Umbrella

As if there was not enough to be doing in June, I’ve taken an extra fortnightly task onto the list: Time to Change’s Story Camp. Running this week until the end of August, I’ll get a new prompt every other Monday. It encourages us to ‘tell our story’ about mental health and, in this case, I’ve decided that response will come via poetry. I’d not expected to have an automatic, almost visceral response to the initial prompt either, but it happened. This was written late Monday night and posted on Wednesday, and might be one of the best things I’ve produced for some time.

In the chaos of this week, to use my voice when so many others are being silenced seems… wrong. It really does. I appreciate that these events are arranged in advance, with no idea of the potential chaos that may unfold around us. That response needed to be the point of the poem: my own experiences at this point should absolutely not be taking centre stage. In two weeks, the world could well be in a completely different place, but for now personal history needs to mark this moment with significance.

Having someone else provide the prompts however is, undoubtedly, a bonus. Not having to think of directions or ideas, having an opportunity just to create has been what this week has been all about, and writing here after a week of doing just that? It is incredibly satisfying. Therefore, when all these are done, we’ll collate them together as a testament to how the Summer played out from my distinct and unique mental health standpoint.

You’ll see that poetic graphic a few times therefore in the next ten days: I’ll post it, optimising exposure times, just to prove I have learnt a few things about how Twitter has worked over the years. Now that’s done, it’s time to go sort out the Drabbles for next week, swiftly followed by the inaugural YouTube video … now, about that…

Better Living through Chemistry

There’s been a side project over the last few weeks, that has taken up slightly more time than had been anticipated. However, now we’re done, it’s time to get my act together and explain why this has become something more than the moment that it was created from.

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You’ll know from the header that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week starting on the 18th: initially the subject was going to be body image, which is a topic that’s still quite hard for me to talk about easily, and so I’d decided not to do any specific work for it until the day. However, I was approached by my Time To Change hub (the people that look after Mental health Champions and support our fundraising activity) to provide something as the brief for the week had changed: the new subject is Kindness.

I wrote a poem, then looked at it on the page and realised that I could do so much better. So, I looked for some pictures to go with it, then I rewrote some more, changed my pictures, decided to not use music and subtitles but instead record my own voice. An ancient Podcasting microphone was pulled out of the garage, audio recorded, before the whole thing was stuck together over two days.

All in all, from start to finish, it was about three weeks’ work.

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The finished product will get an exclusive first see by my Patrons tomorrow, and I’ll use their feedback (plus that from my early ‘focus group’) to improve going forward. The video’s been sent to the people who matter for a look over, and assuming they’re okay with it, the thing will get published by them that week. I’ll stick it on my socials as well for good measure of course, but they must remain the main benefactors.

I’ve never produced something this personal before. It’s been a fantastic exercise in knowing what’s possible with the limited resources I have available. What’s been learnt will undoubtedly be useful going forward too, as these skills can be translated into other areas, used to promote my own work. However, what matters most of all is starting a conversation with others about mental health, and making sure that message is heard by everyone who needs it.

That, in the end, is what matters most of all.

Essential Four

At the end of last week, I applied for an opportunity that a year ago wouldn’t even have been considered as a possibility. It doesn’t matter, now it’s done, whether I’m successful or not. For the first time in probably two plus years, that process wasn’t about wanting to be chosen, but simple satisfaction at taking part. Somewhere between then and now, a fundamental part of my psyche has changed.

The portion of me that thought success only came from other people’s validation has finally realised this is the biggest lie in existence. If that kind of assuagement is what I seek, there are better, far less stressful means by which it can be achieved. They emerge from moments of kindness, helping other people get what they want and achieve their dreams and aspirations. I don’t need to write to do that.

Writing has become expression of moments I’ve been too scared to share until now.

Faith

Validation is achieved by the completion of projects, working to the timescales I impose. It will be when I choose to create and sell my own things and not be reliant on others. Poetry will combine with pictures, video with sound, and everything stops being a race or a contest. It is a freedom I realise only comes in the quiet moments when all the critics, both external and internal, are silenced.

It is the moments when you believe anything is possible, if the means can be located within yourself to release fear and uncertainty. It was one of those moments, a week ago, when I ran for three lots of four minutes without stopping on a treadmill and grasped that if I could knit those fragments together, pieces became a proper run. The confidence gained here combined with new found physical strength made impossible, real.

Understanding how to write without fear taught me how to run.

Day 5 __ Credence

In turn, running gives back to mental strength and creativity. The body self-sustains, creating calm where previously only chaos existed and those difficult tasks finally appear easy, academic. The freedom of expression that only previously took place after long periods of self-imposed reflection spring forth unprompted, with new enthusiasm and joy attached. Creativity really is in a new, exciting place.

