“I’m from South London and was at school during the 70s, then moved to Hastings about 23 years ago. School was a bit of a strange place for me, I always struggled at school. I didn’t quite fit in for all sorts of reasons, found it a bit hard, and couldn’t quite make sense of who I was in myself.
“I grew up in a Christian family home and the church that we attended was involved in what was called the Christian Disabled Association so, from an early age I spent time with people of all abilities. I have always been curious about people, I love listening to people’s stories and we all have stories, it’s how we make sense of ourselves. Leaving school, I went into sort of what would have perhaps be seen as vocation work, as opposed to academic work. I worked with adults who had learning disabilities, which I found to be quite a liberating experience and I learnt a lot about myself.
“I was diagnosed with dyslexia in my mid-20s. All through school I had struggled, labelled as a bit “slow”. People assume dyslexia is about words, reading and writing and in some ways of course it is but it’s also so much more than that. It’s about memory, comprehension, understanding, and how I process information. One of the things I learnt about myself is that I get incredibly tired, because my brain doesn’t work like other people’s and it’s a muscle that has to work really hard. So reading lots of documents and sitting in lots of meetings, there can be a lot of information coming at you really fast. It’s like people talking to you in a different language sometimes and you have to somehow interpret it and then respond. I think there’s lots of hidden things about dyslexia that aren’t necessarily appreciated.
“The Hospice has been fantastic, I’ve been clear about my areas of weakness or where I need more help and that’s been supported. I have software on my computer which has come a long way since when I started working. I use humour a lot, and sometimes suggest a spelling test in the office because I can’t get a particular word right but, I also have people who support me in proof reading documents I produce. Sometimes organising my work schedule can be tricky and I do need people to explain what is required from me very clearly so I can plan a structure to work to. I may also need to leave work early sometimes because I’ve got to a point where I can’t work things through and it gets too much, and the Hospice is very flexible in that. If I need to finish early one day, I can make up the time the next day.
“I think dyslexia is a strength. I work differently, I’m more creative and imaginative in the way I see problems and think people with dyslexia are an asset to an organisation. I’m proud to be me because I am made up of many parts. I’m more than just being dyslexic, I’m more than a Hospice employee, I’m more than someone who is gay, I’m more than someone who grew up in a Christian family, I’m more than a white female, I am someone who is still exploring.”
I am a cisgender (the gender I was assigned at birth) woman living in Eastbourne with my youngest daughter (my eldest is at university), my dog and two cats. Life has been a little turbulent for us during the past few years but, for the moment, it feels calm.
My whole outlook on life changed when I encountered Buddhism in 2018. My trust in the Three Jewels of Buddhism provides the courage to be myself and to live in the present moment (as far as I am able). It has shown me how powerful my mind is in determining my happiness or otherwise; painful events occur but the suffering I feel is largely determined by how I react to them. I have always been aware of the interconnectedness of all beings and the need for compassion to all (hence being vegan) and the Buddhist concept of Loving Kindness inspires me to act from a position of love and compassion as much as possible.
I fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella and am proud to do so. I find labels problematic as it suggests that everyone needs to find their box and stick with it, life is much more fluid than that. But labels can be helpful. For many years I saw myself as bisexual (albeit in hiding) but lately that has failed to fit my experience with its connotations of the (false) male-female dichotomy. In a lightbulb moment I found the term “omnisexual” which, for now, fits me perfectly. I can be attracted to all genders like the better-known pansexual but, unlike people who identify as pansexual, I do notice gender and this plays a part in the attraction.
So now to my appearance! Colourful. I think that is the first impression many people have of me; they see my hair, my ink, my clothes and maybe then notice my piercings. For some people, many who will (thankfully) remain strangers, that is enough to make them dislike me on the spot. Thankfully most people are more accepting. My appearance is part of me. Being colourful makes me feel much more confident and alive. People often ask me the meaning of my tattoos. Some have great meaning, for example 3 seahorses (symbolising myself and my girls) and the text of the salutation to the shrine. Others I just like but are true to me.
Until very recently, I would not have been as open in describing myself. Even when I started getting tattoos etc (from 2010), I always hoped that people would look past my appearance and see me as normal. My upbringing and the consequent desire to conform led to hiding who I am for far too long. In retrospect a lot of the pain and struggle I have experienced came through not acknowledging who I am. I have spent far too much of my life trying to conform, getting into situations and then having to extract myself from them. If you need an example, try 3 marriages!
For most of my life I have felt that I haven’t fitted anywhere, not at work and not even within groups of my closest friends. Even now, outside of my home, I often feel separated from others, not really knowing how to act, what to say. Thankfully, there are now at least two spaces in which I feel totally comfortable being me and interacting in an authentic way. One of these is a Buddhist Gender, Sexuality & Relationship Diversity Group and the other is here at the Hospice where I feel appreciated and valued for who I am and the contribution that I make. At the Hospice, when people comment on any perceived difference, it is always in a positive way talking about colour etc. Here I feel valued for being me.
