I want to learn…

I want to learn to gently and lovingly challenge other people to think deeper and become more aware of the consequences of words and actions…
The problem is that I absolutely hate confrontation. And I know that once I say something challenging, no matter how mindfully I phrase it, I cannot control how my words are perceived or what the response is going to be. And then I am in the s*** because I will get so overwhelmed by the sense of misunderstandings and looming arguments. The intensity of expressed emotions terrifies me and has a very real physical impact on me. 
What I am beginning to realise is that it is painful to become more aware. So it is only natural that there will be resentment and anger. I have days where I wish that I could be less aware and I imagine that life would be simpler and I wouldn’t get so bloody overwhelmed. And then I think “who am I to want to impose more awareness on other people?”
But I want to feel able speak up when I am not being treated as an equal just because I am a woman.
I want to feel able to speak up when I hear and see others being treated as less worthy and less important.
I want to feel able to take a stand against the repeated humiliation of fellow human beings that goes on everywhere covered up as ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘humour’. For me it is never, ever okay to humiliate someone else – I believe that imposing feelings of shame on someone can have deep effects that can last a lifetime.
I have a deep longing for equal relating and equal interacting – not just for myself but all around me.
I want to learn to facilitate spaces where this can happen – where we move together from always (often subconsciously) trying to establish a hierarchy and who is more powerful and more important, to sharing power and responsibility with each other. 
I deeply dislike it when my neighbours shout at their kids. It hurts me physically. I can rationalise ‘live and let live’ and that the kids are used to it – it’s nothing to worry about. I can think compassionately about their situation. It doesn’t change how it affects me.  
Verbal violence – even when it is not aimed at me – affects me. For hours, sometimes days.
Interactions based on assuming inferiority or superiority in someone else confuses me.
When I notice people are responding to each other based on misunderstandings and getting more and more entangled in hurt and self-protection, I feel sad.
I have to learn to choose my battles – it’s a cliche, but I really, really do. Because battling does not come easy to me and it has a deep impact on me physically as well as emotionally.
I wish I could learn to challenge others to become more aware without stirring up battles. But I am not sure that it is possible…

The ability to wait

There isn’t much fun about waiting… Though some people say that half the experience is anticipating it and preparing for it. I guess what I am talking about is the aimless waiting, waiting for something to change or shift or waiting for things outside of your control to come together. Some people talk about precious time being wasted when we wait – like waiting for the bus or for the washing machine to finish so you can take out the clothes in order to get on with the day.

I think the virtue of waiting is underestimated. There are some valuable skills in waiting. When you wait you have to surrender your idea of having control over things, you have to be with your restlessness and boredom and face your powerlessness. And I am not sure we do these things enough.

There seem to be a lot of energy in society spent on proving one is in control – that one is productive and efficient – and surrounding oneself with an air of busyness. Waiting and busyness don’t go well together. I think a lot of us feel urged to distract ourselves instead of waiting. Or we feel like we have to fill the time with something useful.

I think we tend to associate waiting with being idle. And being idle has got a bad name:

 

No wonder our adult parts – the conscientious, image-oriented and anxious selves – feel uncomfortable when we have to spend time doing nothing.

I also think many of us associate waiting with being told off as a child for being too eager, too excited and too demanding. Waiting was a punishment or a frustrating thing we had to do to get what we wanted.  How many of us has experienced an adult telling us to do this annoying waiting-thing and then sit down with us to figure out how to do it and what it’s like.

No wonder our inner children – the excited, impulsive and eager parts of us – feel like waiting is boring and an awful state of lonely restlessness.

So if waiting is more than being idle or being forced to delay gratification, what is it then?

As I get older people feed back to me how they appreciate my ability to wait, my patience. I wait for a mood to pass, I wait for the energy to shift in a difficult situation, I wait for the next wave of conversation to come (rather than create it), I wait for life to get less busy so friends and I can find time for each other, I wait for time to heal the cracks in suffering relationships, I wait for opportunities to come along. I have practised a lot of waiting in my life. Doesn’t mean I can always do it but I find that its a useful skill to have.

Waiting is not a passive state. Waiting, for me, is an attentive state; a caring, listening state. Listening in to my body, listening in to life, listening in to a situation. And trusting. Trusting that things change even if I don’t actively interfere. Even if I don’t ‘do’.

