Call it a Comeback

It has been 899 days since my last blog post. In that time two birthdays have passed, there has been 5 jobs, 1 relationship end, 1 new relationship, 1 move, 2 cars, a gym membership, prescription antidepressants, stopping the antidepressants, a mental health waiting list, 7 psychology appointments, 3 self-help books and a new hairstyle. That is just the summary, needless to say my life has changed dramatically and eventually for the better.

This week I have reached a turning point, this week I had a moment where I felt so overwhelmed with joy I cried. This may seem to be a lack of emotional control to some or down right ridiculous but when you have been told by a professional you disassociate and shut down as a coping mechanism the ability to feel such unrivalled happiness was unbelievable. I took a moment to take stock of my life and the progress I have made. For once I think I have taken steps forward and am feeling good about how things are going.

I am 26 years old and I have all the time in the world to find my way back to where I want to be. I have started to do so and I want this blog to be about the skills I learn and the adventures I have along the way. I recently told my sister that you cannot fear the fact there is no such thing as forever as you will never take a chance and end up living in the never, never taking a chance, never feeling the highs, never feeling the lows and never really living. Even if it doesn’t last forever it is better than never. So come with me as I make the best of the time I have and continue my battle with the big beasty that is depression. This is not a self-help blog and I cannot hold your hand but hopefully I can show you that you’re not alone and the beasty doesn’t always have to win.

Sri Lanka: Week One

The adventure began with a drive to the airport. Sitting with a silent realisation I was about to leave my home and family for almost 3 months and my job forever. I was surprised to feel completely calm about it though.  I swanned through check in with a tiny queue so we had time to have a coffee. As soon as the gate was called I was ready to go. I kept my goodbyes short and sweet to keep me from thinking about it too much. It probably seemed if I wasn’t too bothered but I hate crying at airports so I was determined to avoid the bloodshot eye look as I boarded.

Taking my seat I was ready to watch as many free movies as possible and force airplane food down. It was a standard flight however I could not sleep. After this first flight from Edinburgh to Doha I met my second flight buddy Amy which was grand as we had seats together. Amy suffered from travel sickness though and slept.  I felt awful because I am terrible at dealing with people being sick. I am also terrible at sleeping on flights so I stayed awake.

My first thoughts upon arriving in Sri Lanka was “Holy heck this is warm…” and we arrive on a ‘cold’ day. It was humid to say the least. In the airport we were met by David and other SLV Project Managers. I try to take money put however my card is blocked because my bank did not do as I asked them. This makes me panic internally a little. David was kind enough to lend me his phone to call them and it is sorted within 15 minutes. All is well again. Once everyone who was due to arrive was there we were separated into groups for our mini vans. I was with two girls from my house; Aisling and Izzy who were lovely. We were in the same room at the homestay as well which was convenient. We were met by our Coordinator Fiona who gave us a warm welcome and a wee tour. We all settled in and then were taken on a wee bus ride to get some sim cards and phones which was a shock to the system.  I finally realised I was actually in Sri Lanka and doing it; the thing I had been planning for months was there and happening and I was in awe. That night is a blur however I think it was mainly me sweating my body weight out and wondering if I was ever going to be able to have a night’s sleep in the heat.

The rest of the week was the same. My diary is a bit of a jumble of things but I will try and make the best of it all. I know that orientation day on the Tuesday was a complete overload of information. The sleep deprivation did not help. I remembered the two facts of: DO NOT HAVE TATTOOS ON SHOW DURING THE WEEK AND KEEP YOUR KNEES AND SHOULDERS COVERED. The rest I had no clue about. Come 9pm I was in bed. This happened the whole week really. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we had visits to placements and workshops. The workshops were fantastic and definitely prepared me more for what lay ahead. They discussed communicating with children and adults with a language barrier, working with children and adults with special needs and teaching English. It was eye opening with the project visits and really put into perspective where we were working and why we were working there. One of the visits was within a Special Needs setting where someone who worked there said:

“Do not expect much from them, they have small brains. It is repetition, repetition, repetition!”

