The pretty scarf out of its cellophane

Today is Saturday 20th January 2024.

As I write this blog I am in my pyjamas, in my living room with my cat by my
side warming herself on a heated blanket.  I know, party like a rockstar
right?  Well, today I partied like a different kind of rock star.

Ten years ago, someone once said…

“Never say no to any kind of public
speaking opportunity.”

I listened to that advice, and I have never said no to any kind of speaking

Two years ago, the hospital chaplain walked onto the ward where I
work.  It was a week after I lost my friend to suicide and we could not
have been more different.  Ade is a Reverand and Minister of an
Evangelical church in Manchester and I have always struggled with the concept
of religion.  I am not a believer in God but I have always been a firm
believer in fate.  I believe everything happens for a reason; it’s not
always good and it’s not always fair but I also believe that people meet for a

Ade took me under his wing.  He looked after my wellbeing at a time
when I wasn’t sure what my wellbeing was supposed to look like.  Fast
forward two and a half years and last week Ade asked me to tell my story to a
hundred people at the annual conference at his church.

He said…

“It’s short notice, you can think
about it, you can say no…”

I said…

“I’ll do it.  Thank you.  If
you think I can do this, I will do it.”

He said…

“It’s an African church and 90% of the
people will be black and we wear white.”

Well, the only thing I have that’s white is my wedding dress and a scarf a
friend bought me that never made it out of the cellophane because it’s too
pretty.  I figured my wedding dress might not be appropriate so my pretty
scarf made it out of the cellophane to cover my hair.

Now I am not experienced when it comes to church attendance.  I can
probably count on one hand how many times I’ve been to a Greek church and any
other kind of church was probably for someone else’s wedding.  You can
probably imagine I was a little fish flapping away outside of the bowl
containing the water I needed to be in.

I had no idea what to expect.  Two of my favourite people came with me
in the form of mum and Matt and as I write this I have to tell you, I have
never been more grateful to them for being there than I was today, not simply
because I had people there, but trust me, when I walked through the doors of
that church I was instantly emotional.  I kid you not, the welcome we
received gave a whole new meaning to the word…


We were embraced, we were greeted with smiles and warmth and it was

No one looked at us strangely.  We were the only three people who
weren’t African, and you know what?  It didn’t matter. 

We took our shoes off, the men were seated to the right and women to the
left.  I felt so sorry for Matt, this was probably not his most
comfortable moment and he was now separated from everything that was
familiar.  But you know what?  Matt’s a trooper.  He gets a lot
of stick in life and I am guilty for some of that, but I have never been as
proud and grateful to my husband as I was today.

There was music, there was dancing; there was joy.  I wish I could say
I lost myself in the atmosphere but my ridiculous inability to “let go” stopped
me from doing that and if I could go back, I would dance around that floor and
celebrate life with the rest of them.

I am always cold.  I wear between two and three pairs of socks all
years round.  I have the heater on underneath my desk all day at work and
whoever turns it off, they turn it off  at their own risk.  A cold
Kat is not a happy Kat.  I have three hot water bottles in bed with me and
I have never been to a church and not been cold…

Well, today I was warm.  I’m not sure if it was warm because the room
was small, or that we were all sat very close together?  Or maybe it was
the people that made the room warm? 

I sometimes say certain things warm my heart, like someone making a kind
gesture for another person, or kind words, so maybe that’s what it was, maybe
it was the hearts of the people and their kindness and compassion that made the
room warm. 

People I have never met before who had no idea who I was, came to us and
asked us if we were having a good time.  They encouraged us to dance, gave
us water and food and I sat in my seat, trying really hard not to cry because
the whole thing just felt out of this world.

As I watched each speaker I was in total awe of their energy and I couldn’t
help but wonder…

“How on earth am I gonna follow that?!”

I’ve never kept a count of how many talks I’ve done.  I’ve always been
grateful for any opportunity to tell my story but sometimes I’ve left the room
feeling like it was a really bad job interview.  I always put a lot of
work in to my PowerPoints and I have always denied being a perfectionist and

“…I just like things being done right.”

But I admit it here, right now I admit that I am the biggest perfectionist

I felt really strongly about getting today’s talk right.  I wanted to
get it right for Ade and I wanted to get it right for the people who were
watching.  With their warm embrace around my heart I wanted to give them
something that they might think about, because being in that room, just sitting
amongst the ladies, is something I will always remember.

When it came to my moment, as I walked up to the front of the stage I told

“…I can do this!  These people are
beautiful, I can do it.”

I can’t explain it, there was something in that room that just had me. 
I looked out at the audience as Ade gave me such a beautiful introduction and I

“…I can’t not tell these people how
special this man is and how much of an impact he’s had on my life.”

You know what I did?  I cried, I did.  My emotion got the better
of me, telling people the circumstances of meeting Ade and being invited into a
part of his life which other ward clerks at Bolton Hospital might not get, made
me grateful, and I guess my tears took the place of my verbal gratitude.

I’ve only ever cried once before in front of an audience and I felt like I’d
failed.  I’d let myself down and embarrassed myself.  Today I didn’t
feel embarrassed because today the people I was with didn’t allow me to feel
that way.

I kept looking at mum and I kept looking at Matt, both of them trying to
calm my panic; but they weren’t the only ones.  The entire room was on my
side, ushering me to get through my pain; men and women offering comfort in a
moment that I hadn’t expected. 

Once I had a grip on myself I got down to it and I told my story in a way
I’ve probably never told it before.  I think I managed to let go a
little.  I made people laugh, they joined in with my humour, they were
saddened by my misfortune but they celebrated my achievements.  They made
Matt stand up when I pointed to the only white guy in the room and said he was
my husband.  He was mortified but it was a moment where I got to tell an
entire room full of people that I adore him.

I know I’m a perfectionist but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I
do know I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right and I don’t
always achieve my expectations.  I have a tendency to overanalyse and
overthink my actions, especially when it comes to public speaking.  I
wasn’t trained to accept my short falls so I go into everything I do with the
intention of it being flawless.