Because life is bigger than me and there is so much I do not know, so much I do not understand. I am seldom capable of confidently taking action because it is impossible for me to know what the ‘right thing’ or most appropriate thing to do, is. So I wait. And in my experience inevitably the thing to do comes to me. Like in some strange dance with life, the next step appears on the ground under me. And because I was attentively waiting I noticed it. Sometimes it’s other people who brings the steps, sometimes its something I read or ideas that come into my head. Sometime stuff just happens and I dance along. Then it slows down. And I wait again.

When I was younger I found this dance difficult. I judged myself harshly when I went through times of waiting. I shamed myself calling me names like avoidant, lazy, indecisive, unambitious and lacking drive. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, not contributing, not out there enough changing the world, fighting the good fight.

But getting older I realise it just didn’t ring true to me deep down. I don’t want to be super-poductive and ‘out there’ because I don’t feel that rushing towards the good life and fighting for change actually creates the world I want to be in.

I am still waiting for the words to describe the world I want to be in and how I imagine the journey there…

 

Compassionate approaches to Mental Health: Building Compassionate Communities – a two day event March 30 & 31

I look forward to contributing to and participating in this event.

I usually feel wary about conferences because they can be a draining experience for me; too many unfamiliar people, too much information and not enough time or space to have meaningful conversations or to process what I am experiencing. But I also think they are an important way to share ideas and passions. Conferences can offer us opportunities to connect with people with similar interests, we can find support and inspiration and new projects and journeys can emerge.

Rufus and I contributed to the Compassionate Approaches to Mental Health event in November and I went away feeling quite encouraged – both about the possibilities of working together with others to change the culture around Mental Health, but also about changing how we do conferences. For me it all ties together… If we want more equal, inclusive and supportive communities where diversity is seen as an asset, then we need to keep an eye on the spaces we create or participate in. Whether it be our workplace, the daily bus journey, conferences or a learning/school environment.

The wolf we feed will get stronger…

I am a big believer in the usefulness of awareness, constructive critical thinking and being responsible. But I also know that there needs to be a balance – I have had to work on not feeling responsible for more than I can realistically deal with. I keep finding that the serenity prayer is a helpful reminder – it helps me stop, consider, connect with myself and give myself time to figure out what I need to let go of (at the moment – we can always come back to something if we need to) and where my energy will be best spent.

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More about the event from compassionatementalhealth.co.uk

Compassionate Approaches to Mental Health is a two day experiential event designed to inform, inspire and empower people living and working with mental distress.

We’ve gathered influential speakers who are passionate about changing the script around mental health, challenging stigma and raising expectations.

Our aim is to bring together people and families with personal experience of mental health issues, frontline staff, commissioners, managers, clinicians, policymakers and Third Sector staff, to discuss what works for people recovering from a mental health crisis. We’ll discuss a range of approaches that move beyond a medical model, with a special focus on Open Dialogue, mindfulness and therapeutic communities.

Building on positive feedback from our event in November 2016, we’ll go deeper into the issues we explored to ask how can we build compassionate communities in our mental health services and our own lives.  And how can a mental health crisis become a meaningful turning point and catalyst for change.

Read more HERE

Register HERE

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Grieving every day

As far back as I can remember I have experienced times of intense sadness. Feeling like a heavy weight is dropped into my solar plexus and at the same time as if some creature is clawing at my insides. It makes me feel exhausted and restless at the same time; exhausted with the unexplainable emotional pain and restless to make it shift. Mentally restless to understand it, figure it out and come up with a way forward. Physically restless because the pain is so uncomfortable; a sense of loss, violence and meaninglessness. As if I’m too empty and too full at once.

When I was younger the big question was always “why?”. 

Why am I feeling like this? What have I done? What have I not done? What have I done wrong? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I be feeling like this unless I’ve done something wrong? 

I would be looking for what I might have missed. Scrutinise things I’d done, choices I’d made and how I’d treated people. 

As I grew older I became more aware of this individualised idea of happiness that seems to have rooted itself in our western minds. That we alone are responsible for our happiness; that happiness is something we can just choose, something that happens if we think the right thoughts or chant the right chants. Many seem obsessed with happiness and how it’s achieved and how to spread the happiness vibe. It’s a bestseller.

Grief, sadness and pain doesn’t seeem to have much value. They are responses to be gotten over or fixed. Find the cause and get it sorted. Pain is just a messenger about something you need to look at. Then you can be happy, be your true self free of pain. Happiness is the way and we can all be happy if we want to…

With all this in mind I kept scrutinising myself. What was I doing so very, very wrong? How to change my thoughts to change my world? Its just mind over matter, right?! 

