Mental Health Awareness Week 13th – 19th May 2019

This week in the United Kingdom is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although this particular Awareness Week for 2019 ends tomorrow, the need to be aware of mental health is so important each and every day for a myriad of reasons, personally and societally. 

Mental Health affects everybody, just as physical health does. And we each find ourselves somewhere on the scale between mental wellness and mental illness just as our bodies at different points in our lives can be well or ill. Similarly, we may each be prone to various physical or mental conditions that affect our health and wellbeing. 

Somehow though it has become easier and more acceptable to talk about an injured limb, organ or other physical condition than to talk about an injured mind or brain. Thankfully, the societal and personal stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing and mental illness are gradually being addressed and it seems that we are slowly beginning to accept that these things aren’t shameful, just as it isn’t shameful to have broken one’s arm, and that it is incredibly important to dissolve unnecessary stigmas and talk and raise awareness about such a vital part of human life. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. On a personal note, I had to confront my own stigmas and challenge those of people close to me and listen to the advice of those friends who saw me at a particularly low point and told me that I needed to get help. Years of childhood and adult stress, a chronic situation that our bodies and brains aren’t supposed to be under, resulted in me experiencing full blown symptoms of complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. I didn’t, however know or understand what was happening to me, and it was very, very frightening. I blamed myself and felt ‘responsible’ for my mind, without realising that these kind of injuries can’t simply be ‘thought better’ and were not one being ‘weak minded’ as for me anyway, they were a result of my body and brain’s ‘default’ being to exist in fight / flight mode, imbalances in chemical regulation physiologically including with the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and the chemical sertraline. I have two first class degrees, and additional awards, and hold down a full time professional job within an organisation that focuses on helping the society and community and individuals facing difficulties on many levels, so having worked so hard to overcome the damage that a severe period of bullying in childhood and adult stress had done to me, and working in a profession that helped ‘really’ traumatised people with actual severe life situations, I felt and thought that I ‘ought to be’ able to function normally. And yet, the reactions my body, brain and mind were experiencing were in fact very normal reactions to difficult life events…and I had in fact done so well to have come so very far, and still be helping society on some level, even while I was experiencing frightening flash backs, severe low mood, fear, anxiety, chronic pain, intrusive thoughts, disorientation, dizziness, dissociation, insomnia, nightmares and severe depression. I had to fight hard to do simple things like even wash a cup or make a meal or walk across the room. I felt like my brain was exploding and there was no off switch or mute button or way to turn it down to get relief. So out of absolute helplessness and necessity for my survival I reached out and went to the doctor (something I was frightened to do, and something I was also advised against in case it affected my career – it didn’t – in fact I have since been very supported at work), and with the encouragement of some friends I finally took that brave step a few years ago and I am so glad that I did. Despite waiting lists, the help from the NHS I have been given both in terms of medicine and psychological support has been incredibly beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, there was no ‘quick fix’ – it has taken several years of commitment, showing up, doing the hard work to be in a place where I can manage my symptoms rather than them ruining my life. And I realise that I have a ‘toolkit’ to be able to get stronger and stronger and help other people too, so this blog post is a real victory, and I thank God for that. 

I want to encourage you if you yourself are struggling….with anything…or know a friend, family member or colleague who you think might be struggling with their mental wellbeing to be brave and take that first step to reach out. I do believe you will be listened to and supported. I know it can be daunting, but there are so many resources out there, and there are professionals who understand what is happening to you even if they don’t necessarily know or understand your individual life experiences, and it could just change or save your or somebody else’s life. 

I don’t know what the best resources are in other countries, but in the UK, here are some very helpful, caring, professional sources that you can reach out to – even if you don’t have any issues as such but just want to learn more whether that be to grow in awareness of mental health issues, or to gain understanding of someone you know, then these are a great place to start.

Please do leave a comment if there are any particular things you’d like to raise awareness of as I would like to write more about mental health and learn from you too as this is so important and might be just what somebody out there needs to hear.

I’ve also linked to a YouTube channel of a licensed mental health professional who is very relatable, so that’s something anyone can access which is good if you’re based in another country.

Love to you all and thanks for reading, and for being you. Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help – that’s what it’s there for, and everyone is important and valuable. Also, if you know of any helpful resources in your country leave a comment in case someone else is looking for help where you are. Thanks. xx

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/

MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/mental-health-awareness-week-2019/

Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/scotland/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/

Breathing Space: https://breathingspace.scot/

The Blurt Foundation: https://www.blurtitout.org/

YouTube Kati Morton Licensed Therapist: https://www.youtube.com/user/KatiMorton

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Feeling frazzled?

