Time To Change: Speaking Out Training

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Howay Man Get Happy. I wanted to share with you all the excellent Speaking Out training course that I attended last week, facilitated by the Time To Change Campaign. If you haven’t heard of Time To Change before, it is a nation-wide social movement to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people suffering from mental health problems. Time To Change is a cause very close to my heart and I would even go as far to say that it has played a part in my recovery. You can check out their website for more information here: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk.

As I think I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I work voluntarily as a Time To Change Champion. A Champion is a volunteer at Time To Change with some kind of personal experience with mental health issues and who is passionate about challenging stigma and discrimination in their community. As well as lots of exciting volunteering opportunities, Time to Change also offers Champions various training courses to help you become a better advocate for mental health awareness. This Speaking Out training was centered around how to give public speeches on Mental Health by drawing on your own personal experiences. This training was given by Angela Slater, Time To Change Community Equalities Coordinator for the North East and Yorkshire; and Steve O’Driscoll, who works as a freelance public speaker for Mental Health Awareness and regularly delivers talks and training sessions at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities. I have had the absolute pleasure of knowing both Angela and Steve for a few years now and always find their conversations about Mental Health honest and inspiring.

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The course was taught over one five and a half hour period, and began with the setting of the all-important ground rules. These included confidentiality, equality, respect, safe disclosure and being mindful of possible triggers for other people on the course. This set up a safe-space in which we could all feel comfortable in learning how best to speak about our own experiences in front of a large group of people and certainly in my case, put any anxieties I had about speaking publicly at ease.

Throughout the course we were taught how to prepare for a public speaking event. We were told to think about who our audience was, whether it was a public or private event and what we would feel comfortable sharing at the time – baring in mind this could change depending on our own personal circumstances. It is so important to feel safe when disclosing personal information about your own mental health journey – remember you don’t always have to tell your whole story to get your point across! We were also taught how to keep our speeches focused. We were asked to come up with one clear and concise message we wanted to get across in our public speech and to formulate a clear introduction and conclusion to our speech. This really helped us to keep our rambling at bay – something my regular readers will know this I am prone to do!

By the end of the course the goal was for each of us to have prepared a short three-minute talk on a subject of our choice and if we felt comfortable we had the opportunity to present it to the training group. I chose to give my talk on the importance of speaking to young people about mental health – an idea, which I whole-heartedly believe, will contribute to a more mentally healthy society. I am hoping to convert this into a blog post soon!

I am delighted to say that the Speaking Out training course was a roaring success and every single one of the twelve trainees gave a compelling and rousing speech to the rest of the group at the end of the session – despite many people’s anxieties of never having spoken publicly before. This course was a unique and inspiring experience and I would 100% recommend you to give it a go yourself. Steve O’Driscoll mentioned at the start of the course how speaking out can even support recovery – giving us examples from his own battle with mental illness – and I have to say I couldn’t agree more! There is nothing more liberating than taking a difficult time in your life and using it to help and inspire others to look after their own mental health. In a way it is like claiming back that time in your life where things weren’t going well for you and using it to push forward and say “yes this happened to me, and yes it wasn’t pleasant, but I am going to use that time from my life to help myself and hopefully others to achieve mental wellness.”

If you’d like to get invited to similar training opportunities and volunteering events you can sign up to be a Champion at http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/time-change-champions/register-champion. You can get involved as much or as little as you want. I would totally recommend registering if you want to hear about all of the exciting things that are happening in your area and you too can be a part of the plight to end mental health stigma and discrimination for good.

 

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

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I’m Not Okay, and That’s Okay – The Five Reasons I Lie.

I know that I promised this blog post would be about my journey to recovery, but after receiving a text from a close friend, I needed to take some time to reflect – and what better way to do that than letting my feelings splurge out from the ends of my fingertips onto the screen before me in that half-nonsensical-rambling-maniac way they so often do. The text in question was not offensive, infuriating or malicious in any way. In fact it is a text I receive a lot from the people that love me. It is a text that someone in my position longs for, and yet simultaneously dreads. Simply, it read ‘How are you?’

As I send my response (some variation of ‘I’m fine’, ‘not bad’ or ‘I’m okay how are you?’) I find myself brooding over why I always say I am okay, when I’m not okay. So I decided to explore the reasons why I lie when people reach out to me with genuine concern. As a disclaimer, I just want to say – the reason I am writing this is to firstly come to terms with why I have formed this habit in the hope of breaking it and becoming more honest and open with people when I am having a bad day. Also, I’d like to give people an insight into how difficult it can be for someone suffering from a mental illness to just come out and say how they are feeling. Finally, I’d like this post to reach out to those who can relate to this situation – hopefully we can work through this together and come out of the other side saying: “I’m not okay, and that’s okay”.

 

Upon rigorous reflection I have concluded there are five main factors that lead me to hide my feelings from even the closest of friends. The list is as follows:

Firstly, I don’t want to be a burden. Nobody wants to be branded as a Negative Nancy who brings everyone down all of the time by talking about their problems. I want people to see me as a fun person that they want to be with rather than a pessimistic bore. I fear that by opening up to people I will make them worry about me, and that this will make them unhappy. Nobody wants to see their friend or partner or child suffer – so sometimes I bury my feelings deep, to be dug up at a more convenient time. Ultimately, I just don’t want to be that anvil in the cartoon that you see hurtling towards you with that comical whistle that you know will inevitably crush us both into the earth.

