For the majority of my life, I have been in education

I didn’t particularly love school, in fact I couldn’t wait to leave for university, where I spent 5 years of my life doing my undergraduate degree and then starting one masters degree only to realise it wasn’t for me and then completing another masters degree the following year.

A lot of the time you can’t wait to get out of education but once I did, I got this huge I miss it feeling. I missed the ease of being in education, I missed the pushing myself to get grades better than my ‘expected grades’ but I also realised how much it taught me about life. Going to university is where I found my ‘passion’ for mental health but it’s also where I learned to ‘grow up’ and look after myself, it’s where I really ‘found’ my confidence.

I was shown the fun in learning and researching, I still don’t like writing essays but I do love thinking of what would make a great study! I became more independent and I love being independent.

Education really teaches you so much more than just reading from a book, it gives you life skills that will stick with you forever. For a while I wanted to go back and do a PhD but then I found a great job that I love and that pushes me to learn more everyday and I don’t think I’d have been able to do that without the education I already had.

Sofia,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Plans on hold – learning, educating and keeping your brain engaged 

Currently the whole world feels like it’s on pause and if anyone is like me they’re a little anxious about things they can’t complete or plans they had that they now have no idea when are going to happen. For example education, courses and for me moving so that I no longer have to house share.

It’s easy to focus on all the things that won’t get done or not knowing where you stand in a situation. But one thing I’ve been telling my clients is to focus on what can be done, for example bonding with family, starting up that hobby you’ve always wanted to, catching up on shows or books or even assignments that you can.

I have been in a similar situation, not quite on this level but feeling on pause. When I was in education I started a masters in finance and accounting and realised that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I dropped out and had to wait for the next year to come round to start the course I really wanted to. But in that time I really researched into what I wanted to do, I volunteered and really gave myself time to listen to what I really wanted so that when I finally started my masters I knew it was right for me and I did really well. Take time to breathe and get to know yourself better. If before you were in a situation that you weren’t happy with, take time now to find out what will make you happy and what you can do to make that happen in future.

 

Sofia,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

 

Supporting and Learning

When supporting someone with any mental health condition it is important that as friends, family, or professionals we educate ourselves on an individual’s condition.

When psychosis and bipolar disorder came into my life, I knew nothing about it.

During a manic episode, it can be hard to cope with explosive outbursts, and irresponsible decisions. And once the whirlwind of mania has passed and the dark cloud of depression takes over, you put all your efforts into supporting your loved one feel appreciated and happy, but it is never easy.

The more you know about the condition, the more effective your support will look for that person. I gained a greater understanding of the signs and symptoms for both manic and depressive episodes, this helped me to respond and to react appropriately during severe mood changes, but also taught me to not take things personally and how to look after myself when times were tough.

I also learnt to find the right balance too. Our lives become so consumed by mental health that it was all we were speaking about. Don’t just talk about mental health. Keep in mind that having a mental health condition is just one aspect of yours/or your friends or family members life. Most people don’t want to be defined by their condition, so talk about things other things; positive memory’s, hobbies and all the other things that give you joy.

Through a long journey of finding what works best and what does not I feel as though I have gained the knowledge required to support him in right way for both of us. Now, I feel confident in my support but without learning and educating myself I was always concerned and scared that what I was doing to support him was wrong.  

If you want to learn more about mental health the Let’s Talk Training team are running a number of FREE and paid for training sessions.

Why not check out our Eventbrite page and register your interest.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/harmless-lets-talk-training-14795237737

Learning to experiment with sound

Did you know, our Trainer Aja is also a Noise Musician (expression of noise in a musical context). She has put together a video demonstrating how you can play with any household object and learn, through software, to adjust sounds and make music! For Learning Week, why not have a go at starting to experiment with sound and production? Follow Aja’s guide through Ableton Digital Audio Workstation in the video below:

Being Mindful – Where to Start

I wanted to share what I have learnt from my own experience with mindfulness with you. Mainly that you are probably already naturally doing many things mindfully during your day to look after yourself and that’s a good place to start, take note, feel positive and confident about those things.

Mindfulness often starts with learning how to focus on your breath or being fully immersed in eating a raisin/grape(!) But there may be plenty of things you are doing already that show you have the skills and ability to do something relaxing and positive that will bring you so much benefit. And it doesn’t have to be regimented or a big effort. Small bites and little steps to looking after yourself is a helpful approach.

I have attended meditation and mindfulness sessions to help my own mental and physical health. I find attending a structured course helpful, but as soon as I’m on my own my motivation evaporates, and I struggle to focus. Something I live with is regular nightmares and flashbacks from a past trauma, so when focusing with eyes shut, on my own, laying down this isn’t comfortable or helpful for me. But I am now aware and mindful of that, and can work around this. It’s about taking your time and noticing what works.

