More than Kindness: What to Say to a Mental Health Sufferer? My Answer this Mental Health Awareness Week 2020: Therapeutic Activities

On Facebook groups for those suffering with mental ill health, such as anxiety or depression, I hear the same thing over and over again. “I have just been diagnosed with (*%*%*%*%*) and I don’t know what to do. I want to kill myself, every day. I can’t cope with XYZ”.

I have repeatedly offered comfort and friendship in reply to posts such as this. It really is a terrible shock receiving a diagnosis for the first time. I have been there.

Apart from comfort and friendship, what else is there to say? I had a close friend and also a family member say at this juncture, “Have you tried getting a job?”

Why therapeutic activities are the answer

The person in such a FB post is suffering so badly they wish to end their life. The basic, repetitive motions of moving a felt tip pen on paper could help them soothe and even forget the busyness in their minds for valuable moments of escape from XYZ, and save that life. Indeed, our lives are filled with way too much of what we can’t cope with.

Therapeutic activities work because they relax and comfort the mind. In one study of adult colouring cited here, colouring in a simple pattern or mandala was shown to be more effective than facing a blank page in making adults less anxious.

Colouring in, over time, works as more than just a temporary escape. You can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time. This is a road that leads to much more. That kind of soothing motion on paper, like listening to music in a relaxing fashion, can and does gently lead the sufferer to consider other positive therapeutic activities such as going for a walk, following a basic schedule, calling a supportive friend, cooking without hating it, or other basic self-help and self-care. Over time, therapeutic activities become more elaborate, lead to hobbies, lead to learning, and yes, if the sufferer has done everything else right, they do eventually lead (back) into wellness, happiness, and a safe and auspicious return to work.

Why the welfare state is another answer

The person is suffering a mental illness, and further work would only exacerbate that mental illness. Asking them to work, right now, is like asking a person in a wheelchair to get up and walk. Sorry!

The welfare state we have here in the UK acts as a safety net. It temporarily takes the person out of XYZ without costing them their ability to buy food or live under a roof, by which I mean, it saves their life. How can a working person possibly afford to start dedicating themselves to therapeutic activities? Do you think I have regained my ability to think beyond constant psychosis, anxiety, depression and suicide by continuing to work? No my friends, I have regained my ability to think because I was given the ability to take time off work to begin therapeutic activities, not to mention talking therapy too. XYZ was too much to cope with, period (full stop!).

Thank you welfare state.

My recent progress with therapeutic activities

My diagnosis knocked me for six, I can tell you. Why was it scary receiving a diagnosis? It had a scary & offensive-sounding word in it. LOL!

My first two activities, indeed, two whole years before I received any diagnosis, were adult colouring in, and listening to music. These two activities obviously cost next to nothing and I would urge you to bear them in mind when faced with anxiety and depression. They were also the ONLY things I was at all capable of. I was so far gone.

These led to therapeutic gardening. I had always rejected nature and gardening as being “not for me”. That ended when I lost my job and was recently discharged from hospital for psychosis and delusions (I know, right? Be careful: long-term anxiety and lack of sleep can and do lead to psychosis and delusions.)

Being unemployed and drinking coffee, chatting, colouring in, and listening to music… it got me through the moment, but it was not strong enough medicine for me to get my life back on track. I started therapeutic gardening at an amazing project in Edinburgh. If you are local I’d be delighted to tell you more about that, feel free to email me from the contact page.

Other therapeutic activities that I have gradually built into my schedule as I have got better include: gradually (and with support from others) learning to cook, knitting, playing a second-hand guitar and flute, taking pictures on my daily walk, keeping a positives diary (only positives can be recorded – yeouch!), writing (anything!) in this blog, meditating, some yoga.

Why am I getting excited & happy now?

