My Mother Makes Me

“Mummy…”

“Yes, darling?”

“When I grow up, I want to be just like you. I’m going to have the same hair as you, the same clothes, the same smile. And I’m going to walk like you, and cook like you. I’m going to do everything like you…”

“Oh, darling that’s lovely…”

“… Except I’m going to stay at home with my children.”

My memory of saying this is while sitting in the back seat of our black Citreön, talking in part to my mum’s eyes in the rear view mirror and in part, to the back of her dark, shoulder-length bob, which in those days she wore back in an Alice band. Asking her about it recently, Mum corrected the memory: we were in the kitchen, adding that she’d had to turn around so the two-year-old me couldn’t see the tears in her eyes.

At that age, I spent the large part of my days in a children’s centre with my newly born sister, while Mummy and Daddy disappeared to a mysterious place called The Office. Often, they didn’t return from here until long after all the other children’s mummies had picked them up. ‘Mummies’ being the key word. The fact that other people’s Mummies came to collect them, on time, meant they didn’t go to The Office. This was enough for me to harbour the first inklings of resentment that, though my mummy was perfect, she wasn’t being a proper mummy.

It was the early nineties and the idea of the career mum hadn’t yet gained traction. Certainly not in the leafy Twickenham suburb where we lived then, and my mother, with her high heels, pencil skirts and dark suit-jackets didn’t fit the vista of floral skirts and loose, buxom blouses. Unbeknown to me, behind those enigmatic Office walls, she was pioneering the cause of the working mum, and would do so unremittingly for the next two decades. She was subject to suspicion and gossip from other women and demeaning comments from their husbands. Two weeks after giving birth to my sister, she took her in to her office.

What’s that?” A male client exclaimed, pointing at the baby on the sofa.

“What do you think?” said my mum.

“You can’t bring a baby in here.”

“Why ever not? Shall we start the meeting?”

On Mother’s Day 2019, I am 29, the same age as my mum was the day that, with the frank, misconstrued words of a child, I told her that she was perfect but was failing because she wasn’t there for me all the time. I think it’s time to redress that:

Mama, in the two generations that have taken place since that conversation, I have learnt that you are not perfect. You are alive with imperfections. Your work began as a necessity, and then became obsession. Stress took over your lifestyle, and eventually your good health. You have misjudged and been mistaken; you have styled your hair in ways I didn’t like and said things I don’t agree with. Nor am I just like you. I will never wear heels every day, or insist on changing round the furniture or moving house when I feel depressed; I don’t even have any children to entertain staying at home with.

Still, Mama, I want to be like you today. I want your zest for life and your dedication, motivation and perseverance in the face of adversity. I want your sharp tongue and your school-girl humour at 56. I want that gung-ho attitude, your unwavering belief in the good in humanity, and to give the same heart and soul you grant to the people in your life to the people in mine. It was this heart you willingly broke when you abandoned your dream of being a “stay-at-home-mum,” so that my sister and I could have the best life possible, and we do.

Mama, you are the real-deal, proper mummy, and I couldn’t be more thankful for you, nor more proud of what you’ve achieved, home or not.

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Letters, Numbers and Notes

Clea Knight writes for us about the power of music but also the power of games, one game in particular, a very famous words and numbers game which has helped her find her grounding through a very difficult period.

2018 was an absolutely awful year for me. It started with the break down of a long-term relationship, and ended with some difficult career-related news. Throughout the year I completed my masters in music therapy alongside starting and suddenly stopping anti-depressant medication, beginning and ending another very intense relationship, and discovering I had a chronic vitamin deficiency, causing severe dizziness and insomnia, and is likely to have been contributing to the anxiety and low mood that has affected my daily life for over 10 years.

I found myself facing quite significant judgement by medical professionals for the scars on my arms, for suddenly stopping my medication (which felt safer than the suicidal thoughts I was experiencing every day as a side effect) and even for asking for certain blood tests. I felt completely disempowered to get the support and care I needed for both my physical and my mental health.