I used to hide when I felt sad. Cause nobody wants to be around a buzz killer, a party pooper. I thought people didn’t like my philosophical questions, my ponderings about the point of it all, my quiet staring into space and unenthusiastic responses. Also I just felt too tired to face people. People often want to help and relieve pain and this would leave me with a choice between two evils; pretend people was helping me to make them feel better or be honest and make others feel restless and sad too… It can be a real dilemma so I chose to not be around people because I would feel responsible when my moods and behaviour made others feel powerless.

During me teenage years I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to keep surviving my intense states of sadness and meaninglessness. But now I am 35 and I have made it through countless of these states. And I’ve started thinking differently about them. 

Realising I am not an island was one of the first big things to help me change my approach. I don’t know why we are being sold this idea that we a separate and disconnected. I know it feels like that at times and I know nobody is ever going to experience me or the world the way I do, but that doesn’t make me an isolated being. It just makes me unique. Like everybody are unique. But we are still made from the same matter – or clay as John O’Donohue calls it. We may be islands but we are all connected by water, by this world we are living in. Connected by our humanness; by bones, flesh and blood, by birth, illness and death. 

Once I realised this I started wondering whether this sadness was truly just mine…

The wonderful German word “Weltschmerz” can be understood in two ways. Either it could mean that you feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the world; that the world – or your view of the world – is causing you pain. Or it could mean that you are feeling the pain of the world. 

Believing that everything is interconnected and inter-existing makes my pain not just mine. My pain may not start with me. Sometimes it does yes, but more often than not the pain I feel comes from my relationships with people around me, from being aware of pain in their lives. And some states of sadness are about the world, about feeling the grief of living beings across the planet, the despair and vulnerability. Deeply sensing the frustration of people fighting for a fairer world or people trying to raise awareness about the impact we have on the environment. 

There is so much pain in the world. So much pain.

And many of us have lost the rituals and containers that could help us feel less overwhelmed in the face of this pain. Rather than thinking of us as interconnected and face the pain of the world, we think of pain as having an isolated cause that the individual needs to deal with… Or we simply try to distract and numb ourselves from the pain.

So what to do when one feels the pain of the world?

Probably this is one place where religions of different kinds have something to offer. Loving prayers and getting together with others to remind ourselves that there may be something bigger than us out there. Choosing to trust in a higher power can alleviate some of the overwhelm.

Or nurture a spiritual practice; some people find ways to protects themselves against feeling the pain and others find ways to bear it. 

Or become an activist. 

I don’t have a religion and I don’t have the discipline to uphold a spiritual practice. I can’t really see myself as an activist. 

So some years ago I decided to try and grieve everyday. To honour the pain and the sadness. Because what seemed to happen was, that I would be relieved when I didn’t feel the sadness and then feel resentment when it came back. So I thought that if I stayed in touch with it and felt it on a regular basis it might stop coming in these intense waves…

It sounds good in theory. But then life happens and I forget or I change my priorities. So sadness takes a backseat for a while but I can’t stop being who I am and I can’t stop feeling life so intensely. So sooner or later I am forced to feel the pain again. And I think to myself: What happened to grieving everyday? What happened to being in touch with the pain of the world and honouring it? 

I am coming through a time of business to more calm living and now sadness has hit me square in my belly. It’s so intense I forget all I’ve learned about this pain, I feel lost and overwhelmed. My mind gets restless but a voice inside says: Write about it. Write!

And I write and I remember. The pain, the many ways I’ve tried to deal with it throughout my life. I remember interconnectedness and I remember how much I feel everything. 

I remember how I’ve been wanting to write about grieving everyday for over a year.

And here I am writing. Grieving. And remembering why I believe in grieving everyday.

Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and it’s cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided. 

The film “Inside Out” tells a story about how important sadness is for our humanness and how it can help us connect with each other. Being happy and enthusiastic is valuable but being in touch with pain and showing vulnerability is equally important.

We need to honour our shared pain, all that we’ve lost, all the hurt we’ve inflicted on each other and the planet. I believe that if we are in touch with pain and allow ourselves to grieve it can help us find ways to live more harmoniously in our communities…

“That was just soooo like my mum!”

