Grief and Loss: the unexpected corner of social media that is a source of collective comfort

After losing her dad suddenly in 2017, Hannah set up the supper club, Grief Eats, as a way to meet other young people who were grieving whilst honouring her Dad’s love of cooking. Here she explores grief in the digital age, the online platforms offering support networks and the Northern women helping others understand and talk about loss.

It is a well-known fact that what you see on social media is often a veneer; a curated selection of life’s best moments that contribute to an aesthetically pleasing grid. For many, social media – and Instagram especially – offers a slice of escapism; a place where you can go to dream up brand new wardrobes and future sunny getaways, or lust after interiors you cannot afford. While it can be extremely easy to whittle away time getting lost in perfection, sometimes what we actually crave is something much rawer, more un-filtered and fraying at the edges. Something that represents our everyday lives. 

Grief and loss are topics you might think do not have a rightful place on Instagram but in reality, it is quite the opposite. Grief – in whatever form it may take – is something that will affect us all at some point in our lives and, unfathomably, the pandemic has meant many more young people are experiencing it too soon. To read or write about grief in the presence of strangers on the internet may seem strange or daunting, but for many it is a much-needed cathartic outlet, serving as a platform that provides a safe, supportive space when traditional bereavement support is limited. During a lockdown where so many of us do not have a shoulder to lean on when we need it most, it seems like the perfect place. 

The area of Instagram dedicated to grief is the one I find to be most authentic. There are no guises, no attempts for perfection. People talk openly about their losses and experiences of grief in a way that is entirely refreshing. For the majority of us who have sadly lost someone too soon, we feel angry, upset and isolated – even more so during this past year. The platform allows us to come together and to share our day-to-day experiences, although not just the sad ones. We may be grieving, but we also find ourselves inspired by each other’s resilience and discover a collective comfort in sharing past memories. We can laugh together at the terrible, misjudged comments we’ve received over the years. 

Back in December 2019, I came up with an idea to start up a supper club series in Leeds, for people navigating loss in their 20s and 30s, calling it ‘Grief Eats’. After losing my own dad at the age of 24, I felt like this sort of thing was missing – and especially in the North. Both eager and nervous in equal measure, I held my first sold-out supper club in my own home in February 2020 (albeit a bit rustic and makeshift – it was my first go), and I was so excited for it to turn into something bigger, and for young people to realise they weren’t alone in what they were going through. But as the pandemic took hold and thus no way of hosting supper clubs, I quickly realised that I would need another avenue. Instagram seemed like a suitable place to continue with Grief Eats in the interim, and perhaps even open up an opportunity to write about my own journey with grief.

In all honesty, I never envisaged nor felt a personal need to create a space on Instagram to talk about my experiences and felt convinced that face-to-face interaction would be more meaningful than online. But as I began to share my thoughts and musings on the topics of grief, food and anything else that came to mind, I found myself taken aback by the reception. In turn, I have discovered an entire online community and area of Instagram that represented something I didn’t know I needed. 

While I don’t intend to post on social media forever and feel excited to get back to the original plan for Grief Eats, the ‘grief’ space on Instagram really has been a lifeline at times, and I hope my posts have helped others in their journey too. I would also like to mention a number of other inspiring women in the North who are similarly opening up the conversation around grief and loss, and who I am lucky enough to share this online space with. When I lost my dad at the age of 24, I didn’t know anyone my age who had been through something similar. These women, having experienced their own losses, are bravely ensuring this doesn’t have to be the case: 

Jo Ritchie and Faye Dawson: Projecting Grief

Projecting Grief is a portraiture and interview project which explores the use of creativity to help heal from loss. Jo started this project after losing her own brother in 2017, and photographs those who are using creative skill as a distraction, a relief or an expression of their grief. The beautiful portraits are accompanied by the person’s story, written by Faye. Jo and Faye are based in Leeds.

Gwennaëlle Cook

After taking a break from her art practice, Gwen has now returned and has found that it has provided her with a space to process her thoughts around grief. Gwen lost her dad in 2004 and her mum in 2017. Her collages are thoughtful and expressive, and often capture feelings of grief you find difficult to put into words. Gwen in based in Leeds. 

The Everyday Fertility

Kate, based in Manchester, started an Instagram page during lockdown seeking to normalise the conversation around infertility and baby loss. Kate has been extremely brave to share her own journey and is supporting others going through the same by opening up the conversation on fertility issues. 


