a difference to me. Might not have been a big deal to you but changed a lot for me.

Volunteering is ….

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I got my first experience in my community back in 1994 when I was 16 and I helped out at the Blue Roof (our community centre) it was a kids club at night and I was responsible for the arts and crafts table and I loved it. 

Blue Roof

From there I moved to doing some bits with Stepping Stones for Families and was involved in voluntary childcare work – ok reveal time not many folk know but I actually went to college part time as I wanted to be a nursery teacher was put off at school for being “too bright for that sort of work” only in my adult years do I realise how wrong that was and nursery teachers are amazing. Stopped my course though when I had my own children and then went to work. After a break of a while I got back into volunteering when my oldest started school and loved going on school trips or helping in school with things (parent council, Eco-committee that was lots of fun proud that me and my kids all served a bit of time on that one!, helped with fundraising and getting funding for things, got the housing association involved with the school and my clubs as well – I seen the link and made the connection between school and housing association and partnership for life).

When I went back to uni it gave me a chance to become a bit more involved in school  and I used my expertise, helping out with computing classes and then eventually starting my own afterschool club up in April 2013 with the support of the head teacher.  It ran at least once a week for each term – although some terms I had more time and I did 2 or 3 clubs a week (while I was a student). Totally loved it being part of the school community my little Royston Family – teachers don’t get enough credit for the extras they do to support families and yeah they guys were there for me at a time in my life I needed it most and I’ve always ensured I support the school where possible. I guess this stemmed from when I was younger and as a kid there was Archie Grant true legend R.I.P. who ran a group and used to take us swimming a lot and did the disco as well ha yes the disco has been going that long here lol.  Before then we always did things at the local community centre in Blackhill and went on trips etc so seeing people invested in doing things for their community had an impact on me.

Today I still feel its important to help out first in your own community if and when you can. My wee computing club turned into a Codedojo (name really nothing more but we got more support) and from that I did occasionally help out at the Science Centre or Mitchell Library dojos but knew I wanted to keep my efforts mainly where I was and started a wee dojo in the library.

From there I got involved with Royston Youth Action who do the most amazing work in my community for kids. Did a couple of sessions over the past year for them before the anxiety kicked in. Then I really had to slow down and stop for a bit but you know what those lovely RYA folk are still there for a wee chat and have been super supportive of me and my journey even though they don’t have to but in turn I know that when we can start doing things I’ll be so ready to help them out. I had been trying to make plans with the school and RYA and Glasgow Life to try get things started again just before Covid19 however it will happen.  

I am also a STEM ambassador and have used this throughout the 10 years to work with schools and run my coding clubs as well the Science Connects team are awesome and I owe a lot to Aileen who’s been a great support over the years.

I think its important that if you are in a position to be able to give back to your community you can. I’m not saying it has to be financial far from it volunteering is the best thing you can do. You get to help out others and make a difference in your community. I have worked with so many children in the area and it’s amazing granted some are now grown up lol but I’ve played a small part in their lives.  I’m lucky as well in that I’ve had amazing support from the groups I have volunteered with it makes a big difference and I thank them for that.

Volunteering is something everyone should do at least once in their lives.

Missing the workplace

Virtual coffee meetings just not the same

10 weeks of being at home sounds like heaven right. I see the usual posts every summer oh teachers are sooooo lucky to get such a long holiday (as a college lecturer my holidays fall in with the schools bit different if you work in Higher Education though and was loads of fun when I was part time in both ha! I work hard during the academic year holidays are needed and yes I have used that holiday time before to learn new skills as well (and finish up the PhD in years gone by). Oh don’t get me wrong I love my daughters to bits and we are all still talking to each other (have our own spaces to retreat to when needed lol) but theres only so much Netflix you can do. Chatted to my poor postman last week for ages as he was the first person outside of my home I’d spoken to in person – socially distant – for ages.