I had a pretty great moment when I was introverting the other day…

You know how you sometimes find yourself talking or behaving just like your mum or dad? Those freaky moments where you realise how deeply ingrained certain things are in you – you react to something instinctively and in that moment you get flashbacks to all those times your mum (or dad) did exactly the same.
The older I get, the more often it happens. Friends have started commenting on it too!
In those moments I can feel how my facial expressions, my body language and my voice are morphing me (involuntarily) into the spitting image of my mum. And I’m like “F**k! This is totally out of control, I’m just slowly turning into my mum and there is nothing I can do to stop it!”

One of the things my mum does, is make these sharp comments at times – my mum does not suffer fools gladly! I remember how when I was a kid I thought my mum was a bit too sharp with people and I would get embarrassed. I would try and tell her how it came across when she said those things and for the most part she took it on board. But it’s just part of how she is and today I am glad I didn’t manage to discourage her completely; she will still speak her mind and challenge people.
And now I find myself myself doing it! Sharp comments all around!

Initially when I get those f**k-this-is-freaky-moments it because of the embarrassment I remember feeling as a kid. And I think it’s a bit of a thing in our society really, not wanting to turn into our parents. Many of my generation have been pumped full of values like individualism, independence and progress – so being like our parents might feel like a failure, like we’ve not managed to free ourselves, find ourselves or evolve enough…

Anyway – back to that great moment I had.
I was standing in the kitchen – can’t remember exactly what I was doing but I suddenly found myself behaving like my mum. Again.
I noticed the initial internal teenage sigh and rolling eyes. But then I thought “Why does it wind me up? Why don’t I want to remind myself of my mum?”

What I’d just done wasn’t a major thing – it was probably just a specific movement or a response to being in pain. But a film came to mind. A friend had shown it to me a couple of months earlier. I don’t remember the actual film but I clearly remember the storyline; a young girl faced with the choice between her mother’s world and values or the values of her peers (there is also a tension between north American culture and south American culture). The daughter chooses her mother and reflects on this choice many years later.
This theme really struck a chord in me and it’s been brewing in the back of my mind since.

And at this moment, in my kitchen, it dawned on me… I don’t mind reminding myself of my mum, I don’t mind becoming like my mum. Actually if I had a choice about who to morph into, there is no one in the world I would rather be like. Though I imagine my mum wouldn’t wish that on me.

For years now I’ve been aware of this immense, unconditional love that I have for my mum, but as I’ve got older I am also able see my mum’s choices and behaviour in a different perspective. I have gained so much respect for her as a person in her own right. I can honestly say that she is the most fascinating and beautiful person I’ve met in my life so far and I feel honoured to be allowed to be close to her because she chooses her company with great discernment.

I am not saying my mum is flawless or good – she’s got plenty of imperfections and can be amazingly annoying. But when I think of her, speak with her (write with her as it is these days) or spend time with her, I can’t help but feel joyful that she exists.
If this is truly how I feel about her then there is no reason to freak out when I have those moments. Am I just a bit like her, then that is not something to feel upset about, rather it is something to cherish.
The irrational fear of losing myself and becoming her, suddenly releases its grip on me – being like my mum is no longer a possible near death experience but rather a celebration of my relationship with her. Because even if I wanted to, I will never be exactly like her. But in some ways, these glimpses of her in me is a way to always have her with me.

I hope from now on, I can enjoy those freaky moments when they jump on me out of the blue. I want to laugh about it with myself and with my friends and I wish for my voice to be full of gratitude when I say “that was just soooo like my mum”.

Feeling the ground beneath my feet

I used to live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety.

Only I didn’t realise it at the time, because it was all I knew. I suspected something was wrong; the suicidal yearnings and impulses to self-harm were good tell tell signs, but I didn’t understand them as such. I thought I was being selfish and attention seeking and I did what I could to try and control these shameful things that lived inside me.

I thought that what was wrong was me, that I was a terrible, rotten and disgusting human being. Everything I felt, all the pain, powerlessness and confusion, I truly believed it was all my own fault.
I found ways of coping. Self-discipline and self-control were good ones – they made me feel like I was doing something to correct the wrongness. Escapism was good too. And lots and lots of it. Escaping from my body, my mind and my un-understandable emotions. Escaping into books, films, dreams, other worlds and relationships – anything that would distract me from me.

