I actively avoid thinking about the future most of the time. Part of this is because it sends me into a blinding panic of attempting to work out how I will ever get a job and afford a house and a cat (yes, it's an essential item) and change lightbulbs and work out how to pay bills and all that terrifying "adult" stuff. I reckon these are fairly common worries for people my age... but the main reason I avoid thinking about the future is because Mum won't be there, and why would I want to imagine or think about a life without my Mum?
This complete mental block about the future has been making life a little difficult lately. I can think a couple of days ahead, and I can put things in my diary a couple of weeks in advance if I know I'll be able to cancel if I have to, but that's about it. Try to imagine what it's like to be unable to think about the future. Firm summer holiday plans are out of the question, and anything further than that is impossible: vague plans for Christmas, career or promotion ideas, dreams of living in another part of the country... Thinking about these things is a luxury that, for now, I don't have.
It makes it hard to make good decisions daily. Only when you stop thinking about the future do you realise how much keeping it in mind affects your daily decisions. Eating healthily, exercising daily, going to bed on time, revising for an exam; in making all of these decisions, we factor in the future. If I knew I had no future beyond today, I'd probably stay up late and eat a tonne of chocolate... I definitely wouldn't bother revising.
On Saturday, I went down to London for a session with Team v - a programme which takes 100 young people from around the country and works with them over nine months to lead three social action campaigns. I have been on the Team v programme since August 2012 (just before Mum was diagnosed the first time), starting out as a leader, and eventually graduating to be a senior mentor. This programme is the only thing which has been a constant in my life since Mum's original diagnosis. The circumstances of my education, job, friends and family have all changed, but this has always been there and the people I have met through it are amazing.
Unfortunately, the programme is coming to an end this summer, the funding is ending. For me, and many others, this is a huge loss. In the same way that I don't think about a future without Mum, I've been trying not to think of a future without Team v.
I've had times in the past three years when I've felt completely hopeless. Mum's been ill and things have seemed dark, but because of Team v, I have stood up and spoken to a room of 100 young people excited about changing the world... it has lifted me up, and given me hope. When Mum was in hospital in February, I got a surprise bunch of flowers and a card from my Team v family, showing me that even though my friends are scattered around the country, they care about me, they're there for me, and they understand. We have a strong bond spanning the length and breadth of the country, and despite the programme ending, that will always remain.
This Saturday, we were consolidating what we'd learned over the years we've been involved in the programme. We did activities which involved thinking about our own personal strengths, and speaking about the strengths and personal qualities of others. The first part of this is immensely difficult for me - like many of us, I can easily see positive qualities in others, but I struggle to see or articulate my own.
I left the day absolutely exhausted, but happy. I'm going to miss this programme so much, it's made an incredible difference to my life (something I will write more about on my personal blog sometime over the next few weeks). But even though there will be no more leaders coming through Team v, no physical office space, and no staff working on it, it's not disappearing completely. It will always be in my heart and in the hearts of those who've been involved in it. I will never forget the things I've learned or the people I've met through it. Furthermore, there are around 350 young people around the country who've been through the programme and who are going to continue to make a difference in their communities, and that gives me hope.
Being back with these people on Saturday gave me hope for the future for the first time in a very long time. It reminded me that though it may be a life without my Mum, there is a life waiting for me. Whatever happens outside of me, I am still me and I can still achieve amazing things. Hope and gratitude are so fragile, but so important. I am grateful for the brilliant people around me who lift me up, inspire me to hope for the future, and be the best version of myself that I can be.
Some of the Team v mentors, never missing the opportunity to dress up or take a selfie.