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22nd June 2015: A post I never finished

Upon going through some blog drafts I found this post, last edited at 11:30 on 22nd June 2015 – it was quite enjoyable to write so I hope it is enjoyable to read too!

I am writing this blog post whilst on hold with HMRC to sort out my tax code. I’ve already had an annoying conversation with an automated woman and now two pieces of musak are on repeat. I have no clue how much this is costing me.

This is one of the many administrative tasks I have to do now that I am home – applying for help with health costs from the NHS is next on the list, after they rejected my last application over one mistake.

The post has just arrived and I’ve been informed that my Mobile Tariff is going up – oh joy! It’s only £1 but it’s of little extra benefit to me, so I think I’ll head online and see whether I can get a better deal for less. Bear in mind I’ve now been on hold for at least 15 minutes!

In terms of my mobile, I think that’s another phone call I have to make! I’m actually tempted to try calling them now and then they can have a race with HMRC! I think Virgin’s hold music is way better too… But anyway, it seems like I’ve found a better deal, yet I haven’t got the opportunity to switch.

And that was the point at which my mum came home and we took the phone upstairs while we tidied my room. It took about an hour to get through to HMRC, at which point the phone operator Rhys was extremely helpful and sorted everything out, changing my tax code for all my employers and assuring me my refund was on its way.

My mobile tariff was easily changed with one quick phone call but I am still on the warpath with NHS Business Services over help with health costs – application number 4 is soon to commence but that’s a whole other story.

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Published in The Founder

This post is over two months late but back in June, just before I finished first year at university, I had the privilege of having another article published in The Founder, the university newspaper. Most importantly it was about scoliosis, and it was featured on the front page! I had a great response from the editor and am very glad that I am able to raise awareness on campus through student media. I know that there is another person who has undergone scoliosis correction surgery coming to Royal Holloway next year, but if you are a RHUL student reading this with scoliosis please get in touch! I would love to hear what you thought of the article and how you are finding university life.

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Discharged: Tuesday 14th July 2015

This time last week I had just returned from London after my final appointment at the Evelina. Yes, you read that right, I am never going back. And not just because I am 19 and too old to go to a children’s hospital, they have actually discharged me. (Well done to the eagle eyed among you who read the title of this blog post). So here is a little recap of my last day doing the hospital trek!

You may be aware of my fairly severe anxiety prior to the appointment and so this meant that I was very stressed for the journey. This was compounded by the fact that our train was delayed and full so we had to stand for the first fifteen minutes of the journey, making me feel quite queasy. Fortunately the train was connected with another quieter train and we found two front facing seats for the remainder of the journey.

We got to the hospital around 11:45, half an hour early, and after a minor issue with the automated check in service, where the computer did not recognise my new GP surgery and the idea that it is nowhere near my permanent address, we sat down ready to watch the screens. My name came up and as we were gathering ourselves to go upstairs we bumped into Rachel Hunt, the very lovely lead nurse for the clinic (the shortest way to describe her anyway!). She was very interested in what I was doing and we were very happy to give her a copy of the article on scoliosis that I wrote for The Founder, Royal Holloway’s student newspaper.

We went up to X-ray, I was asked my age before being given the pregnancy declaration form, which was odd seeing as you have to complete it from the age of twelve and I’m sure I look older than that! I changed from jeans into leggings, my X-ray friendly clothing showing that I am a seasoned patient! I’m sure the student radiographer was about my age, but the pictures were soon done and we were back in Ocean reception waiting for my name to appear on screen again. And for anyone going to the Evelina and having an X-ray, do tell a nurse that you’ve returned!

The physical examination is the part of the appointment that I hate the most. People touching my back directly is not something I like, especially consultants because they have cold hands! But we finally got the notification to go to Octopus 5 to see a completely new doctor, as Rachel had already said that Mr Lucas was not around. His first line was “Oh, you shouldn’t really be here anymore” – many thanks for the obvious statement! We explained how Mr Lucas felt there was little point in transferring me for one appointment and gave a few details on my surgery, which he really should have known through reading my notes. The weirdest bit was the next bit. Instead of getting me to lie down and swap my clothes for a hospital gown and do nerve tests and the like, he just got me to walk on my toes and walk on my heels and then did a forward bend test. Then we were all done and I was discharged. Rachel said farewell and before I knew it we were out of there, what’s more it was only 1:15pm!

