In the last year or so, I've accumulated a multitude of experiences and achievements. Here I'm going to touch on a few of them, just to give you an idea of what I'm willing to do to create a kinder world.
My mission to change the world began in 2014. I decided to sign up for a charity abseil. So in September 2014, I abseiled the Europa Hotel to raise money for PIPS, a suicide prevention charity in Northern Ireland. Being afraid of heights, the experience terrified me.
Apparently I never learn, because two weeks later I abseiled the tallest building on the Island of Ireland, the Obel Tower. This was a whopping 34 metres taller than the Europa hotel. There were tears this time around! This was also done to raise funds for PIPS.
People laughed when I told them I was going to finish my trio of fundraisers with something easier, more relaxing...a firewalk! Once again raising funds for PIPS, I kicked off my shoes and socks, ready to walk barefoot across hot coals. For the record, it was great fun, and no, it didn't hurt!
In 2015 I decided I was going to take the bull by the horns...I was going to become a politician! I stepped forward as a candidate for Member of Youth Parliament in Lagan Valley. I'll be the first to say that theoretically, it didn't go too well! However it allowed me to make some valuable connections, and opened doors for me later on.
One of the opportunities that came about as a result of the connections I made during the MYP elections was the chance to participate in the NI Assembly Education Service's Connections Program, funded by Erasmus+. I worked alongside other young people to compile a report on Youth Mental Health, and in August 2015 we spent a week recording three short films which covered three key areas in youth mental health: Schools, Community, and Services.
In September 2015, the video I created with FixersUK was released and the Belfast Telegraph ran an article on it.
In October 2015 I faced a fear bigger than any fear of heights. I returned to my former high school to present the animation created with FixersUK. The class was incredibly receptive of the message being brought before them, and I left feeling rather emotional about how keen they'd been to talk about mental health following the presentation. Afterwards I was interviewed by Phil Campbell of Team Humble about the experience.
This was followed by a trip to Sutton Coldfield in November, where I showed the video to a small group of mentors and had a discussion about how to make services user-friendly for young people suffering from anxiety.
In December 2015 I travelled to New York with Team Humble to volunteer in soup kitchens. In the space of approx. 2 months we raised the money required to fly 3 of us from London to NYC, and to rent an apartment for us and the two American team members for one week. It was a week full of conversation and learning more about the complexities of mental illness and homelessness.
In January 2016 I returned to Stormont once more to sit alongside 3 of my peers in a DEL Committee meeting. Together we presented the report on Youth Mental Health, and had a worthwhile conversation about mental health with a group of MLAs.
For Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Fixers created a Huffington Post article using tips from young people who have worked with them. It was wonderful to be able to contribute!
In May 2016 I was invited to write a piece for Slugger O'Toole about my experience of living with mental illness in Northern Ireland. I also ended up challenging our new Minister for Health, asking her to work with young adults to develop a mental health service that is adequate.
Following the publication of my open letter to Michelle O'Neill, the Ulster Star ran an article on the piece. From Page 17 of the Belfast Telegraph in 2015 to Page 3 of the Ulster Star in 2016 - I'm beginning to make waves with my mental health message!
When Michelle O'Neill got around to replying to an email I sent her drawing her attention to my piece (which was circulating quickly at this point), I was filled with disappointment. It was a case of playing "spot the difference" between her letter and a letter I received from a previous Health Minister in 2014. The Ulster Star ran a follow up article.
In September 2016 I launched my line of self-care cards. The first design to be printed and distributed was "In Case Of Relapse". There's something to be said for personal reminder cards designed by someone who has experienced the issue the cards are addressing. Within hours of the first batch being delivered, someone sponsored the P&P of 10 cards so that they could reach 10 people who really needed them but didn't have the money to pay for shipping. Humanity 1 - Mental Illness 0.
In January 2017, I kicked off the year with a quick trip to London to attend the first meeting of MQ's Young People's Advisory Group. I'm excited to be working alongside a charity that's working so hard to shape the future for people with mental illness(es)!
That concludes my story so far, however it won't end here! Watch this space.