One thing that I’ve really benefited from is a realisation that there are actually many things that I am already doing that are in a way mindful, and for me were a good place to start in terms of expanding and continuing that mindful practice (because you do have to practice!) and something to celebrate. I encourage you to notice your natural pauses throughout your day, those things that slow down your breathing and fill you with warmth or positivity, things that help you to stay calm and feel okay. It doesn’t have to be something that takes lots of time, it could be seconds but once you notice those things you can start to do more of them.

Here are a few mindful things that I have found helpful, that have kept me grounded and given me calm during tough times and the things in my toolkit that I know are there if I need them:

  • A hug. From a loved one, or in these times when you may be on your own in isolation giving yourself a hug is a comforting thing to do (this is also a mindful movement – so you get a bonus mindful point with that one and it’s a nice gentle stretch!)
  • Watching the birds pottering around outside. Noticing things: clouds, faces in random places, new or lovely noises (bird song? The wind? The sea – if you’re lucky to live by the sea.), the shape/colour/size/smell of new plants/leaves.
  • Fun explanation of Mindfulness: https://youtu.be/w6T02g5hnT4

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.

~ Kirby

Learning, Educating & Keeping our Brains Active Week

Learning new skills is always a useful endeavour, however there are many more positives to learning than we think! Including the positive effect it can have on your well being; It can boost our confidence, provide purpose to your day, and help you to connect with others.

Learning doesn’t only mean enrolling in courses or getting formal qualifications. There are a myriad of different activities we can engage in, to bring learning into our life;

  • Learn to cook something new
  • Take on a new responsibility at work
  • DIY project, such as up-cycling furniture, fixing a broken bike, garden gate or something bigger.
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn to paint
  • Write a blog or research a subject your interested in

We would love to hear what are you are doing to keep your brain active?

Resilience

When I consider the idea of young people and mental health, and how resilience can be such a powerful coping strategy, I wonder what resilience really means in terms of wellbeing for a generation of young people bombarded by not only internal factors (the things directly inside their unique world and experiencing) but the effects of all the external factors such as social media and the associated access to the wider world.

How do we create resilience in our young people, the kind of resilience that might protect and develop an internal valuing system that provides a shield and a defence to what can often be perceived as an overload in terms of stimulus to a developing and often fragile self-concept? This is also reflected in the messages that are relayed around mental health,  the message for young people is to seek help, talk to someone, get some support. However, the reality is that young people who do seek help are viewed in a certain way, there is a loss of credibility, a stigma that might or might not follow them into adulthood. For young people that do seek help the message is often mixed, for our young people in crisis who do seek help, the message can be confusing, they are not “in sufficient crisis” to receive immediate help or support, and the kind of help that is available is oversubscribed with long waiting lists. This is a constant source of frustration for those working with young people who are looking for immediate help or support, in order that the emotional wellbeing of the young person is addressed before it spirals out of control.

Strange as it might seem, my view is not a pessimistic one. I have seen young people who engage with the appropriate help, change flourish and grow. The kind of environment that celebrates difference and diversity. The kind of spaces that promote individual thinking and understands the kind of pain and isolation that can be experienced when a young person does not identify with their peers or the status quo. A society that encourages an individual to grow and develop in their own unique and individual way, a society that does not view kindness and acceptance as bohemian behaviour and not behaviour that is encouraged in “real business” where in order to be successful one needs to be “brutal and inflexible”.  I believe that if this kind of growth and change is to happen in any kind of meaningful way for our young people, there needs to be consensus, people singing from the same song sheet. All of the organisations that touch a young person’s life to have an understanding and expectation around what their service or contact might give to a child emotionally, rather than the constant assessing and compartmentalising of our young people into intellectual and emotional boxes that individuals may spend years of their lives trying to shed or escape from. If we as a society have consensus around the elements that create resilience and are steadfast in providing the kind of environment that is capable of implementing strategies towards achieving resilience in young people, we will be promoting the wellbeing of a generation of young people.

Helen,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Rani’s Self-Care

I’ve been thinking about this week’s theme all week and its only now that I have been able to really come to a conclusion about how I manage to stay happy, and I am genuinely pretty happy. Not all of the time, I’ve had very low periods in the past. I did some training about self-care a few years ago and the training provider made a comment which stuck with me. She said ‘Weave your parachute every day – don’t start just before you’re about to jump out of the plane.’ In other words, make it a routine to care for yourself, even when you’re feeling okay. That way, you’ll be better equipped to care for yourself when you’re having a tough time. I don’t think self-care is about finding one thing that you do everyday that makes you feel better. It’s about lots of little things and sometimes it’s a case of trial and error before you stumble upon something that really sticks with you.