The world can get a little too big for us sometimes. Do you ever feel that way? Aside from the politics of the world stage, the news stories from across the globe that overwhelm us, and the difficult situations facing our own communities, even on a smaller scale the world can feel far too big for us to cope with at times. Or is it just me?

In our own little microcosms of existence, whether they be in the workplace, our families, or friendship / social groups, things can get a little bit tricky to navigate, and it leaves us feeling….well….for want of a better word….’frazzled’. 

For in a variety of ways, we face the ‘politics’ of the workplace, the home and our social groups. If we’re not careful, this can almost without our noticing how it happened, leave us feeling stressed, undervalued, unappreciated, anxious and overwhelmed.

Do you ever feel that way? Do you find yourself navigating other people’s moods, emotions, opinions and mini dramas? Do you find yourself silenced or taken for granted or ignored? Do you ever find yourself putting everyone else’s needs before your own, so much so that you feel disconnected, almost as if you’re an observer of your own life, rather than an active participant?

I think this can happen to us all from time to time. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ll know that there are contrasts of happiness and frustration, fruitful communication and unfortunate misunderstandings, recognition for a job well done, and working extra hard only for someone else to get the credit, ending up taking on an extra burden of work because you’re a diligent worker and your co-worker somehow manages to cruise along, off the back of the work you have done. Similar things can happen among family and friends, albeit within slightly different contexts. 

I wonder if some such scenario is running through your mind right now. I really should say that I’m not writing this to bring anyone down – quite the opposite in fact. For if you begin to recognise that niggling feeling earlier on, you’re in a better position to do something about it before you become overwhelmed by it or the people you spend time with, and maybe even love. Taking notice earlier on can foster good communication professionally, and contribute to a healthier working environment, while personally it may be an important step to protecting a relationship from failing. 

Maybe the thing to start with is to recognise how all the muddle is making you feel. To do this, you need to step back a little from the situation, take some time out to be by yourself, and listen. Our minds and bodies need to process experiences, and we so often don’t give ourselves the time, space, solitude and quiet to do so. And so things fester. They bubble under the surface, and grow into problems like weeds choking the flowers in a garden. 

By taking time to think and listen, to acknowledge and validate our feelings and perceptions, even if others don’t, we are able to more securely deal with whatever is in front of us and to have a healthier perspective on things. 

Aside from stepping aside, we can remind ourselves that although we can’t change other people we can take responsibility for ourselves. We can be responsible for recognising how we feel, giving ourselves love and self compassion, taking time to care for ourselves and invest our time and focus on things that are good for us, and by doing so find the strength to set appropriate boundaries for how we allow other people to treat us. We don’t need to engage in confrontation. We can speak the truth quietly, wisely and with love. Or we can find growth and maturity in the silence. Sometimes. 

The stronger we grow, the less we will come to expect of others. We’ll be gentler and more forgiving of them when they don’t treat us right. We’ll realise that the negativity or neglect of others has less power over our lives, because we take control of our own wellbeing and don’t allow such things to have such power in our lives anymore. 

If you are feeling frazzled, don’t worry. It happens to us all, and maybe you need help from someone with expertise, which is also quite normal I assure you, or maybe you need to step back and give yourself time to breathe, to think, to process and take care of your own needs. 

It’s a noisy world out there. Don’t let its vastness diminish you as a person. Take time aside and rest for a while. You’ll feel so much better for it. xx

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Waiting for inspiration? …

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How creative are you? My guess is that if you are a blogger, you’re probably fairly high in the creative stakes. And yet, creativity ebbs and flows, and can take on various different dimensions and expressions throughout life, and can be approached very uniquely from individual to individual.

Creative thinking is not necessarily confined to artistic pursuits, such as writing, drawing, design, travel, sculpture, dance, photography, cookery, painting, literature, crafts, and so on and on with the endless possibilities of engaging with life in this world on this amazingly fascinating planet. Creative thinking can also find its expression in business, research, science, teaching, entrepreneurial pursuits and more analytical fields.

If you’re like me then you’re both highly creative and analytical in certain areas of your life. In other areas or fields of learning you may have to apply more grit and determination to learning something that doesn’t necessarily ‘spark the fire’ in you quite as easily.