Secondly, I’m a very insecure person. My depression makes me see a very obscured vision of myself and this can be destructive to my self-esteem. I often feel such an unadulterated hatred towards myself that it obstructs my view of the compassion others show towards me. I begin to think everyone sees me in this way. I begin to think that people don’t really care how I am and that they are simply just asking to keep up with British social niceties. Of course, when I am in a better frame of mind I can see how much my friends and family care about me and I’m extremely grateful to the help and support they give me but unfortunately when I am not well this can become veiled by my own insecurities.

Thirdly, I’m a perfectionist. This is a word that has come up a lot throughout my life in meetings with various psychiatrists, therapists and mental health professionals I have seen over the years. Because of the insecurities I often struggle to present to the world the best possible version of myself I can – and funnily enough this does not include the portrait of a girl who has panic attacks in public and an ugly crying face. I think this perfectionism is a trait that thrives in this age of living life through social media accounts – by default we are programmed to deliberate obsessively over the image of ourselves we choose to show to the world. I also constantly compare myself to others and beat myself up about the fact that I am not handling things as well as I perceive others to be. When I think like this I start to see my depression and anxiety as something that makes me worthless and inferior – and I try my best to hide this.

The fourth reason is that I want to be the one to help! That’s right, it’s that trivial. I just want my friends and family to feel like they can come to me when they are down, and that they have someone to confide in without being a burden to (ironic, I know). I want to be doing things for other people and trying to make them feel better about themselves – and how exactly can I do this if I admit my life feels like the emotional equivalent of standing on a slug barefooted?

Yep, you all saw this last one coming a mile off – the final reason I say I’m okay when I’m not is because of STIGMA. Despite how hard my fellow campaigners at Time To Change and I are trying – there is still a huge sense of shame that comes with admitting that you are not okay mentally. Despite my best efforts to be more open about my mental health, the stigma that surrounds it is still a huge obstacle that I have yet to hurdle over.

So there you have it – the five reasons I lie. I hope some of you have found this useful or that it has at least helped you to gain an insight into my perspective. The final thing I want to leave this post with is some positive advice. Despite all of the insecurities I have outlined in this piece I urge you all to keep on sending those texts! Keep calling your loved ones to check they are okay, and keep on asking if they want to come round for that brew. Although people are not always guaranteed to open up to you about their problems, one thing I can guarantee is that the more you offer your support the more that person will see they are loved, cared for and they are not alone. The more you keep gently offering support and showing concern for their wellbeing the more comfortable they will feel to open up when they are ready to do so. Sometimes asking someone how they are is not just about finding out exactly what is going on in their head but it is more about letting them know that you are there for them, you care and you are not going anywhere.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A

Howay man, get happy!

Hello everyone and welcome to my brand new blog: Howay Man Get Happy!

Happiness is a rather abstract term, it is difficult for me to pin down exactly what it means. For many people happiness is circumstantial, it is determined by having close friends and a family that loves you, being successful and in a good financial situation – I think we can all agree that these are things that most of us desire in life. However, I find myself at a point where I have amazing and supportive friends, a family that loves me, an incredible partner who is simultaneously my best friend, I have enough money for luxuries and a roof over my head and yet I am still not ‘happy’. As you can imagine this can be frustrating to say the least, and at times it takes all of my willpower not to throw myself down on the floor, like a bratty child in Asda who has just been denied sweets by a health-conscious parent, and shout “IT’S NOT FAIR, IT’S NOT FAIR!” So in this respect the title of my blog ‘Howay Man Get Happy’ is meant ironically – because for some people it’s just not that simple. Now I have come to a time in life where I understand my illness better: like it or not it is a part of me. I accept that it is there and that’s okay – but I will not let it control me or define who I am.

I have been mulling over the idea of starting a blog about my experiences with mental health for a few years now and I thought it was about time I bite the bullet and begin writing. I have suffered from a depressive disorder since childhood, to put it simply that means sometimes I get sad for no reason and I often suffer from long episodes of depression where I find it difficult to be happy. I believe there is a chemical imbalance in my brain that makes it difficult for me to feel happiness. I am sensitive and some things affect me emotionally more than they might affect other people. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. I am a cheerful person in my natural state and on my good days I am a complete optimist – although this can sometimes be clouded by my illness. Earlier this year I found my mental health deteriorating once again, which I admit has been pretty scary, and with the introduction to my new friends Mr. Panic Attack and Mrs. Generalised Anxiety the road to recovery has been as difficult as ever. I am hoping that through writing this blog I will be able to connect more with my own emotions and share the ups and downs of my quest to mental wellness. I am going to try and be as frank and honest about my experiences as I can be, so things might get a bit gritty at times but I’d love for you all to stick around for the ride.

My illness comes with no physical symptoms – I have no disfigured limbs, no facial swelling, no overbearing putrid odor – so people don’t always notice when I am not well. This is perhaps one of the reasons mental health problems are often swept under the rug. The shame and stigma attached to mental health can be detrimental to the recovery of individuals and destructive in our society. 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental health problem every year and yet the majority of us know nothing about it. It is not taught in schools, it is not regularly monitored in young people and it is not talked about openly among friends and colleagues. The more we talk about mental health, the less we will regard it as a taboo subject and the less scary it will seem. The more we talk the more people will feel comfortable seeking help for their problems at earlier stages. The more we talk the more we will prevent mental illnesses from escalating to become a major risk to people’s mental and physical wellbeing. So that is the other main reason for me starting this blog – I want to be one of the many people who are starting conversations about mental health, breaking down the taboos and smashing the stigma to smithereens.

Wishing you all good mental health!

A