I’ve been running for 13 years, usually on my own and I’ve never competed in a race. I do between 9 and 3 miles 4 times a week. I’m pretty good, not brilliant but what I am brilliant at is actually doing it. It’s a very personal thing for me and has become part of my identity that I don’t talk much about. I hated P.E at school but being brought up in the country, I’ve always loved the outdoors so running along the country lanes where I live soon became a joy for me and I love how it makes me feel. I’ve learned that you can be good at anything you set your mind to, regardless of whether you have a natural ability. It teaches me to keep my eye on the end goal, to persevere, to love my body and the life I’m honoured to have.

I take care of my body but I try not to be obsessive about it and I don’t spend a lot of money. I guess I feel really really lucky to have a body that works when so many people in the world are physically disabled. I try and nurture it with nutritious food which involves lots and lots of raw veg, fruit and nuts. I only drink alcohol and sugary food at the weekend and it feels like much more of a treat and so much more delicious than if I ate it every day. I try and look as nice as I can (not every day but most) and I do that for myself because I enjoy it and I think I deserve it. We all do.

I meditate every day and I also do informal practice which is just about looking through the world with a particular lens. I like to see things through the eyes of a child, as if I’d never experienced them before. Staying connected to my inner child is important to me. Our lives as humans are so segmented. Childhood – Teenage years – Adulthood and Old age. And with this segmentation comes and expectation that we behave according to the particular phase of life we’re in. But really this is ridiculous. It’s much more realistic to grow organically and at our own pace.  To not expect ourselves to totally lose touch with who we were as a child and become some sort of boring and sensible being who isn’t allowed to have fun, be ridiculous or spontaneous.

Rani,

Specialist Therapist

Creativity Supports my Mental Well-being

Having been asked to share some of my experience as a person who uses creativity to support my mental well-being, I wanted to introduce myself properly.

My name is Willow, I am a parent to four children, between nine and twenty.
Two of my children have special needs.
I trained as a teacher but later became a carer to my disabled son and home educated my three younger children for a few years, and when they went back to school I decided to retrain as a counsellor and psychologist. I intend to use art and creative therapy in my work.

During the past decade, as a family we have been through some quite serious trauma, with my son needing a heart transplant. This involved a huge amount of hospital time, near death experiences and generally terrifying events.

Living with what felt like a nuclear fallout, after his transplant, when my relationship with their father had broken down and I was alone managing lots of medical appointments, as well as my own faltering mental health, I found a real outlet and therapy of my own, in art and creativity.

I want to share with you some of my process and also to discuss how creativity saturates our lives  in many ways, so that more of us can begin to understand that it is at our fingertips, the opportunity to care for ourselves and enjoy therapeutic self expression. That is to say, anyone

My own expression started with simply drawing little cartoons about daily life. Without a partner to share the events of the day, I had nobody to relate the ups and downs of being a Mum. Drawing cartoon strips, no matter how rough, meant I had a record of what was happening.

Later, I used painting to express some of the more painful memories I have about my son’s transplant.

Painting is something I really love, but it takes a lot of time and I appreciate that not everyone has the easel, paints and canvas at hand.

I encourage my children to express themselves in the use of art, we use clay, plasticine, paints, printing equipment in terms of creating images, but we also sing, write poetry, dance, make up silly characters, design our own board games, and quizzes on free apps such as Kahoot!

My new partner is a comedian and he adds a new dynamic to our creative lifestyle. His ability to think sideways and find new ways of looking at things brings us great joy. Of course, he is not always funny, and he often smells bad, so i won’t pretend things are perfect.

People often think that being creative means being good at art. I absolutely disagree. Being good at art is often the result of being creative many times: it is a skill that needs enhancing, practising.

Self expression is at the core of understanding who we are, and when we are free to express our inner, private feelings, when we feel vulnerable and afraid, we are bringing light to darkness and giving our true selves voices.

Here are some ideas on how to unleash your creativity for very little money, and without having to buy extra resources. Do not be afraid to experiment: glue can be made from flour mixed into water. Many apps are free. Most of us have some access to tv, internet, music, books etc.

Art and Photography

Doodle and use colouring books, or free printable coloring from the internet.

Take photos of unusual objects or new perspectives during your daily activities, and take the time to learn how to edit them using a free app such as instagram.

This lovely reflection of some elaborate textiles in my coffee cup made me think of magical potions.This uncurling fern resembles a monster!

Craft

Finish your craft project that you abandoned ages ago. I taught my kids to sew little characters that they use as comforters.

Tear up old magazines and use the colours to create a collage

Outside

Write poetry on the walls in chalk, or draw pictures

Cooking

Draw faces on your boiled eggs with a sharpie.

Music and Dance

Learn the moves to a dance routine with your house companions.

Sing your favourite songs. Whistle along to the radio!.