When I began to ask for help from others, I thought that what I needed was some sort of psychotherapy or drama therapy; something that would help me analyse and express my emotions. Something to help me create some order in my chaotic inner world. I didn’t have the money to get a private therapist so I asked for help from mental health services. This turned out to be a much more complicated journey than I could have ever imagined.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22.

With the diagnosis of schizophrenia came the obligatory psycho-education and CBT based group sessions. I was not impressed to say the least. I began to realise, that trying to get the help I believed I needed in the mental health system, was going to be quite a battle.

I did however find it helpful to start thinking of stress and stressors. This wasn’t something I had really considered before – I had been so focused on being strong, surviving and controlling myself. And I really struggled to see how my life should be stressful or bad. Others clearly had it much worse than me. But I came around to the idea that I was stressed and amongst other things showing physical signs of this. Fatigue, tenseness and eternal headaches helped me get referred to the Physiotherapy Clinic at the Psychiatric Hospital.

Now I have to say, that if I could choose only one big turning point in my journey towards a more fulfilling life, this was it.

In “Living with Voices” by Romme and Escher I write about my relationship with my physiotherapist: “During a 3 year period of on/off physiotherapy I experienced  building a relationship with a man, based on trust and mutual respect for the first time in my life (…) He helped me experience my body as a safe place and I realised how tormented I was by anxiety – like a deer always ready to take flight.
For the first time in a long, long time I felt able to be in my body, feel my emotions, think my thoughts, hear my voices and feel that whatever I was experiencing was all right, and that things were going to be okay. (…) Discovering that I could live through a whole hour without having a single self-destructive thought or impulse and once in a while even enjoy being me –  was very unfamiliar and quite scary. That maybe I deserved to live after all – and live without constant fear and pain. That perhaps there was a way of healing years and years of dissociation, of separating myself from myself and others.” (p. 149)

It was a long and slow process to get to the point I describe above.
The work my physiotherapist did with me was based on Body Awareness Therapy. It was a mix of simple massages techniques and physical exercises and it was all about grounding and centering. Everything we did was designed to help me stay in my body – become aware of my body from within.
I used to think I had loads of body awareness because I had been dancing for many years. But I slowly realised that there is a big difference between being aware of your body from the inside and being aware of your body from the outside. The body awareness I had learned through dance was all about observing myself and controlling my body. Being aware of my body, of my movements, of sensations and feelings from the inside was a whole different ball game.
At first it was frightening. I think I expected to be overwhelmed because that was how I had experienced myself for as long as I could remember. That, as soon I would come back to myself from my various escapisms, I would be completely overwhelmed with my sensations, emotions and thoughts.
I had to learn that I was safe in my body, that my adult selves could handle the things that used to overwhelm me as a kid. By doing gentle stretches and movements I could calm myself down, calm my senses and find peace.
In various trauma and anxiety work, there are strategies and visualisations we can use to create inner (or outer) safe spaces. This is what my physiotherapist did with me. Today if I get anxious and nothing else works – no calming self-talk, soothing exercises, no music or walking or distracting works – what I do is I revisit those sessions. I will draw the safeness I experienced back then into the here and now. The memory of this deep sense of safety is ingrained in my body, available to me when I need it.

I think it is vitally important that we continue to create body-memories as adults that can support us and maybe help balance out painful body-memories from the past.

Today when I stand in the woods on the hill, looking out over the valley where I live, I can actually feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel how solid it is – or how muddy it is when it’s been raining, as it tends to do in these parts.
I am not just watching my feet on the ground, registering it as if observing someone else. I really feel it. I feel my feet in my socks, in my boots and the soles of the boots connecting with the soil or the stones. I feel the cold damp seeping through the leather and I feel the warmth of my blood trying to dispel the cold.
Experiencing the world and connecting with my surrounding from inside out is only possible because I have found a way to be in me – literally be in me, in my body.
It still takes a lot of work and I still get easily overwhelmed emotionally, mentally and physically. But knowing how to  ground myself and get back to my centre is the foundation of everything else for me. It’s my roots, my base, my starting point, my anchor.
When I get lost in fears, thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, expectations, excitement and busynes, my body is always there to bring me back to the reality of here and now. My breath is always here, my heart beat is always here and if I contract the muscles around my core I can feel I am here.
The simplest way to ground myself is just to gently tense and release my muscles – in my leg, hand, stomach or feet – to the rythm of my breath. Breathing out as I tense and breathing in I let go and relax.
This works for me.
The amazing thing about body work is that you can find your own way of grounding yourself, the possibilities are endless. But it might take some dedication and patience to find what works for you.

