A Tribute to Bernie Barnicoat


Something very sad happened today.  A man that I knew, liked and respected passed away. Bernie Barnicoat was more than just my lecturer, though I didn’t know it back then. When I knew Bernie during those 3 years at Uni, my mental health status prevented me from giving it my all in lectures or really bonding properly with my classmates. Bernie never gave me a hard time about my sub-par work or what would have seemed like a lack of commitment. Despite not living up to his top students, he still made time for me. I nervously approached his office one day to talk about how I was going to improve my work. What I thought would be a ten minute telling off turned into a two hour chat about anything and everything. He was kind, warm and deeply cared about his students, often telling us that the three years he spent teaching us were the best of his career.

Five years later, I messaged Bernie and asked him if he wanted to meet up to talk about my new project. It must have seemed out of the blue, but he happily accepted and invited me to his house in Brigg, near Scunthorpe. Although I did intend to talk to him about this book and the website, I also wanted him to know why I was so withdrawn and ‘quiet’ in the time that he knew me. I wanted him to know that it wasn’t his teaching, or my lack of interest, and that I appreciated him. In particular I wanted him to know that his words inspired me.

I’m not a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’, but I’ll always be so grateful that I managed to see him before he died. I am glad that this is a regret that I will never have.

His last message to me was this; ‘Update. I know I have been silent this week. But I was as weak as a kitchen when I came home. I have been pushing a bit and have more strength in my legs and arms. So easier to get around. Thank you for being there for me. Have had a good Saturday so far. Please there is no need to reply. Thank you my friend.’

Back in that lecture room when I was lost in my own intrusive thoughts and downward spiral, one nugget of wisdom stuck with me and became my mantra. ‘When people tell you that the world’s problems are too big, and that it is impossible to make a difference, know that it is your duty to pick one piece of the puzzle, and begin. If you make the world a better place for even one community, or one person, it’s worth the effort. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone felt that way?’

Thank you Bernie, for making my world a better place. When you didn’t answer your whatsapp message to me yesterday I knew something was up. You were active to the end,  talking to all of your friends. You had so many. I count myself lucky to be one.


LOUD VOICES – THE BACKSTORY

THIS IS MY STORY.
My name is Emma. I am a 27 year old living in London with my husband. I have a job that I love and wonderful friends and family. My life is pretty good.

Outwardly, I would appear very normal and happy. But my life didn’t always used to be this way.

For many years, I have lived with anxiety. The first time I can remember feeling this way, was when I was 4 years old. I had just started ballet classes. As I was a lover of all things pink and barbie, this felt like a pretty decent hobby. Mum got me the gear and off I went to class. Only a week in, my teacher told me off for running the wrong way during a warm up exercise. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but my face burned up, I cried, and refused to go back ever again.

My anxiety evolved over the years. I became cripplingly aware of myself in social situations. To deal with this, I would avoid being sociable where possible, not wanting to feel incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. I continued this pattern throughout high school and into my adult years. When I entered the workplace for the first time, I was entirely unprepared. I couldn’t naturally fit in to the environment and it caused me many issues and distress.

Many things turned it around and it was a long journey to recovery. I am currently writing a book about my experiences. It has helped me to make sense of them, but I also hope that this might inspire somebody else to tell their story.

Loud Voices exists to create a forum for anyone wishing to share their barrier in the workplace. Whether that’s mental health, sexism, ageism, disability, racism or homophobia, we want to hear about your story.

So many talented and brilliant people are held back from reaching their full potential, and that’s why it’s so important to speak up and keep these conversations alive.

These days, I am working with young adults with learning difficulties and disabilities to support them to gain and maintain paid employment. They inspire me every single day. Their determination to get up and fight in a world that is determined to put obstacles in their path is pretty inspiring. They are not afraid to show the world why hiring them would greatly benefit the workplace in so many ways.

But there is still a lot of work to be done. The world does not create equal opportunities for all.

Loud voices is your platform. Use it to make your voice heard. Remember that your story makes you, YOU, and that’s something worth celebrating and sharing.

Speak up, be heard, feel good.


YOU’RE QUIET TODAY – THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF WRITING

WRITING THERAPY
Several months ago, I was sat at my laptop after a lousy day. I did something that I hadn’t done for a long time, I started to write.

I have recently got massively back into reading after rather a long break. I will talk about some of the most inspiring books I have read this year in my future blog posts. I had just finished Robert Webb’s ‘How Not to be a Boy’ when I knew I wanted to write a book too. I had the subject already, that was easy.

