Exposure Asks: what do we feel grateful for?

June 8, 2023

L-R: Williette Fewry, Alessia Georgiou, Raneen Jerashy, Valentina Theodoulou and Kirsty Boyen

Exposure asks young people at Compton School to reflect on what makes them happy

As young people life often feels like it’s going at 100 miles per hour. We often find ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of activities and responsibilities with many demands and expectations. There’s always somewhere to be and something to be doing; from school exams and extracurricular commitments to managing social media and contemplating our future.

We get swept up in all of this. It feels impossible to take even half an hour out of our day to sit still, reflect and just be. I mean actually try it! Lately I’ve barely been able to keep my mind away from worrying about exams, until I give in to the urge to check twitter for the latest news.

Through our work with Exposure, on the Grateful Project, a special time and space has opened up for us to take a break from the pressures of teenage-hood.

We pause and engage in deep introspection to gain a better understanding of who we are, what we value, and what truly brings us happiness. We discuss
the wide ranging experiences and environments that shape our lives and identities.

We discover spirituality and how it allows us to accept ourselves. We explore the profound benefits that creative outlets and sport have on wellbeing. We celebrate the joys and navigate the stresses that come with being young and female, as well as starting to understand feelings associated with unmet expectations.

Practicing gratitude allows us to find solace, appreciate the present moment, and manage difficulties with a positivity, finding pleasure in the simplest of things. We should all make more time to do it!
Kirsty Boyen

Scroll down and use the slider tool to see what we think of these topics, and to view relevant thoughts and facts we want to share. The images to the left show what we feel, or invite you to think about, while the images on the right provide information on each issue.

What are the things I’m grateful for? — by Valentina Theodoulou, 17

Choosing a singular thing that I’m grateful for is a struggle.

Sure, I appreciate my hobbies, reading and listening to music, undoubtedly more than I value other things. I enjoy K-pop, and listening to my favourite song, End of the Road by Boyz to Men, brings me great pleasure.

Yet, all my experiences, whether they be positive or negative, have shaped me to become the person that I am today. And I’m grateful for that.

I’ve had a passion for performing for as long as I can remember, taking dance classes from the age of eight, performing annually on stage in showcases. And at 11 I was acting and singing in the West End show, Fiddler on the Roof.

Although I was initially excited, the long train journeys, and my sore, tired feet from dancing all day, started to drain me. Until eventually something that I was so passionate about became unsatisfying to me.

I am so thankful for my family, my friends and my energy for performing

However, in time, I thought to myself, how many people in this world are lucky enough to have the ability to be in the position that I’m in? I began to fully realise how my family have relentlessly stood by my side and provided me with these amazing opportunities; while I often complained and naïvely turned down some great offers.

With hindsight, I’m now 17, I am so thankful for my family, my friends and my energy for performing. Even though my negative emotions and thoughts are entirely valid, there’s no point in overthinking and dwelling on what now seems like minor inconveniences, as they’re exactly that, minor.

As soon as the long journeys that I dreaded on the way to rehearsals were over I found myself longing to be back there, part of a great cast of a multi-award-winning stage musical. I didn’t realise how grateful I was for this opportunity until it was no longer part of my life.

I’ve turned negative experiences into positive ones; my aching feet after days of dancing becoming something that I’m proud of, a symbol of my hard work!

Dancing and drama are a great creative outlet and when I’m in action, my mood lifts and I feel better.

Having this opportunity to stop and think about what I appreciate has made me feel happier. And that I am grateful for.

I used to believe friendship was something I was owed with no effort — by Kirsty Boyen, 17

I’d known for some time that I was looking for a change when it came to going into sixth form. I wanted a fresh start, a new, perfect group of friends and a whole new experience.

I didn’t hesitate for a second and jumped head-first into open evenings, brochures and taster days. When results day came around, I was firm in my choice. I went to my current school, Compton sixth form, and filled out the forms. I was ready to go.

However, things didn’t go the way I hoped. I didn’t feel like I meshed with my peer group. I felt like an outsider, looking in with envy on the new relationships my peers were making, which just wasn’t happening for me.

After a few weeks I became angry. Why couldn’t I find the friends I deserved? Why was I stuck in the same position I’d always been with relationships? Why does everyone hate me?

Looking back at what I felt and thought is so cringe-worthy now. I think that I’ve always had issues with entitlement; main character syndrome, identifying as the protagonist in my own life story. I believed I’d always done the right thing – being good and hard working – so things should work out. But that never really happened for me as far as relationships go.

Gradually, I noticed a real change in myself. No anger, no frustration, more acceptance

I started to accept myself and my issues around friendships during Christmas break. I think it gave me time to step back and look deeply into my behaviour. Why was I so upset? I realised that “I’m not owed friendship. It’s something I need to engage with and work on.”

During the spring term I repeated this mantra to myself. Gradually, I noticed a real change in myself; I would go to school, have my lessons, talk to a few people and that would be completely fine, enough. No anger, no frustration, just a normal day.