A lot of people “fall into” their jobs, their lives, their careers. After four long years with work taken out of the equation for me, and more recently, following a schedule of activities decided by me, and with oodles of support, emotional and otherwise, from family & friends, a year of therapeutic gardening, 14 months of talking therapy, and a stay at a super-helpful Therapeutic Community here in Scotland, I have (last week) “fallen into” one hour per day of the kind of work I’ve done before, teaching English as a foreign language online. I am doing this with a friend I like to think of as my Peruvian guinea pig, so again, it’s within a supportive environment. A massive step forward for me. Bear in mind that before Christmas 2019, I still couldn’t read a book, I was so anxious. There are many things I still can’t do, and that I wouldn’t spell out here. I still am incapable of full time work. But I am making real progress and it’s all thanks to the combination of therapeutic activities and the welfare state that kept me afloat.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week from More than Colouring to all my readers and greetings from Scotland and the UK.

What are your experiences with therapeutic activities? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Coronavirus Lockdown, Teenagers, and Mental Health: Finding Strength in Ancient Values

In today’s guest post on More Than Colouring, Patrick Heath, a sixth former from Oxfordshire, UK, finds strength in ancient values as he reflects on teenage well-being during lockdown and 2020 exams.

“Aristotle / by Giorgos Georgiadis” by Images George Rex is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This period of lockdown is, of course, a peculiar and challenging time for people across the nation; to some extent or another, our lives have been altered in ways that would have been unimaginable mere months ago. From the outset it is important to establish that this is being written from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old, by no means am I attempting to capture the state of mind of an entire populous, nor that of my generation for that matter. Instead, I will endeavour to detail my personal account of ‘lockdown’, how it has affected me personally, and what I have tried to do to combat the more difficult aspects of this unconventional day-to-day existence.

At the time of writing this entry, I am just a few days away from what should’ve been my first A-Level exam. It seems almost inconceivable now that I should be tying up all the loose ends from my school years and revising for what would have been the most important and formidable test of my academic career so far. Like all others, my school term concluded abruptly on the 20th March following government instruction. On the last day an informal leavers ceremony was held, giving us an abbreviated chance to say goodbye to the friends that we have spent the last five years growing up with. Inevitably, I think like all last days of school, it didn’t feel like enough; other than my closest school friends, I know that there are people in my year group who I will most likely never see again. It’s a strange feeling, but one that I’ve now come to terms with.

I’m a theology student and for the past two years I’ve studied the Greek principles of ‘telos’ and ‘ontos’; these terms have remained in my mind throughout quarantine and have given me both great difficulty and strength. The idea of telos was introduced by Aristotle to refer to the full potential or inherent purpose of a person or thing; it is similar to the French term ‘raison d’être’ used first by J S Mill in the 19th century. For all of his flaws, Aristotle may have been on to something in proposing that the ultimate telos of humanity is contemplation; however, contemplation is a double-edged sword during lockdown; whilst it is a crucial idea, it begs the question- what exactly should we be contemplating? Right now, I feel as if I should be ‘contemplating’ Hamlet for my English Literature exam, in the same way that most people feel they ought to be contemplating issues in their job or in activities that have been taken away due to the virus. I, as I’m sure many people do, rely heavily on a set structure in my day to remain productive and keep my mind engaged; the structure of school and the ultimate goal of exams had previously given me my telos, but now we have been plunged into a situation where all things seem rather incoherent and a true telos seems to be a far-flung and unattainable ideal. There is a danger when looking at the ancient philosophers to perceive them in a grandiose way; the idea of a ‘telos’ or ultimate purpose appears to be a very daunting prospect, particularly when difficult and abstract terms such as ‘rational thought’ and ‘virtue’ are banded around so liberally in Aristotle. But we should not be intimidated by these terms; particularly in lockdown, but also in everyday life. We can all find a telos in the most trivial of everyday activities. Personally, I have taken to reading; I took part in an online book exchange so that I might challenge myself to read books that I wouldn’t think of doing so otherwise, but it hasn’t just been reading that has given me a purpose over the last few weeks; I’ve also been walking, cycling, writing, and keeping up with friends to keep me engaged. These pursuits might give the impression of being diversions away from the looming reality of being perpetually locked up in a house, but I urge everyone to look upon them differently. If we can all see the profound value of keeping our minds and bodies occupied, no matter the means by which it is done, then we are all one step closer to finding a telos, and this telos will be an invaluable asset in maintaining mental health during difficult periods.