Words: Hannah Borkin
Feature image: Courtesy of Projecting Grief

Advertisement

How my tools as a Design Researcher have helped me handle these tumultuous times

Words: Ishika Mukherjee
Ishika Mukherjee

What a time to be living through. In the last few months we’ve seen the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, endured lockdown, witnessed the fall of major economies, mourned the tragic deaths that led to the urgent acceleration in the anti-racism movement and infinite more conflicts emerging or saturating across the globe. On a personal level, people have lost jobs, been furloughed, or have had to work remotely – each in its own way drastically changing our lives and more often than not, our priorities.

I’ve been one of the luckier ones in the fact that I’ve been able to keep my job and continued working remotely. As a design researcher, my role is to connect with and understand people – dig deep into their implicit behaviour, their needs and their pain points in order to design integrated services that empower people and the planet. To do this, I use an array of techniques, tools and skills. 

Of late, what’s been interesting to me is that a lot of these design research tools have come in quite handy, as I’ve navigated the tumultuous times we’ve been faced with. The most obvious (and yet underrated) was thoroughly checking my sources. Now, while the majority of my work is to do with actually spending time with people and learning about them first hand –  we also do a significant amount of secondary research. This includes reading through and taking insight from research that has already been done –  like market research or research papers or surveys. The decision as to how we choose what information to take in, comes from evaluating the source and understanding their accuracy. This practice came in super handy when the Coronavirus first hit and we were all left to sift through piles of unregulated information (and misinformation) regarding the virus we knew so little of. It has since kept me well-armed to cut through the noise of often exaggerating media, and focus on reliable sources like government websites, WHO and medical experts.

Another practice that has kept me sane, has been the 5 whys –  asking a sequence of whys to get to the root of our users’ needs. In design research, we use this to better understand our users so that we’re not left solving superficial problems without reaching the core of the matter. But lately this is how I’ve handled my anxiety around the uncertainty of the future as well. Every time I’ve found myself thinking of catastrophes, I’ve asked myself why I think that could happen and then followed that up with a number of why’s (or questions) to reach the crux, which is usually the fact that I don’t possess enough information that actually signals doom. 

The 5 whys have also come in useful when trying to educate myself and the people around me about anti-racism, micro-aggressions and implicit prejudice. We all have biases, and to discard them, we first have to undress them and understand where they’re coming from – hence, a sequence of whys. 

Another tool – one I almost left out because of how much of a buzzword it has become of late – is empathy. In research, the whole point of conducting user interviews, focus groups, and such, is to understand the user as they are – not as we think they are, or even as they think they are. How we do this, is by listening deeply, reading between the lines and observing people –  their body language, their pauses and the emotions that flicker across their eyes. All cues to what they’re actually feeling. Operating in this space where all our mental states are shaken up, instead of asking people the “hi, you okay?” I try to notice, ask questions like “how are you today?” Or “what’s been occupying your mind lately?” and really listen, not just listen to respond, but really listen to how people are.

There’s also going one step further and listening without judgement. As researchers, our job is to understand, not change our users’ state or behaviour – at least not immediately. So we tell the people we speak to that ‘there are no right or wrong answers’. We give them the space to be themselves even if that might not be what I want to hear. We also make sure of that by not interrupting people or countering their statements with “but why don’t you try…” or “have you considered …” or “when that happened to me, I …”. IRL this looks like having unselfish conversations –  instead of offering advice, just listening, instead of thinking about what I would have done, thinking about what they did. This has helped me connect better with my friends, colleagues and family, helped me feel less alone, and more purposeful. This has also helped me take better care of my own mental health and become less judgemental and more conscious of my own thoughts and patterns. 

Now, while I’m very thankful for the practice of design research for teaching me the tools that have played out to be so crucial in these wary times, on further introspection it struck me odd. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Wouldn’t it make more sense, if being a more human human made me a better researcher, as opposed to the fact that being a good researcher has made me a more human human? 

Which led me to ask, why is it that I had to be a researcher in order to be a better equipped human? Answer: because the tools to question, think critically, listen actively, and be empathic were not given much importance through my years of schooling. These are known as ‘soft skills’ in a world that applauds ‘hard skills’. 

Why? Because since industrialisation, we’ve aimed for maximum efficiency and productivity over everything else. 

I could ask why, but I gather you see where this is going. So I’ll ask ‘what if’? What if we make the shift to valuing our human-ness, our interpersonal connections, our deeper consciousness and ability to think critically without prejudice, more? What if we lace our education system with more ‘soft skills’? What if we change empathy from being a buzzword to being elemental?