The most radical change for me was when a lot of the enrichment programmes the school offered started up. I chose to work with Exposure and to do an EPQ exploring social behaviour. I made these choices all by myself; not because of what my friends were doing; not because of what I thought was cool. I decided to make choices that suited me, just me.

This change has began to flow into other areas of my life, from the clothes I wear, the things I watch, to the way I talk. I feel like I need the validation of people less and less and I am coming into myself.

I’m grateful for not getting what I wanted as it allowed me to look at myself and to understand who I am and why I am the way that I am. The more comfortable I am in my skin the more I can connect with others.

How to train your mind to improve your mental health — by Alessia Georgiou, 16

Before I break it down and begin, I want to remind all of us that having mental health issues is completely normal and won’t just disappear overnight. The aim is for us to acknowledge how we feel; suppressing or denying our emotions will only increase anxiety and stress.

Much about our lives is uncertain and many things remain outside our control. Ever since lockdown, teaching myself ways to quieten and enrich my mind has helped immensely in improving my mental health, and I hope that by sharing what I’ve learnt it will help you too. Here is what I’ve discovered:

Gratitude
Focusing on what is good in our lives and appreciating it by pausing and noticing what we often take for granted is incredibly important.

How we can express gratitude:

  • Noticing: stop for a moment and acknowledge the good things in your life, the thoughtful things people do, and what you do for others
  • Feeling: appreciate what you’re grateful for. Allow yourself to let it make you feel good about yourself and your life
  • Doing: journal what you are grateful for, saying it aloud or in your head. Tell someone you appreciate them or do something kind for yourself or for others.

How will this help?

  • We can refocus on what we have, rather than what we lack
  • We’ll notice the positives more often than the negatives
  • We’ll feel greater happiness
  • It will help relish good experiences
  • It will help deal with adversity.

‘There are only two days in the year that cannot be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly, live” – Dalai Lama.

Affirmations
Practicing positive thinking and self-empowerment is a vital tool for improving your mental health.

I started by finding powerful phrases that resonate with me. Over time with concentration and regular repetition of these positive words, my mind started to embody them. This practice has motivated, challenged and pushed me to reach my full potential in life.

How do you do this?

  • Write down several areas in your life or behaviours that you’d like to work on
  • Turn negatives into positives; note down the persistent thoughts and beliefs that are bothering you. Then choose an affirmation that is the opposite of that thought or belief
  • Visualise: don’t just think, imagine these affirmations and what it would be like to embody them
  • Repetition: the power of affirmations lies in repeating them to yourself regularly. It’s useful to recite your affirmations several times a day (have them pop up in your notifications!). Examples: ‘I am worthy.’ ‘I attract good things.’ ‘I am deserving.’ ‘I attract success.’

How will this help?

  • Reprogram your thinking patterns positively
  • Increase your confidence
  • Build up your self-esteem – learn to love yourself
  • You’ll start to attract more good things – by speaking them into existence
  • Motivation and focus beats procrastination
  • Calming your nerves will help in stressful situations (e.g. a test or job interview).

Healing 
There are numerous ways to help you heal and there are many healing methods. However, it doesn’t mean you will be totally cured or that you will never feel the ramifications of any trauma or negativity you’ve experienced in your life.

Nevertheless, shadow work is a healing method that has helped me greatly. It is working with your unconscious mind to uncover the parts of yourself that you repress and hide from. These can be parts of your personality that you subconsciously consider undesirable.

How do you do shadow work?

  • Identify your inner shadow: spot habits you may have that are bad or are bringing you down. What patterns do you replicate that are holding you back?
  • Think back to your childhood: explore what parts of you were treated as bad or lesser as a child. Which emotions were you punished for having? Look into inner child healing;
  • Avoid shaming your shadow: embrace the things you don’t like about yourself. Fully accept that side of yourself and practice self-awareness;
  • Shadow journal or inner dialogue: you can let out your thoughts using the written word. Write whatever comes up without overthinking it. Or have inner conversations with your shadow. Ask yourself some questions and listen without judgment.

How will this help?

  • You will build better relationships with others. You can only fully love and accept others when you love and accept yourself;
  • Gaining self-acceptance will get rid of the self-loathing you may unconsciously have and help you accept all parts of yourself;
  • Discover your hidden talents. You can uncover the ‘gold in your shadow bags’ – your inner strengths and resources you didn’t realise you had. Tempt this empowered side of yourself out of hiding so you step into everything you are capable of doing;
  • Increase your clarity. It will give you greater awareness of how your thoughts, emotions, and feelings lead you to act the way you do.

I hope my suggestions help you improve your mental health 😊

Life can be challenging, but the probability of being born is..? — by Williette Fewry, 16

There are eight billion people on this earth – what are the odds that me and you happen to be part of that?

There is not one person in this world who is exactly like me, that can think or speak like me, who looks like me or who has my inner mysteries. The radiance in my skin, the way I move – let alone my strut! – is all uniquely me! My DNA and each of my fingerprints are like no others.

As a young black girl in this world, it’s undeniable that I face extensive derision and ridicule, way more than my white peers. I often feel held to impossible standards, which I know is a common feeling amongst black women and girls.