In the Greek philosophical tradition, Parmenides was among the first to propose an ontological characterization of the fundamental nature of existence; the Greek term ‘Ontos’ means ‘being’, and therefore ‘ontology’ is the study of what ‘being’ really is. By no means am I suggesting that the philosophical arguments proposed in the tradition of ontology are useful for us trying to deal with lockdown, but I will say that some of the questions proposed in this school of thought are very useful in discerning the importance of our existence during this period. Two of the most important questions in ontology are ‘what is existence, i.e. what does it mean for a being to be?’ and ‘what constitutes the identity of an object?’; the onotologists would attempt to answer these questions in metaphysical terms, but that is far too existential of a topic when we are already having difficulty isolating! I mentioned that I have been trying to keep in touch with my friends as much as possible at the moment (and we should all feel privileged that we have access to the technology that allows us to do so easily). But talking to them and reading articles on the internet has opened my eyes as to how strange the predicament is that we have found ourselves in; our individual struggles are both unique but comfortingly similar at the same time. Of course lockdown has taken its toll more significantly on some people compared to others; where you live, who you are isolating with, and the state of your mental health before all of this occurred are fundamental factors in deciding how much the lockdown has and will affect you. But, coming back to the aforementioned questions, it is clear that this situation has affected us all and that we can cultivate a sense of identity and being from this fact. Our individual struggles in relation to the restrictions imposed upon us can be compared in some way to the struggles that other people are facing, and by starting a meaningful conversation with friends and family we can be enlightened in knowing that any difficulty or stress that we feel can be understood by almost everyone. It’s almost paradoxical to suggest that in ‘isolation’ we can be more connected and united with other people than ever before, but I shall do so anyway. I firmly believe that, in this country, a greater sense of community has been established over the last few weeks than has existed before in my lifetime. It is extremely unfortunate that this union has taken place in a time of such great difficulty and pain, but if we can take a positive out of isolation, then I think this should be it. For me, lockdown has brought into perspective the stark similarities of human existence; our backgrounds and cultures may be incomprehensibly disparate, but our worries and concerns remain similar in a way that unifies humanity in a single sense of being, or ‘ontos’.

I hope that everyone can find some strength in these ancient Greek values, and I also hope that they will be useful in life beyond lockdown. Although our lives may seem alien to us at the moment, and it may take a while for us to adjust to a new reality as the restrictions continue to be lifted, it is important to bear in mind that every task you undertake contributes to your telos, and that we are all united in some way under the principle of ontos.

Ichigo Ichie for mental health: list cheatsheet of useful concepts from The Book of Ichigo Ichie by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

Sakura petals blossoming on cherry trees: hanami, meaning “viewing the flowers”, is just one example of an ichigo ichie moment.

Today was a really good day for me. I thoroughly enjoyed finishing The Book of Ichigo Ichie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way, by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, so much so in fact that when I came across today’s writing prompt on Discover Prompts, List, I knew that it called for an ichigo ichie list of definitions cheatsheet with my take on these concepts for mental health. This post is really causing my intellectual cogs to grind up against each other, but, hey, those are the same ol’ cogs that got me an English degree one day, so let’s try.