Music has always been a way for me to process my feelings, reduce my anxiety and change my mood. I’ve found that working with people through playing and listening to music as a music therapist has helped me just as much as the benefits I’ve observed in the people I’ve worked with. But interestingly, when things were really terrible last year, there were many times when music was just too much.

As we all know, music can be very emotionally charged, and bring back a lot of memories. At times when I am very low, or very anxious, such strong emotions elicited through music can make me feel even worse, and I know it’s important for me to practise self care to ensure I don’t use music in a self-destructive way. And in those times it’s important for me to find different ways to cope.

I’ve always been a big fan of the TV show Countdown, and last year I found that the structure of the game and the slight pressure to get words and numbers in each 30 second round was a wonderful distraction from the chaos in my mind. I started watching every episode, and rediscovered that I was actually alright at it – often beating the winners when I played against them at home. In November 2018, I decided that I needed to do more to create joy in my life. I applied to be a contestant.

I went up to the Countdown studios to film my episode in March. It was such a fun experience, meeting the other contestants, chatting to Susie Dent and Rachel Riley, and just getting to play my favourite game while being put up in a hotel and being fed pizza! At one point, Nick told me that I remained surprisingly calm through each game, and that it must be all the music therapy – but really, I think it was playing Countdown that truly grounded me.

If you’re facing similar challenges, I would urge you to find the things that help you and make time for them. It’s hard to do when it feels like everything is on top of you, but even small things can make a big difference. Take care of yourselves.

If you want to see me on Countdown, my episodes will be airing on channel 4 on 29th, 30th, 31st May and 3rd June, and available through the channel 4 on demand service.

My first time on radio

A blog by Jez Spencer, manager of the Hope Project at Second Step.

About eight weeks ago I was invited to be a part of the Second Step Media Group to present a show focussing on suicide prevention. All sounded great, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous about radio.

The Media Group are an amazing group of people and their commitment and willingness to share their own personal stories was fantastic. They made me very welcome, but I did have to buy my own coffee!!

We met in Hamilton House most weeks to plan and prepare for the hour-long show. Music was also chosen, with some great songs ending up on the show aiming to instil hope for those that perhaps feel that there isn’t much to look forward to.

Eight weeks later and it was time for the show. Arriving early, we went through the programme one more time. Some changes were made and then before I knew it, headphones on and being told to ‘kiss’ the microphone.

I was nervous but as soon as the show started we all got into our own groove and the conversation flowed. We spoke about the Hope Project in particular –  a new service for men aged between 30 and 64 who are struggling with life and have problems with finance, employment or housing as well as hearing about the new Johnny Benjamin play coming to Bristol in May about the time when a stranger saved his life.

Personal stories were also featured, and I was struck by the honesty of those that told their story, a sign of huge personal strength and a reminder that things do and can change if we get some help when we need it.

The end of the show came quickly and we were then collecting our CDs, no longer allowed to ‘kiss’ the microphone and being ushered out of the studios.

A great day and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. A huge thank you to all of those involved and I look forward to my next radio show!

Changes

World Bipolar Day is celebrated at the end of March. Every year 30 March is  an awareness day for the estimated 1-2% of the population who have this disorder, myself included.

Life with bipolar is interesting, to say the leas,t but it’s more than possible to live a “normal” life, something I spent a long time thinking was way out of my reach.

I was a teen when I started showing symptoms, but I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was in my mid-twenties. It’s fair to say I struggled with “normal” for a long time, getting caught in destructive cycles which were damaging to me personally and professionally.

When I was manic I would:

Drink too much, turning up to work hungover or still drunk, cut myself and walk around in long sleeve tops even in the height of summer. I was paranoid about being alone and so I spent all my time partying to be with people, spending money I didn’t have to keep up a lifestyle I couldn’t afford.

When I was depressed I would:

Have big chunks of time off of work, not leave my bed for weeks at a time, not pay my bills, not eat or drink.