For this I did not and do not judge them because this is how they are brought up to understand those with disabilities and special needs. It was hard to adjust to this way of thinking across many places we worked. One thing is for sure, the service users in this placement were capable of a lot of things and we made sure we catered for them as best as possible without resources. We also worked within mental health institutions and had a visit to one of them. This was the biggest shock for me as I have never worked with in this setting. I expected what I had seen on T.V and movies; white walls, white coats and white pill tubs. This could not have been further from it. There were wards but the patients could walk around and had communal areas. They were painted usually an orange or yellow.  From what I heard from volunteers who had worked in clinical settings it was completely different and in a lot of ways better for the patients. I cannot comment on that but only on what I saw which was patients integrated, communicating and mostly happy to participate in our activities upon their own free will. It was hard to adjust to working within this setting but this is because I am not from a mental health background whatsoever.

Come the weekend I was knackered and my mind was full of information but I wanted to challenge myself further because I enjoy doing that. Another volunteer and I climbed Adam’s Peak (Sri Prada). It was a slight disaster as we headed out at 2am and there was a storm as we climbed it in the pitch black. The person I went with raced ahead and I ended up with a broken torch and two French people who pitied me and sort of stopped every while to check I was alive behind them. They also gave me a biscuit at one point. I must have looked really pitiful. Once up the top we had a cup of tea with some guides who charged us but I didn’t mind because we had shelter, a heater and tea. They were saviours as far as I was concerned. We waited for the storm to calm down before heading back down. The fog which clogged up the view on the way up dispersed around half way down and we could see more of the surrounding area. It was beautiful. I also met a monk on the way down who gave me a bracelet and a blessing. He was one of the most lovely and gentle people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I definitely enjoyed the descent more than the ascent. The next day was a write off as I was completely exhausted and again the weather was atrocious so I spent time reading which was delightful.

I forgot to mention we had around a 6-7 hour bus journey on the way there and the same back. On the way there we had no AC which meant it was rather toasty and super crowded. Fortunately on our way home we had AC and a seat which was luxurious. Once I was home all I wanted to do was go to bed. Minus the waking up sweating buckets I slept pretty well. I was ready to begin my full placements.

Closets are uncomfortable.

I am really rather excited now for my adventure to begin. I am currently waiting on my VISA to be a-ok and then I have the all clear to go. My friend is already there and posting a few pictures each day with all the great things she is currently doing out there. 

There is one thing however that makes me uneasy. In Sri Lanka homosexuality is illegal. I am in fact in a loving lesbian relationship so this does pose a problem. My girlfriend is not going with me which is not an issue. The issue is I feel like I am going to have to be untrue to myself and my values. I always said I would never hide who I was from anyone again once I had “come out”. In this case I am going to let that happen, I cannot speak freely about how hilarious my relationship is or how much Scotland needs to get its butt in gear and let a marriage for all prevail. At a hotel on a weekend away from my homestay family and projects I can however I won’t feel comfortable doing so.

I understand I am going to a country to volunteer and I am not going to single-handedly appear and campaign for gay rights. It is hard to not feel a little, well scared. I am afraid of local people finding out and judging me based on this and not including me in an experience. I know that everyone will agree with the fact it is illegal but some will. Some of these people could cross my path. A fear of being outed and ousted it embedded in me. 

I do not want to be untrue to myself by hiding my sexuality and then feel guilty for doing so. I also do not want to be judged on it or left out because of it. The one thing that makes me feel better about it all if I know that some of the people I am going with are extremely non judgemental and wonderful human beings. The fact is I will never holiday here as a couple but I will pursue my adventure with an understanding of their culture and little more guarded about my chit chat over a cup of tea.

To haggle or not to haggle? That is the question.

There used to be times when I sat and thought how slowly life seemed to be moving, not now. There is no luxury of free time any more! There is always something to do when you are planning on going abroad to volunteer and volunteering at home as well.