  1. Ichigo ichie. Translations: “One moment, one meeting”, “In this moment, an opportunity”. Meaning: Enjoying the present moment exactly because it is unrepeatable. Each person possesses a key that can open the door to attention, harmony with others, and love of life.
  2. Ikigai. Translations: “Reason for being”, “the happiness of always being busy”. Meaning: for a discussion, try the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by the same authors.
  3. Hanami: Literal translation: “Viewing the flowers”. Meaning: If you visit a park or garden at this time of the year, you’ll find entire groups of office workers under the blossoming cherry trees, families enjoying a walk together, and couples taking pictures of each other with sakura in the background. This celebration of nature and the renewal of life — and hope — is so long-standing that records of hanami festivals date back to the third century.
  4. Kaika. Refers to the earliest buds of the cherry blossom. Meaning: When something unknown begins to blossom within us. There is a kind of magic whenever a new passion is sparked, though it often arises in unmagical places.
  5. Yozakura. Translation: “night cherry blossom”. Meaning: At dusk, traditional lanterns that hang from the trees are lit, giving the parks and gardens the magical atmosphere of a Studio Ghibli film. Groups of friends and couples sit beneath the blossoms at night with a glass of sake and some snacks to enjoy the moment. Without a doubt, an ichigo ichie experience.
  6. Mankai. The exact moment when the sakura flower is fully opened.
  7. Hanafubuki. A flurry of sakura petals. A sublime moment that expresses the beauty and poetry of the impermanent.
  8. Dukkha. Meaning: That slight anxiety and dissatisfaction that all living beings constantly feel inside, because we know that change is inevitable. It is the Buddhist concept of suffering. The Buddha said, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
  9. Mono no aware. Being aware of the passage of time. Could be described as bittersweet, as we realise that something beautiful or precious is also ephemeral.
  10. Amor fati. A Latin phrase meaning “love of fate”. This describes the belief that everything that happens in life is for a reason, even though it may not seem so at the time.

In this way, the book touches on every single one of the aspects of mental health recovery detailed on the footer of this blog. Those are gaining and retaining hope, understanding of one’s abilities and disabilities, engagement in an active life, personal autonomy, social identity, meaning and purpose in life, and a positive sense of self. It does so in the soft language of people as bloomers in collective mindfulness, in short, the poetry of Zen Buddhism. The authors dedicate chapter two of part one (The Beauty of Impermanence) to the discussion of happiness as ichigo ichie, or celebration of the present moment, explaining that sadness and anger are associated with the past, and fear with the future; only happiness lies in the present moment.

A lot of therapy is to do with acceptance of our emotions and of the struggles we are going through. Amor fati turns out to be a rich cultural tradition of just such an acceptance! Then we have the obvious metaphors for change and loss, two looming triggers of mental health problems. How much pain and suffering have we been through because of change and loss! If we could only realise the true hanafubuki of the situation, we’d be able to enjoy the sake and snacks on the grass, so to speak. How many sufferers of depression have experienced a moment of kaika, only to have that spark of hope extinguished? And yet the kaika can and does lead to mankai with the right amount of nurture.

As for anxiety, in addition to the observation that fear relates to the future, not the present, the portal through to an anxiety-free life may well lie in that phrase, “harmony with others”. For example, a flautist at a recital will calm her nerves by remembering that the audience are both wanting and expecting her to perform well. And when she does so, she will reap ichigo ichie for herself and others. What is music, if not a celebration of the present?

Any comments?

This post is one of a series of one-word prompts for April 2020 called Discover Prompts by WordPress. Enjoy!

Music for improved mental health: Me, my guitar and my flute(s)

I came across a HuffPost article today about what happens physically in our bodies when we hate our job. That is to say, reading it really put me in touch with how my physical and mental health journey started four years ago, when I began to really suffer at work. Not because I hated the job — it was my dream job — the problem was a toxic boss who shouted at us. It was a really, really bad moment in my life for him to have treated us in that way, I can tell you. What got me through the resulting extreme anxiety, depression & what’s called a psychotic episode was by constantly listening to music on my phone. Seven weeks in a psychiatric ward can seem like an eternity when there are very few activities put on. It was music that got me through that horrible experience.

Nowadays, and as I gradually accepted the difficult truth that I was no longer well enough to work (for now), I began to work on therapeutic activities instead. This began with gardening as part of a supported mental health project, and turned into bagpipe lessons as well, in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. My puff power (and general perkiness) was increasing through the lessons, and they also gave me access to a whole new rich cultural tradition that quite simply was just the blast (ha, ha, sorry for that) that I needed.

