Tell me Zoe, why did you create Care Labels For Humans?

Well…

For as long as I can remember I have experienced seasons of low mood, but I find that even if I feel quite down, I can still feel like attending events and mixing with people.

If I’m having a bad day, I push myself to approach new people, strike up some small talk and make a connection.

Zoe E Breen

Or sometimes I don’t. Instead I sit quietly on the edge of things, wishing I felt more sociable or that someone would just come and talk to me.

One thing that I have learnt is that almost nobody enjoys the awkwardness of having to ‘break the ice’ at these kinds of events. I just think it’s harder if you feel, think or communicate differently from other people.

The birth of Care Labels For Humans

One day in 2014, when I was feeling particularly reflective, I mused upon the fact that the clothes we wear carry care labels so when we put them in the laundry we know how to look after them to keep them at their best.

And I asked myself – how come there was something like this for our clothes but not for ourselves?

In that moment Care Labels For Humans was born.

I’m going to fast-forward through some of the next bits. What you do need to know is that over the following years I experienced what I now describe as ‘catastrophic loss’.

This included the death of my 90-year-old grandmother Muriel (my mum’s mum) in 2015, and then losing my mother, who was just 69, to pancreatic cancer in 2016.

In 2014, shortly before these events I lost my dear cat Cosmo who had been with me through thick and thin for sixteen years.

They were not easy times and I needed Care Labels more than ever.

OK, so what are Care Labels For Humans?

It was through attending a F*ck It ‘Do What You Love’ retreat in Italy in 2017 that I was finally to reflect on what really mattered to me. When I got home, I started work to prototype and test a very basic version of Care Labels For Humans.

This is probably a good point to illustrate what Care Labels For Humans looks like now. You can wear your Care Labels on your lanyard card at event. This video might give you a better idea of how they work.

The card has space for your name, your name on social and your preferred gender pronouns.

You can then add labels which describe how you would like others to approach you, how you’d like them to behave around you and the kinds of things that are important in your life.

So, in the example you see here. The flower represents openness, inviting others to ‘step right up’, the dots in the circle mean you can ‘ask me anything’ and my interest labels are travel, healthy habits and shows.

The current deck features 3 ‘Approach’ Labels (A), 6 ‘Behaviour’ Labels (B) and 22 ‘Chat / (Self)-Care Labels.

And what can I do to help?

I’ve had so much great feedback from user testing mostly done with my Manchester Girl Geeks group, and from people suggesting different applications of Care Labels For Humans that I’m now developing several related products which I plan to bring to market later this year.

I’m running a Crowdfunder campaign to raise money to pay a third party to undertake a product validation project. I work full time so it’s not something that I can do myself.

I’ve produced some great rewards for the Crowdfunder, as well as event kits, there are Care Label definition cards and an exclusive journal which allows you to reflect on your Care Labels privately.

This project has been a labour of love for me for over five years. Many hours of love, thinking and cutting up coloured paper have been involved.

I am deeply grateful for any contribution that you can make. Please pledge and share with anyone else you think might be able to support Care Labels For Humans.

I’ve only got until 18th September to raise the funds and every bit of support really does help and any pledges will be very gratefully received.

Zoe E Breen is a Digital Producer and Product Designer, you can find her at @ZoeEBreen on Twitter

Care Labels For Humans can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @CareLabels4

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!”

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A collage of my mother’s many psychedelic photographs

“Cheer up love… it might never happen!” is a common cat-call a woman might be subjected to (almost always by a man) should she fail to wear an agreeable facial expression when out of doors.

Vagenda magazine does a pretty good job of explaining just how annoying this is, and I hated it so much I (ironically) named my blog after it.

I’m not always cheery, I have what I consider to be a fairly normal range of emotions, but I reserve the right not to be cheerful on demand.

While it might be true that many things we ruminate on allow our anxiety to grow out of all proportion, there are times where we are dealing with something grave. Something painful or difficult and inevitable – specifically something bad that will happen – but in its own way that’s ok too.