 

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The perks of being a sensitive, worrying person – anticipating worst case scenarios

Some say you have to think positive for positive things to happen. That is not my experience.

And I am not sure it is something I want to try.
Because life happens – and yes our attitude towards things when they happen is important. How we receive things and respond to them is essential.

But to me thinking that I can affect things in advance by thinking positively is actually a bit scary. Cause what if I do all the positive thinking I possibly can and life still throws crap at me. Is it then my own fault? Did I not do it right? Did I not do it enough?
What if by thinking positive thoughts I am actually suppressing what is really going on in me? Will that not have consequences?
Being optimistic, trusting and hopeful feels good. I like it when I am able to do it. But for me it is not something I can enforce or choose. It comes from deep within, it is something which is nurtured to grow – not just by me but also by my surroundings.

I have been told I take things too seriously and that I think too much. And I do think a lot. But I don’t think it’s a problem.
In the past months I have been worried. Oh so worried. It has taken up a lot of my energy and my imagination have had me enthralled with all sorts of disastrous scenarios. And that may not sound very healthy to some of you.

But here is what you don’t know if you haven’t tried it.

When I arrive at the situation I have been anticipating I feel prepared for anything. Literally anything. There is nothing life can throw at me which I haven’t already thought through. 
And when things go well – as they most often do (partly because I am prepared) the sense of relief and gratitude is amazing.
And if things go really really well – if things go well beyond anything I could have expected or hoped for, if people are kind or things just flow effortlessly – it is the best high in life.
It is not a restless high. It is a blissful humbling high and a sense of being connected and looked after by something much bigger than me.

Highs and lows are the spice of life. If you don’t have them – create them!

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The Hearing Voices Approach

Destigmatising and demystifying the experience of hearing voices is something I feel very passionate about. I myself have always heard voices and I was lucky enough to have a family that did not think it was unusual or problematic. My mother is avid about not correcting children’s experiences or imposing ‘reality’ on them, so I was allowed to enjoy my invisible friends and talk to spirits of nature, gnomes, elves, fairies and trolls.

But eventually I was confronted with ideas of normalcy and what kind of experiences are acceptable to talk about – and what not to talk about. I was around 8 years old when I started realising that not everybody has these experiences. And as I tried to fit in more, be more normal and push away the things that seemed to set me apart from others – my sensitivity and the voices and beings I could sense – I began to loose the sense of meaning and magic.

My life with voices is a long  story that I won’t share here and now. A short version is in the book “Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery” by Romme&Escher. But the essence of my journey has been the realisation that I need meaning and magic to counterbalance the pain and overwhelm of being in this world. Being sensitive and sensing things that others don’t, are both parts of what makes life worthwhile. And I need people who not only accept my experiences but actually are curious about them and help me find ways to express my inner world.

It was through relationships with other people that I began to find a language for my emotions, my fears and shame. I found out what it means, how it really feels, to feel safe. I found out what belonging tastes, smells and sounds like. And I started looking for and creating spaces, where I could experience safety and belonging.

One of the people who has walked along side me on my journey is Trevor Eyles. For more than 10 years he has worked to promote the Hearing Voices approach in Denmark and the rest of the world. He has supported both mental health workers and people who hear voices (and voices) to find ways to work together and change people’s relationship with the voices. He cares deeply about this work and he has helped set up numerous Hearing Voices groups. He has been a great mentor for me and many of my values around collaborative approaches to mental health are founded in working with him.

The interview below is a good and grounded introduction to the Hearing Voices approach. Tools that I have found helpful in working with voices are: Non-Violent communication, Mindfulness, Body Awareness Therapy, Voice Dialogue and the Maastricht Interview. Many good resources can be found on InterVoice’s website.

The Yellow Book

Today I went to London to spend some time celebrating the project RethinkYourMind and all the people who had contributed to the creation of The Yellow Book and 4 singles.
I went without really knowing what to expect; what kind of people would be there, what kind of atmosphere and attitudes there might be. I was pleasantly surprised by the speeches and I walked away feeling quite encouraged. There was no romanticising of mental health struggles yet there was very little talk of illness and much talk of hope, the individual journey and individual needs, of support, of possibilities, of de-stigmatising, of creativity and expression and of working together.

I left thinking of two things; the power of celebrations and the potential of arts.