However, I was the one who had to change, needs to keep altering myself. If the door’s not kept open to this new place in my mind, if change cannot be embraced and then directed elsewhere, all this good work can still be lost. The task now is not to lose sight of direction, focus or possibilities. With mental and physical strength, anything is and will be possible.

The Race

This month will be remembered for many things, but particularly because after a number of false starts, I’m running. There will be those of you who undoubtedly will scoff at such a pronouncement, but it is completely serious. Never been able to do it properly, or indeed for very long. Sixteen minutes on a Sunday lunchtime is, like it or not, the equivalent of Planet Sarah putting its first female astronaut into orbit.

This whole endeavour wasn’t just to highlight mental health, but to address issues with my own. Could I use the internal health wake up call from the end of last year (cut the fats, improve the iron content) and make a real difference to what is being done in the Gym and on virtual trainers? Right now, the prognosis is looking quite hopeful. I’m five pounds down in weight, biggest single fat loss drop for… well, about three years.

Yes, it does seem to be working.

This week is the third one of January so I get to start a lovely new row of crosses. There’s been a very judicious use of fitness apps to keep the cravings (and my calorie count) in check and the result is undoubtedly being more awake. It means that when a mental health wobble happens (which was the case last night) it was dealt with far more successfully than has ever really previously happened either. If running equates to space exploration, this change is better health and longer life for everyone.

I’ve tried very hard not to evangelise over these achievements, just put my head down and get the work done. Fundraising is not nearly as high as I’d hoped at this stage but we’ll push things into a higher gear next week. There’s still not as much outstanding stuff done either but you can’t have everything. There’ll be clear air soon enough, and as I’m definitely more alert now than I’ve been for months?

Everything will be done in good time.

Run for Home

This should have happened on Wednesday, for which I apologise, but it has taken me 72 hours to adjust brain and body to the new world order, which is EXERCISE EVERY DAY. The RED in Red January stands for Run Every Day and having done that two days out of three this week? Nope. Huge fat nope. Not happening this week, or indeed the rest of January. By June? Quite possibly. We’re working on it.

This will be the only post I make about this here until I’m done on February 1st, because there doesn’t need to be the boring repetition of the same stuff. People have already given money, without prompting, and the £250 total that’s been set should be easily attainable if there’s a slow, sensible reiteration of intent. The best bit of all this, undoubtedly, is having means to be truly accountable using technology.

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There’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the organised exercise classes I do: if you don’t work hard enough, you’re only cheating yourself. Although this is undoubtedly true, it is no longer possible to pretend you went on a 5k run if the stats won’t support it. I’ve never felt the need to do that in the first place: the stats now aren’t just a record of your work, but are useful insights into how your body reacts to exercise.

I’ve been trying to shift some areas of fat on my body for close to a decade. Now I know where the optimal zones are to work in for my heartrate to do that, and have proved this is actually now taking place with the addition of a sensible diet and calorie limit? These areas are beginning to shrink. Fat really is starting to vanish. Now all that is needed is a month’s worth of hard, targeted effort to keep the momentum up.

You can follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with affairs. Like I said, we’ll be back in February not only to see how well things went, but also look at weight loss. I’m down on this week’s weigh in, let’s hope this continues going forward.

Then we can talk about training to be a Mental health Champion…

Deliver Me

Everything’s a bit out of order here, for reasons that still include dentistry and Christmas. You sometimes can’t predict the outcomes of certain events: tooth pain is a special Circle of Hell which I can only hope is now gone for good. In the midst of it all however, a lot of good has come from the experiences. Most notable of all is the Altered Paths project which, this year, has made me more than happy.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself in 2019; to continue to do so in 2020 there needs to be a redefinition of what I read and consume via Social media. The changes are already in place, and a bunch of new and interesting projects will be investigated during the next 12 months, plus there will be the continuation of the body of work which keeps this site alive and relevant.

As a result I’ve decided to leave the Christmas week fallow of posts and content, allowing plenty of time to prepare for the new year. That’s included graphics work today, poetry contest submissions and other pieces being given much-needed love and attention. After this is all finished and I’m up to date with poetry, we can start planning for my January fundraising project.

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We’ll formally launch RED January on the 1st, and begin a year of fundraising for Mind (as well as my training to become a Mental health Champion) on a strong, positive note. There’s also Time to Talk Day in February, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So much has to happen before that, including some fairly significant real life gubbins. Let’s see if this year, that precious life/work balance can be finally located and maintained…

For now, let’s clear the backlog and ready ourselves for January.

Run To the Hills

Those of you who have followed me for some time will know that whenever a Time to Talk Day comes up, I’m all over the concept. That’s going to be particularly apposite this coming February, when the next event is scheduled: by then I hope to have begun my training as a Champion. The first meeting to begin that journey happened last Saturday, in my county’s main town. Needless to say, it’s changed quite a bit since I was there last.