One of my girls is still at school (well completing work at home and again apologies to her pastoral care teacher if I waffle on the phone poor person) and the other 2 at uni but due to being 1st and 2nd years they didn’t have to do exams and have been in a week longer than me and my youngest. We go out walks most days around the area just to get out of the house. I used to go out for a walk every lunch at work so trying to keep up the daily walk it really does make a difference for sure. Difference with a holiday is though you know when you are going back to work. The sudden stoppage and then uncertainty of when we will eventually go back to work was for me heart-breaking, genuinely heart-breaking. I love my job with all my heart and to me this is my calling. I’ve done other work before met nice folk but I guarantee this blog would be so different if I was there now during lockdown. Even had a spell or two of unemployment before finally getting back to university as a mature student at the grand ol age of 28. But I had the best pals at uni Christine aye OK we had our moment I guess but wowsers so proud of you and all you have achieved. Heather who I felt like another kiddo of mine (but oh in a good way you were just awful young – hehe team meetings and you getting Id’d in Walkabout lol but such a great friend), Tony ha the one who actually became a teacher from Junes module and David too. I still class myself as her biggest failure in the sense that it made me not want to teach at all – passed that class with flying colours for sure and it also gave me a lifelong friend in Craig who came to talk to us as he’d done the module the year before at his uni. The irony guys is I actually teach NPA for S5& 6 now go figure eh) and finally my good friend Donald we were the auld duffers of the class eh well you are older than me by far haha but we were the parents in that group(metaphorically lol). And yes I do use all that to tell my current students they are never too old to go do stuff and follow their dreams.  Probably my best story is the backup one and I always tell my students to “BACKUP LIKE THERES NO TOMORROW”       you know why during 3rd year I was in charge of the project files and something happened to my copy. Donald made me sweat it out (and cry yeah I did mate) for a while before he told me he took a backup. Ladies and gents that’s why this guy rocks and is such an amazing developer.

 On my last day in the building at work after saying goodbye to a colleague in the car park I went to my car and sat and cried for a while before heading home knowing that it was the last time I’d be here for goodness knows how long.

Why am I sounding so dramatic? Well work believe or not was the place that gave me routine, gave me somewhere to be every weekday. As someone who is blessed to have anxiety and depression, work then gave a balance to me. I know I said going to work was scary and yeah it was but on getting there in at my desk, that melted away knowing I was safe and knowing if I did feel at all bad at any given moment I had my wee support group I could call on at ANY time. Having that meant the world to me.  Feeling bad for those who’ve not been anxious just feels like you are overwhelmed and can’t focus. Anxiety attacks never last long though only a short time and there are many ways of dealing with them (breathing exercises are a must but also walking and listening to music). I was getting better things were starting to look more positive and then lockdown threw all that out the window. When I first spoke of my anxiety in Aug 2019 to the few folk at work it really helped me and I thought at that point OK I’m back at work and I’ve spoken about it this is going to be easy right?  I was reminded by one of them that yes it’s great you feel better after talking but that’s just the start it’s a long road to recovery and I hate to admit they were so right. But having that support throughout was helping and the understanding of my situation really did help which is why I miss being in the workplace so much. Yes I’m still working but it is not the same working from home. I still talk to my colleagues and students and we get the work done which I am glad I can at least do but its not the same as being there in person and that I can’t wait for again.

Do what scares you once ….

Advice from my mentor at the time before I gave my very first lecture in front of my 1st year Games Design Class. Which you would think given I’d been teaching for a couple of years at college by that point that a lecture would be no problems. Nope a lecture you have to be at the front the whole time talking (or droning on I am sorry students but even I got fed up of my voice after 20 minutes so for you to sit and stay with me for over an hour you guys rock – yeah we do look at the audience for sleepers lol my biggest fear but thankfully you were all too kind) and that’s it totally scary stuff in front of 100 students not just your class of 20. Once the first one was over though it did get a bit easier but those words stuck with me. I was reminded of this on my Facebook memories this week with this post about me finding the presentation I’d made for my first ever talk in front of folk at uni and guess who was my lecturer yes that very person who then mentored me how lucky can you get.