We pushed the boat out with toasted sandwiches for lunch in the M&S Cafe on site, then headed to the National Portrait Gallery, where I had been told to go for one of my modules next year. We spent most time in the Victorian collections (because of the Victorian module) but my favourite painting would have to be General Officers of World War I byJohn Singer Sargent (http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00108/General-Officers-of-World-War-I). It is pretty large and the sentiment behind it, the generals being aloof from actual fighting, is very similar to themes in Oh! What a Lovely War, which I studied last year.

By the time we got to the Tudors area I was absolutely drained, having left the hospital feeling quite tired. The stress really takes it out of you, so we headed back to Victoria on the Tube and caught the train home. We got fish and chips and were home in time to eat with my dad. I finished the day by watching a documentary on Virgin Atlantic.

So, now I am officially normal. No more hospital visits. Bittersweet, but I’m very happy all in all!

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“Why didn’t you ask us?”

Today’s blog has an ambiguous title but hopefully once you have read it, it will make sense. In a way I’m talking about communication, but from both a faith based and an operation based angle.

The title comes from a conversation that took place quite a while ago at the end of Easter term. The CU had an Easter themed quiz/talk/music night and I put some flyers on the table in the flat. No-one approached me with any interest so I went with my regular CU friends, quite early as I had been tasked with buying snacks and prizes. After a mad supermarket sweep to buy far too much food and then a longer walk than planned as we struggled to find a parking space off campus, we arrived and had an enjoyable night. I came back and went to bed and thought no more about it.

Then the next day I got a few comments on the flyers and what a shame it was that they hadn’t noticed them sooner. “Why didn’t you ask us?” is a paraphrase of the general gist of people’s feelings and that’s a very good question. Why did I not ask them? I guess there are probably two reasons: firstly, the practicalities of the fact that I was buying food on the way so would have to meet them there; but more importantly, I didn’t expect them to want to come. The number of times I’ve asked people to church and CU events and been knocked back are multiple, but I think that was my wake up call that I’d actually given up asking.

Asking someone to do something with you is an interesting phenomenon. It can prompt different reactions from people: happiness and pleasure to be asked or awkwardness if it’s not something they want to do. Part of the fear that made me ‘give up’ was that the awkwardness would turn to annoyance or resentment if I repeatedly ask them to do things and they say no. This can be applied, I think, to any situation – even looking at ordinary things I do with friends at university, I barely ever initiate these but am very enthusiastic about bringing a suggestion to fruition. At home I’m more likely to organise meeting up with friends, but even with some friends, I have again given up asking.

This confidence to ask people to do things is quite similar to the situation in the year prior to my surgery, which is almost 4 years ago (I’m now 2 years, 9 and a half months post-op!) I completely could not talk to people about the fact I was going to have an operation, although people would ask how my hospital appointments were: these questions were largely during lessons so I used this as an excuse to keep quiet. I didn’t want to pressure others to give me sympathy or support me and if I did talk about it, it was on a one-to-one basis. This probably created a bit of a feeling amongst my friends that each was the only one to know, even though they were not. Most similarly, I didn’t want to go on about it and make others resent me for having this massive thing happening and letting the stress and anxiety over it consume every situation.

The above approach didn’t really work for any of the concerned parties, and I think we probably all need to be more open with others. For instance, a lot of my conversations in the past week have concerned my hospital appointment and the train strike (now cancelled, hooray!) and I feel a bit like it’s consuming everything. However, I’ve had no complaints from people I’m spoken to and real friends will make it clear that one topic is permeating the conversation by changing the subject or politely saying shut up. They won’t resent you for constantly asking them to do the same thing and them constantly refusing – if it’s getting too annoying they will say that there’s no chance they’ll ever want to do that and please stop asking, and if they do resent you, then sever some of your ties with them. Remember the love that real friends have, and hold on to that

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7/7

Today is the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. People say you can remember where you were when traumatic national event happen, but I really cannot. I was 9, I would have been at school, in year 4. I don’t remember there being any assembly or announcement that something had happened. They call it a major disaster but I don’t know whether people realised the gravity of the situation outside of London. Maybe I just can’t remember any reaction from school – I can’t remember all that much about year 4 anyway. What I can remember is the morning television on CBBC a year later, at the weekend, where they showed the drama That Summer’s Day, showing the event through the eyes of teenagers at a school in London. It was sugarcoated and age appropriate, but it was poignant as well.

