Tag Archives: mental health

Being in the hard times

 

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In my role as both a trainer and nurture worker I need to put on a cloak of calmness, I need the staff and children I work with to feel that I am there for them, that I can contain their strong feelings, I can travel with them as they are learning and changing and I can sit with them in the hard times. This week several of the 4 yr olds I support have been really struggling, it’s the time of year when everything changes in the school routine and the 4 yr olds I work with find that really hard. This is the time of year when I really need to be calm, I need to be able to adjust, be playful in the face of hardness. Sometimes that means responding in an unexpected way, at one point this week I was on all fours crawling up a school corridor pretending to be a cat with a 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed. In that moment the child needed someone to help calm him, to help him feel safe and to help him find a way through his strong feelings in a playful non-judgemental way.
The difficulty with this role is that I don’t always feel calm and positive!. During these last few weeks I have felt quite bleak, and a bit panicky, I have found life quite hard, I have been judging myself in unhelpful ways. Curiously what has helped me in the last few days is reflecting on the 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed and thinking about the gentle approach I took with him. I have been thinking about how I need to use this approach with myself!, to be kind, to be gentle to myself, to use the emotion language on myself that I use with children- it’s ok to be finding it hard, it’s ok to feel sad. Earlier in the year, I read Kristin Neff book Self-Compassion she talks about the scripts we use on ourselves and the need to use compassionate scripts. I use scripts all the time with 4-year-olds and it really works, but in the same way, I find it does help when I use compassionate scripts to myself.

My Sunday morning walk this morning around the meadow was quite gloomy, it was grey, misty not much light was getting through. But strangely that felt ok this morning, it seemed a bit of a reflection on how I have been feeling, but also I was aware of recognising that is ok, that’s just how it is right now and recognising there will be days when it feels less grey, when the light will get through.

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Who believes in you?

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During this last week in my nurture role I have been struck again at the difference made when staff working with children believe in the children, believe that they can become children who can cope with school, believe that the children are doing their best, believe that they are wonderful, lovely children. In the same way a vital part of my role is to believe in the staff working with the 4 year olds. I need to believe that they are nurturing, caring staff who are doing their best. Sometimes I need to help the staff to see the amazing job they are doing, sometimes they find this hard to believe, my role is to nurture them and support them just as much as I need to nurture and support the children.

We all need people in our life who believe in us, we all need people who tell us we are doing well and that it’s ok when we are finding it hard. There are a few special people I know I can turn to when I am feeling unsure and wobbly, I know they will be honest with me but they will also support me and they believe that I am capable, competent and able. When we are feeling unsure and a bit wobbly we need to have those people around us. Brene Brown suggests ‘carrying a small sheet of paper in your wallet, with the names of people whose opinions matter. To be on that list you need to be someone who loves me for my strengths and struggles’. For me there are 4 people on my list, who I know believe in me and will be there to remind me I am doing my best.

Growing new ideas

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One aspect I love about being self-employed is the freedom to grow and develop new ideas. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t, which can be hard, but I really value the space to be able to try and the space to be able to think creatively. Over the last couple of years, I have realised that I really enjoy the creative process of thinking and developing new projects/ resources and I am learning to be braver about trying to push these forward and see if they can grow and take off.

Over the last year I have been working with my husband and 2 close friends on developing one of these new ideas, it started as an idea for a children’s illustrated book to explain Bipolar to children and then developed into the idea of making this into an animation as well as a book. Over the last 5 weeks, we pushed forward a crowdfunding project to fund this idea. We knew we were being highly ambitious in the amount we were trying to raise and we were really unsure if it would work ,if anyone would want to back it. We didn’t raise the full amount we needed, but we did have pledges for half the amount .

When you try out a new idea, you often don’t have a sense of whether it will work, it can feel really risky, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position of risking rejection and criticism and that is very hard. The flip side of that is people do support you and you discover that people love you and believe in your idea. That has been my experience, as a group working on the Mummy’s got Bipolar project we have all been deeply touched by the support we have been offered, the generosity of people. Alongside this the incredibly moving comments from strangers telling us that they didn’t know how to tell their children about their Bipolar, messages of encouragement from people living with Bipolar telling us there is a great need for this project.

