In Conversation: Gabi Livingstone
Chloe Lawson interviews Gabi Livingstone, the student behind the Instagram @theunheardgroup, which recounts the experiences faced by young people who have lost a parent to cancer or who have a parent currently fighting the disease.
At age 15, amid National 5 exams, Gabrielle Livingstone was told her Dad had been diagnosed with terminal skin cancer. Her life was irrevocably changed. In her first years at University the anger and sadness she felt spiralled into a “fuck everything mentality”- her mental health deteriorated, effecting her life and studies. With around 1000 new Cancer cases daily in the UK alone, there is an abundance of support for those suffering from cancer themselves. Yet Gabi felt isolated in her experience due to a distinct absence of conversations and spaces dedicated to the young people whose parents are diagnosed. In October, she set up ‘The Unheard Group’ (@theunheardgroup) as a response to this absence. Primarily, the page is a space for the teenagers and young people such as herself who have lost a parent to cancer or have a parent currently fighting the disease. Alongside this, Gabi offers advice for students struggling as a result of the imposed solitude that has come from our current covid-19 reality. A frightening side effect of the Global pandemic has been the deterioration of the mental health of young people, with 8 student suicides in the first month of the last semester. This page offers much-needed advice and reassurance to those feeling disconnected and helpless as the world battles the coronavirus.
The inviting, pastel-coloured grid includes self-care tips alongside personal and touching stories from Gabi and her friends. In the short space of time, the page has been met with enormous enthusiasm and appreciation, which is clear from just a short glance at the comments left on her beautifully curated and strikingly honest posts. At the time of writing, the page has nearly 2000 followers and has recently reached the attention of the BBC.
I met Gabi on a typically cold Edinburgh morning in the Meadows. What became most evident during the short conversation was her bubbliness and dedication to her page and its followers. What has blown her away is the strength, resilience and support shown by the people who have reached out to her. She has plans to establish a Facebook page to properly respond to the copious amounts of messages she receives, as she emphasised how important it was to her to reply wholeheartedly to the incredibly personal and moving stories she receives.
I ask her if she expected such a big response so quickly- “No!”, she says emphatically, “I am absolutely shocked at how crazy this has been, with the BBC involved and the incredible messages I have received”. Gabi has been heard on BBC Radio Scotland multiple times, appeared on BBC Scotland ‘The Nine’ last week and she can currently be spotted on the official BBC Instagram. The reception for her page and the emergence of such a compassionate community has allowed her to find new ways to cope with her Dad’s illness, “It’s such a great outlet to just rant and get out all my feelings and then to hear that all these people feel the same is just… wow, I have no words!” she says, with immense gratitude. The posts and stories on the page cover all manner of issues that affect young people today, including University drinking culture, ‘Hangxiety’ and Seasonal Affective Disorder (I followed the advice to buy a SAD light and I can highly recommend it!). In this way, the page brings together all teenagers and students, including those who have not been through the same experience as Gabi.
One aspect that we discuss is the pressure to drink and use drugs at University, and the gut-wrenching ‘Hangxiety’ all too familiar to many students. “I think in the UK we have a big issue with glamorising alcohol and drugs, there’s so much pressure to ‘fit in’”, she says, able to reflect on her own experiences with drug and alcohol abuse in her early years at University. One of the aims for the page is to create an open conversation about the dangers and effects of drugs and alcohol. Gabi is incredibly honest about the experiences she has had in the past in efforts to cope with her Dad’s illness, encouraging others not to succumb to peer-pressure or FOMO.
I finish our conversation by asking how she has found living in Lockdown for most of this year, and, like the majority of people, she struggled. Living in a flat in Glasgow was incredibly restricted, and it took a toll on her mental health. Back at University, she appreciates the Tier system and absence of the second lockdown in Edinburgh, but “I feel so much for people back in a proper lockdown” she sympathises. She is lucky to have supportive flatmates, whom she describes as “her sisters” and is enjoying spending time with them. Her methods for coping have been to “go on big walks, cook good food, watch good TV and focus on me!”
Chloe is a History student at the University of Edinburgh. Gabi is a student at the Edinburgh Napier University. This article was edited by Tamara El-Halawani, a student at the University of Edinburgh.