Today I was not flawless.  I made mistakes, I cried for starters! 
That is not in the public speaking handbook!  I talked too fast in places,
I may have gone a bit too fast with some of my slides.  But when you’ve
got a roomful of people nodding and talking along with you, shaking their heads
and laughing with you; when you’ve got men and women unafraid of eye contact
and surprising you with spontaneous applauses; those flaws, those mistakes,
well they don’t matter.  They don’t count.  What counts is the moment
where an entire room full of people stand to their feet and they give you the
biggest, the most profound, the warmest and kindest applause I have ever had.

I am not flawless.  Life is not flawless and human beings make
mistakes.  We might expect perfection but at the end of the day if we
achieve perfection, how do we learn from our actions?

Sometimes it’s the things we do that makes a difference.  Sometimes
it’s what we say that counts and sometimes it’s the people around you that
bring out the best in you. 

Today it was the people in the room who brought all of those things to the
forefront.  Maybe it was their enthusiasm or their laughter?  Maybe
it was their caring nature?  Maybe it was their faith?

Or maybe it was simply their warm hearts…

Dedicated to Ade and everyone at the Salvation-Ark Parish who made my
Saturday truly special.




Reading time: 8 min

In 2000 I was a first-year student at university living the way most students do – before Covid-19, obviously – I went to pubs, I drank pints and once I got over the initial overwhelming craziness of a club scene, I did that too.  Yes, once upon a time people, I was a happy go lucky, inhibition-free, fun gal!

I had a housemate, Tammi, who helped guide me through those first few months of adapting to student life and we spent many a night in York drinking in pubs and bars.  We would wander home, religiously stopping by the infamous burger van “Effe’s” for chips covered in Mayonnaise. 

Germany 2001

The walk home was always the same, past Effe’s, past the Greek restaurant (no idea what it was called but I did go, once) and past a pub that was always blasting out music by a local band or a karaoke singer belting out The Eagles, Meat Loaf and Cher or Bon Jovi. 

Meat Loaf

I remember one night we stumbled past with our chips and there was this kind of psychedelic, experimental sound with a sort of gentle wailing tone of voice accompanying it.  I remember we turned to each other; our eyes wide with an expression of surprised bewilderment.  Neither of us could believe someone had the balls to get up in front of a crowd of people and do whatever it was that they were doing that night.  I remember Tammi said…

“Sounds like a student with an idea and a speaker.”

Never in the twenty-one years that have passed have I ever heard anything as quick witted and genius as that one sentence and it has stayed with me ever since.  Every time I hear psychedelic music or a whispery wailing voice, I think of Tammi, and our chips.

In February 2020 my speaking was really beginning to take off and I was at the point where people were requesting me.  I was in a position where I could charge a fee and once I sent out my first invoice I guess I felt that I’d gone past the goal I initially set myself.

I was happily overwhelmed and I know that might not make sense to some, I can only compare it to the feeling I had walking through the doors of The Gallery night club in York where I would stand in wonder, deafened by the music and the smell of alchopops that had spilled onto the floor.  My shoes would stick to the carpet and if I hadn’t consumed enough Fosters I would question if I had enough courage to dance to Chesney Hawkes, The One and Only because it would mean letting go and just being me.

Not kidding, I drank the lot!

When I danced in a club I opened myself up to being judged.  How I moved on the floor determined how I was received by the roomful of strangers.  Where were my arms going? What was I supposed to do with my legs, did my feet have to leave the floor because if they did I couldn’t tell them where to go because I had no idea.  I had shoulder length hair that my friends told me to swish and I would say…

“How do you swish your hair?”

Twerking was unheard of back then, people just moved about and smiled at each other.  The dancefloor was overlooked by a circular banister where people would watch the intoxicated dancers, some looking for their missing friends, others on the hunt for fresh meat. 

On the dancefloor we were performers.  We were judged on our clothes, how straight our hair was and we showed the viewers from above our best moves in the hope that someone liked them.

When I started public speaking I opened myself up to the same kind of judgement.  When you’re stood in front of a group of people, no matter how large or small that group is, they have judged you before you’ve even opened your mouth.

When I joined a speaking club in 2014 I was a blank canvas.  I had no idea where my arms were supposed to go or what to do with my legs.  I straightened my hair but I didn’t swish it.

I was in a different kind of club with a group of people who had never encountered someone with a serious mental illness.  They were upper class ladies who were members of Bolton Golf Club, the men were in the Free Masons and everyone had extravagant holidays and really posh cars!  I imagine they wore dinner jackets and smoked cigars like the cast of Downton Abbey and week by week I would ask myself…

“Why am I even doing this?”

…I was a girl who wore a multi-coloured maxi dress to a black and white themed night on a cruise ship and was suitably chastised for it by my fellow diners (I guess you had to be there, but this is the ultimate faux pas in cruise ship dining etiquette.

It took me a while to pluck up the courage to tell my speaking club companions why I was there.  After a few months I grew big enough metaphorical balls and divulged my past and declared my dream to speak openly about life with a mental illness. 

Baring my soul to strangers

In that one moment, as I stood behind the lectern, my fingers shaking, my heart pounding I looked at them…and I saw the same expression of surprised bewilderment that I’d exchanged with Tammi fourteen years before.

Right there and then, I was the…

…student with an idea but no speaker.

…I came to the realisation very quickly that my public speaking venture was not going to be an easy one. 

When I came first place at the North Pennine Area Speech Contest I talked about drag queens and people laughed.  When I spoke at the speaking club, amongst the same people and talked about my mental health they made twisted expressions of horror and I knew then that people are not always understanding or encouraging; people are not always kind.

From that experience alone I realised that what I wanted to achieve was something worth doing.  No matter the expression on the faces of the audience I would speak out, even if it was purely to annoy the people who didn’t want to hear it.