My lessons stopped because my then flatmate wasn’t happy with my practising in the flat, but I’m pretty sure this was based on a misconception, as well as the lack of kindness. Pipers practise on a chanter, which is just the volume of somebody speaking, not on the full bagpipes! I couldn’t find a suitable alternative place to practise and my piping days are now behind me, but at the time it was a wonderful experience for me as I was battling the meatiest part of my mental illness, before any of the “click” moments with my therapist, that I can identify now were turning points for me.

This was followed by my stay at the Therapeutic Community, a place, as it turns out, full of music and musicians. There I met a flautist who encouraged me to get back into my childhood discipline, the flute. So much so that I was inspired to switch from my beloved, though often maligned, student Yamaha classical flute, to a brand new Irish African Blackwood wooden flute at Christmas.

So far, I played it a lot in the first week of its arrival, but found I could not clean it properly with my metal flute equipment, and had to wait for the purchase of the new wooden cleaning equipment to arrive. I was also hoping to take lessons in Glasgow, but just as Covid struck the UK, this had to be laid aside, quite apart from the financial strain of paying for lessons on a limited budget.

Meanwhile, I have found myself drawn to guitar-playing too. It’s a second-hand instrument I acquired for £50 a couple of years ago and that had been sitting around unused. I’m not knocking classical flute, but it is an amazingly different joy to be able to use words and my voice to express myself. In fact, I can now play two songs in Spanish and two in English to a semi-respectable level, having taught myself. Again, as I become more interested in learning about counselling, and putting aside money for books and training, I find myself unable to afford music lessons. Yet the fact that I took a weekly classical flute class from the lovely Mrs Parfitt between the ages of seven and eighteen sets me up fairly well for teaching myself, I’d say.

Yesterday I recorded myself singing one of the Spanish songs, and was somehow able to improve my performance on the third recording. This is a massive step forwards for me, given that I hadn’t picked up the guitar for weeks, and my fingers had grown soft again. I can’t help thinking that the sadness of the song is an opportunity for catharsis for my past. It is indeed a very unhappy song called ‘Por qué te vas?’ (‘Why are you Leaving?’) by the Mexican rock band Maná. Getting my creativity going is incredible medicine for my mental health.

What about you? How has music activated your creativity and got you through difficult times? I would love to hear from readers and share experiences.

This post is one of a series of one-word prompts for April 2020 called Discover Prompts by WordPress. Enjoy!

Schedules & routines for those suffering with mental health (Miulps: Mentally ill, unemployed, lovely people)

This post is a labour of love and what K & I think is a new take on the much-visited topic of schedules and routines for mental health sufferers. It’s not a generic “advice” post, it’s taking a moment to assess our real experience with routines. So I have borrowed and interviewed K, who, like myself, prefers to remain anonymous. I think it’s useful to know that K is a lovely young man, though. We can reveal this much! The aim is to help those recovering from anxiety, depression, and/or psychosis, and their loved ones, to get a handle on what they’re faced with and what they’re about to go through, hopefully, and with the right support, something they are going to graduate from with flying colours. Let’s dive right into the first question.

A: Do you stick to a rigid routine or schedule these days? Why or why not, and how did it come about?

K: I have a routine of usually 14-ish things. I achieve about six.

After the hospital and being out with services, at that time I explored my interests and principles, and made a list of things I would enjoy improving on. A lot of these things get forgotten in the whistle of normal activities, but it is good to have a concrete list to think of when needed. I was inspired by, and thought I could do better than, the development coaches on YouTube.

A: What’s been the importance of exercise in your schedule?

K: After hearing the advice of Toby Robbins, I made sure to do a small walk everyday. That evolved into 10,000 steps, and that evolved into going to the gym. This was over the space of three years, to be fair.

Exercise is good for energy regulation and strength, in terms of actually doing something actively for a space of time. 

A: In other words, for physical dysregulation, and to counteract the lack of concentration and stamina? 

K: Exactly.

A: Have you ever kept a Food & Exercise diary? Did that improve your daily routine?