Julie is an amazing person and gave me the confidence to deliver that first presentation as a scared mature student back in 2006 (mature being I was 10 years older than most of my class but we had a great group) and then when I came back to GCU as a member of staff she was then a mentor to me and again showed utter faith in my abilities which led to me lecturing and not just leading tutorials/labs eek. Her faith paid off though and OK maybe seems daft to folk but when you are not the most confident (I guess anxiety has always been with me) you need reassurance and having that from someone I admire as a lecturer really gave me that push I needed. Also, she is very much a positive role model for women in computing. I do try applying the kindness that she showed me to my own students as I think its important. I struggled through those 4 years for various reasons BUT always had the back up of the staff who were nothing but patient, understanding and sympathetic to what was going on in my life outside of studying.

This past academic year anxiety has been that scary thing I’ve done EVERY day its hard to get up out of bed for work but when the anxiety kicks in you realise its easier to go to work than have to explain why you can’t go to work. Sounds stupid right? Work is the place though that has helped with that and once I was there in the building that feeling of eurgh went away. I absolutely love my job and lets face it I work with some of the most amazing folk. However I had to get up out of bed and get to work first to make that happen. But thanks to the love and support I am still here fighting every day yeah for sure it’s a million times harder during lockdown BUT I still have the support which is priceless.

While it may be mental health week – great for raising awareness but in reality we really should all be more aware of our own mental health all the time and when it is suffering. We all have good and bad days and this lockdown for sure is testing everyone. Its something we need to talk about more and openly not be ashamed about it. I was to start one of those I didn’t want folk to know about my issues and for at least 7 months while family and friends new only 4 folk at work knew and those were the trusted few that helped me through the most difficult time. Naturally I realise now I would have had much more support had I been a bit more open but there is a stigma about mental health issues I guess and I had to shake that off before I could open up fully to others and I am glad I have done. It has been a relief not to worry about it as such now and I know that the help and support network is amazing.  Its important you don’t struggle alone – I would not have gotten through work had I kept this fully to myself for sure. My anxiety manifests in the fear of I’m not good enough or I’m always second guessing myself at work. It leads to endless thinking and overthinking until it hurts my head. It can also lead to anxiety attacks which can at times render me unable to talk and I have to just go fora walk to shake it off. Its all about rationalising things so a simple task for you will be a mountain for me until I have sorted it out in my head and realised yeah actually that is OK.

Look after each other you never know who needs that kind word – there’s been a few times recently where I’ve had a lovely wee check in message either text or DM on social media and for those who have done it it makes a world of difference. You don’t have to understand, just being there and asking is everything and makes things better.

Have you seen my motivation?

So if any of you find my motivation out there can you post it back to me!  

Tried to take a small break from my pc, it was the Easter break after all however it latest a little longer than planned  – well aside from getting back to work at home naturally.  

 I tried to stay away from all things work during that 2 week break though did some of that colouring stuff which actually turned out to be quite relaxing, make a lego loveheart for my window, spent time tidying the garden, made a couple of daft videos. I say daft more just I like to try different things so one of them was really just a montage of pictures I’d taken from near enough the same spot in Kelvingrove park – The Snow Bridge looking out at Glasgow University. Me and one of my daughters would go every Saturday morning for a Pokemon walk and I got into the habit of taking pictures as well (mostly of Squirrels but I loved the view from the bridge too.

The other video was well out of my comfort zone but my wee cousin was supposed to get married just before Easter and naturally that never happened so I got some family involved and made a mime along video for her to one of her favourite Westlife songs (personally it’ll be too soon if I hear it again sorry Kelly but almost 7 hours of You raise me up just to get the video right!) still it was worth the end result and put a smile on her face. 

Why am I doing these things well they keep me focused. My anxiety has been quite bad recently and I am hating shopping with a passion now to the point it is literally fear inducing thankfully only go once a week now to the supermarket. My routine isn’t great and it has affected me not being able to head off to work each day – yes I work at home and do get to talk to my colleagues/students but it is not the same as being able to get in the car and head off to another building for the day. Writing has also been good though but see that motivation I was talking about yip it has been slowly going and its been difficult to get back into thing again. I’d had a bit of CBT before the lockdown and part of that was all about ensuring I did something enjoyable each week if not more (small things).  So doing the little things like that help me get a bit of me time and time to try not “think” or overthink.  