When I first started out my nerves were all over the place, everything about me broke into a sweat.  My hands would shake, my heart would rattle my rib cage like a crazed inmate running a tin cup across the bars of an American jail cell.  My mouth dried up and I’d get a scratchy throat, it just wasn’t a good look. 

When someone I used to work with asked me if I ever felt nervous before went on stage I said…

“Yes! Massively nervous.  I’m a train wreck.”

She said…

“What’s the point then?  Why bother if your nerves are that bad?”

I said…

“Because fear is not a reason to stop doing something.”

…plus, the more opportunities I got to step on stage the more practice I got.  My nerves are still there but I’m not scared to get up and be honest in front of people.  I actually thrive on that nervous energy.  I like it when my heart races!  I enjoy the pounding in my chest because I know what I’m doing is right.  If I’m holding a mic and my palm is sweaty I just hold on tight.  If my mouth dries up I take a minute and I sip water from a plastic cup and I say…

“Excuse me while I water my tongue, it’s like a camel’s armpit in there.”

My trusty plastic cup

I can have fun with my nerves because I remember when I did my first speaking bootcamp with Richard McCann, he told us…

“Never tell your audience you’re nervous.  Because then they’ll see it and they might never have noticed before.”

I try to give off the illusion that I know what I’m doing when really I treat every single presentation like it’s my first because even though I’m not a blank canvas anymore, every audience in front of me is fresh meat.

People automatically assume that large audiences are scarier than the smaller ones.  But honestly?  It’s small audiences that absolutely terrify me.

When I speak at BAND in the Recovery training sessions I have my name on a screen and I fire up my PowerPoint and I stand in front of an audience that can range from two people to up to sixteen. 

Tiny audiences are the biggest challenge.  As a speaker eye contact is key, you have to look at people to get them to engage and feel like they’re part of your story.  But if people are shy and they don’t want to look at you, how you do know if they’re even listening because they just look bored? 

Sometimes people don’t want to listen and I can spot a bitter audience from a mile off.  They usually cross their arms when I walk into the room.  They question the relevance of my presence.  What could I possibly say that will make any difference to their everyday life?  What is the actual point of me?

About three years ago I did a presentation to sixteen people.  I’d been with the group all day but I never mentioned I was going to be speaking after the lunch break.  When I got up to speak I put my plastic cup on the table in front of me, I got out my clicker that I’d never actually used before and I felt like a proper pro!  But the atmosphere in the room changed instantly.  I could feel the resentment coming at me like a pack of English Foxhounds, they eyeballed me, their lips curled with distaste and I thought…

“Ooh, tough crowd.”

Most people who know what I do will know that I start off my presentation by explaining who I am and what I’m like and what I was like growing up.  I call myself weird and strange and I show them pictures of the dreadful jumpers and hideous dungarees I wore as a teenager to try and hide myself from the world.

The Sweater Shop

I’d been doing the same speech for about three years; I’d showed the same slides with the same pictures and no one had ever taken offence and I had never been cut off mid flow so that someone could point out how much of a terrible person I was…

“You can’t say things like that!”

“You can’t use words like weird and strange, its offensive.”

I’m offended. Is anyone else offended?

“You’re being nasty to everyone who wears those jumpers and they might like them.”

…you know that term…

“…rabbit caught in the headlights…”

…that was me.  I floundered and I swallowed the lump in my throat and I said with as big a smile as I possibly could…

“I’m really sorry, I’m not trying to be offensive. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough.  This is just to paint a picture of me, I’m not referring to anyone else.”

When they said…

“But what makes you so special?  Any of us could stand up there and talk about ourselves. Why are you the one doing it?”

I felt like the Titanic.  A sinking ship, only everyone on board had been rescued and I was left frantically running around looking for some form of floating device so that I wouldn’t drown in my increasing self-pity.

I’d like to stay it stopped there, but when someone stood up thirty seconds later to make themselves a coffee and I had to shout over the boiling kettle that was just to the right of me, I thought…

“Heck, this really is a tough crowd.”

When that person returned to their seat I lowered my voice but I had to turn it up again moments later when another person decided they too fancied a coffee. 

I can cope with most things.  I have a pretty thick skin by now.  You can tell me I’m ugly, you can whisper about how horrible my jumpers are, point out that I am the most uninteresting person you have ever met and that you will die of boredom in my presence!  That is fine my friends! Fill your boots and I’ll throw in a few more insults to help you along your way.  But the most hurtful thing in that room, the one thing that tipped the poisoned arrow right at my heart was when the person who had been a bit thirsty and really needed their coffee stood up and said…

“I’m not listening to this.”

…and they took their coffee and they left the room.

Holding on for dear life

I am extremely lucky that this has only ever happened once. In six years I have only ever had one soul destroying audience and to be honest I am grateful to them. In that room there was contempt, there was hatred and I have no idea how I got through the rest of my speech when from start to finish it was just one big disaster. But it opened my eyes to a challenge that I hadn’t prepared myself for. I knew in advance that I was facing a group of people who understood mental illness.  They had either experienced it themselves or they were close to someone who had.  I can actually understand their initial doubt of why I was there and I get why they wondered what made me so special?  But its not about being special is it?  It’s about looking at a situation and saying…

“What can I do about this?”

When I stand in front of an audience its not about boasting about who I am because I am well aware that I have nothing to boast about.  I didn’t start public speaking for Instagram followers or Twitter attention; (I don’t even know how to use Twitter!) I stand up to speak so that I can tell people…

“No! It is not okay to be told what you can and can’t do according to a diagnosis!  It is not okay to be pigeonholed because you have a mental illness.  And it is not okay to take this lying down.”

I love public speaking because I’ve been able to meet a million varieties of people.  I have done so many incredible things and the best thing, the best feeling, the ultimate achievement through all of this is looking at my audience and seeing them cry, hearing their laughter, seeing that show of hands when I ask them…

“Does anyone like Milky Bars?”