K: My reflection skills are not that refined. I am definitely working on it though. Most of the time I am busy cutting down bad things instead of doing better things. It is only recently, since going to the gym actually, that I’ve thought of food. I do have a general plan of what exercise I should do though. Food and energy are my big weaknesses, as well as the related area of sleep. So overall, this is a bit of a messy area.

A: What about keeping a Positives Diary as part of your schedule? In a positives diary you can only record the positives in your life.

K: It seems a good idea, one I had been avoiding I suppose. I did try one time, but felt silly. Maybe another go is needed. I am seriously open to every single thing that might help. I am not very mindful though. 

A: Not every approach works for everybody. The Positives Diary worked well for me in improving my outlook. I was surprised.

What would you say to another mental health sufferer struggling to keep to a simple routine, such as getting out of bed, making breakfast, and beginning a suitable therapeutic activity in the morning?

I know it’s kind of the million dollar question.

K: Do one thing. Any one thing. I got this advice in the hospital. I chose showering. The rest of the day can be spent doing whatever you like. If I had to choose I would pick getting up early now (laughs) but that reflects my current worries. I also find it easier to directly do things for others, such as babysitting or nipping to the shop, rather than doing something for myself, like getting up at a decent time. Remember your family and friends. Social things seem to bolster confidence more than solitary things.

A: Thanks! I wish someone had told me that at the time. I have another question for you. 

How soon after becoming ill or leaving full time employment were you able to begin a semblance of a routine on your own terms? How do you think you took this incredibly positive step?

K: When I was ill, I imagined I was “working” in a massive intergalactic war, as a “soldier”, “witch”, who sowed confusions, and as an “intellect”.

I felt work-ready when these heuristics went away, probably four months after hospital, and I started what I called “getting my act together” by trying to stop bad habits, like smoking. Originally for six months I only had normal ESA (Employment and Support Allowance). This income meant I was not in the position to spend on anything other than food, gas and electricity, and smoking. During these six months I found myself slipping into functionally bad habits like drinking, not being too inclined to think about anything else other than self-pity. This changed for two reasons. Firstly my money went up due to my getting Disability ESA. Secondly, I had a very harsh experience on the first attempt to volunteer, which to be fair was the first time I thought of scheduling. My scheduling was abysmal.

The big thing that I made into a turning point was when I got sacked for going into the volunteering whilst having a hallucination. 

At this time, and now with no activity to do, I took it on myself to get to the point where I was not in the thrall of either the illness, or of managers who couldn’t accommodate me. 

I think that it is positive thinking that gets us out of bed in the morning. Aversion to inadequacy is another prime motivator. It is true that I don’t always live up to these standards, but it is important that you actually have standards. This in turn meant planning. 

I am now in a better place than I was then.

So, in short, when others started believing in me and challenging me, I started believing in myself.

A: I’m so glad you are in a better place now. It’s interesting to hear your milestones and thinking! I am sorry that you had a hallucination while volunteering, but I am glad that your self-esteem and positive routines improved after that turning point. 

K: It is important to say that for about half of the week, I am still laying about daydreaming. My hope obviously is to contain this further.

Also, as an aside, a few days ago I found a new method of mindfulness called RAIN. Recognise, Acknowledge, Interpret, Non-Personalise. Early attempts, when remembering to attempt, have been good. Next question!

A: What are your thoughts on a mental health sufferer having a schedule imposed on them by a mental health nurse or organisation? And what about this: is there a fine line between nagging and encouragement?

K: I think about this often. My CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) only asks me to do one thing at a time. However, I think, in terms of nursing, good providers should be responsible and reflexive, in principle.

A: They should be nurturing, I’d say. What do you mean by reflexive?

K: I think that my provision of healthcare has been good along these lines, though they do incline towards being judgemental. By reflexive, I mean they should be both encouraging and, naturally, constructively critical in communication and relationship building.

A: Now the penultimate question. Though it could have fitted in first, too. Lack of motivation, or ‘involvement in your life’, as Bessel van der Kolk writes in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma (p.194) can and does characterise mental illness. Does this ring true for you? If so, how have you handled it? How did you get to where you are today? Do you feel more empowered?