My children are really into the dance routines on TikTok and they try to persuade me to join in. Not being as agile as I once was, this is embarrassing rather than entertaining, but we all laugh nonetheless.

Writing

Start a journal: write a letter to an imaginary person, or explore your memories of certain events. We started a joint family book of great, to record our good memories at any given time. It was slow to start, but is full of glimpses of what makes us all happy as a family.

Have a go at writing a short story, or poem. If this feels too much, just begin to describe a character: their look, their tastes, their lifestyles etc. There doesn’t need to be a point, it’s just something to do.

This is a photo of the coffee at the end of my cup: It made me think of a woodland scene and we used it as a story prompt to develop a tale of a little man in the forest on a quest.

Gaming

Online games can be very stressful, even if they are great at eating up time. Creative games are the ‘build your own world’ ones, and if you can come off the screen, there are so many games that require problem solving, and therefore are creative by nature. Some games are so simple and require nothing at all: think I spy, paper scissors stone, 20 questions and hide and seek.

Here is an example of Hex: draw 6 points as though you were planning to draw a hexagon. Two players with different coloured pens must take turns to draw a line between 2 points, avoiding making 3 points join to form a triangle.

This is such fun, with several family members taking turns to draw the next stage of the body part, before handing it on. I am not sure what it is called though.

Music and Dance

Learn the moves to a dance routine with your house companions.

Sing your favourite songs. Whistle along to the radio!.

My children are really into the dance routines on TikTok and they try to persuade me to join in. Not being as agile as I once was, this is embarrassing rather than entertaining, but we all laugh nonetheless.

Writing

Start a journal: write a letter to an imaginary person, or explore your memories of certain events. We started a joint family book of great, to record our good memories at any given time. It was slow to start, but is full of glimpses of what makes us all happy as a family.

Have a go at writing a short story, or poem. If this feels too much, just begin to describe a character: their look, their tastes, their lifestyles etc. There doesn’t need to be a point, it’s just something to do.

This is a photo of the coffee at the end of my cup: It made me think of a woodland scene and we used it as a story prompt to develop a tale of a little man in the forest on a quest.

Your home

I have a fondness for beautiful textiles and fabric design, so this tends to feature quite heavily! But whatever your taste, make sure your environment reveals who you are, and meets your sensory needs. Some people need calming rooms, others stimulating colours. Move your furniture around, make sure it smells good. It is your nest!

Positive escapism and coping mechanisms

I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and for me being creative has been the best way of coping and processing the feelings, or lack thereof, that come with these conditions. Music production and performance is incredibly cathartic for me, it allows for sonic and physical expression and release which allows me to cope with sometimes very painful and overwhelming feelings that I find difficult to sit with or overcome. I wanted to share an example of how a piece of sound design I made for Ryan Heath’s VR experience, helped me to process some of the effects of living with these mental health conditions.

This piece was inspired by the witch marks of inside the caves at Creswell Crags. Ritual protection marks were carved into the walls of the caves dating back hundreds of years.

During this time a fear of the unknown prompted superstitious locals to mark many symbols in these rocks holding multiple meanings. Death and disease were everyday companions and evil forces could readily be imagined in this dark void.

The thinning represents a veil between two worlds, “a drapery hanging over the mystery and wonder of the eternally divine” and the caves seemed to be a portal from this dimension to another. For me, a parallel connection was felt between this and the reality of living life with mental health issues of depression and anxiety. Feeling stuck in a realm of negativity, desaturated surroundings and numb hopelessness. Haunted by your own mind and unable to see past the veil. Beyond which, the reality of a more positive dimension with hope, clear perspective and connectedness.

I went on a tour to these caves and took photos and sound recordings of the witch marks. It was really important to me that the source of the sounds used in the production were all directly from the caves themselves. I wanted to actually listen to the symbols, the etchings of protection carved from fear and the atmosphere of the environment that contained them.

Taking the images and photographs of the symbols, I directly translated them into sound, so you can literally hear what the marks sound like. I then used the field recordings of the cave, of the exploitation of each mark and their meanings given by the tour guide and of the environment and reverb of the cave and build the entire soundscape from them.

With a combination of industrial and ethereal influences, I created a repeating, throbbing distorted bass to hold the weight of the piece. I aimed to have subtle changes throughout with the tones and texture of the distortion slowly evolving. Ritualistic repetition slowly builds into a release of explosive noise before ending with a tranquil glimpse of the other side of the veil.

When I’m creating like this, I’m not aware of thinking consciously of the thoughts or feelings I’m trying to process. The healing doesn’t come from a dialogue or an articulated realisation of how to overcome the difficult emotions. For me, it’s a purely subconscious and almost spiritual transition where I can express and focus painful or difficult emotions or beliefs I have about myself through a cathartic and intuitive process. 

Aja,

Trainer