…because then I know I’m doing a good job.

When I speak to teenagers I know I am playing with fire.  I know they could quite easily rip me to shreds and send me home crying.  But I love teenage audiences.  I love them because they’ve got cheek!  They like to test the boundaries but what they don’t realise, when they’re raising their hands for every question I ask them and I know for a fact they have no idea what I’m talking about, I love that, because it helps me and it shows me that they’re actually listening (so more fool them!).

Zac’s Bar 2018

Not everyone likes me, oh I know that only too well! Not everyone wants to listen to me, I know that too.  But I also know that when you’ve been dealt a tricky hand of cards you can do one of two things…

Give up…


Grow balls…

Trees growing balls…ish

February 2020 was the last big presentation I did, pre-Covid.  It was to around one hundred and fifty students at Bolton College.  I had to shout really loud because I’d asked for a mic and a speaker but when I got there they said…

“Sorry, we couldn’t find one.”

I was getting a bit tired of going to places, usually schools and colleges and them not having the equipment I needed, even when I’d asked for it.  So in the summer when the restrictions were eased I decided to pull my finger out and invest in the things I needed.

I trotted down the HW Music Megastore in Bolton and I got fully kitted out by Bob and Richard with a mic, a speaker and all the connecting bits in between.  The store is amazing and I half wondered what the hell I was doing in there surrounded by guitars and drum kits.  At the top of the store they have a mini theatre and studio where they set up the equipment and they showed me exactly how to use it. 

The stairway to Heaven… I’m sorry I couldn’t help it.

In June I was still climbing out of an episode and I’d lost every bit of self-esteem I had, so when Bob handed me the mic so that I could test it out I had to pretend that I knew what I was doing.  I had to feign confidence and remind myself that I wanted this and that I could still do this!  Richard showed me how to set up the speaker and he said…

“Right, try it out and see if you’re comfortable.  This is how you turn up the sound.”

I stood there, in the middle of the stage, staring up at around two hundred empty seats with two guys on either side of me waiting for me to speak.  I looked at the mic in my sweaty hand and the speaker at my side and I thought…

“Now this is getting real again”

Six years ago I wanted to tell my story and I wanted to make people laugh and cry along the way.  I believe that I’ve done that and those are my successes.  It’s not always smooth sailing, I still get people in the audience who hate me, but that doesn’t put me off.

In life you can never know it all and everything we experience is a learning curve…

…I am not a student, but I had an idea and now I have a speaker…

We are ready!

Dedicated to Tammi for the most genius of statements and for our friendship.

Also dedicated to Bob and Richard at HW Music Megastore…I’ll be back for that equipment refresher when I get my next gig!

Reading time: 16 min

The year 2002:

  • It was the year Halle Berry became the 1st black actress to win an accademy award for best actress.
  • Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake split up.
  • and Michael Jackson dangled his baby over a balcony.

I was twenty.  I was in my last year at university, ready to take on the world.  Ready to show everyone that I was someone special.  I was ready to make a difference.

I guess you could say on the surface I was just like any other student, I was hardworking, I had a lot of friends, I liked to go out and have a dance to music no one knew the words to and I had big ideas and big dreams I desperately wanted to achieve.

On the surface you  might say I was normal; but there was one difference between me and the rest of my friends.  My mind was clouded by something that had haunted me since the beginning of high school.  Suicide.

I wrote my first novel aged 11.  It was called The College Fears and it was about a girl who was at university who was starving herself because she was unhappy, but for no apparent reason.

I wrote my second novel aged 13.  It was called The Waste of a Person and it was about a girl at university who was obsessed with suicide.  She’d tried to kill herself 13 times in 5 years but for no real reason other than she didn’t want to be part of this world.

Writing about self harm and suicide was never a sadistic ploy at being different or miserable, it was my attempt to make sense of my own unhappiness, because I never told anyone just how unhappy I really was.

Because I was quiet I was labelled: shy, meek, timid.  And when I wouldn’t do the things other children were doing, such as dressing in the latest fashion, swooning over the nations favourites boybands or hanging around the swings at the park with a bottle of White Lightening, people said I lacked confidence and I had low self esteem.  But the truth is, growing up, I wasn’t really allowed to be me.  If I had I might not have had low self esteem.

This world has a set of regimented rules for us to follow, rules that mean we fit in nicely with the rest of society so that we don’t stand out.  We are taught not to challenge the norm and anything outside of what is seen as acceptable, is made an example of and ridiculed.

Growing up I was ridiculed from the way I walked to the clothes I wore to my passion for writing.  But it wasn’t just idle teasing from my peers, I was ridiculed and loathed by someone you would think would love me unconditionally.  My Dad.

My Mum, my brother and me lived in a house that was like  a military camp.  We were told to disappear from a room he wanted to be in.  We had school bag checks for drugs and cigarettes, bedroom inspections, degree level maths lessons on a Saturday afternoon.  We had to be granted permission to eat a meal and we were given a bedtime that was extended by half an hour each birthday.  When I was fifteen it was lights out at 8pm.  In summer it was still light outside and all of my friends were still at the swings I’d never been to.

We were picked on, laughed at, played off against each other but the worst thing, was we grew up as children thinking this was normal.

On the outside we appeared to be the perfect nuclear family. Two hardworking loving parents with two extremely well behaved children.  But, I grew up with such a degree of self loathing that for years I couldn’t even look in the mirror without hating what I saw.

Nothing I did ever matched up to his expectations and everything I did was a disappointment.  At 13 I was called a waste of a person because of the way I ate a grape.  I wore clothes that were baggy and unfashionable and ugly, thinking that by doing this I could hide and no one would notice me but it turned out, by doing this, I just drew even more attention to myself.

Going through school I was bullied for being a swot.  But really I was working so hard to pass my exams so that I could escape to university and get away from the military camp.  And I did, I got to university anyway.

What I realise now is, you can change your surroundings but you can’t change people, because wherever you are in the world, people are the same.  And so was I.  I still didn’t fit in and in the end, I didn’t want to be here.