Ishika Mukherjee is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher with a background in design research, service design, content creation, editorial writing, and architecture – and an acute interest in social innovation. She uses research from human experience and behaviour, distilled into actionable insights to aid the process of creating optimistic design that empowers humans to be more human. She likes to tell stories, drink strong coffee and read compelling fiction. And eat cake.

You can follow Ishika’s work on Instagram.

Why I’m on a mission to help more working class northerners break into journalism

Originally hailing from Liverpool and having experienced a great deal of classism in her many years of working in journalism in London, six months ago, Jessica Evans set up her own journalism company where she helps people who do not come from privileged backgrounds become journalists. 

All too aware of how difficult it can be to break into the sector and secure work with news outlets, big titles and glossy highbrow magazines, and in such an industry where companies are still offering unpaid internships or ‘all-expenses’ paid, Jess was concerned that these factors, coupled with the ingrained media bias, would make it even more challenging for working class journalists to have their voices and words seen and heard.

Since starting her business in March, her northern clients have seen success in national and global publications, which is such a win for working class northerners in their journalism careers! Through her platorm – The Freelance Sessions – she runs workshops, including the ‘Power Hours’ where she focuses on whatever the client would like to work on (whether it’s pitching, writing, refining ideas to make them more commissionable to editors etc.) and also runs one-on-one masterclasses on both how to become a freelance journalist and how to get more commissions as an established freelance journo. 


Jess has previously written for – Stylist, Marie Claire, The Telegraph, Grazia, Red, The Sunday Times, The Independent, Metro, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan, VICE, The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Follow Jess: Twitter @jesshopeevans // Instagram @jessevansjourno


I lost what my dream job at a high fashion global magazine in London because they said I wasn’t “on brand”. Sounds mad doesn’t it? That’s because it is mad. This was in 2016. And since then, not an awful lot has changed in journalism. 

The editor said there was nothing wrong with my work or my ideas, but it was just how I wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for the team. She asked whether I was happy there and if I would feel more comfortable somewhere else. Cringe. I was younger and naive to classism. In this scenario, hindsight is a bittersweet thing. 

But if I’m completely honest with you, as soon as I unpacked my bag and sat on my new desk, I stuck out against my privileged peers like a sore thumb. I may as well have rocked up in hair rollers every day wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I’m a scary, working class scouser – don’t worry about not inviting me to ‘Champagne Fridays’,  I don’t know champagne is’. 

After experiencing heaps of classism, working in the journalism industry in London as a working class northerner, six months ago I felt compelled to set up my own journalism company where I help people who aren’t in the elite or come from a privileged background, become journalists. 

As a northerner with a working class background, I have lived through just how tough it can be to break into such a field where companies still offer unpaid internships or ‘all-expenses’ paid, meaning the wealthy or those with a London postcode, get the journalism gigs over the working class who can’t afford it. “There’s a certain snobbery with journalism”, my lecturer told me, or should I say, warned me. 

Not to go all This Is Your Life on you (that’s a 90s dad joke if any Gen Z’ers are reading this) but I shall start from the beginning and give you my career in the next 500 words. I did my first two-week work placement at 15-years-old in London at a girls teen magazine, Sugar, that is sadly no more. Between the ages of 18 and 22, I worked two jobs to save up wages from my waitressing and retail jobs to fund myself to try and get my foot in the door. I had no family or friends connected to London, so I slept – mainly in bunkbeds – in different hostels, on and off for three years that I could only just about afford because I was working for next to nothing money. I had my heart set on writing hopeful articles for women and I jumped through rather classist hoops to get there. 

While I had many positive experiences in London which I’m glad for, there was such a prejudice that I wasn’t expecting. Before I left my hometown, Liverpool, to make the move, people warned me about the notorious ‘north vs south divide’, but I shrugged it off. I thought they were exaggerating. “Journalists look down on northerners and think they aren’t as intelligent”, my auntie announced at a family gathering. Surely, that’s just a bit of a generalisation? I thought: My journalism degree is solid, my work ethic is strong, I think I’m pretty easy-going to get on with in an office. What could go wrong? Turns out a lot.

I quickly learnt wherever I went in my career; newspapers or magazines there was a lingering, dark cloud of class discrimination there. Whether it was my accent or my Northern tendencies I brought with me, I always felt I was on the back foot, fighting twice as hard as my southern peers for my place in London. My accent, background and class landed me in a position where I wasn’t always been taken seriously in the workplace. This next bit I hate to type out… I’ve probably missed out on certain jobs because I’ve come from a very ordinary background. I resent admitting that, as I don’t want it to be the case, but there’s still masses of discrimination around class out there. 