I spent years in this cycle until I started to realise I needed to pull myself out of it. I started reading about bipolar and getting an understanding of it and in turn an understanding of myself.

When I was eventually referred to Second Step’s Community Rehabilitation Service I was still not coping well, but I was determined. Determined not to stay as the mess I’d been. The team saw that determination in me and worked on various things with me to get me to a place where I was not just functioning but functioning “normally”.

It was nice to be treated as a person and not an illness, to be listened to and understood in a way I had never been before. It gave me a freedom I had never experienced before and I made the most of every second.

It is incredibly liberating to get on top of an illness like bipolar, to get to a point where you understand what is happening, why it’s happening and how it’s happening. To understand which medications help in which circumstances and to know the signs when something isn’t right. To be able to signpost your doctor so together we can fix them.

It’s incredibly satisfying knowing that for years you were controlled by this illness and now at long last you have the control.

Let’s talk about stress

By Michael Pearson

It was a Wednesday.  I’d had enough; I’d just spilt my freshly made cappuccino over my shirt; I’d left my lunch at home; I was on the receiving end of cycler-rage on the way to work; I’d dropped my phone and cracked the screen in the right hand corner; my password wasn’t working again; I had 12 reports to complete in 2 hours; and life just wasn’t fair! I proceeded to lift my computer monitor from its wired roots, tear them with ferocity and throw it out of the sash window.  Well of course I didn’t, but I thought about it.  I really, really thought about it.

In reality, I sat there, took a deep breath, and continued.  My right eyelid started to twitch, my heart rate increased, my palms became sweaty, more reports landed in my inbox…and I continued.  What a trooper.

Let’s talk about stress. Here are some facts (courtesy of Mind):

  • One in five (19 per cent) take a day off sick because of stress, but 90 per cent of those people cited a different reason for their absence.
  • One in ten (9 per cent) have resigned from a job due to stress and one in four (25 per cent) have considered resigning due to work pressure.
  • One in five (19 per cent) felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed.
  • Of the 22 per cent who have a diagnosed mental health problem, less than half (10 per cent) had actually told their boss about their diagnosis.
  • Over half of managers (56 per cent) said they would like to do more to improve staff mental wellbeing but they needed more training and/ or guidance and 46 per cent said they would like to do more but it is not a priority in their organisation.

Stress is not always visible.  Stress can often be internalised.  People will not always say they’re stressed and in a work place setting will often be ashamed or in fear of telling someone they are stressed.  People can seem happy, but be stressed.  As organisations’, as managers, as people, we can never assume that stress isn’t there just because we don’t see it or because people aren’t telling us.  The stats show it.  ALWAYS assume it is there.

What we know about stress is that stress itself is not stressful. Confusing right? Stress can be quite helpful and motivating, and can give us energy to do things.  It is our reaction to stress that can make us feel worse.  And when we experience chronic stress (stress sustained over a long period) it can become mentally and physically damaging.  It is a killer.

Know yourself

I know that when I’m stressed I act out in certain ways.  Firstly, I become less funny.  I’m no Edinborough Fringe rising comedian, but I like a laugh.  And when I stop laughing, when I stop making jokes and when I stop joining in, I’m stressed.  I become overwhelmed by too many senses; bright lights, loud music, touch much contact, all at the same time; I am less able to cope with this.  And when I’m REALLY stressed I become frustrated at those closest to me.  For no reason.  Know what your own stress symptoms are so you can act on them.  Be inquisitive and find out.  They could include:

  • Run/hide response
  • Doing less work (even though you have more)
  • Becoming manic; they way you speak, looking around the room quickly
  • Blaming everyone else
  • More emotions than usual
  • Wanting to isolate yourself
  • Disengaging from people
  • Becoming frustrated at others
  • Thinking about EVERYTHING when you’re trying to sleep
  • Raised heart beat and increased sweating
  • Flushing
  • Stopping hobbies
  • You catastrophise – “I cant cope, it’s too much, no one is listening”

Know your solutions

It is important to know that you don’t have to do this on your own.  And sometimes you cant.  But know what coping mechanisms work for you.  My top 5 coping mechanisms are:

  • Music – for those that enjoy music, music is a mood-changer. It is almost magical.  Play some of your favourite, relaxing music.  Slower music is known to lower your heart beat.  Faster, upbeat music is great to let go and fun and still release stress, but could raise your heart beat and sometimes sense of anxiety temporarily, so be sure to relax afterwards.