Because who would want to be part of a world that doesn’t accept the people in it?

During our lives we all want to be liked and accepted but in the process we forget to like and accept ourselves.

I have Bipolar disorder, and for anyone who doesn’t know, Bipolar Disorder is a debilitating mental illness and I have struggled with it for fifteen years.  I’ve had six hospital admissions within that time, four of them because I made plans to end my life.

People said I had everything to live for and I should have a think about all the good things in my life and then I would feel better because other people have it worse.  But it doesn’t matter how good your life is or how happy you’re supposed to be because mental illness can be stronger than everything we have inside of us and around us.

Mental illness, whatever form it might be, whether its Bipolar, or Depression, Schizophrenia, OCD, Personality Disorder, they are all the same and they try to destroy us from the inside and we live in a world where talking about our mental health and our feelings and emotions is frowned upon.  But it’s days like today that make it easier for us to admit that life isn’t always perfect, because no one is perfect – not even the rich and famous and across the world mental illness affects everyone.

Owen Wilson

Drew Barrymore

Halle Berry


Princess Diana

David Walliams

These are all people who have tried to end their lives.  We might not always know it but even the most powerful of people suffer from dark days.

Take Robin Williams for example, we all know his work, Mork and Mindy, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting.  Robin Williams was known for his funny and eccentric personality.  He was an impressionist who I always saw laughing but in 2014 when he ended his life I was…horrified if I’m honest.  It was Robin Williams. How could this happen?

In May this year American singer Chris Cornell took his own life at the age of 52 and two short months later one of the lead singers of American band Linkin Park Chester Bennington, ended his life too.

Chester Bennington’s death floored me.  I have been a massive Linkin Park fan since the age of 18.  Their first album Hybrid Theory was the first album my brother and I agreed on.  It was my first experiment in the world of rap and hard rock, you’d never think I was a mosher would you?  But his death also raised questions.  I thought, if he couldn’t be saved, if no one cared enough to realise he needed help, if a celebrity with all the money and the means that the rest of us can only ever dream of couldn’t make it, then what chance do the rest of us have?

I don’t have the answers, but I believe in the power of our voices and the importance of understanding a problem in order to solve it.  Its so easy to get angry with the person who leaves us.  Chester had six children, Chris Cornell had three, so did Robin Williams.  How could any of them leave their children? Believe me I’ve asked that question myself, we spend so much time feeling angry and asking why, that we forget to think about the person we have lost. 

I believe suicide is not a decision made lightly.  Its a choice someone makes when they believe they have no choice.  When they truly believe that their families and the world would be better if they weren’t in it.

Well today I want to help put an end to that.  The starting point in tackling mental illness is to end the silence.

Today’s event is about having positive conversations and raising awareness of the issues surrounding mental illness.  By using our voices we can all play a part in the battle to reduce stigma.

So what can we do?

  • Find someone to talk to.  This can be a friend or a relative or someone completely objective.
  • Approach a charity who offer services to help you.  I can recommend a good one – BAND
  • Identify the source of your unhappiness.  Is it money, people, circumstances, work, health?  There are solutions to everything we think is against us.

I still get periods of self-loathing and depression but I tackle them head on now because I don’t deserve to feel it.

Public speaking gives me a platform to show others that being different from the rest is actually a good thing.  Back in school and at university, in fact, everywhere in between, I’ve always been different, but now, I don’t feel bad about it, I embrace it.

People think I’m weird because I like Drag Queens.  Well I really like them so I had one perform at my wedding.

I have an obsession with swans and Cher.  What can I say I like her music.  So I walked down the aisle to it.

I name the ornaments around my house, if its got a face it gets a name.

I embrace my quirks and now I’m comfortable with who I am because I surround myself with people who are comfortable with me.

Years ago I would dream of living in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands where I would ride a bike with a basket on the front.  I’d be a writer and I’d own a book and stationary shop.  I might be married, I might have children and there would be no room for unhappiness.

Today the reality is simple. I don’t live in the Scottish Highlands or a village.  I live in the suburbs of Bolton in a terraced house.

I’m married to someone who couldn’t be more opposite to me but regardless of how different we are I’m lucky to have found my soul mate.  He accepts everything I am and everything I do and he has no idea how happy that makes  me.

There will always be unhappiness in all of our lives at some point, but I want to raise awareness of the difficulties some of us have on a daily basis with our mental health.

Mental illness is not a weakness and I think its important to know there is always a choice before it comes to having no choice. 

Even if we can’t see it there is always someone who can show us the way because, life doesn’t have to end if we have a mental illness, life starts the second we take control of it.

Reading time: 9 min

World Mental Health Day 10/10/19

My entire life I’ve always known one thing for certain, I am different from the rest.  Growing up people thought I was a bit strange – leaning more towards the weird side than the normal side where the majority of my friends were.

In primary school I was a storyteller before I fully learned the use of the alphabet.  I would make up stories for other kids to play out but I was never asked to play with them.

My first crush was Sylvester Stallone, my friends were more drawn to Deiter Brummer.  I was a huge fan of old musicals and I loved watching Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn sing and dance their way across my TV screen.

My favourite film was The Nun’s Story in which Audrey Hepburn plays a young woman who gives her life to serve God as a nun.  I wasn’t particularly religious but I had respect for others who devoted their lives to a good cause and strived for a better world.  I would look at Audrey Hepburn in her nun’s habit and I wanted to be just like her. I fell in love with the simplistic lifestyle of growing tomatoes in the convent, sweeping leaves and in a world where fashion defines us I wanted to wear the nun’s habit because then everyone was the same.  No-one was better than the next.

To get myself prepared for my future as a nun I would parade around my bedroom wearing my dad’s dressing gown because it was black and I’d drape a white pillow case over my head. At school I would walk around the playground with my hands tucked into my sleeves imitating what I’d seen in the film and I’d ask my grandma if I could try on her wedding ring so I could pretend I was married to God.

