Under 25? The Future Looks Bleak.

Something has been baffling me: why won’t – under the government’s budget proposals – those under the age of 25 be entitled to the much-hyped National Living Wage? This puzzlement has spurred me to understand why the government has excluded young people, who are at the start of their adult lives, from their plans to implement a compulsory National Living Wage from April 2016.

As far as I’m aware, those of us under the age of 25: do not have the luxury of cheaper rents, do not find our appetite increases dramatically the moment we reach 25, and we generally don’t receive discounts on our daily living expenses. I mean, I certainly don’t and my friends and peers would concur.

So i’m sat here thinking, what could possibly be the reason to exclude around 2 million people from a decent standard of living?

It just doesn't feel like it, Dave.
It just doesn’t feel like it, Dave.
The Treasury has argued that “the priority is to secure work and gain experience” for those under 25. But that doesn’t really answer, if at all, the question as to what these people are supposed to live off. Experience is all well and good, but people still need to pay rent and bills, buy food and generally live their lives. Is the Treasury inferring that if you’re under 25, you need to prove your worth before you can afford a standard of living which won’t tip you below the line and into poverty?

Unfortunately, it’s not just paying a decent wage to under 25s the government appears to have a problem with. The budget has also detailed plans to scrap the maintenance grant from students attending University and to scrap housing benefit if you’re 18-21 years old.

The three of these (abolishment of maintenance grant, no NLW wage and scrapping housing benefit for under 21s) combined is a brutal blow against young people in England today. They’re a barrier that is immediately constructed the very second you’re about to try and start your life as an adult. And it’s an assault to those who find themselves from backgrounds with little or no money.

I’m going to keep researching this. I find the government’s reasoning bizarre and illogical. And in all honesty, it’s worrying as we’re only now at  the start of a five year Conservative government.


The Sharing Element Of Social.

Why do ReTweet on Twitter, Share things on Facebook and Repin things on Pinterest? Why is it when we watch a YouTube video we feel the need to post it to our friends on our social networks? Why do we tag each other in posts we feel the other person may be interested in?

This idea of sharing isn’t unique to social media. It’s a deep routed human behaviour. Sharing helps us maintain relationships, and provide to those who need it. The sharing of information can help us educate and inform those around us. It’s only natural that this behaviour transfers and is one the key aspects within the worlds of digital and social.

I think it’s significant to point out that our relationships play a huge part on what we share and where we share it. What someone shares on one social platform may by different to the content they share on another. For example, my friends on Facebook are different to the ones I have on Twitter, which in itself is no surprise. Facebook is better for ‘older connections’ like school/uni friends, and family. Whereas Twitter lends more to specific interests and networking within similar circles. So the content I post on Twitter is, generally speaking, more suited to my social media/political/newsy followers, rather than my friends on Facebook who aren’t particularly interested in that sort of stuff.

Our relationships on social media can be thought of as ‘ties’. Mark Granovetter’s 1973 paper titled ‘The strength of Weak Ties‘ argues that the more weak ties we have – and by this he means friends of friends, acquaintances ect. – the more open we are to differing points of views and opinions. The closer the ties – family, friends and close work colleges – the less exposed we are to different types of information. Although Granovetter wrote this in 1973, his theory resonates and reflects our social and digital lives today. We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who share the same points of view as ourselves and so we are less likely to be exposed to differing opinions or unfamiliar pieces of information.

Weak ties can allow us to find new information, and perhaps opportunities we would not have otherwise been exposed to. But our closer ties are more likely to share similar interests and therefore, any content that is shared is likely to be happily received. We are more likely to share with these people. From the perspective of brands or political parties, it’s sometimes necessary to reach all different sorts of people, for example, people that wouldn’t usually vote for you or perhaps consider buying your product. In this instance, weak ties are more valuable than close ties.

The next point is the actual content we’re sharing; the stuff we post. It’s been established we like to share – we’re a sharing bunch. But what are we actually sharing?

List creating, GIF-making site BuzzFeed has continued to grow in size at an astounding rate. BuzzFeed creates content which has a tendency to evoke an emotional response. Cats for example, are cute and generally speaking, who doesn’t like a video of a cat hugging another cat? This is because it causes us to elicit an emotion; it’s cute, it makes us feel happy and fuzzy inside. And being the caring, sharing people that we are, we want to pass this feeling on to our nearest and dearest.

It’s not just cats that cause us to experience that sharing feeling though. Emotions in general make people want to Share, Repost and ReTweet. Nostalgia, humour and agreement with a cause, can all be reasons to share content. As can anger, or sadness. Negative emotions such as disagreement tend to have to be stronger than positive emotions for someone to act and share that particular content. People are also more likely to share content which says something about themselves as a person. Perhaps a news article about the polar icecaps melting confirms you’re a caring, environment loving, intellectual and you would quite like your friends and acquaintances to also view you in this way. We don’t consciously think this, but our sharing of such information helps build our online persona. We share because it helps us to feel connected with the world around us, and it’s one of the reason I’m so passionate and interested about the continuing developments within social media.