Even though I didn’t know anyone there and I felt nervous and uncertain I was quickly engulfed in a sense of community. I thought about how nourishing it can be to get together to celebrate something we care about – not just to give credit to individuals but really feeling what we are able to do together. Not only to reassure and give recognition which can be nice but too often evaporates quickly; no, I am thinking more of a sense of collectively creating a pool of energy from which we can draw strength.

I think we have lost some depth in how we celebrate in our modern busy lives. The traditional celebrations like birthdays, Christmas and similar special holidays have become commercial adventures or just time off work. There is something to be said for ceremony and rituals – structures that reminds us that what we are doing is special and sacred. And telling stories and sharing visions and dreams can help us connect more deeply with each other.

It was a brief event and it would have been lovely to head to a pub to continue conversations that had begun and connect more with people who were there.
I would also have loved for there to be more time to hear the music that has been created by this project, maybe an exhibition to create more shared experiences with the amazing artwork that is in the book.

But even in its briefness this event seemed more meaningful to me than many other events I have participated in. It seemed full of beautiful possibilities. I was inspired by the bringing together of so many different people from very different walks of life.

It seemed to me that we were a very diverse group of people and I am a big fan of diversity. It creates uncomfortable tensions but also possibilities for learning new things and finding new understandings. But most of all I think diversity is essential for creativity. Creativity doesn’t discriminate – we can all be creative. And it is often in the tensions between known and unknown, between joy and pain, that I feel inspired. I create when I am trying to grasp something that is still incomprehensible to me, when I try and express things that are on the edge.

So the second thing I was thinking of was how art and creativity has the potential to build bridges and can offer shared understandings where words of the rational mind fall short.

I think that much stigma and fear around mental distress could be transfigured with and through arts – because arts has always managed to go to the spaces where madness lives. Like madness, art is connected to the irrational, the emotional, the other-worldly, the spiritual, the natural, the collective subconsciousness, the innovative, the unusual and the extraordinary. In the arts madness is celebrated and explored – and some even see it as necessary for the process of creating. Art can offer meaning where madness has caused havoc. Art can offer safe ways of expressing the seemingly inexpressible. Art can cross the gaps created by our differences because it helps us find what we have in common and connect us in our shared humanness.

I just want to finish these reflections by giving thanks to the people who put work and effort into this project. I think The Yellow Book is lovely, inspiring and useful.

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So much fear

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived” – from Strictly Ballroom

Fear is what is on my mind today, looking back at the results of the recent elections in the UK and Denmark. Not that I am particularly fearful about the future – the way politics seem to work these days I don’t really know if it makes a difference which political party is in power – or supposedly in power.
No – fear is on my mind because there is so much of it in the political campaigns and the election results reflect that fear.
Fear of the other, the forreign, the unfamiliar.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of change.
Fear for our safety.
Fear for losing our comfortable lives.
Fear of losing our fragile identities.
Fear of powerlesness.
Fear of the dangerous, the mad, the scroungers
Fear of our fellow human beings

Today I went to a mental health ward and gave a so-called inspirational talk about my vulnerabilites, my pain, my experiences of hearing voices and my journey towards creating a more meaningful life for myself. And people were so welcoming and curious and I went away with this sense of awe. I love being around people who have been categorised as mad – I feel belonging.
Once I was told that I should avoid hospitalisation because “the wards were full of people crawling on the walls and you will only get worse”. I was shocked in so many ways. I have been hospitalised twice and both times it was a relief and both times I found the people who were in there with me, deeply inspiring, kind, beautiful and so wonderfully diverse. I see myself more clearly in others when all the pretence is scraped away. When people openly express themselves, their inner lives, their pain and fears. I can relate.

Today after the talk, I was asked ” how can you talk so openly about all these things” and I struggled a bit to give a coherent answer.
I tried to say that I talk about these things because I want a world, societies and communities, where it is okay to talk about these things. I do it because I can – I do not feel exposed or shameful afterwards. I do it because I think it is the only way to demystify our experiences and start talking with each other about what is going on for us, inside of us.
A woman interupted and said: “you do it because its your passion!” And I said “yes – you’re right, it is my passion”
I am deeply passionate about creating a world with less fear and more trust – less fitting in and more acceptance of diversity.

But is it the only way?
I’d love to hear ideas about how to create communities where trust can flourish – or what to do in our daily lives to contribute to a less fearful world.