Believe it or not at school I did have friends but there was always a clear difference between us.  From a very young age my career aspirations were different from those of my friends.  Most kids stereotypically wanted to be things like lawyers, doctors and teachers.  I wanted to be a Gurner. And I believed to be a good gurner I needed practice. So I’d practice anywhere I could, in mirrors, away from mirrors, out and about shopping in town, down at the supermarket, play time at school.  But it was a dinner lady at school who laughed at me and said,

“You can’t be a gurner you silly girl! You’ve got too many teeth!”

Talk about shattered dreams!

As we got older our career goals changed.  In year 10 I wanted to be a Podiatrist and I spent a week shadowing three different people who all had a passion for feet, but not in a creepy way.  They wanted to help people, they would keep the elderly’s toenails trimmed and tend the aching bunions of Bolton’s Ballerinas. 

Obviously helping people was at the top of my agenda but the feet I had in mind weren’t the feet of regular people, oh no.  I wanted to look after the feet of musicians, people in bands.  People in the bands I loved to listen to.  I wanted to cut Crispian Mills’ toenails, scrape the dead skin off Simon Fowler’s heels, moisturise James Mudriczki’s bunions and line up each member of The Montrose Avenue and take care of their ingrowing toenails.  Not that any of these people had those problems but that was the dream.

To me this was normal and it was absolutely achievable but coupled with the fact that all of those bands were the ultimate no no for a teenage girl in the 1990’s and I wore completely the wrong style of clothes I was bullied for about two years by a group of boys in high school who took a dislike to me and my ambition.

My friends would suggest listening to Peter Andre and Take That and at least pretend to like them.  They advised me to change my hairstyle, wear mascara so I’d look just like everyone else and STOP wearing t-shirts with pictures of Meat Loaf printed on them.

I could have changed. They said it would be easy, but I didn’t have the ability to be normal, I didn’t have it in me to conform.  I may have had friends and people who loved me but growing up it was always pointed out to me that because I was different I was a disappointment.

Growing up I felt worthless, pointless and a plague on my family.  I was suicidal on more than one occasion.  Imagining everybody’s life without me in it was a lot more appealing than me trying to fit in to what they wanted me to be.

My dad would point and laugh at the way I walked and the way I dressed.  Everything I’ve ever done was a disappointment to him, I wasn’t clever, I wasn’t pretty or athletic and I didn’t speak Greek.  I spent my childhood and most of my adult life wondering who I was as a person.  I’d say I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be, what was my actual purpose in life?

My entire life I’ve felt like an outcast, a project for people to mould into what they wanted me to be because it wasn’t acceptable to just be me.  Because of this I had that constant feeling of never being good enough for anyone. 

When I was 20 my university friends took all of my clothes out of my wardrobe, locked them away and replaced them with theirs so that I would look more up to date.  I found the spare key and took my clothes back.

When I was 29 my friend said I would never find a boyfriend unless I changed my sense of fashion.  I ignored him.

Every time someone tried to change me I would retreat back to the things I’ve always loved, indie music, jeans and jumpers and a straightforward hair do!

I used to cry over not being able to fit in to any group and never being accepted until I finally realised I’ve actually always known who I am!  I’ve never had a problem with the things I enjoy or the things that make up my personality. 

I know now that if anyone has a problem with my individuality then that’s their problem because it’s not a bad thing to be different but it’s not acceptable to judge a person because they don’t match up to societies expectations.

Seventeen years ago this lady – her name is Ann – gave me a job and somewhere to live.  I worked the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Ice Rink 3 years running.  She accepted every bit about me, quirkiness, mental illness and just plain weirdness.  Because of Ann I had my first experience of what it was like to just be me.  Through Ann I met my first group of friends who accepted me from the word go.  They fell in love with me the same way I fell in love them, we were strangers in a city that oozed a unique quality and we were all finding our feet in some way or another.

Seventeen years have passed and it has never mattered to then what’s playing on my IPod or what jumper I’m wearing or how long my hair is.  The fact that I have Bipolar and a Stoma doesn’t alter who I am to them, it’s what I do with it that counts, who I reach out to when I should.

2018 taught me that suicide happens all the time.  It happens to our parents, our aunties, uncles, friends and the people we pass on the street that we might never think to ask if they’re okay.

In the early hours of New Year’s Day 2018 my friend Renae lost her husband and their four children lost their amazing dad when he took his own life.

Frith was a doctor, a surgeon.  He was in the business of helping people and when he took his life no one knew why and no one saw it coming.  It just goes to show that suicide really can happen to anyone because mental illness doesn’t discriminate.  

Renae will probably spend every day trying to piece it all together while she takes care of their four children reminding them every day of the man they knew as Dadda. 

Over the last 18 months or so one thing has always been constant; Renae is not ashamed of how Frith died and she is the one person who has shown me that having a conversation over and over and raising awareness of suicide is so important so that people know they are not alone when they are struggling.

I talk to Renae most days and I guess both of us are trying to make sense of it all but it also led me to look back on the people in my life I’ve either lost or almost lost to the same thing.

When I was a child my family in Greece was large in numbers, my grandma had multiple brothers and sisters and I know you’re not supposed to have favourites but as a kid I gave my heart to my Auntie Sophia.

While my brother and I failed to measure up the expectations of the relatives Auntie Sophia was different; she was funny and kind and loving and whenever she was around it felt as if all expectations of us had melted away.  We didn’t have to do anything to earn her love, it didn’t matter that we spoke next to nothing in Greek.  We were allowed to be a bit cheeky, a bit mischievous, she was different to the rest of the family, she was a breath of fresh air.

I can’t remember when I noticed she was gone, I can’t remember if I ever asked why? But I was much older by the time I knew she’d taken her own life.

Over the years I’ve learned more about my family history and I’ve come to know more about the people in it who I have almost lost to suicide.  I’ve seen friends lose loved ones, friends lose friends and every time another person takes themselves away from us it makes me reflect on my own situation.

