January in photos

I got a new phone and have photos to share.

 

A new year’s day lunch treat – playing board games.

 

I found a wooden sheep wandering the streets of Derby.

 

Care and support planning ideation session for NHS England’s Strategic Co-production group.

 

Bar humour discovered drinking with an old colleague in Soho.

 

Words of wisdom captured at the Reading Agency’s offices in London.

 

So many words to comb through for the adult mental health reading well scheme.

 

Thoughtful discussion with friends at the last adult mental health reading well co-production session.

 

#derbywalks grafitti discovered on a Derby nightwalk.

 

A cheese of love purchased for my birthday last year and consumed in January

 

A fabulous ideas wall developed for the Derby Museums World Ethnography space.

 

Different images, drawn and created in response to the World Ethnography space at Derby Museum.

 

Walking with heritage – objects pedestrianised.

 

A beautiful and creative spirit taking a few minutes break to refresh her fabulousness (and who will probably kill me for including this :D).

 

Textures and shapes.

 

I feature as a lead character – the working title ‘the silee mum’.

 

Being creative with Guy Evans.

 

Light painting at Derby Quad’s Q Club.

 

Seeds on branches remind me that spring will be back soon.

 

What modern psychiatry does for your brain @Nottingham Contemporary

 

I hear voices, I just didn’t ever realise the significance of it.

Today was the section of my research module that detailed the experiences of voice hearers, via a person-centred construct that applied meaning to their experiences, moving it away from a pathologised symptom of illness. Instead, voices are expressed as a natural response to traumatic events, often appearing at times of high stress and when reframed in this way, newly understood as facets of unexpressed emotion or aspects of abusive memories too traumatic to find voice.

As I read the dimensions around which the voice constructs were created I began to perceive similarities with my own experience.

To be clear, I had experienced very obvious psychotic symptoms, sometimes as a result of sleeplessness, sometimes brought about because of recreational drug abuse and in one particularly terrifying episode brought about by taking Citalopram, a chorus of continuous chanting  ‘Kill yourself, die. Kill yourself, die. Kill yourself, die” that lasted a week and stopped me from sleeping, driving me to follow their instruction from sheer desperation. These I could very clearly identify as voices that emanated outside of myself, as there was an ‘other’ quality to them.

There were always the other voices though. The ones who had been with me since I was a child.

Multiplicitous conversations, involving people family members from my past with whom I had rocky relationships and even different aspects of myself as ages from times past, the present and projected back from the future into my present experience. In my mid-twenties I was subject to three years of domestic violence and abuse. During this period a host of voices emerged, all facets of me at different stages of my life who struggled with the life experiences they dealt with. The four-year-old bruised from her parent’s divorce. The eight-year-old struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse she experienced from a visitor to her home. The fourteen-year-old, undiagnosed autistic girl-woman adrift in a sea of peer bullying and social distress. The seventeen-year-old with a cocaine habit, spending as much time as possible away from home because we/ she couldn’t hack the tension in the family. They were all joined by my current (then) self and future manifestations from an imagined future, where you weren’t living in daily fear of being raped, or beaten or made to feel more worthless than a piece of shit.

We got together and told each other everything would be okay in the end. My then 25 year old self would comfort the eight year old, explaining that everything would be okay and you/she would stop feeling so dirty. We all talked to our future manifestation about what being okay was like, as a life and an experience. The future self had a little girl with her, who listened and didn’t say much, but whose presence, as a loved and cherished being was obvious. Her comments frequently centred around just who all these other people, were and why the other little girls were so sad.

Mostly, my voices were familiar and friendly, supportive and provided a much-needed sense of solidarity.  Even the critical angry voices, who I often identified with family members, were just part of my inner landscape. We conversed and I listened. They helped me to process situations I needed to prepare for or explore different scenarios that might happen. They helped me to develop the social skills I needed to deal with aggressive or confrontational experiences that happened in the real world – so the next time something similar happened I had more of the right words to defend myself with.

My voices have been with me so long that I barely even think about them, but I realised with horror this afternoon that if I had a negative response to these manifestations I  would possibly have been in line for a diagnosis of psychosis, with all the joys of being filled chockfull of pills. Even reading the other accounts of individuals who reframed their own voice hearing experiences into something more positive jolted me. Their original perspective was so negative. Had I been wrong all along? Had the experiences I have had been latent expressions of mental ‘illness’ that had gone unaccounted for? Was I at risk of another relapse despite only being discharged from secondary services last month?