This morning I went for my usual Sunday morning walk around the meadow at the back of our house. This is a space where I can think and reflect. This morning I noticed a small horse chestnut tree sapling growing on the edge of the meadow. I loved noticing the beauty of this tiny new tree and the possibility of the great tree it might grow to become. We have been really encouraged by the support we had through sharing the idea of our project with others; our project feels a bit like that tiny tree, I still don’t know quite what it will become, but we are going to try and continue to see if we can make it grow.

Unwinding and slowing down

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My school year in the nurture role has now ended for the summer holidays. I still have other work I will be doing over the break, but it is a 7-week break from working with 4-year-olds. On Friday evening I and my family came down to Cornwall for a family holiday on the Lizard. The last term has been a very tough term, particularly emotionally. During this term, I have been using various techniques to try and stay calm and not allow the stress to take over, not always easy. I have been trying to use mindfulness daily, I have been regularly listening to the beautiful, calming tracks of Olafur Arnalds living room songs and my morning swims have helped to get me through the term. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about swimming in the sea, a friend on Facebook Karen Arthur swims in the sea daily and photographs what she sees. I really enjoy seeing Karen’s images daily, seeing how she captures the beauty of the sea and how she has used this to help her through depression . For the last few days I have been able to swim in the beautiful green sea, I love wild swimming, I find so much delight in the beauty and the immediate closeness to nature, when I am swimming in the sea, my brain and body immediately switch off from the tension and stress and focus on the delight of that moment.

I know that taking, this time, to unwind and slow down is vital, a time to care for myself, a time to enjoy being with my family. Not all work has stopped, as I am still keeping an eye on the Mummy’s got Bipolar campaign, and still trying to get more support to make that happen, but at least when I am in the sea swimming I can have some time when nothing else matters other than enjoying the moment and the beauty.

Being supported

 

 

IMG_0050It is the last week of the school year for my nurture work, this is a week to say goodbye to staff who I have worked so closely with all year, a time of final sessions with the children who have become very important to me and will also leave a little of themselves in my memory. It’s a time to tell staff once again what an amazing job they have done, to remind them of the progress they have made with the child; and it is a time to tell the children for one last time this year that they are special and how much I have loved working with them.

The end of the school year is a time to stop and reflect, my main reflection has been how important support is. In our nurture role, we are in an unusual position that we can work with a school and child for a year, we can support them by visiting them weekly, by being there, not just advising and telling them what to do but also by being hands on and modelling the work. One teacher told me she appreciated having someone to rant to, others have said they were grateful for having someone who they knew was there for them and supported them through some very stressful times.

We all need people in our lives to support us, people, who will come alongside us and tell us we can do it, to encourage us. A week ago I and a small team launched a crowdfunding project for a children’s book and animation project called Mummy’s Got Bipolar. When we initially planned for this I had not anticipated the strong feelings I would have with it. I wrote the children’s book, drawing on my own experience of my Mum having Bipolar and my experience of working with other families and children over the years. I foolishly didn’t really realise how brave I needed to be to do this project!. I find asking for support in this project quite hard, I am not a natural promoter or marketing person. Also because it is a subject that I believe in and I care about it has brought up feelings of vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Earlier this year I read a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly, I didn’t realise at the time how important her words were going to be to me. Brene talked about having the courage and being brave to step out of your comfort zones and take risks. That is definitely what I have done this last week, but this has only been possible by people supporting me. It has been a very scary week! but various family and friends have been there, given me encouraging words, supported the project, offered ideas and suggestions. Without their support the last week would have been a lot harder. There is still another 3 weeks of the campaign to go and I know that ongoing support is going to be vital to get us to the end.