I have the majority of things organised now thankfully, including my travel insurance. I have my travel insurance which I haggled for. After browsing the internet on various comparison sites and google searches I decided I had found an insurer that worked for me. I received a quote from Go Travel Insurance on-line and was sent it via e-mail, I included my mobile number so within the hour I received a call to have a “chat” about my quote. I played it cool stating how I was shopping around and to call me back in an hour. True to his word the chap on the phone did. Once he thought he had me hook line and sinker I simply sighed and left a pause for effect…

“I can get it cheaper online with the excess waiver…”

Within a flash the chap sprang into action to chat to his manager. He could maybe so something on the £90. He came back with around £73.00 but I still wasn’t biting and told him I could get it for £63.50 exactly. Another pause as he thought it through and popped back on hold for another quick chat with his manager. He returned to the phone chipper and slightly smug with £63. Before he had a chance to change his mind I said yes that shall do nicely.

I may have told a little white lie about finding it cheaper on a comparison site but he didn’t know that and definitely did not have time to check. Do not be afraid to chance your luck and go for a figure you would like to pay. They may say they can only drop it a little at first but if you stay confident and resolute they will somehow find a way to bring down the price. You should always try to haggle and discuss he pricing of anything. I paid half price for my phone cover at a market stall, I compare it to that.

I believe that coming out of the recession companies are surprisingly more likely to drop a price to keep a customer. Competition is fierce and you can play on that. You are not being stingy or penny grabbing you are being sensible and smart about your insurance pricing!

Go and compare, haggle and prosper!

I should have been an accountant.

There is no fairy finance god mother I am afraid and my mathematical skills are dubious at times.  Finances are always tight when you are a student so I was one of those people who lived out their overdraft. At the time it seems like some sort of magical free money, spending it was no problem. Sadly clearing it off took me 1 year. A year of extra money I could of used to save. If I think of this then I want to give myself a whack for being such an idiot. Oh well though, it is paid off and now I am able to save.

The only problem is saving for going away strikes the fear of death into me. I am so anxious about having enough money I keep having recurring nightmares and my sleep is suffering. I know I need not worry, I have a plan and it is pretty concrete. Still I have that horrid feeling I can’t do it. My student overdraft has ruined my confidence in my money handling abilities. I have however taken a rather grown up decision to take out a credit card to book my flights with. My reasoning is that I can up my credit rating somewhat and alleviate some of the anxiety and pressure I am feeling. This is natural to worry about money for something you really want to do and be a part of.

To help towards saving I have begun a Pledgie campaign where I am hoping to raise money to put towards a donation for the Psychiatric charity Samutthàna and also towards my home-stay costs. To raise some money I am facing one of my biggest fears and walking across the Forth Road Bridge between 10am to 1pm 08/02/2014. If you would like to donate do so or just laugh at the videos and pictures of me crying as I crawl along a the walkway of the bridge keep a tab on my blog and the Pledgie page. I can assure you it will probably be funny. If you have ever dreamt of seeing a 22 year old have a panic attack, cry and hold their mum’s hand across a bridge you will be able to fulfil all your dreams this coming February.

This has been a short post, apologies for this. I now must price flights and compare credit cards. Any financial advisors please feel free to offer free advise now!

I have a few fish to fry…

Hello again readers, I  apologise for once again being gone for so long. I have in fact been rather busy. It turns out if you want to keep yourself busy you sure as heck can, only problem is slowing down. Thankfully we are nearly in the festive season where my work gives me a week off. Hoorah! I shall not talk about my holidays any more in case any of you are unlucky enough to have to work when I am not.

I promise I genuinely have been busy. As you may know if you have read my previous posts I am hoping to become a Primary Teacher and in order to teach children you should really have some of the following things:

  • A love of working with children
  • A strong stomach for the vomit which you will face
  • A good stain remover for pen/ glue
  • A good sense of humour for when they ask if you are pregnant (I am not)
  • An ability to answer questions you never even thought were questions
  • A good diet plan to counteract the sweets they give for presents
  • A memory that can remember names which you never knew were names
  • A plentiful supply of arts and crafts

This is of course what I have picked up so far from working with children and there are countless more things you need. I have been working with a local Brownies and Beavers groups. I am now going to become a Brownie leader in the New Year. This is not for everyone but I can tell you now I have learned one heck of a lot in the couple of months I have been doing it. Working with both boys and girls aged between 6 to 10 is so rewarding. They enjoy doing activities, learning about new things and want to tell you so many stories every day.