Life’s not fair!

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Carol Ann Breen: 1st June 1947 – 22nd June 2016

My mum, Carol Breen,  passed away on 22nd June this year. She waited until we’d broken our round-the-clock vigil to finally ‘do one’. She’d also managed it through the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, though I don’t imagine that she was aware of that fact at the time.

One of the statements my mum used to come out with, far too often for my comfort, was “Life’s not fair”. I was not brought up with an expectation that life is or should be fair, which at times I found rather sad.

Cancer confidential

Around a year ago mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Even before a full prognosis had been delivered, she was acutely aware of the fact she might have only a short time left.

She was deeply private about her diagnosis and prognosis, and like most things in life chose to deal with the details alone.

In early days of her illness, we had hope. We researched different treatments and looked for hospitals with expertise in treating this difficult to treat cancer.

Chemo and hoping for a ‘cure’

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In Eaton Park with mum, spring 2016

Mum started chemo last November, it had a terrible effect her causing severe nausea and weight loss – she used to boast about how she now weighed less than me!

In January, mum decided to try some experimental surgery. The site of her tumour was such that conventional surgery was not ‘viable’, but this treatment may have reduced the size of the growth that it would buy mum valuable months or even years.

Soon after the operation it became apparent that in mum’s case it had not been successful. This is something that we accepted as part and parcel of a treatment that was in its infancy and not extensively tried and tested.

Watching the days go by

From February this year, mum’s health took a nosedive. Fortunately my brother, Ellis, had been able to take some time out to be there for her in her own home – for this I am truly grateful to him.

She was too sick to continue with chemo and pain relief took over as the main focus of managing the effects of the cancer. She was taken into a hospice to have this stabilised but was glad to be back in her own home three weeks later.

The following weeks seemed to take on a timescale of their own…

The slowness of watching a woman holding on to life, contrasted with the rapidly revolving door carrying, doctors, nurses, carers, friends and neighbours into the home.

Beauty beyond the body

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At the boatyard for Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios

One thing we were adamant that mum would do before she passed away was to visit her exhibition which was part of Norwich & Norfolk Open Studios (along with fellow artists Denise Wingrove and Joan Sandford-Cook).

Ellis and I couldn’t persuade her to go to the opening weekend. Despite this Denise and Joan sold over £150 of mum’s jewellery and photographs.

The next weekend we took an uncompromising approach – we told mum she HAD TO get ready for the exhibition. Our usually stubborn mother allowed herself to be cajoled into the trip.

We are thankful for the help of friends Carole and Bruce and their delightful doggies Lulu and Leo in making this happen.

In the following weeks, mum began to let go as her health deteriorated. I consider myself very lucky to have spent time with her as she edged closer to death. Within three weeks she had passed away.

Carol Breen – a lasting legacy

Mum's photos (left) with Denise's collages (right)
Mum’s photos (left) with Denise’s collages (right)

We were pleased that so many of mum’s friends could come to celebrate her life in they was she would’ve wish – with wine, art, flowers and laughs.

Her digital photography was really something. You can view much of her wonderful work on Flickr – but she was also a talented silversmith, potter and sculptor.

She was also huge reader and we made sure that her precious collection of art books were given to artist friends in return for donations to two local charities.

The last word…

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With the funky gold Buddhist hearse we booked for mum (left to right) Ellis, Karen, Zoe and Linda.

I miss my mother terribly, even the times when she told me that life wasn’t fair!

I hope that I have inherited some of her creativity and resourcefulness, and I am blessed that I will soon be able to decorate my own home with  many of her artworks.

Thanks to everyone who cared about and for Carol, I’m not going to name names because you know who you are.

And. To anyone, anywhere who utters the words “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” to a woman going about her own business, I’d like to extend a swiftly delivered two fingers on behalf of my mother!