And here’s a pleasing infographic for your enjoyment


Credit: CoSchedule Blog

Digital and Social with #mydigitalcareer

#MyDigitalCareer was an event created and hosted by Cloud Nine Recruitment for graduates and recent graduates. CJ977JFUEAAibaD

I graduated over a year ago, and I’m ashamed to say my passion for all things political and social has waned a little over the last 12 months. I felt shut out from a world of which I was once part of, and missed being ‘in the know’. This is mostly because during University I spent a lot of my time researching, writing and tweeting my way through my degree. The lack of this purposeful learning had led to a feeling of lessened confidence and a doubting in my ability to succeed.

I’m not someone who gives up easily; I will fight for what I want. It’s just a year of persistent rejection for copious job applications had taken their toll. I was tired and disillusioned.

Then along came a blog post written on LinkedIn by Steve at Cloud Nine Recruitment. The mention of #MyDigitalCareer, flicked a switch in my brain, I was excited at the thought of learning and meeting people within an industry I was desperate to explore and get into.

Around a month later, the first day of #MyDigitalCareer arrived. The first session was based at Cloud Nine’s office in Soho. I sat at the back, nervous at not knowing what to expect. As it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The other attendees were super friendly, and the talks from Tiffany St James (Director, Transmute), Krishna De (Digital Consultant and Personal Branding Consultant) and Danny Whatmough (Head of Social Media EMEA, Weber Shandwick) , were the perfect start to the week. Tiffany’s career in particular was fascinating with her background in the digital side of politics (Tiffany is the ex Head of Digital for the UK Government), something which I myself am passionate about. I had a bit of a fan girl moment when I met Tiffany, and by that I mean I jumped around a bit when she spoke about Parliament.

Fast forward a day and Wednesday was host to the graduate case studies. Rachel Kneen (Social Media Manager, O2), Ben Fox (Social Media Strategist, 33) and Charlie Southwell, Director of the brilliant Transmute, told us about their journeys into digital. As with all the speakers, a focus on persistence, networking and reading seemed to be amongst the top tips. I should say now; after each talk we had a chance to mingle whilst sipping on wine/beer and nibbling on a variety of snacks. Talking about digital, having a social drink and nibbling away – what a perfect combination!

Thursday was the day of corporate and the day of the ladies. The event was held at Ernest and Young over at More London in London Bridge. We heard from three incredible women who worked inhouse doing Digital for different sectors: Charlie Duff  (EY, Global Media Relations), Laura Oliver (Senior Social Community Manager, The Guardian) and Keri Hudson (Social Media Manager, Cancer Research UK). The talks were fascinating insights into the workings of Social within three totally different settings. After the talks we were treated to Prosecco and canapés curtsey of EY. 

And last but not least, Friday: the evening of the gentlemen. Matt Buckalnd (Lyst), Jeremy Waite (Salesforce) and Steve Ward (Cloud Nine Recruitment). A great way to finish a fantastically informative week. We had inspirational quotes from Steve (mostly his own, but made perfect sense!), a look through the eyes of the recruiter from Matt, and a powerful talk about applying for jobs within the digital world from Jeremy. It was the perfect end to a fantastic week.

The biggest tip of the week? Never stop learning. Read. Keep reading, keep researching  and never give up.

Without sounding too cheesy, this week has been inspirational. It’s given me a new energy – a more positive outlook – when it comes to job hunting and my future career.

A huge thank you to the whole team at Cloud Nine Recruitment.

The dark side of Venlafaxine

Depression and drugs seem to go hand in hand. The idea that a little pill has the ability to lift you out of a seemingly never ending bout of depression is a beam of light shining into the darkest of caves. It gives of a ray of hope, a fix to the physical, brain numbing pain of depression. Taking antidepressants alongside a talking therapy such as counselling or CBT has shown to provide better results than if each treatment option was given alone. An antidepressant can provide the patient with the time and clarity to sort through any of the problems that may have been contributing to their depression or anxiety. This is good. Mental illness needs a dual approach. The physical and the mental are very much intertwined, and one should not be separated from the other.download (1)

I say this from personal experience. I’ve had both positive and negative experiences from the mental health services provided by the NHS. But that’s not what I want to write about today. I want to talk about a drug called Venlafaxine.

Venlafaxine, or Effexor by its brand name, is an SNRI (serotonin – norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) which blocks the reuptake of the neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. The Mayo Clinic says that SNRIs such as Venlafaxine work by “…changing the balance of these chemicals seems to help brain cells send and receive messages, which in turn boosts mood.”