I guess the best way to describe it is like seeing trees or clouds every day for your life. Then one day you read that seeing trees or clouds is actually a sign of profound illness, a serious and stigmatising experience, only it never felt like that to you. Seeing them was quite nice a lot of the time, and even when it was harder like if there were thunder and lightning, it was never anything you couldn’t deal with.

Notwithstanding my total rejection of the medical model of recovery and all the self-limiting meaning it gathers around you, the power of the internalised stigma affects me still. I was worried, genuinely worried, that I was going to get ill again, and that this time I wouldn’t be able to cope. I am still feeling uneasy now, but have taken note of the narrative of fellow voice hearer Eleanor Longden, who described the initially benign voice becoming aggressive and confrontational when she began to experience their presence negatively. I have chosen to accept these emotional responses but not to allow myself to become caught up them.

I hope my voices stick around. I have thanked them on occasion for their help, genuinely and wholeheartedly. We have got through some tough times together, and I feel like my internal world would be emptier and less vibrant for their loss.

Perhaps the best realisation I had today was that the little girl I have heard was, in fact, a little boy with blue eyes and cheeky smile. He is loved and cherished, and his mummy, me, has become the women all her past selves had hoped desperately might one day come into being. I am able to hold, cherish and love each of them, as I do my own boy, and have healed or come to terms with the injuries of the past. In this way, despite their persistence, I instinctively know that they mean me no harm, because they are me in different forms.

Love is limitless, but its momentum can be stifled between and within us. As the Hearing Voices Network, and other diverse practices like the Open Dialogue Approach are beginning to conceptualise, those barriers can manifest in strange and abstract ways like voices or self-harming behaviours. Rather than administering pills we need to return to the humane qualities of empathy, respect and consideration of ourselves, our experiences and our voices.

We need to know them, if we are to know ourselves and in doing so return love to all quarters where it belongs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retreating… towards life

My retreat was a deeply moving and intense experience.

Mindfulness and meditation have taken a special place in my life in the last three years. I first encountered them via Compassion Focussed Therapy, a therapeutic practice that was originally developed in Derby by Dr Paul Gilbert.

I have meditated pretty regularly for the last two years and wanted to explore my practice in greater depth.  After doing some research I settled upon the Taraloka Women’s Buddhist Centre on the Shropshire border and booked myself into a mindfulness five-day retreat at the end of August.

it was with some trepidation that I arrived, not knowing what or even who to expect. The setting was amazingly beautiful landscape right on the border with Wales and it is possible to walk across, via field paths.

 

Without dwelling too much of the physical, the atmosphere was infinitely peaceful. A regular routine settles over you quickly and without the distraction of modern life, each retreatee is able to concentrate on the momentary experience they perceive.

For five days I heard no noises other than the sounds of nature, the voices of women, speaking, singing, praying or chanting. I looked at no screens and had no mirrors to regard myself in other than one the size of a bathroom tile.

I spent several hours a day meditating and at times deviated away from the set schedule to spend time on my own with the various feminine aspects of Buddha that manifested around.

I learned about the sky, and the earth and how I am connected to both, together with all over living beings.

I reflected upon myself and my relationships and cried with joy and with sadness. I shared intimate details about my life and goals with a group of women who will never be together again in the same place.

I discovered with amazement that Buddhism has a system of understanding that explains my sensory difficulties in thirty minutes better than any healthcare professional has been able to in the last five years.

I took so much back with me into my life, wisdom, space, and a renewed interest in meditation that now extends itself into a twenty-minute daily session. It is the first things that I do when I rise now.

I understand my power, my potential and my joy

 

Living life through the cracks

Cracks are funny things to talk about when you are autistic and have mental health problems.

People who are mentally ill are referred to as crackpots, or just cracked. As individuals and increasingly as a society we talk about the cracks that people fall into as we become more complex individuals and block contracts become less appropriate.

All the references to cracks I can find in Western culture focus on being broken.  Split apart. No longer whole.

A fairly sad state of affairs for anyone to consider.

Japanese culture celebrates a different kind of crack.  Kintsukoroi means ‘to repair with gold’. Essentially, repairing pottery that has fractured and celebrating the breaking.

Understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken [and that it is possible to make whole again]. 

This is such a great concept to apply to people. Mental health recovery should be about repairing the cracks with silver and gold; the preciousness of kindness, compassion and shared responsibility. Of services being the gold or silver. The supporting and binding structures that are able to change with the needs of the person. So services and professionals need to be able to change their working and approach across individuals, groups and also the stage of recovery.