I embrace my culture and I’m proud of it. I was born and live in the UK, nurturing the London culture. However, growing up with Sierra Leonean heritage, that culture, I’d say, is what I prefer. It comes more naturally to me.

I stay grounded through my feet and express myself with dance. I‘ve trained professionally for nine years in performing arts and dance, a long time. I’m only 16 now and started at seven. Watching, learning and being part of new creative experiences has been the best thing for me to build my confidence. I’m very grateful for these opportunities. My supportive and amazing family makes me, me. I’m proud to be Williette Fewry.

As a young black girl there are numerous subsections to how we are regarded in society. Generally, we’re pathologised in popular culture, being portrayed as unintelligent or as a sapphire caricature by the media.

I’ve helped myself by reading an amazing book, The Well-Read black girl, by Glory Edim

Young black women are often perceived with adultification bias which means we’re supposedly less innocent than our white peers. Sadly, these prejudices are not something I can easily overcome.

I feel continuously criticised for every action I take. I’ve helped myself by reading an amazing book, The Well-Read black girl, by Glory Edim. It highlights the intricate issues that affect me and has given me ways to dealing with them.

However, identifying and understanding these misconceptions means I can see them for the unjust, negative stereotypes that they are and go from there. I’ve certainly learnt to be patient, resilient and gentle with myself.

I’ve learnt that if I don’t accept myself with love, kindness, and nurture – who will? And without the respect for myself, it’s hard to show care for others. I’m blessed enough to have a loving family to remind me that I should express myself the way I see fit and not for anyone else’s approval.

I find journaling is also a great way to ground myself and understand exactly how I’m feeling in any particular moment. I try to write every day with a view to strengthening my self-acceptance which I believe is crucial to feeling fulfilled and confident. This is a work in progress; I’m still learning.

Sport has a profound and positive impact on your mental health — by Raneen Jerashy, 17

Reports by John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation showed 89% of people who exercised regularly found a significantly positive association between physical activity and mental health.

From a very young age I have been in love with the gymnastics. I’ve reached the highest levels, competing on behalf of Great Britain (GB), having a Nike sponsorship, and being offered a trial for the 2024 Olympics. All of which I’m very grateful for; the sport has been a lifeline for me because I have suffered bullying for many years.

Bullying: in my experience it’s a dangerously normalised term that can go completely unrecognised due to a lack of understanding and awareness.

It can be extremely traumatic, especially when it happens over a prolonged period. One thing I can confidently say is that bullying impacts every aspect of your life.

I’ve suffered physical and verbal bullying for much of my life. School has always felt an intimidating, unsafe place where I felt drained physically and mentally.

Mental health: I feel this is another subjective term that is often disregarded due to the stigma surrounding it. Yes, we’ve come a long way with mental health awareness week, helplines, and the availability of talking therapies. But with never-ending NHS mental health waiting lists and responses from helpline services taking over seven hours, it’s not exactly supportive, to say the least.

Gymnastics was always and will always be my safest place. It’s the one and only thing I refuse to let go of. I’ve already lost too much of myself due to people’s opinions and actions, and gymnastics will not be the next thing to go.

Despite my struggles, through my determination and hard work I’m where I’ve always dreamed of being

I’ve had so many injuries, but I’ve always been determined to push through. I always finish the routine, finish the dismounts, finish the tumbling pass. It’s all paid off and I’m where I have always dreamed of being, a team GB gymnast and Nike sponsored athlete.

Many people around me at school saw me as a strong person which seemed to affect how they responded to my desperate situation. I constantly felt like I was not taken seriously despite the despair I expressed. I felt truly ground down and utterly isolated, with nobody taking me seriously and so the bullying continued.

However, throughout these traumatic experiences it was reinforced in me that I needed to find the inner resilience to keep my head above water. As cliché as it sounds, actions speak louder than words; over and over people said that they were there for me but when it came to it, they were nowhere to be seen.

It continues to be a difficult journey; behind the makeup, the outfits, the curled hair and the smile, I’m still the same girl that has to overcome the impact of continued, intense verbal and physical bullying. I feel like no one understands me, which has an unimaginable effect on my life. Even in places where I feel the most comfortable, like my gymnastics training, I find myself losing confidence for no rational reason.

My gymnastics journey hasn’t been easy or smooth sailing either. My struggles with mental health, feeling low, empty, anxious and alone, have often blunted my passion for the sport. Unfortunately, the bullying and its knock-on effect often managed to take over, flattening my confidence and blurring my achievements.

However, on my gymnastics journey someone special taught me that life is just like a gymnastics routine: You land incorrectly, you carry on. You don’t do well at an event, you move on to the next one. You didn’t have a good competition, so prepare for the next. For this wisdom, I am grateful.

If like me, you often feel like life won’t get better, along the way there are aspects that will, more than you see right now. I can assure you of that.

I’ve been stuck in a negative cycle for a long time but have fought to keep going. I try to embrace and appreciate anything and everything good in my life. My gymnastics is where I’ve always wanted it to be and I’m sure it will continue to play a big part in my happiness for the rest of my life.

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

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