 

  • Humour – connect to that funny friend that can lift your spirits. Watch your favourite comedy. Do something that makes you laugh out loud.  It can break that stress-ruminating cycle.  Even if it is a terrible joke.  “Why don’t they play poker in the jungle?  Too many cheetahs…”

 

  • Walk slowly and breathe deeply – Do you find yourself marching from place-to-place. Concentrate on slowing down your steps.  Take your time.  You’ll notice an instant change to how the walk feels.  You’re no longer rushing.  With an increased heart rate you’ll also find your breathing can be faster and shallower.  Take in deep, slow breathes.  As much air as you can.  And slowly release it.    You’ll find your heart beat should slow down with it.

 

  • Let go – With practice, we can try to change our perception of stress. And one of the best tools I have personally used is thinking about what I can actually control, and what I have no control over whatsoever. Let go of what you can’t control.  Think about what you can influence.  And concentrate on what you have control of, like telling someone how you feel or asking for help.  This is called the control sphere, and there is a link at the end of this blog to a useful exercise.

 

  • Exercise – we all say it. But we often don’t do it.  Exercise is an excellent stress reliever.  One of the best.  Find an activity that is fun for you. Team sports or community activities can be great and add a social aspect to it.  But if you want to withdraw, like I do when I’m stressed, swimming and running can be fantastic.  Work up a good sweat for 20 minutes, and release those endorphins.  Lifting heavy weights alone has been shown in some studies to increase the stress hormone cortisol, so if you’re a lifter and feeling stress, ensure to combine it with light cardio.

Remember its Time to Talk Day February 7th and Stress Awareness month a little further done the line in April.  Take the opportunities to recognise stress, talk about it and act on it.  Stress is going nowhere any time soon.  So lets help each other make stress healthier.

 

REFERNCES & RESOURCES

Information about stress:

https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/work-is-biggest-cause-of-stress-in-peoples-lives/#.XEG0UVX7RhE

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/causes-of-stress/#.XEG561X7RhF

Stress awareness resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/national-stress-awareness-day/

Control/Influence exercise to reduce stress:

http://developmentcrossroads.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/WORKSHEET-Spheres-of-Influence-Control.pdf

Stress and minorities:

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/01/stress-minority-income.aspx

National stress awareness month:

https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/stress-awareness-month-2019/

How to use humour with stress:

https://www.verywellmind.com/maintain-a-sense-of-humor-3144888

Kindness is the oil that takes the friction out of life.

By Aliya Mughal

Supporting the work of mental health charities is something I’ve long been committed to, personally and professionally. Much of this comes down to having known friends and family members, among others, to have endured struggles where they could have or did find solace and support from others.

So I was glad to get the chance to be a mentor on the Get Connected programme. The volunteer training was invaluable. But more than anything, working with someone, learning about their life, their struggles, their hopes, their ambitions, and guiding them along the way to getting to where they wanted to go, was an enriching experience that taught me several lessons:

Change takes time, be patient. Recovery and transformation, at whatever level, is a step by step process that involves a few tumbles and falls. It’s something I appreciated intellectually and from personal experience. I became even more aware of this in my relationship with my mentee, for whom it was sometimes hard to stay consistent and committed in the face of psychological and physiological conflicts. I developed a deeper understanding of the need to be patient and supportive, and how important it is to be realistic about the most good we can do within the framework of someone else’s life.