If you’re interested in looking at the campaign a link  is here

Talking to children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness affects huge numbers of adults and children in this country, Mind suggest 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, Young Minds suggest 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Even with the numbers being so high, mental illness is still a subject that many people feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable talking about.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was very obvious, my Mum has Bipolar, there was no hiding away from it. As a family, we had many many good times together but there were also times that were hard, days when she was very ill. Back then it was common for people with Bipolar to be hospitalised, my Mum spent many, many months over the years in a large mental health hospital called Barrow Gurney in Bristol. As a child I visited her plenty of times; never really understanding what was wrong, all I knew was that my Mummy was ill, that sometimes she couldn’t look after me and sometimes she needed to stay in the large, scary hospital. Thankfully far more is now understood about mental illness/ Bipolar and hospitalisation is often not needed.

I knew my Mum had an illness but I didn’t have a name for the illness. I didn’t realise what her illness was until I was in a school assembly aged 14 when Mind took the assembly and described mental illness and something called Manic depression ( the name for Bipolar back then). That was a lightbulb moment for me, I suddenly realised that it was not just my Mum that was ill. Having an understanding of her illness really helped me.

I now work with young children and young people some of whom have parents with mental illness, some children and young people who have a mental illness themselves. I passionately believe that we need to help children and young people understand what is happening around them. If they or parent/ sibling has an illness I believe we need to help children understand what that is illness is. I use books all the time in my work, I have a mini library of issue books that I use with children and recommend to people, these vary from domestic violence, cancer, divorce, parents in prison. When I had my own children I started to look for books that I could use to explain to my children about their Granny’s Bipolar, and I couldn’t find any aimed at younger children. There are now books available aimed at older children around 7+ but no books aimed at younger children.

I know it can be hard for adults to know how to begin talking to a child about Bipolar, I know some adults are worried about talking to children at too young an age. In my experience young children are curious, inquisitive, they want to ask questions, they want information, not too much, but enough to help them feel safe. For this reason, I have written a children’s book aimed at children aged 3-7 years. I have recently launched a crowdfunding project to fund the illustration, printing of the book and to turn the book into an animation. My hope is that we can make this book available to children’s centres, nurseries, schools, GP surgeries, CAMHS services. The aim of the book and animation is that children and families can look at this together and begin to talk about Bipolar.

The story is about a Mum, Dad, 2 girls and 2 guinea pigs. It will be a beautifully illustrated book, illustrated and animated by my close friend Jon Birch. It is a gentle story introducing Bipolar, helping children to understand it is not something to be afraid of, and it is ok to ask questions about it.

Please have a look at the crowdfunding page, it would be great if you could support this and tell others about it. We need to raise a lot of money, £13,000. The great idea with crowdfunding is that no money is taken until the whole amount has been pledged, so no-one loses out.

 

Image by Jon Birch, 1 of the illustrations to be used in the book and animation

 

 

Re-connecting with nature

 

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This last week has been a half term holiday for me, a small break from working in schools, an opportunity to refresh and relax a bit. I have spent large chunks of the week re-connecting with nature. I spend a lot of time with children outside, helping them re-connect with their feelings while outside, this is great but it is work, I work hard while with the children commenting, supporting, observing, modelling to staff, supporting staff and enabling the child to engage.

So this week I felt that I needed to reconnect my feelings with nature. When you work with children who find life hard, who become dysregulated quickly, it is so important to be aware of your own feelings, emotions and needs. I spend a lot of my time telling staff they need to be kind to themselves, so I need to make sure I do that myself!

Since a trip to Denmark over 5 years ago, I have developed a love of foraging!. So this week I have been enjoying foraging and cooking. I have enjoyed cooking nettle soup, elderflower cordial and red clover cordial. I have also enjoyed times of walking barefoot on grass, in meadows and on a beach. I love the experience of walking barefooted, it makes you feel more connected to the earth, more aware of what is around you. This morning I took my usual early morning Sunday walk in the meadow at the back of our house, I love the beauty of this space and how it changes over the season. It is now almost at full height, with the various grasses, clover, wild orchids and oxeye daisy’s growing. There is a path mowed around the edge of the meadow, for the community to be able to walk around and enjoy it without trampling all the wild flowers. I walked it this morning barefooted, I noticed this made me really slow down, really take notice of what was around me. This felt very timely as I know I am about to enter my busiest term of the year, ending with current children, meeting new children and supporting an extra four year six children, as well as training and writing. Lots to look forward to.

 

Photo of Tunley meadow