I’ve now started  to meditate using the Calm App. Had did this before but kind of lost my way with it before Christmas so giving it another go. Only been a few days though. I still get out to walk every day with my daughters and listen to music while we do so (we probably look very unsociable walking in pairs with headphones on but it gets us out the house). I also discovered from a friend Susan Calmans awesome Mrs Brightside podcast which you’d think listening to someone talk about anxiety and depression would be weird but actually I have found it very interesting and somehow makes what I have feel a bit more normal. Its definitely good to talk about these things and I have hid it for too long but by opening up it has lifted a weight.   

Keeping it real …

So wasn’t fully sure what to write about this week but saw something on twitter that got me annoyed and normally I don’t reply to things but this I had to strongly disagree with.

Have also seen other things like so and so created whatever theory while in a lockdown.  However, think folk just need to step back and think. Is it really necessary to judge what you do or don’t do during this time? I for one don’t plan anything major other than trying to look after my daughters and my mental health (and make sure my  family/friends/students are doing fine too online). I am disciplined but my mental health is important too and I need to look after that in order for me to be well to undertake my day to day tasks (THAT TAKES REAL DISCIPLINE) I am also still working from home which involves a lot more to ensure my students are still getting what they need.

My day to day life before all this began was not easy but I was getting there with the help of family, friends and work. Now all the normality and routine has been taken away from me and while I’m not back at square 1, I am having good and bad days and trying my best to make the most of it.  Thankful for still being able to get out for my daily walk  Working from home does have it’s challenges but I do enjoy connecting with my students when possible. For me its all about the routine of getting up and heading out to work  then getting stuck in rush hour on the way home again that part I miss and it makes work a bit more difficult from home as part of the motivation has gone. I am supported though thankfully by my colleagues who I mean we are all in the same position at home working away doing the best we can and needless to say a few bad jokes and memes keep the laughs up.  

If anyone has any good tips on how they are keeping their routine please share.

Week 1 ups and downs

Now that we are have completed our first week working from home well what can I say. My anxiety was tough there were good days and bad days when I was at work, but a couple of things helped so much. Firstly, just being at work helped having a routine was important and kept me going. I have supportive colleagues who listened (when my anxiety got bad at times it caused either total silence and distancing from me or verbal nonsense) and it was just that, nonsense literally talking but I was listened to without any qualms. Similarly, they knew when I was anxious and staying away and kept distance but would always get the wee message later of are you OK – they knew. That I’m grateful for. To the rest of my colleagues it really wasn’t personal just I didn’t want to be a burden or to have folk feel sorry for me (that is the last thing I want as well and I just wanted to get on with it, work has been the normal and I’m happy for that). Possibly the wrong attitude as I’ve had a lot of love over the past week since my first post but understand that was my anxiety as well not personal. Anxiety really is a strange creature and I’m in a better place for understanding my own now but it took time to get to that stage and I’m still learning as well especially with all that’s been going on recently.

We do need to be aware of our colleagues and look out for any changes. I’m in a place where we have a good network of support in the staff room and further around (yes I know that fully now ! ) no matter how unimportant you think it is just ask them if they are OK and yes do it twice if needed or if they are too quiet/out of character etc. Aside from my colleagues I’d been doing a few things that really helped me such as I went for walks everyday at lunch just to get away from my desk, always important at home too to get away from your computer. It helped clear my head as well as get fresh air. I’d go for a short walk with my music on (definitely recommend creating a playlist of your favourite upbeat songs that you can walk along to).

Also useful to have a playlist of songs for calming as well, find a song or two that has a decent beat for breathing exercises as well. I also make use of my smart watch which has a fab function for helping with breathing exercises too when my anxiety was bad.

We had an informal staff meeting today – we are all used to tea break at 10.30 and in the afternoon as well. Our break from the classroom and chance for a wee natter (and some bad jokes) – and it was great to see everyone but conversely it was also a little bit overwhelming. It solidified the reality of being at home working as well and that was difficult for me. However a few chats later on in the day with different colleagues has helped. It’s a new way of working and I will get used to it – my routine has been abruptly changed and its taken time for me to adjust as I’m sure it will have a lot of folk but with support and a ton of memes in the Whatsapp chat I know it will be OK.