The last 14 months have been difficult.  I walk the walk of a public speaker trying to show people that you can take control of your life and mental illness but behind the walls of my eyes I still struggle with being that same disappointment I always felt I was.

In times of darkness I sometimes still struggle with suicidal thoughts and I don’t have the answers to tackling the big issues but I have my own version of suicide prevention and this is how I am still standing here today.

I listen to the same music on repeat for hours, days, weeks, months, however long it takes to feel better.

The usual suspects are:

  • Josh Groban
  • Chris Daughtry
  • Cher
  • Meat Loaf
  • Linkin Park
  • Luke Bryan
  • Puressence
  • Kula Shaker

And I’ll look for meaning behind the lyrics of the songs to inspire me to carry on through the tough times and believe it or not it actually works.  And it makes me wonder if the people behind the lyrics have felt the same way I do and then I don’t feel so alone.

I write stories, inventing characters and plots that represent a better world to live in.  A world where solutions are easily accessible.

I look at pictures of swans on the internet and I wonder how simple their lives must be and how much simpler my life could be.

My family.  Whether they know it or not my Mum and my husband are the light at the end of my tunnel.

Milly – my cat – as sad as it may sound, at 19 she knows me better than I know myself.

BAND – my voluntary work gives me hope whenever I lose sight of it.  This group of people have done more for me than they will ever know.

The Simeon Centre – I’ve never been one for therapy or counselling.  I’ve tried and tested it in the past but in April this year this organisation helped me to start to make sense of a part of my life I never thought I would ever be at peace with and I can finally move forward.  It’s because of them that I can embrace being different and be proud of it.

Life isn’t easy for any of us.  Sometimes it’s like being served a bad sandwich in a restaurant we’re supposed to love.  We don’t always like what we have but there are ways we can deal with the things we go through that help us to learn and grow as individuals.

Above anything else, at least for me, acceptance is the key to becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be. At the end of the day life shouldn’t have to end because of the things we go through; life starts the second we find it within ourselves to be able to take control of it.

Reading time: 11 min

I’ve been a volunteer with BAND for about three years now and I have to say World Mental Health Day is one of the highlights of my year. This is the 3rd year I’ve been given time on this stage and every year Rita come’s up with a challenge for me to find a new way of telling my story.

This year’s challenge is a little different to what I usually do. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self knowing what I know about my life right now. 

In order for this to work I will require audience participation…. Look at your faces, so that’s what fear looks like. No I’m kidding, I’m not picking on anyone but what I need you ALL to do is to pretend to be me. I know, I know, who would want to be me??? But just humour me, just pretend for the next 18 or so minutes that you’re all called Katerini.

Okay? Let’s get cracking then…

Dear Katerini, people tell you that you should always be a team player, that we should always work together towards the same goal, whatever that might be. They’ll tell you there is no “I” in team, this is true, and this phrase will be thrown about like a volley ball all the way through school. Especially when it comes to sports day…

Sports day, you are going to hate it. Not only will you hate it but you’ll be rubbish at it. For your first sports day in high school you’ll volunteer to run the 100 metre hurdles because its the right thing to do for the benefit of the school, but you’re not a runner and you can’t jump either. You will knock every single hurdle over and you’ll come last and everyone, and I mean everyone, will laugh at you. But just listen; you don’t have to take part in something you don’t like because others say you should, you don’t like sports and there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also nothing wrong with not always being a team player, you’re different and you cant change that.

Kat, in life you’ll have to fight for everything. You’ll fight to be seen and heard, you’ll fight to get people to believe in you and I’m sorry but you’ve also got a fight on your hands when it comes to believing in yourself.

Along the way there will be things that are going to annoy you. For a start your name is ALWAYS going to be a problem. No one will ever pronounce it correctly, you’ll get Katrina, Katerina and Katherine and be prepared for Kate instead of Kat. And as for your last name, you’ve got no chance!

Roy Walker used to say:

Just say what you see!”

Because it really is that simple. But don’t worry, just because people can’t pronounce your name doesn’t mean you’re forgettable, you can still make an impact. 

For example, you will be the best Brownie the girl guides could ask for. You have this need to help others and make a difference in a massive way and at the age of 10 being a Brownie will heighten that need by showing you that across the world some people don’t have food and water like you do. Some people are starving and cold and you will make a silent vow to find some way of helping them. You will start with writing to the Queen.

When you’re not trying to save the world you’ll make people laugh doing impressions of characters from Coronation Street, you’ll aspire to be a comedienne but you’re never sure if you’re funny enough.

People will trust you and you will be their go to girl for love and friendship advice even though you’re only 12 and know nothing about either subject except, you have a crush on Sylvester Stallone and you really really want to be best friends with the entire cast of Saved by the Bell. But please, don’t try and be a grown up. 

In the last year of primary school you will feel as if you know everything about everything, but when you get to high school you’ll realise you know absolutely nothing. When you leave home for university you’ll think you know it all, but remember you’re still only 18, you’re still a teenager. 

There’s no rush to add years on to your life and you need to remember this because at the age of 30 you’re gonna freak out big time because you’re a spinster living with your mum and nothing is about to change any time soon. In fact the greatest gift you could possibly receive would be the ability to turn back the clock, be a teenager again and do everything differently. But if you don’t try and grow up too fast and savour being 11, cherish being 18 and just enjoy being young, you won’t need to go back in time and change things. There are some things you just can’t change.

I hate to break it to you Kat but, you’ll never be popular. You’re a geek and a swot, you have no sense of fashion whatsoever and you’ll be bullied because of it. I’d like to tell you to just wear what everyone else is wearing because it would make life easier, but why should you? Later in life you’re exactly the same; you’re still a geek and you’re still dancing to a tune only you know the moves to so why change the way you dress just to satisfy other people? My advice, you don’t need to, so don’t.