I almost didn’t make it there at all.

Driving was fine, parking no problem. At the venue, there was an unexpected attack of nerves: walking into the meeting room, where one other person was already, made me feel unwell… and then I was in the bathroom, managing a potential panic attack. The reason for this, of course, was easily rationalised. Unfamiliar surroundings, people I didn’t know. I should have visited the venue earlier in the week to calm my fears.

Having come all that way, in the rain and wind… it would be foolish to just turn around and go home again. So, I walked back into the room… and now I’m so very glad I did. This is the first step of a journey that should have been started a long time ago: finally there’s confidence to stand with a group of people whose commitment and care is abundantly apparent. I can’t wait for formal training to start in January.

It also gives me an opportunity to consider what it is I’ll do for Time to Talk day 2020. I’ll want to do it online, of course, because that’s the place where I feel I can do the most good in terms of supporting people whilst assisting the process of obtaining the help and advice they’re looking for. I feel both poetry and imagery have a part to play in this… so I wonder, what can I do to pull myself out of comfort zones in the process?

There are some ideas in my planner. Watch this space for more details.

The Luxury Gap

This post should have happened on Friday, but it didn’t. My personal blog has recorded the sordid details, should you be interested as to why: with time and space to deal with the fallout, it’s a salutatory reminder that dealing with anxiety and inability doesn’t ever go away, it simply becomes easier to rationalise. You’d think after the week I’d had that everything would be fantastic as a result. That’s not how this works.

Being mindful of self is the reminder needed to move forward.

There’s a lot that can be done to understand why self is as problematic as it undoubtedly is: some of you may stress at the amount of self-help flotsam that undoubtedly ends up online, but an awful lot of it is incredibly useful. The idea, of course, is to take everything initially under consideration: some advice may simply not be what is needed. It’s the equivalent of my exercise class trainer stating “this move may not work for you, here are the alternatives.” It’s your job to know what’s best at that moment and then give it a try.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for me to follow as wide a range of followers via Social media as possible. It’s not about believing that somehow my experience represents a typical one for everybody else either. There’s so much difference in the world, such a wealth of individual experiences. I cannot possibly expect to be able to understand them all, but they demand both respect and empathy regardless. The only way that changes is if someone is actively hostile; then there are other paths to tread.

Fortunately for me, there’s an awful lot of love in my life right now.

I’ve spent an awfully long time not granting myself permission to be fallible. It’s okay not to write when you say you will, or to take time to do other stuff. It’s not sensible to compare yourself to anybody else either, especially if you’re trying to be realistic about objectives and goals. The path that you tread is very much individual to you. Don’t let others define you, and certainly don’t allow negativity to drag your dreams down to the gutter. You are enough. It is okay to get stuff wrong. Rejection as a writer is part of a path you need to tread.

Learning what you are is all part of the experience.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

Communication Breakdown

It is incredibly easy, in the midst of a thousand different crisis both mind and body are bouncing between, to believe you’re coping. There is often no time to sit and consider what is taking place around you: simply no right time to do so. Only in the moments of quiet and reflection, often early mornings or late nights, does reality of situations become apparent. Sharing your troubles, undoubtedly, has its advantages.

Talking to someone else can make a world of difference.

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I’ve been in counselling for six weeks. The overriding takeaway from all the sessions is simple: talking really matters. Not being afraid to share everything with someone who is not there to judge or attack, whose task is primarily to listen and make appropriate observations, is probably the most transformative thing that’s ever happened to me. So much of my life before was judgement from others, how their words affected view of self.

Now, it’s about learning how to make informed, sensible decisions without that judgement. How I look at what happens and understand the personal consequences of the actions, and then how these decisions in turn are a measure of my ability to learn and grow. It is apparent that a lot of my issues come from places that are obvious in hindsight. Now they’re exposed, it becomes quite simple to deconstruct and move on.

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The other key point that’s been grasped in this journey revolves around being ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’: it is abundantly apparent that this was never someone else’s task to complete. I’m the one who has to do the work. This is not a case of taking a course of drugs and suddenly problems vanish: for many, however, with the right medication, lives can be radically transformed. This is a discussion that’s been had, and there is no need for me to go down this route.

What happens at the end of twelve weeks is as yet not clear. Right now, the consequences of conversation are having a radical, life enhancing effect on how I conduct absolutely everything. Writing that was previously painful and inaccessible is being returned to, with cautious optimism. Confidence is at its highest point for many, many months. There’s also no fear of taking a step back and relaxing, when the mood takes.

Talking to a counsellor is actively improving my entire existence.