As the metal is liquid, so it can be applied and then hardens to leave a beautiful historic record. In the same way, the mental health support people receive always staying with them, imprinted in their history. Sometimes you get your cracks repaired with silver and gold but more often than not it is mud. Dark, dirty, and brittle and weak over time.

I want to learn to apply Kintsukuroi to people.

To my amazing friend

One of my friends is a very special person, who is beautiful, kind and hides her ability, talent and light away at times.

I read something when I went on retreat that made me think of her, straight away and although these aren’t my words, they say exactly what I want to better than I ever could.

I love you – you are so amazing.

What if there was no need to change?

No need to transform yourself

into someone who is more compassionate, more present, more loving or wise?

How would this affect all the places in your life where you are endlessly trying to be better?

What if the task is simply to unfold?

To become who you already are in your essential nature,

gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present?

What if the question is not

“Why am I so infrequently the person that I want to be?”

But, why do I so infrequently want to be the person that I really am?

How would this change what you think you have to learn?

What if becoming who and what you truly are happens not

through striving and trying

but by recognising and receiving the people, places and practices

that are for us the warmth of encouragement that we need to unfold?

How would this shape the choices that you make about how to spend today?

What if you know that the impulse to move in a way that creates beauty in the world

Will arise from deep within

And guide you every time you simply pay attention

and wait?

How woul this shape your stillness and your movement?

Your willingness to just follow the impulse

to just let go

and dance?

 

 

 

Guy Evans Artist

A great friend of mine (and amazing artist to boot) is a chap called Guy Evans. We met through life classes he ran in Derby several years ago, which I attended first as a pupil and then as a life model.

I built Guy’s website for him whilst on a stay in the Crisis House in October 2015 and we have worked together privately on and off for a while since then.

Guy surprised me with a simply amazing painting last week which made me quite emotional.

Guy has drawn me a lot, but has always said that he strives to demonstrate the person as an image rather than creating a realistic representation. Given the emotional turmoil I have undergone since we have known each other, it felt like someone had reached inside and pulled out the whirlwind that exists there unseen.

The loops and whorls reminded me of hooping but also of the lack of identity I have experienced.

I am so grateful to have been the subject and inspiration for such an insightful piece of work. Although I would not go as far as calling myself a muse (but it does have such a great ring to it), yet, some of the positive feelings I am getting from seeing this are allowing me to explore the emotional relationship between an artist and model when it develops along an emotional spectrum.

Thank you Guy xxxx

Guy Evans Artist image

 

Weeping Window, Derby Silk Mill remembers World War 1

I managed to visit Derby Museum Trust’s Silk Mill installation of the ‘Weeping Window’, created from poppies made in Derbyshire and originally installed at the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Blood’ featured at the Tower of London. These photos were taken the morning it was due to be removed, and I rode into town for 7.30am in order to get them.

If you didn’t see it, the installation was removed at the end of July 2017, but I guess the individual poppies will be stored and may perhaps be exhibited somewhere else in the future.

Weeping window and gate

Weeping window Silk Mill Tower

Weeping window poppy detail

NHS England Personalisation Peer Leader videos

To promote the next Peer Leadership Academy several members of the spring academy gave short interviews about our experiences of development over the time we have spent together, as well as personal health budgets more generally.

I spent a lot of time, intensive time, with Jon, Robyn and Andrew and the other participants and have learned an immeasurable amount about myself in this process.  I hope that these videos give a small taste of the work we have done together and the positive impact we hope to create in the future

I would urge anyone with experience of health personalisation or who receives a personal health budget to apply to take part in the next academy. It really is an amazing experience.

Click here for more information.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCdDI2AjGa8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LulV_pVVYLc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMM_1M_Fp98&t=21s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSAeWAPqXxM

Loch Ness? Who knew?

Mylo sitting in the back of the car “Mummy, can I please have some more Loch Ness?”

Me driving and mystified “Loch Ness?”

Mylo, “Yes, Loch Ness.”

Me, “What about Loch Ness?”

Mylo, getting stroppy, “Yes, LOCH NESS, you know…”

Me, getting worried “Mylo, Loch Ness is a deep lake in Scotland with a monster living in it. I really don’t know what you want with it.”

Mylo, “LOCH NESS MUMMY! The thing daddy made the other day!”

Me, “Aaahhh, Eton Mess! Yes of course we can have some babe.”