I am now proud to be me not because I am perfect (far from it!) but because l (mostly) like who I am now and because of the grit and determination that I needed to get to where I am today. My Dad used to call me stubborn (not in a good way) but that stubbornness has meant I did not give up and stayed in the fight. Hiding in the shadows affected my mental health; constantly monitoring what I said and did was exhausting although I did not realise this at the time. I also no longer make poor decisions based on a skewed desire to conform.
For the first time in my life, I am bringing my whole self to my work and personal life which enables me to contribute in an authentic way. Coming from a place of doing my job well and being responsive to people’s needs so that practitioners can do their job and concentrate on patient care.
“I’m Marion and I am the Organisational Development Coordinator and a Mental Health First Aider at St Michael’s and have worked at the Hospice for just over 10 years.
“Psychology has always interested me and I like to think I am a caring person and always look out for my colleagues, so when the opportunity to apply to train as a Mental Health First Aider came up, I was keen to apply to do it. I previously worked as an Administrator in the Bereavement team for 9 years and subsequently had a lot of conversations with people referred to the service who were not only dealing with their grief, but the huge impact this had on their mental health. I have also supported colleagues and friends who have struggled with their mental health over the years.
“I enjoy my Mental Health First Aider role because it is so rewarding being able to help people who are struggling or are concerned about a colleague, a short conversation at the point when it is needed can make all the difference to someone who is having a tough day and the colleague they would normally offload to isn’t there. Encouraging people to speak to their manager and/or seek external help can make them realise that it is OK to ‘not to be OK’ and give themselves permission to seek help.
“Having my own mental health diagnosis has also made me far more aware of the importance of looking after yourself, there is help out there if you ask for it and lots you can do to help yourself, you can get better. In some ways I think we are all unofficial Mental Health First Aiders if we are looking out for our families, friends and colleagues, and taking the time to listen and talk to them.
“I am proud to be a Mental Health First Aider because our mental health is just as important as our physical health but we are not always good at recognising it.”
Proud to be different has been my mantra in life even from an early age but, embracing difference was a challenge to start with in a world where being ‘normal’ (whatever this means) was the encouraged path. In today’s world it’s great to see how difference is now actively championed, reflecting our rich, diverse society.
I am a proud gay man born in the West Midlands and one of 7 children, with my brothers and sisters being from my parents’ previous marriages. My father an industrial cleaner and my mom, a great mathematician, both from a small housing estate on the outskirts of Birmingham. My auntie still lives on the estate with a community she has known for 75 years. I live in East Sussex with my husband and our dog and enjoy life by the seaside in the simplest way.
I was very fortunate as a child to have a good education, a Catholic upbringing, which was my choice aged 12. Up until that point in my life I was bullied. I chose a religious school in the hope religion would encourage people to be kinder to others and this was a good decision. My early education and learning were formed around my love for drawing and art, which regardless of the subject, I always managed to turn into a creative production. This was very much noticed by my parents and my siblings who encouraged this from an early age, and as a quiet child, I was able to immerse myself into the world of art and design, drawing people, houses and creating worlds in sandpits or nearby forests.
As I grew into adult life I found joy in fashion and in music; inspired to express myself in bolder and more colourful ways, I choose design as an area to study. I surrounded myself with wonderful friends, many of whom I am still in contact with. It is this part of my life that paved the way for my success in retail and hospitality as a Design and Brand Marketing Specialist, focussing on the customer and end user of products. It has been a 20 + year career so far, working with incredible retail brands such as Selfridges, Topshop and Urban Outfitters and top designers and photographers, watching, listening and always learning.
At 46 I chose to share my skills and knowledge alongside my lived experience, to work with organisations and charities and re-balance my work and life. I was aware of the great work the team at St Michael’s Hospice achieve and the support they give to people they care for both in the Hospice, and in the community, which is just incredible. I knew from my first visit I wanted to share my skills and hoped they would share theirs with me also.
My role as a Trustee is about just that, a sharing of experiences we hope will go towards benefitting everyone who encounters the Hospice. For me, the Hospice is about embracing difference, supporting each other at a moment in time where things can be a struggle. The support and services go hand in hand with real compassion for the community and it is delivered with real integrity.
When I look back on my lived experience as a gay man, I wish in many ways that in the 80s and 90s there was more support for the LGBT+ community, especially when it comes to wellbeing and mental health. Many of my friends from an older LGBT+ community didn’t have that support or comfort blanket and were unable to talk openly about their life as a gay person like I can. I champion the LGBT+ community and hope to encourage and create spaces for people to talk without fear of prejudice. We can all champion equality within this world by simply listening and supporting each other and St Michael’s Hospice is an organisation that truly does this.
LGBT+ History month is so important, acknowledging the past, educating for the future and ensuring we continue to champion equality, diversity, inclusion and equity within work and in our communities. I am very proud of how far my community has come and I am even more proud of the East Sussex LGBT+ community, and the difference we make to Hastings and Rother.
I am proud to be gay and I am proud to be ME.
Dedicated to my mom who died too early in life to see how happy and proud I am.
St Michael’s Hospice, 25 Upper Maze
Hill, St Leonards-on-sea, TN38 0LB