Katerini the greatest gift the universe has for you is the alphabet. As soon as you learn how to use it you will become a writer. You’ll write your thoughts and dreams and feelings and you will create new worlds for new people to live in and your imagination will get lost in the stories that consume your mind because pretending to be in a different world is better than being in the real one.

When you’re 13 a grape is going to ruin you. I know you have this ritual of biting the top off and picking out the pips and then eating the rest, don’t worry, I get it, no one likes pips. But this time it’s different. You’re being watched as you do it. You don’t even want the damn grapes but you have to eat them because they’ve been paid for….

Who would have ever thought that eating a grape in this way would make you a waste of a person….

Those are the words that come from Dad’s mouth. What a waste of a person. And don’t for a second think that he doesn’t mean it because he does. You will never get over this and every time you eat a grape it will hurt. Sure, sometimes he’ll show affection and he might even say he loves you but he doesn’t mean it because you’ll never be what he wants you to be, you will never be good enough. But if there’s one thing you should do about this I’d say don’t go through life believing you are a waste of a person. Instead, remember there is only one of him and no matter what anyone says you can have a happier life without him in it. You can do this because you have your mum, you have your brother and you have the best grandparents going.

Grandad will share his love of film and he’ll make sure you never miss a single episode of Coronation Street and Emmerdale by sitting with a notebook on his knee and writing down everything that happens so he can read it to you over the phone the next day. And Grandma will share with you her passion for literature and when you’re in your 20’s you will hoard a collection of vintage Mills&Boon novels that she would be proud of.

These are the things that matter, these are the things that count.

Katerini throughout life you’re going to have to deal with a million difficult things but the biggest thing you will have to tackle is your brain, your mental health and your individually tailored version of your very own mental illness and no matter what it does to your perception or what anyone else says its not fashionable and its not the in thing to have and its definitely not a super power! The reality is it will try to kill you, on more than one occasion. 

When you’re 22 people will wonder if you will reach 23 because you’ll be admitted to a psychiatric ward and its touch and go if you will make it out. Here’s how it works on a Bolton K ward. The hospital bosses may have changed the names but to a patient a K ward is still a K ward. No one tells you what to do, no one tells you how it all works, where can you get a cuppa? What happens at meal times? No one explains anything. You’re locked on the ward like you’ve committed a crime and you can’t leave unless a psychiatrist grants permission and be warned, the majority of the staff don’t care and they won’t be afraid to show it, but at least try not to take it too personally, to them its just a job.

In hospital every patients condition is worse than the next and 90% of people will argue that they shouldn’t be there; and that goes for you too. You will feel confused, scared, misplaced, but the same thing will happen 6 times and in 2011 when you ask the best psychiatrist you’ve ever had if you really need to be in hospital you need to believe him because he’ll say:

Right now Katerini, this is the only safe place for you.”

Sounds harsh, but its true. And when he tells you to start learning about your illness and take some control, listen to him! Because if you do that the sooner you’ll realise that mental illness can happen to anyone and its not because you’re a waste of a person. 

Mental illness or no mental illness, you’re still gonna be different. You just can’t help it, its just you, but you know what? You will come to realise that different doesn’t have to be bad.

For example, your taste in music will always be the opposite of your friends. While they hang posters of Peter Andre and his 6 pack on their bedroom wall, you will go to bed wearing a diamond ring from a Christmas cracker and dream of marrying Crispian Mills and Simon Fowler because you will love indie music and loathe pop (although secretly you will have a soft spot for the Backstreet Boys but you’ll tell no one until you’re in your 30’s). 

You’ll hate famous labels and you will shop at C&A to prove a point that no one understands, not even you. However, at the age of 35 as you’re leaving the house for work you’ll notice you’re wearing a coat from GAP, a pair of Converse on your feet and a Cath Kidston Bag! You are literally covered in labels, only now, you don’t care.

In year 11 you’ll have to put together a record of achievement and you’ll feel as if you’ve achieved nothing in the 16 years you’ve been alive because people like Leanne Rimes had a number 1 album at 13, Natalie Portman won Best Actress for the film Leon when she was 14 and all three boys from Hanson were under the age of 18 when their first single “Mmm Bop” became one of the most annoyingly addictive anthems of the 90’s.

The truth is Kat, you’ll never win an award for best actress, because you can’t act and you’ll never have a number 1 album because you can’t sing. Your name isn’t Leanne Rimes or Natalie Portman and the sooner you accept that you’re Katerini it will make things a lot easier.

I won’t lie to you, life will always be hard. You’ll have to prove yourself to everyone, all the time and you’ll wonder if you’ll ever achieve anything worth talking about. But guess what…. you will, because you’ll become a speaker and you’ll win first prize in a competition for talking about drag queens for 8 whole minutes! Then you’ll tell hundreds of people all about yourself and even though you’ll never believe it’s a story worth telling, one day you will because you survived it! You survived the school bullies, the dictator parent, the judgemental friends and the constant day to day dealings with mental illness… you survived it all.

Katerini believe me when I say that one day you will be a strong and somewhat confident person, not because of the things you’ve been through but because of how you dealt with them. Only you can live your life Kat, we may not be able to stop any of the negative things from happening but mark my words, by the time you’re 36 you won’t believe the things you’ve achieved.

You’ll fall in love…. with Drag Queens, Josh Groban and Swans…

You’ll buy a house…

You’ll even get married…but not to Josh Groban…

Most important thing of all, you’ll be happy.

At the end of the day, the key to your happiness Kat, is self-acceptance. The day you stop hating yourself is the day the darkness lifts and the weight on your shoulders becomes that little bit lighter. 

Remember that you are not defined by the things you go through, you make your own definition and only you can do that. 

We may go through life being led to believe that we should work together as a team, but when it comes to ourselves only we can make the most of our lives. Sometimes doing things to please others just doesn’t work. 

There is no “I” in team… but there is definitely a “me”.

Reading time: 12 min