Mental health in the workplace is something I can talk about because I have lived it. But it always struck me, that we don’t talk about it enough. There is an invisible barrier that prevents me from being truthful with my employer about why I had the day off that time. It wasn’t a sick bug, it was a spell of anxiety or depression. This has happened on a few occasions, but I just knew that honesty wasn’t going to help me out.

I wanted to make sense of my anxiety and how it has had an impact on my working life. So I began to write. I wrote for a long time, pages and pages of my thoughts strung together until my head hurt and my mind was screaming for a break.

It carried on this way, until I’d written about 15,000 words of pure thoughts. I realised that I did this about 10 times quicker than my dissertation, and with a hell of a lot more motivation. I made a decision to not only do this for my own benefit, but for anyone who struggles with anxiety and depression in the workplace. I named the book ‘You’re Quiet Today’ because it’s something I used to hear a whole lot w#hen I wasn’t feeling 100%.

I carried on reading in my spare time. Books about autism, race relations in the UK, feminism and masculinity. Overwhelmed by how many people were facing barriers in all aspects of their life, I knew that it couldn’t just end with my book. I wanted to create an inclusive forum where everyone would have the chance to share, to vent and to speak up about their barrier. Mental health is a subject that I know well, but there are many people who struggle with all kinds of things that prevent them from reaching their full potential in the workplace. They deserve to be heard too.

I have just finished my first draft of my book detailing my own experiences. From what I’ve researched, the sensible thing to do now is to leave it for a week or two and then blitz the whole thing, editing, re-writing, cutting out etc. Apparently you’re supposed to do this before trying to find representation. So that’s where I’m at.

It’s been a long and difficult process. More than once I’ve wanted to throw in the towel but with encouragement from my wonderful husband, I have ploughed on. I think the reason it’s so difficult is because I’m writing about quite sensitive stuff. I’m not censoring my material because I believe honesty is so important if I want it to be relatable. So I’m writing about some painful memories and that can be tough. I stopped writing for a week after I forced myself to revisit one particular memory, because the feelings came back stronger than expected and I questioned whether what I was doing was going to have a negative impact on my mental health.

But here’s the good news, it’s actually done the opposite. I have a new found drive and motivation that I didn’t have before. I have forgiven myself and other people for past events because I have a much greater understanding of why certain things happened. It’s been an incredibly therapeutic exercise which I would recommend to everyone. That’s what makes this book worth it, even if it stays confined to my laptop forever.

I’m 63,000 words in and taking a mental break from it for now. I’m excited to get going again and share updates with you!


I DREAM IN AUTISM

I Dream in Autism

An Autistic World

This is a book worthy of a blog post and so much more. Richard Maguire invites the reader into his own head and explains what it is like for an autistic person to have to fit into a neuro-typical world.

It’s heart-breaking, funny and humbling from start to finish. There’s no sugar coating as Richard explains his experiences from childhood through to his adult life. It was so refreshing to read a book about autism from someone who IS autistic.

There are many lessons to learn from ‘I Dream in Autism’ and rather than listing them all here, I strongly urge you to buy his book and read for yourself. But I will share with you a lesson that I learned and have tried to implement.

I work with young adults with learning difficulties and autism. I’ve noticed a similar trend in some of the autistic people I have worked with. When they were interested in a topic, they focused so much energy into it and were enthused and passionate by whatever it was. But I didn’t really understand why and sometimes found it tiresome to listen.

For example, one young man I worked with was fascinated by TFL. He was able to recite any journey in London without the need for CityMapper. It was an impressive display of knowledge to say the least, but I never truly appreciated the fascination behind wanting to learn each journey in exquisite detail.

Richard Maguire has a few interests, but his main one is bicycles. He grew up struggling to communicate with his peers because the conversation was not easy for him to process and he couldn’t always identify social cues, until he built up an impressive formula in his head to work them out. But when he was talking to cyclists, he could speak freely and easily. It gave him a purpose, a social life and a passion that nothing else did. It helped him to feel less anxious and he made real friends. It’s his safe place and his passion.

This, amongst many other lessons, has taught me to be more patient and appreciative of others’ interests. I have a greater understanding now of why it is so important for someone with autism to have a passion like this. I am no longer so quick to change the subject.

I still have a lot to learn, but it is our duty to create a more inclusive world. Autistic people may learn differently, but this is to be celebrated rather than discouraged. The world is a little more colourful when we learn to accept others for who they are.

Read this book and share a lesson that stuck in your mind. I’d love to hear your feedback.