I do this in my own time on a Monday and Thursday night after work. It does become tiring at times working 9 – 5 and then having an extra hour on these nights however I look forward to it. The fact when I finish work at the start and mid-week I get to go and have fun for an hour is awesome. It is not just fun and games, this is also valuable experience for me.

I am in a position of leadership with children who look to me to help facilitate and provide activities, crafts, discussion. Groups such as Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, Rainbows, Brownies and Guides seem to have a rather nerdy reputation. I went to them when I was younger but I can assure you they are not. The same songs are still there as when I was 10 but they are timeless and the waiting lists are longer than they have been for years. There are so many groups which need help such as volunteers just to help out at events and activities or leaders to organise and maintain the groups so they can continue to grow and provide a service for children.

You can find out more information here for the Scouting and Guiding associations in your areas:

You can simply follow the links, fill in your details and await a reply. If you are planning on getting involved in teaching I definitely recommend becoming involved in something like this. Even if you are not going into teaching but want something to challenge you and involve you in your local community more have a look at organisations like these.

I have been busy, but for all the right reasons! I will post again soon with some more of my recent adventures. For now, have a great week and a happy festive season no matter how, what or if you celebrate anything at all.

To whom this may concern…

I feel that has to be one of the most formal and stuffy ways to start an e-mail. It makes me feel like I am speaking about covert information. The opening line to an e-mail can be important, especially when you are about to ask someone a multitude of questions regarding their organisation as I do. So what is the best way to open and continue an e-mail?

There is a fine balance between the professional sheen and the friendly tone you wish to convey. Tip to the professional too much and you sound like a robot, but too friendly and you sound desperate. No-one wants to seem like they really want a reply. Then again you don’t want to be too nonchalant and act as if you couldn’t care less.

Maybe this is just me who over thinks every aspect of an e-mail until they begin typing sentences that make little sense but make a nice pattern on the page and are short. Just me? Well then I need to re-evaluate my e-mailing. I know calm down Sarah it is just an e-mail geeze, don’t take it all so seriously. I e-mail a lot of people lately though and it is about something I am passionate about. I want that to come across but not as if I am SHOUTING AT THEM THAT I REALLY NEED TO DO IT BECAUSE I REALLY AM SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT CAUSE AND OMG PLEASEEE LET MEEEE!!!! Then I just sound like a whiney child with too much sugar.

I have come to use a rather boring template:

Dear sir/madam,

My name is Sarah Hayhurst. I am a 22 year old Journalism graduate with a TEFL Merit certificate.
I am looking to teach English abroad, preferably Indonesia due to the amazing culture and beautiful surroundings.

  • insert around about 3 questions here.

After studying journalism for four years and completing my TEFL certificate I would love to teach children the skills I readily know. Being a native English speaker I can teach to a high standard.

Any information would be gratefully received.

Kind Regards,

Sarah Hayhurst

I know it is boring. I know I can write to a far higher standard even in an e-mail but I am losing my way, I have written so many lately. I need help. Bloggers please advise me how to write a great e-mail? I think I need some tips and I am sure others could use a guiding hand too.

“Voluntourism”

Did i just make up the word?! Probably not. Some witty journalist will have pondered long and hard over that one word for a Headline. The reason for this word is a growing market for tourism revolving around volunteering abroad. If you have been following this blog then you will know that I am hoping to go abroad to teach English and I am not sure whether that will be on a voluntary or paid basis.

Lately the voluntary seems the worst. I know I seem like a cretin, there can be nothing wrong with volunteering to help those less fortunate, yada, yada, yada. Actually it really can be. After a quick snoop this lunch time at a few news sites I came across an article on the Daily Mail site. I can hear you all tut. The Daily Mail, as if that writes anything other than what Kim Kardashian is doing this week or how many sledgehammers Miley Cyrus has licked.