So in the ebb and flow of creativity, of being human, sometimes inspiration can seem to run dry. You know you have an idea in you somewhere, and yet you can’t quite articulate it even to yourself. You stare at that blank piece of paper or computer screen, wondering what to write, draw or plan. You hold the fabric in your hands and can’t quite engage your ideas and your heart as passionately as you once did and end up tossing it aside for when you’re feeling more ‘in the zone’.

So what do you do? Realise that even when you aren’t necessarily producing grand designs, ideas, plans or making anything, there is still a process going on within you and perhaps it is somewhat of a ‘sifting’ of ideas, emotions and experiences that will find their expression in due course.

Ease yourself from the self imposed pressure of having to ‘show’ something or produce something. Inspiration is a lot to do with authenticity. Authentically living in, feeling, experiencing that particular moment, that ‘something’ real in life, that your soul connects to and desires to express and find expression in.

Engage with yourself again, your five senses. Take time to be present, grounded, and still. Become aware of the beauty, depth, simplicity and profundity of the things you can touch, taste, hear, see, and smell right now. Drawing inspiration from others is a beautiful thing, and yet connecting with your own experience of life in the moment is perhaps more powerful.

Don’t confine creativity and inspiration to the realm of producing great works. First *experience* it. Your expression may be in a rhythm, a phrase, some notes jotted on a crumpled piece of paper, the enjoyment of the rustle of leaves in your hand or underfoot, the appreciation of the slow movement of clouds across the sky, a word, a thought, a scribble, an unwritten, unshared song that you give life to in the moment, the click of a camera, a combination of colours, the unravelling of a piece of string.

The first mark on that piece of paper. That first word typed on your computer screen.

Alive.

Perhaps you can start there. Alive. And maybe what your soul gives expression to can one day be shared.

Take your time. Live it first. Life is the inspiration you’ve been waiting for…

Review your Goals

Well, we’ve made it to May, which means that summer is on its way, and hopefully so too are new opportunities and adventures, be they big or small.

The new year seems to be the most obvious time of the year for most people to reflect and take stock of where they are in life, and where they want to be, to set goals and make plans for the year ahead.

However, I think that each season, and even each new month provides an opportunity to invest in our personal growth and quality of life, by taking the time to reflect on whether the way we spend our time is aligned to our deepest values and purpose in life.

That might sound a little overwhelming, but the thing is, life can only be lived one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. And so it brings a kind of comfort in knowing that the little things all add up to build the pattern of our lives in more significant ways.

By looking at each month as an opportunity to reflect and reprioritise, this makes the perhaps otherwise overwhelming task of accomplishing life goals, or living well, much more manageable, fun and achievable.

I don’t know about you, but I find using a planner a helpful, creative and engaging way of doing this. Personally, I use the ‘Tools 4 Wisdom’ planner, and although I don’t always manage to sit down at the start of each month to do so, when I am able, like this month of May, I enjoy adding colour, designs and drawings to the month, creating a colour scheme and a theme, and adding in the details of events, tasks and goals.

Some people prefer to use online methods, or combine these with art journaling or bullet journaling, there are so many ways to create a framework and a structure for reflection that works for you.

I find it helps me to have a positive outlook on the month, as otherwise it is so easy to simply ‘drift’, to wonder where the time is going, or to feel like each day is just slipping into the next and that you’re somehow not making the most of things. It is engaging too, creatively in that the very act of producing something authentic, putting pen to paper, means that you are putting in something of yourself, and appreciating through the creative process, the fact that each little detail is important, and allowing yourself to value each day.

Even the seemingly mundane or ‘ordinary’ days can be extraordinary in their own ways.

Perhaps a good way to move forwards is to bring to mind any goals you had at the start of the year, and reflect upon these and revise them if required. Life changes, and your plans may have to as well, however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Then each month, choose one key life area, and maybe four or five smaller things that you want to work towards or accomplish. They don’t need to be ‘massive’ goals, like traveling the world or sky diving (perhaps those are ‘ordinary’ goals to you if you are the more adventurous type!), they can be simple yet authentic, and therefore beautiful in their own way – things like read one book, plan to spend time with a friend or family member, write a blog post, work on a particular creative project, make time for self care, etc.

Living purposefully gives us the opportunity to clear away some of the clutter in our lives and minds, to let go of what are unnecessary time stealers, and to perhaps live more simply, deeply and authentically, so that we feel more connected to ourselves, our core values and the people and pursuits in our lives that matter most to us.

Breaking things down and appreciating each small ‘chunk’ of time that we’ve been blessed with is good for our mental health too. Things feel less overwhelming, clearer and easier to prioritise. We can’t do it all, but we can try to spend more time focussing on what matters most, knowing that these little steps in the right direction all add up to a more fulfilling life.