Of course today is not about a bombing, it is my dad’s birthday. As with any major event of this scale, the bombings are something that will always overshadow the day. I remember going away for my dad’s 50th, on the third anniversary of the bombings, and watching Wimbledon then the news and commemoration of 7/7 and then the Doctor Who episode Journey’s End. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t remember, we really should. But life doesn’t stop because it happens to be the anniversary of a tragic event – life hasn’t stopped for the survivors or the bereaved.

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What are you searching for?

On Sunday I did something different. I took a break from social media. Well, I tried. After church I realised I should check some stuff on the house group message about arranging gas/electricity. Then I figured I wasn’t giving up texting so I sent a few individual messages via Facebook Messenger because that’s free for everyone and used the same as texting. At around half 9 I finally caved and went on Facebook to wish a friend a happy birthday. I scrolled down a bit and checked the Facebook group for the student magazine, on which there was a post.

None of these things required my immediate attention, but it shows how Facebook has become intertwined with other activities. If you’re hosting an event, it’s on Facebook. Photos from your last holiday, they’ll go on Facebook. Emails that no-one bothers to check, put them on Facebook instead. Being off Facebook for a day has kept me out of the loop, but to be honest I haven’t missed much over the last 24 hours. I have 9 notifications to read that could be important but I doubt it. If it wasn’t the way to keep up to date in today’s society I’d probably stay off Facebook a lot more.

From the student magazine post I was directed to a website but still within the Facebook app. I did something else and then went looking for something on the internet. I absent mindedly went back to Facebook thinking it was Chrome and clicked back to the News Feed and kept scrolling. I forgot what it was I was searching for. And then I remembered it was Paramore lyrics that I wanted to find – I wouldn’t find them on Facebook!

I did sort of break my promise to break from social media for a day, but I used a different app for messages so I stayed away from the Facebook website until the birthday message. Yes, it was hard to stay away when I was a bit bored, but I tidied and I wrote and I scrapbooked and I feel quite positive about my day’s activities. So I’m going to try limiting Facebook time. I won’t check it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. I’ll probably have a look in the middle of the day and then again in the evening. Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t.

This has brought back to me though how society has started to work. People look for approval by the online response to what they post. We work to project an image of ourselves by our online activity. We cut out the bad bits of life and emphasise the good bits. It’s damaging and unhealthy and I’d like to get away from that.

So, I challenge you to take a social media break. And if you ‘see’ me on Facebook, ask me why I’m online and if I’m sticking to my promise to not be online quite so much.

Also, a lot of the stuff about a society saturated by social media is covered in Tim Chester’s book Will you be my Facebook friend? – 50 pages on how to tackle the issues found with usage of social media.

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Friendship and Gender

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of assumptions are made when I talk about my friends to other people. I am not saying that these are bad assumptions, especially as I probably do the exact same when other people are talking about their friends, but I wanted to highlight it.

You may have guessed from the title of this blog post that the assumptions I am talking about are in regards to gender, of which there are two. The first, and most prevalent, is people assuming that when I talk about ‘my friend’ I am talking about someone female. This is not always wrong, in fact the majority of my friends are female, and in society women are led to be friends with other women. However, this does not mean that we cannot have male friends. One of my closest friends is male and that is one of the qualities of his friendship that has made us so close, because he sees things from a male perspective. There are genuine differences between the male and female brain (the book Girls are Best by Sandi Toksvig is great for explaining this) and so this is probably why women both benefit from having male friends but also tend towards friendships with other females. Anyway I digress, the point is that we need to stop assuming we know the gender of people’s friends.

This brings me on to the second assumption, which I will admit is not a particularly common occurrence, but still relevant to this topic. My male friends are FRIENDS. Just because they are of the opposite gender and I spend time with them, this does not mean that there is any attraction between us or that we are romantically involved. Yet some people (and this is both rare and often in a jokey manner) automatically jump to the conclusion that we are a couple or at least one of us wants us to be a couple. In fact the two men that have come up in conversation in the past week or so are both, as far as I am aware, happy in fairly long term relationships that I look at and hope will last indefinitely. Some relationships may well start out of friendships but that is not a reason why I have ever developed a friendship, and assuming that’s the case is hardly going to make romance suddenly appear. Not to linger to long on the point of sexuality, but if you consider how society and, to some extent, the brain leads us to be friends with people of the same sex, would you suggest to a gay person that there’s a romantic undertone to their friendships?

This has become a slight rant and I apologise, but I hope that you have found it informative. And if you do make these assumptions, don’t worry because I do too. I’m going to try really hard not to and hope this motivates you to do so as well!