When I worked at a glossy fashion magazine I was asked to tone down my northern accent when I was on camera interviewing people, because “it wasn’t on brand” for their middle to upper class audience. At another publication, working on the fashion desk, my line manager made comments about how “people who speak like you [me]” don’t really know much about fashion, and how it surprised him that I had “ended up” in the industry. Another time, working as a features writer on a culture desk, my colleague questioned if I could really know that much about culture because I was from the north. I also had a former editor who would always make the noises “dey do doe, don’t dey doe” whenever I would speak in meetings or around the office – and not in a jokey manner either.

I reluctantly found myself changing the way I spoke, just to made sure I kept a low profile and wasn’t stereotyped. I felt like a sell out for doing so, but I was determined to make a job in journalism work. I’d gone into 30 odd grand of debt for my degree, spent the majority of money I’d earned on internships in London and worked my bum off for it to work. I softened my accent in hopes this would make editors, managers and colleagues accept me more in the workplace.

I’m not alone in changing my accent though. It was unsurprising when I learnt that 55% of Brits believe there is a stigma around regional dialects, especially in London, that acts as a barrier to securing corporate jobs. While almost 10% of Brits choose not to reveal the true location they were born and raised as they are worried it is stigmatised, and 22% of professionals believe that in order to be successful in their career, they have had to alter the way they speak and change their dialect. 

Later on in my career in journalism and in particular, high fashion magazines, I was often the only northerner in the offices I worked in. As soon as I opened my mouth, poof, just like that, I was transformed into a less educated, less on-trend and less able, than the southerner sat opposite me. It sounds quite bleak to say, but I became used to the comments, the sniggers and ultimately, the prejudice. 

My classist treatment prompted me to think about my fellow working class northerners who are perhaps just beginning their own struggles in the incredibly elitist world of journalism, or maybe they’re in the thick of it. I wanted to help northern women in particular, get on the journalism ladder when it may seem impossible to do so. I didn’t want these women to be held back by their class, background, upbringing, accent or previous education either. 

After seven years in London of working at various magazines and newspapers, I moved back to Liverpool and set up no bullshit, straight forward ways of how to get both aspiring and established journalists’ articles published in the places they most want to write for. I run one-on-one sessions and masterclasses where we focus on the client’s ideas and turn them into paid articles in their favourite publications. Since starting the business, my northern clients have seen success in national and global news outlets, which has been such a win in working class northerners in their journalism careers. 

These clients have gone onto to experience press trips, experience high profile industry events and write for some of the biggest publications in the UK, without having to do shoddy, unethical ‘all expenses’ internships in London or more importantly perhaps, go through the many rough years of being discriminated against in the office. 

I try my absolute hardest for every person’s work to get out there into the world. It’s such a precious thing to work with people on their ideas and I’m so pleased that 99% of my clients have gone on to get their work paid and published in the publications they love. Encouragingly, some of my clients who weren’t published before, have gone on to have a great freelance journalism career in major UK and worldwide news outlets – some of those commissions were just after their first pitch too!

With my ‘How To Become a Freelance Masterclass’, they are open all year and there are three killer sessions: Intro to pitching, Formatting the perfect pitch and Nailing the article. As it’s one-on-one, I tailor the course to whatever the person wants to get their teeth into – whether that’s concentrating on their ideas of what they’d like to write about, how they can best pitch to editors, how to turn their ideas into super commissionable pitches and just general journalism writing and freelancing advice.

I also run my No Bullshit Saturday Sessions again on Saturday mornings. They are the most informal session where you can stay in your pjs, have cup of tea and we brainstorm over breakfast. We work on how to get your ideas and work published, no fuss or frills, just practical ways of how to can get published in your favourite newspapers, magazines and websites.

Although I work with people of different classes, locations and backgrounds, my mission is to get as many northerners as possible, a successful freelance journalism career.

If you’d like to launch your journalism career or to help your freelance journalism, feel free to get in touch with @thefreelancesessions on Instagram or contact freelance.masterclass.gmail.com for more information.

My Oxymoronic Identity: A Domestic Abuse victim as a Domestic Abuse Support Worker

Evie Muir, Sociologist, Intersectional Feminist and Domestic Abuse Specialist who works with BAMER victims, shares a personal account of the abuse she suffered and her work as a Domestic Abuse Support Worker

Words: Evie Muir

In all likelihood, the next time I receive support from a practitioner will be whenever I have my next breakdown. I say when, not if, because through the fog of mental health issues, the reality is that without professional intervention a breakdown is probable. This defeatist outlook derives from being informed on precisely how underfunded, understaffed and undervalued the social sector specifically, the domestic abuse sector, is.