Anxious but looking forward

Decided since I’m going to be at home more to start blogging again. The past 2 weeks have been awful uncertain and difficult to say the least for everyone and leaving my workplace today for an indefinite amount of time was overwhelming to say the least. As someone though who suffers from Anxiety and Depression this has set me back a fair bit. I was diagnosed in August 2019 and through close support from my GP, family and friends and a few fab colleagues at work (there are lots of fab folk I work with I should add I just chose to tell those who needed to know) I had started to get things back on track. Xmas was hard being away from the routine for a couple of weeks but now the uncertainty of how long I’m going to be away from work has this week really dawned on me I have struggled with that as my physical workplace was out of the house and interacting with my colleagues as well as teaching my students.

I am now going to have to adapt (as are we all) and I’m going to try make this a positive experience rather than let it overtake me  and I’d just like to take this time to remind us all that we need to look after each other. Outside of our immediate family life, we naturally will be worrying about those we teach, but we also need to look out for our colleagues and ensure we keep in touch with each other as well.  The support I have had has been crucial in keeping me going especially in the workplace.

I understand my mental health a lot better now and have strategies in place granted that went out the window this week. But I will get back to it. I have been loathed until now to share my issues with a wider community but feel that its important that we start talking about it and ensuring that we look after our mental health as best we can, I know more than ever I am going to need the support to see me through.  

I am going to be doing what I can to keep me and my 3 awesome daughters going (2 uni students and 1 in 4th year of school) and also supporting my students online as well as anyone else who will be needing it. Happy to help any of my colleagues with advice on online working and various collaborative methods. As well as offering online help in my local community for those who need it (probably via my @CoderRoyston twitter).

#bekind should not just be for a day or when something big happens we need to #bekindalways you never know what the person next to you is going through and you may just be that one to help with a kind action or words.

Finding out more about careers in games.

On Friday 26th I organised a morning of talks for our games students (NC/HNC & HND Games)  from those who work in the industry. I think it’s important that students are aware of the many varied career paths within games possibly ones that they’d never even thought about and get an idea of what they should be doing to progress further in their chosen field.

To start us off James Hodgart from Axis Animation discussed his career and what he does as a 3D artist. James is also a former student/lecturer of West College Scotland as well so it was great to have him back to inspire our students. James talked about being a lead on projects which means he has to designate and find the best person for the job in hand. Some wise words as well about getting started with your 3D work start small and make the small things good before moving on to bigger projects keep practising.  After showing an amazing video of the things he has worked,  on he then went on to discuss the differing jobs available in Animation.

George Corner is an Events manager for QD events and he spoke to the students about his varied career before his current position. It was particularly interesting to hear from George as most of us have attended at one point or another a games event/expo which got students thinking a bit more that there are lots of paths career wise that they might not have even considered.

Next we had a couple of Skype calls once the technology worked! First up was Steven Sim a Lead Artist for TriCAT GmbH Steven is based in South Germany and spoke to the students about moving abroad for work and showing them how he started off his animation work with one of his projects to where he is now.

Mazen Suker a game designer for Bohemia Interactive was our second Skype call though was upstaged by his cats. Mazen discussed how he got to where he is today (based in Czech Republic) but has been well traveled for work. Key point from his talk was all about keeping your mental health well and finding your own style of working.

Our last speaker was Thomas Welsh a Narrative designer for Cloudpunk. Who spoke to the students about writing for games and getting started (just write !!) Lots of useful advice though from him on the subject and it was great to hear about his work.

Overall the morning went well and it was great to hear from the different speakers on their varied careers and I hope that its given our students a little more inspiration and determination to work to ensure they are successful in their chosen field.  Thank you to James, George, Steven, Mazen and Thomas for giving up their time to come and speak.

Also thanks to our HND Games student Scott Davidson for kindly taking photos on the morning.