That’s the very basic explanation of what an SNRI is and what they do. Most people will be familiar with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which work in a similar way to SNRIs but tend not have an effect on norepinephrine. SSRIs such as Prozac, Sertraline and Citalopram are usually prescribed as a first line treatment option for depression and anxiety disorders. This is because, compared to SNRIs and other antidepressants (tricyclics ect.), SSRIs have milder side effects, less risks and are generally much easier to come off.

Venlafaxine on the other hand; not so much. Like all drugs, Venlafaxine will have varying success rates, side effects and withdrawal effects for each individual person. However, the number of patients that report bad withdrawal effects is worrying. Having taken Venlafaxine myself, I can say the withdrawal scared me as to how much it can affect your body and mind.venlafaxine75mg-tev

I was first prescribed Venlafaxine about 5 years ago. I was going through a rather nasty bout of depression and anxiety, and having tried a few SSRIs, it was recommended I try Venlafaxine. At the time I remember being wiling to try anything. I was 18/19 years old and just wanted to live my life the way all my friends were. I really wanted to be happy. So I went home and started this new little ray of hope in the form of a little peachy round pill.

Actually going onto the drug was no easy feat. The side effects were varied: headaches, cold sweats, nausea, dry mouth, consistent yawning (!?)…the list goes on. After about two weeks everything settled down, and after about six weeks the benefits and mood lifting magic kicked in. Whilst I was taking Venlafaxine I was also seeing a CBT therapist and I believe the combination of the two worked well. It was during the first six months of treatment that I decided to move to London and start a new university degree.

This was scary, but exciting. I was fully aware that I would find it difficult. But regardless I made the giant leap and another six months later found myself living in the big city! Admittedly the first four months or so were not easy. I was very anxious and felt socially inept. But I knew, in the back of my mind, I had the strength to stride through the blanket of anxiety which seemed to cloak my every waking moment.

When I returned to Cornwall for a break, I had an appointment with my GP, who increased my dose of Venlafaxine to the maximum out-patient dose of 375mg as Venlafaxine tends to work better at higher doses. “Okay” I thought, unaware of the implications this decision would cause me in the future.

Back at Uni, I found that the high dose had turned my brain into a blended pile of goop. I was a zombie. It felt like someone had stuffed my head full of cotton wool, which was unfortunate as I had essays to write. I somehow managed to pass my first year, but during the start of my second year I decided it was time to reduce the Venlafaxine if I was going to have any sort of change of succeeding at my degree.

My new GP decided as I was on such a high dose (five tablets a day!) It would be fine to lobb one off. So, under this guidance I went from 375mg to a nicer looking 300mg a day.

Oh dear.

The reduction made me feel ill. Really very ill. I found it impossible to walk 10 minutes to the shops without overheating, feeling weak and battling with an overwhelming sense of nausea. I also had my first experience of ‘brain zaps’ which I would experience again only a few months later, albeit at a much stronger intensity.

After reducing my dose, I thought I’d wait a bit before I tried to reduce it further. I also now knew I would have to taper down much more slowly than I originally anticipated, which is something I found a few GP’s just didn’t fully understand.

And now to the moment where my hatred for Venlafaxine started. Yes, a hatred. I ran out. It wasn’t my smartest of moments, and I should of planned better, but it happens. I forgot to put in my prescription. This meant I had 48 hours of no Venlafaxine. You see, the thing about Venlafaxine is that is has a relativity short half life (that’s how long the drug stays in your system) and so one missed dose plays havoc with the brain.

Never before had I felt so awful. The flu + having a hangover was better than what I was experiencing. I was a mess. I felt sick to my stomach, I was anxious, crying, I couldn’t sleep or eat. My brain was zapping like crazy. Brain zaps are quite unique and pretty difficult to explain. My best way to describe it is as if your brain shivers and you feel out of sync for about one second at a time. It’s not painful, but very unsettling and doesn’t help with the nausea.

What’s scary is that you can feel your brain adjusting to having no Venlafaxine.

The way I was treated by out of hours staff during this accidental withdrawal was pretty appalling. It felt like I was being treated like a criminal who was trying to score a fix. I was told I should have planned better, which was something I was pretty damn aware of. I was told to “calm down” (over the phone) which didn’t make me feel calm, funnily enough.

To zoom forward a little, I went back on Venlafaxine but was now very determined to come off it.

So I started my gradual decline in dosage. I’ve managed to get down to just one and a half tablets a day, that’s 112.5mg from 375mg. It’s taken me about two years.

I’ve written this because I think there needs to be more warning, more understanding and more awareness about the pro and cons of certain medications. Although Venlafaxine is classed as ‘not addictive’ that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy to come off.