K: I only take and ask for advice from sensible people. It is important to understand that most people won’t understand. Consider how much information you had on mental health before the onset of your illness.

It is important in general to understand that mental health, in general terms and in terms of illness, is your responsibility and not the responsibility of any staff. You are the prime minister in charge, the executive in control.

A: Well, I agree on that one. Thank you. Final question. 

Many people who have experienced mental health problems go back to work after a period of healing, and, of course, after mastering their routines. Obviously we would like to recognise and celebrate their success. What are your thoughts on those of us who are simply not ready to go back to work? And do you think society has made enough of a safe space for us?

K: I personally feel it is in everybody’s nature to want to work, as a high form of socialising and socialisation. I have always felt this way, though I do know some ‘shirkers’ who boast about not working. At the same time, it is important to consider what work is. Is a (new) mother or father not working? Is someone who is struggling to get an education not working? This is harder to define. Importantly, is a person struggling with any health issue not, in fact, working to maybe even save their own life? I beat myself up on these questions — every day. So no, there is no safe space. That’s all I’ve got! I don’t know how to frame it further. Glad you brought that up though. As I said, I think about this every day. 

A: In my case, my idea of what society might think of me as an unemployed, mentally ill person in recovery is far more negative than my actual, current self-image. 

As you say, people just don’t understand, and you can’t expect them to in this rather primitive age for mental health. 

I tend to think it relates to a sense that I am stupid or dangerous, neither of which is true. I am a postgraduate and have never hurt a fly.

K: Yeah! Primitive is the word. 

I know. I flip between wanting to give up and wanting to beat them at their own game. That is why I understand your desire to transform counselling. Someone needs to do it!

A: Counselling exists in the more major cities but is not reaching everyone who needs it, due to economic inequality. In that sense, a transformation is needed.

I think that schedules and routines, as a topic, is a good lens on mental health in general. I’ve learnt to gradually build upon my daily routine over time, and also, I’ve learnt not to treat myself badly when it comes to my own awareness of that routine. Beating oneself up is never good, and simply not deserved.

Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed on this topic, K.
If this helps just one recent person struggling with their mental health, I’ll be very happy.
Please feel free to comment on your journey through schedules and routines below.

A quarantined view on abundance & an abundant view on quarantine: Miulps together!

Finding and/or keeping one’s own sense of hope, happiness, and health is a lifelong project for most. For a Miulp (Mentally Ill, Unemployed, Lovely Person) it’s an essential battle and one that has to be engaged in consciously, no matter how one looks at it. I personally have been battling recently in this blog by trying out Buddhist meditation and colour theory, but I would never do that at the expense of alienating my readers of another or no faith. Absolutely everyone is welcome here, so I have decided to lay off the semi-Buddhist ramblings for the time being.

What a quarantine we are having! My long-suffering mum and I are now on Day 17, having started way before the official advice came through. We are both in fine fettle, though I had a strange cold in Week 1, and mum admits to feeling sad today. I was depressed yesterday, but am quite a lot better today, and I am writing this sitting in the back garden with a coffee.

I said a while back in this blog that I believed I had learnt that abundance is the ability to get what you need, when you need it. But hey, this is a constant learning process, what are you going to do! I certainly learned more about this when my mum turned to me the other day crestfallen because there was no bread. I have now made her some. To show further daughterly love for her, I’ve eaten almost half so far, he he.

Without getting all Russell Brand about the situation and the many faiths of the world (and NO faith, not forgetting that one), I did nevertheless want to post about the ways in which, in the lack of the usual new and exciting stimuli during the quarantine, and the rush for buying up food supplies, I am learning something new out of making do with staying at home.

People in my life have surprised me by reaching out to me at this time. It really is touching to hear from friends and contacts old and new in these circumstances, and the tone has sometimes changed. A female friend told me she loves me. And this is happening in Britain, he he! Attitudes, and sharing messages together, have made the quarantine different and better so far.