Time is the greatest gift we can share. Showing up regularly and consistently makes a huge impact. It’s a human commitment to connect, share and support someone that cultivates a sense of responsibility and humility. There were days when I felt low myself, or was harangued by work projects, or by other relationships in my life. No matter how challenging, every mentoring session reminded me of the mutual psychological benefits of honouring this commitment, however incremental the progress we made. Volunteering is always time well spent.

Help others to help yourself. Volunteering is a great thing to do for someone else, it’s also a great thing to do for yourself, especially in terms of the “five pathways to wellbeing”, which were part of the volunteer training. These pathways provided a useful mental checklist when I met with my mentee. If she was having a particularly bad day, we’d work on how she might implement small changes in these areas. It’s also an incredibly helpful checklist I apply in my own life:

  1. Connect with others: talk about what’s troubling you, give voice to your fears, or simply spend some social time in the company of others.
  2. Be active: movement is medicine, even in the smallest of doses.
  3. Take notice: observe the world around you, get out of your head and look up to the sky, it strengthens our awareness of the bigger picture and about ourselves.
  4. Keep learning: challenge yourself, focus on things that interest you. It builds self-esteem and reminds us that we’re more capable and motivated than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.
  5. Give! Research shows that when we give our time and our energy to someone or something outside our immediate circle of concern, our empathy and our sense of wellbeing grows.

My experience certainly proved all the above to be true. As the philosopher Seneca said:

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”

Get Connected is a mentoring scheme offering support from a volunteer mentor or peer mentor. The aim of the project is to increase the confidence, independence and wellbeing of people. Get Connected is open to clients who are supported by Bristol Mental Health partners and clients who have been discharged from, and are no longer being supported by, Bristol Mental Health services.

I’m dreaming of a quiet Christmas

Now’s the time to plan your festive viewing, says Terry Starr from our Housing Support team. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of…

Never be frightened of saying that you watch the television over the festive break. The Christmas card image of people travelling home for the holidays with a big family group is a fantasy and is unrealistic.

Many people have a quiet Christmas: I myself will be with my younger brother watching some sci-fi DVDs and having some luxury coffee. I think that this year we are watching Jurassic World 2.

I also have a selection of DVDs that I have bought through the year from Bristol’s many charity shops.  I will spend special time relaxing on the sofa catching up on them.  This year I’ve got some great documentary DVDs that were first broadcast on the Discovery Channel, things on the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks.

When I am bored with all of that, I shall listen to some radio.  As an old time radio fan, there is always a wealth of stuff on over the holiday period.  BBC networks such as Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra will have a wealth of plays, drama and documentaries to choose from.  The fact that the radio regulatory authorities are on their holidays as well, means that many pirate stations know they can operate without being raided.  I expect to hear a few stations on FM, plus on medium and shortwave, a great many unlicensed stations from the continent where broadcasting is much more of a hobby than here.

You see, we don’t do big Christmases in my house.  And on New Year’s Eve, I shall put on BBC Radio Four (93.7 FM or 198 kHz longwave) for the midnight chimes.  And have a quiet cup of tea.

Harry’s Happy Tunes

Our Communications Manager Jane Edmonds shares her thoughts about a friend in need at the start of Movember (which raises awareness about men’s mental health) and as Second Step’s male suicide prevention project, Hope, begins work.

How many times over the last 20 years have I reached for the phone to ask Harry to come over? The answer is countless times.

Sure he’s the father of our two beautiful, talented, super interesting daughters, but that’s not why I call.

Continue reading “Harry’s Happy Tunes”

Give Yourself a Present

‘Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.’

Sister Corita Kent

You don’t have to be an artist to be creative; wrapping a gift, writing a letter, baking a cake, planting a seed, all of these activities and more are acts of creativity.  We put a bit of ourselves into them, and we get out of them a sense of connection, to our deeper self and to the world around us.

I’ve always been anxious, and I’ve always loved making things.  For me, colour and pattern are a source of real happiness.  The more I focus on making things purely for the joy of it, the less attention I give to my inner critic. The most important thing is to focus on the act of making – the process itself – rather than worrying about the end result.

Continue reading “Give Yourself a Present”

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