Alas my friends, it does! Who would have thought it!? I know I wouldn’t have when I studied journalism. Maybe i have become soft. Back on topic though the article is but a click away here. If you cannot be bothered reading it because you refuse to read such trash let me give you a snippet.

In fact have the headline and subs:

Fake orphanages. Bogus animal sanctuaries. And crooks growing rich on Western gullibility… why do-gooding gap year holidays may be a horrifyingly callous con

  • Caroline Green, 45, from London, volunteered at an orphanage in Thailand
  • Turned out children there were not orphans
  • They had been sent their by families on promise of better life
  • But were actually mistreated while money was made through volunteers
  • Responsibletravel.com no longer offers orphanage volunteering trips
  • Matthew Butler paid to volunteer at animal sanctuary in Costa Rica
  • In fact it was a poorly run zoo and money wasn’t spent on helping animals

LOOK AT HOW BIG THOSE LETTERS ARE, THIS IS SERIOUS EVERYONE!!! Enough of my sarcasm. It really does seem so. Now these people did go for 2 weeks at the minimum, which to me for £200 seems like a) you are making no progress in this short period of time and b) money for a tiny bit of time to make no progress. That is my opinion however many gap year students, retirees and people who want to give something back and have a bit of an adventure do not see it that way.

It has been supposedly uncovered that there are people running scams to get bright-eyed undergrads and those caring older folk to shell out to help people. Instead of the money finding its way to those in need it seems to get lost. The website responsibletravel.com actually removed any orphanage volunteering opportunities because people were setting them up and taking kids who had parents to make a bit of money. This gives me the fear. The fear my western white ideals of helping others and doing so unpaid will be a total sham. I do not want to be part of something that will ruin a local community, only making the rich richer and causing those I wish to help hardship.

SO what the hell do you do?! You start contacting everyone and everything. I decided to have a nose around WordPress. I found a couple of blogs regarding projects for teaching English abroad. I am asking so many questions it must seem absurd to them. I am determined to uncover as much info as possible. I also know someone who knows the consulate of Mongolia… an interesting story for another day.

I have been pestering as many people as I can. I do not want to go somewhere I am not needed and I sure as hell do not want to go somewhere I will make no difference and worse. I do not want to do this to change the country and colonise it for the Western world. I have an understanding English is a fantastic tool in business, translators are always required and I would love to learn more about the world and different cultures after growing up in a Scottish town where I still hear the sentence ‘I’m not racist but…’ far too much. My eyes are starting to open to the business to be made out of volunteering and I am beginning to sway away from it. I will not rule it out, only more digging and information will decide it.

If you have any experiences volunteering or teaching abroad please share them with me, I am intrigued!

‘It’s just a hobby now…’

I find myself uttering this sentence all to often I think. During a conversation at dinner or in a pub you are always asked the generic ‘where and you from?’ and ‘what do you do? ‘. Then there is always the one person who takes extra interest and asks “Did you go to university?”. Why yes I did and I studied journalism and yes I did say I work in the building trade industry. A million miles away. Then the dreaded ‘So you don’t do journalism at all?!’ the slight shock coming through in their voice. Of course I say it is a hobby. Why because I do not get paid for the journalism I do, not with money. I go to gigs without paying and I get to listen to music without paying (which people seem to do anyway). I write about these things. It isn’t a hobby but it isn’t a job. Trying to find a word to sum this up however seems impossible. People will look at me like I am and idiot whether I am doing a job they think should be a paid position for free or if I do nothing at all to do with my degree.

I think it is time to begin using the word ‘freelance’ again. After all I am a freelance journalist just currently not in a paid capacity. After recently filling in an online application form I have come across previous pieces of work such as reviews and interviews. For your reading pleasure here is one from when I was part of the music team for my university magazine; The Edit. All the way from back in December 2011. I also highly recommend the band Into It Over It for your listening pleasure.