The other way of finding abundance is in finding meaningful activities to do during this quarantine, surely. I don’t find it straight-forward, but I am getting there. My hobbies seem to get simpler when I am sad or anxious, and more elaborate when I am happier. My reading has disappeared again for the time being, harumph. We’ll see. Perhaps I will build in half an hour of reading to my daily routine, since my shower time takes up about forty-five minutes 🤣. And keep training myself to read. Train, train, train!

Take care everyone, and feel free to comment 🙂. Do you have any thoughts on training to do meaningful activities, such as reading, for Miulps? Or perhaps you can share about telesocialising for Miulps during the quarantine.

In full swing: super-mega-giga-self-care & mindful activities

I’m beginning this post with a heavy sigh, because I do hope my dear readers won’t get the wrong impression from this blog that I am one massively self-absorbed individual. The fact is, unless *I* work on myself to improve and un-mentally-ill myself, nobody else will be able to do anything for me. And I see too many floundering mentally struggling Miulps who don’t or can’t work on themselves at all, and sane healthy people who think that mental illness has no remedy, along with many other unspeakable misconceptions. With that in mind, here goes for the latest chapter in my journey through Miulphood.

Since the low point of two weeks ago on a Saturday night, when at 3am I reached out on a Facebook group for sufferers of anxiety and depression for a conversation about what I was going through, and of course not forgetting my last post about being a heartbroken Miulp, I have come on by leaps and bounds. So much so, that I had a cheeringly successful four-day trip to London, and have a new development waiting for me in Edinburgh on Tuesday that I will write about after the fact. Oooh!

I had such a great time in London seeing my brother J, friends H, R, A, F, H again for dinner, and finally my auntie and uncle. Yay. It really was life-affirming.

Today I had a “productive” day. Normal people would say productive, that is, but I’m not talking in terms of the end results. The word has strange implications when what I’m up to are really therapeutic activities, the primary aim of which is my wellbeing. But anyway… I cleaned the house for a full four hours, then walked down to the village café, 40 minutes down the hill and 40 minutes back up. After that I played classical flute for a good hour or so, until my hand hurt too much. Then I carried on quilting the triangular planets and stars quilt I’m working on, made dinner for me and my pops, and then hung out a bit and had a mega-self-care bath, with special bath soap shaped like a bee!

At the café I dug into the book I’m reading, The Book of Ichigo Ichie. I must be mindful that my goal for this book is to finish it by February 15th!

Many things were on my mind today, mostly dreaming of two different young men I know and care for a lot in different ways. Ha ha isn’t that sad. Only joking. It’s nice to hold people I know in high regard. I was also thinking back to my therapeutic gardening days and the sort of company I had at the Therapeutic Community, and my rough plan (!) for the next two years.

I feel that I am gaining momentum in my life and progress at the moment. The fact that I even have a rough idea of what I want to achieve in the next two years is telling.

I wish all my readers well! 💗🤛🏻

Remedies for a broken heart

As far as I can tell, talking, expressing yourself, and listening are the remedies for a broken heart.

I have contacted my therapist this evening asking for an appointment this week.

I’m doing everything right.

Please send prayers/positive vibes/well wishes/etc my way.

I’m sure I will get what I need to fight another day.


The return to… therapeutic activities

The first day at work after the holidays can come with its own psychological upsets, for many. I am curious to know how my working readers found it. Maybe you sailed through it!

For me, getting back into a routine involved various things one after the other, from supporting others with their own mental health issues, to reading and finishing my second book of the year (YAY! I can read now!) to working out, taking baths (cannot forget the baths), to beginning my main art therapy at the moment, sewing.

And I have to be honest here and say that today I was very grouchy and moody throughout my sewing, until five minutes before the end when I perked up a little bit. But I am chalking it up to a success. Following the book Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits One Small Step at a Time, by Sarah Harvey, I only asked myself to sew for half an hour, which I succeeded in doing. Hurray!

I would be very glad and humbled to know how your return to normality after the holidays has gone, whether you are working or not, and whether you struggle with mental health or not, in the comments below. For now take care one and all. 🙂