I feel like I’ve had to battle depression, anxiety and Venlafaxine. At 24 years old that makes me tired. I like to think I’ve almost won all three battles.

Food banks? HOW DARE THEY!

Five years ago the media barely reported on the use of food banks in the UK. This was mainly because the need for charitable service, providett by the Christian charity The Trussell Trust, wasn’t anywhere as near as what it is today. After the longest decline in a century, living standards are only now starting to recover. Not that many of the poorest households will feel this much hyped recovery, as wages are, for the most part, below the recommended living wage, with the Trussell Trust saying there has been a 38% increase in food bank use despite the economic recovery. Whilst some households find themselves making the desperate decision whether to pay the electricity bill or buy a weeks worth of food shopping, the despicable media troll, Katie Hopkins, has (unsurprisingly) been slating the rise and use of food banks. The Trussell Trust has stated that in the last twelve months alone, over one million food parcels have been handed out to families, up from 900,000 from the previous year (a 19% rise).

Katie Hopkins, disagrees with the use of food banks. Her article in The Sun, labels those who have used food banks as “idle voucher tourists” who move around to “score new nappies and deodorant they can flog for fags and booze”. Hopkins makes reference to the fact that these people probably have SKY and a mobile phone. God forbid! How dare they have anything nice in their lives! They must live in total poverty to be worthy of help from the welfare state! It’s this attitude which annoys me and many others. There are people, families, that suddenly fall into financial hardship. Whether that be from illness/disability, the loss of their job, to a history of financial problems which have caught up with them. These people can’t always foresee the circumstance they may find themselves in. This is where the safety net of the benefit system is suppose to fall into place. Its supposed to help these people in their time of need. And yet we have gotten to a point where the use of welfare is reported on as a weakness, something that the majority of people don’t really need. All of their problems would suddenly alleviate if they just got a job.

Which presents yet another problem; jobs. To echo the familiar Conservative rhetoric, yes employment has gone up, with an unemployment rate of 5.6% (the lowest since 2008). But pay is sluggish, hours are unreliable and zero hour contracts still exist. This all builds into a wider system which fails a wide, and varied proportion of the UK. It supports the housing crisis – people can’t afford the deposit to put down on a house – which in turn spurs on the increasing problem with renting. Landlords and estate agents put up rents and charge usually unreasonable ‘admin’ fees. We’re all too familiar with the crazy London flat adverts which boast an ‘affordable’ tiny little room where you can reach the cooker from your bed. And it’s maddeningly become the norm.

And these are some of the reasons I’m voting Labour on May 7th 2015. Labour who support rent control, who want to end the use of zero hour contracts and believe in the foundations and values of state welfare. I believe another five years of a Conservative government would see living standards among the poorest in our society decline further, dragging others with it. Whilst the richest, the banks and the affluent, find themselves living in a country which supports their needs and no one else’s. I don’t think that’s fair. Do you?

The Slow Start of a New Chapter: Life After University

In two weeks time it will be a year since I turned 23 and sat sobbing in a pub, having cracked under the months of degree and life related pressure. I felt fragile, weak and ashamed at such a public display of emotion. But for me it was reaching boiling point; having worked incredibly hard for three years and sensing the end of something I was so emotionally and intellectually invested in. It all paid off: I managed to receive a First Class Honours degree, something which was, and still is, such a massive personal achievement. In the end the sad little tears which rained on my birthday were ultimately worth it.10414429_10152167654316781_5253564199295525113_n (2)

Having finished my degree I rushed to find a job – any job – which would allow me to continue living my dream in London. I luckily found a job in retail pretty quickly, although not my ideal area of work, it was something which would allow me to live in London whilst continuing to try and achieve my career goals and fulfil my aspirations.

Nearly a year on and I’m still, frustratingly, in the same place. I still work in retail, and whilst it pays relatively well for the job that I’m doing, it’s still not enough to realistically – in the long term – live in London. The longer this persists, the more my confidence in my ability to succeed continues to fall. I know I’m not stupid, but I can feel any intelligence that I did have crumbling away. I don’t feel as capable or as knowledgeable as I did whilst studying for my degree. Just the other day a customer didn’t want to “deal with me” as I was “just a shop assistant” and although I know there’s nothing wrong with being shop assistant, it was still somewhat demoralising.

My search for a more degree related job has been consistently rumbling in the background, now and again coming forward whilst I apply for possible new jobs. It’s a lengthy and sometimes, tedious, process. But it’s one which I hope will eventually pay off.

Writing this blog post is something I’ve been putting off for months on end. I haven’t written properly since my degree and the thought of tapping out words and posting them for all to see is slightly anxiety provoking. But I feel ready; I’m finding my feet and using them to run for the first time in a year. I want to succeed and I want to feel a sense of pride. This feels like the first refreshing step.