We seem to be, in this generation, constantly ‘plugged in’, and always taking in stimuli from the world around us with unceasing suggestions of what we should be doing, thinking, eating, wearing, feeling, and so on. We also find ourselves caught up in the stream of images, stories, pictures and snapshots of other people’s lives, and that creates a risk of unhealthy comparison, ‘FOMO’ and even mental health struggles such as anxiety, fear, loneliness and depression if we feel that our lives are ‘not enough’ compared to those around us.

Yet, there is a beautiful paradox that reveals that when we disconnect from the noise, we are able to live in a deeper way that is more fully connected. We don’t need to pretend that the rest of the world isn’t there, or to stop engaging with it, but we do need to realise the importance of taking time to reengage with ourselves, our own lives, quietness, solitude and personal self reflection so that the time we spend on this earth is meaningful, authentic and much less wasteful.

I hope you take the time to enjoy something meaningful to you today. Perhaps that is in prayer, a walk in nature, journaling and reflecting, assessing your priorities, spending time with people you love, or maybe even sending out a random act of kindness to someone, even a stranger, who might need the authentic love and care of a fellow human being. Perhaps today, in taking time to connect with what is meaningful to you in your life, you might be inspired to write a blog post that will encourage another precious soul. Take care, think deeply, seek peace and pursue it, and be kind. xx

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Have you been bullied? …

That’s a tough question. Not because you don’t know the answer, but because the answer may be very painful. I could write reams about this life issue, and about the longstanding effects, but I want to keep this short and write about just a couple of aspects, in the hope of reaching out to someone, somewhere who might be suffering with the effects of bullying, whether past or present. 

If you find yourself in the quagmire of  victimisation of any kind, particularly if this happened / is happening when you were / are young and haven’t had the years of growth through adulthood to build up any kind of resilience or more positive reference points (although bullying in adulthood can be severely impactful too), the chances are high that aspects of your identity have been bruised, broken, fragmented, belittled, crushed or torn apart in some way. It took me a long time, decades in fact, to begin to unpick the Truth that feeling horrible wasn’t the same as *being* horrible, unworthy, etc. Being victimised, abused in any way, whether that be physically, through cruel or careless words whether written or spoken, mental or psychological distress or whatever way one may be made to feel dehumanized by another person *feels* utterly wretched. Not only are there physical and psychological symptoms as a result of the stress, but also mentally and emotionally it just feels horrible. For a child, it is very difficult if not impossible to navigate being bullied in any objective kind of way. For example, when I was bullied as a child, cruel and horrible words came at me from a variety of different directions, I was physically overpowered and hurt by those physically stronger than me. Like a sponge, I simply absorbed what was being said about me, and because it seemed ‘everyone’ – even people who didn’t know each other – was saying the same cruel things, then it must be true….there must be something terrible about me to warrant me being treated that way….like many children, I interpreted the bullying as being in some way ‘my fault’ because I was deficient, not good enough in some way. The psychological distress and damage children face, even if or when bullying stops, can last decades and unfortunately for many, can eat away at most of one’s adult life, unless they find a way to release and process these thoughts, feelings and emotions, possibly with the help of a trained counsellor or trauma specialist, and begin to reframe their life’s narrative to be able to use their adverse childhood experiences for more positive outcomes. This can be gruelling work…but the human spirit and mind can overcome a great deal, by the Grace that carries us through. 

What I really want to say, to anyone going through such horrible experiences, and feelings about yourself, is that that is a completely normal reaction to unacceptable treatment. The bullying makes you *feel* horrible, but please, dear ones, and I say this for myself as well…that DOES NOT MEAN that you deserve to be treated that way. 

You are intrinsically valuable, important and special because you are you – because you are human, and are made valuable. There is nothing that can change your intrinsic worth – no feeling, no bad treatment, no judgements from others or negative self perception – NOTHING can ever diminish your worth. The fact that it all feels horrible, you feel horrible, doesn’t mean that you are not beautiful, special, worthy, unique, valued, and ultimately deeply LOVED…you are not here by accident, you are Created and loved, and you will always be valuable no matter what life experience may have told you otherwise. 

If you can begin to grasp that, then that may be the point when you begin to recover. Someday you will see that you are LOVED, Created and Loved, in the meantime try to learn that you are worthy, and please never give up. You’re amazing to have made it this far…keep faith in the transformation and healing that LIFE can bring. ❤ xx

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