I am a domestic abuse support worker. My role is to emotionally and practically support victims. Imperatively, I am the person that believes them, who is on their side. However, on a daily basis I witness how a sector designed to uphold the wellbeing of vulnerable people, regularly fails victims of abuse. Legislation may be in place, services may be available, but prosecution rates are abysmal and waiting list times are deplorable.  

As a domestic abuse victim, I feel the weight of this patriarchal structure on a personal level. I was failed at 16 when I went to the doctors, yearning for some magical cure to the mental health repercussions of an abusive relationship. Instead, I was hurriedly dismissed by a GP who said: “everyone your age goes through breakups”, the immensely damaging effect of unhealthy relationships during adolescence both ignored and left to fester. I was failed by a psychiatrist in a mental health ward, whereby I was sectioned for 2 weeks whilst my abuser walked free.

Image: Evie Muir

This abuse is termed gaslighting and it is defined as “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”. I was failed by my mental health practitioner, who after a couple of months of relatively ineffective CBT discharged me with the advice to self-refer to a specialist DV service, neglectfully leaving the responsibility of a monumentally overwhelming task to someone who had deferred her Master’s degree, quit her job and spent most of her time in bed. Months went by before I felt capable of seeking organisations, only to find that all but one free counselling service had closed waiting lists: as of January, I am on a 12 month waiting list, it’s unjustifiable.

I was also failed by the police. When leaving the relationship escalated the abuse; he lost control, he was triggered and he proceeded to stalk and harass me incessantly. One weekend, following days of harassment, he escalated to waiting outside my mum’s house in his van – a van he later locked me in when I resolved that it was safer for me to go to him, than for him to break into the house. The police took 11 hours to arrive, by which time he’d left moments earlier; the police said they didn’t need his contact details and wouldn’t be speaking to him at this time.

Within those 11 hours, he brought the girl he cheated on me with into the van, sneering up at the window, relishing in the pain he was inflicting on me. When you measure abuse as the impact an act has on a person, cheating – particularly cheating with over 50 people – is one of the most abusive acts imaginable. His cheating was unprecedented, yet he manipulated this by using my ‘unfounded’ paranoia as his defence; making me doubt my sanity, rationality and reason until I distrusted my reality. He’d use the threat of cheating as a means of control, warning me that “if I didn’t come home immediately he’d get someone else to” and if I dared resist, I was locked out and only allowed back in if I stripped at the door, which he watched through the peep hole. This is coercive control.

After the police’s negligence, every incident of harassment that I’d have been in my right to report (including him breaking into my car and stealing the one item which identifies my whereabouts: my diary), along with all professional judgement, was overshadowed by the stigma in being made to feel like a nuisance by the police. When I next reported him, he’d managed to harass me from the confinements of a jail cell – this the police took seriously. Nevertheless, when I made a statement, I was informed that before a stalking and harassment charge could be made against someone, they must first receive a warning, in assumption that the perpetrator ‘doesn’t know’ that their actions are causing harm). This means that if the police officer had given that warning after the van-outside-the-house incident, I’d have legal protection by now. Let that sink in.  

Image: Jimmy Marble

“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” when applied to domestic abuse is synonymous with victim blaming. After a physically violent first relationship whereby a jealous and insecure boy obliterated my self-esteem as a means of control, I was an easy target for someone even more manipulative and sadistic than the first. Like most victims, who have underlying trauma, I became trapped in The Cycle of Abuse. I associated love with pain. After a turbulent, abusive, unhealthy relationship with a mentally ill, financially unstable misogynist, who needed mothering by his girlfriend, had a drug and alcohol dependency, a criminal history, and a propensity towards 16 year old girls, it finally ended last year, but the trauma still consumes me.

Managing my ongoing experiences of abuse, and the deep-rooted trauma, which presents itself in panic attacks, insomnia, oppressive distrust, constant fear and obsessively checking registrations of vans (no matter where in the country) whilst also working in an emotionally labour-intensive role, requires energy and resilience I often can’t utilise. In a professional setting, I am confident that my experiences afford me higher echelons of empathy, dedication and expertise, but often, it is simply too close to home. Identifying with cases resurfaces suppressed memories and the relief of momentarily forgetting that you too are a victim is not a familiar luxury. Nevertheless, this job has facilitated my realisation that I myself need help, and hopefully I, like the women I support, will finally receive the help that I’ve needed for almost a decade.


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.