Not just one week: my 5 prompts for making mental health matter throughout the year

It’s been a few weeks since my last post. I am choosing not to berate myself for temporarily slipping out of the happy routine of regular writing, whilst attributing all blame for the pause very firmly at the door of the dusty chaos that is our current domestic situation. (We are in the midst of building work.) Dusty chaos really doesn’t suit my uber-fondness (ahem, intense need) for order and “just so-ness.”

What has spurred me into settling down to write now – even whilst covered in dust – was the slight time-sensitive element to this post. The ideas had been percolating in my head over several days, and finally last Sunday (22nd May) whilst I was singing at choir, they came to a point of “making sense” (to me at least) and, at last, formed the kernels of a blog post. Ideally I would have written this post sooner, but I didn’t and that’s ok, because here it is now.

Preface over (I do love a good preface).

Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 ran from May 16th to 22nd. This is an annual week of events, campaigning and awareness-raising about the importance of talking about, supporting, and enabling positive mental health, and continuing the amazing progress already starting to happen in ending the stigma associated with mental health issues. The theme of this year’s MHAW was relationships, because lots of evidence shows that strong, good quality relationships – at work, at home, with family, friends, within our communities – are fundamental to our health and wellbeing. (For more about why the Mental Health Foundation is campaigning for a greater recognition of the importance of relationships for good mental health, have a look here.)

Thanks to the brilliant energy and momentum which have come to surround MHAW, between May 16th and May 22nd my Twitter feed was buzzing about all sorts of events, workplace initiatives, and many inspiring stories about mental health – why it’s important we talk about it and, even more importantly, do something about it. That buzz felt really pretty powerful, and I encountered it in ‘real life’ too. Various conversations I was part of or heard about during MHAW were very exciting – in their openness, optimism, and their potential for connecting people and ideas on all things wellbeing.

This all got me thinking – “So one week is great. It’s really important. But ultimately the point is that we all do more of this kind of thing more often and, well, ideally most of the time. Recognising the importance of mental health – and cultivating a society where that’s possible – needs to become ‘the way we do things: the way we are.

So I set myself a little challenge, to choose five ‘moments’ (or even just fairly banal things that happened in the humdrum of my daily routine) during MHAW 2016 which were powerful in reminding me of why nourishing our mental health is so important. The idea is that I’ll use these 5 moments as little prompts throughout the year, long after MHAW has finished, as reminders of the importance of looking after my own and others’ wellbeing. Here are my five moments:

  • I was thrilled to IMG_6202be invited to speak at a MHAW event at my workplace about wellbeing and mental health. I talked about my experiences of multiple miscarriages, and how they affected me physically and psychologically. I also talked about how being open about what I’ve gone through – and feeling supported to do this at work – has been a huge part of my recovery. I was honoured to speak alongside my lovely friend, Eve Canavan, who told her amazing story about experiencing post-partum psychosis, her recovery, and how she’s now using her experiences to campaign for better support for perinatal mental health. You can read Eve’s wonderful blog here.Talking about my miscarriages (especially to a large group at work) isn’t always easy, but I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do, for me anyway. As I’ve written about before, my experiences of miscarriage – of loss and grief and finding hope and optimism after what I’ve gone through – are a huge part of my ‘story’. The reason I wanted to speak at the MHAW event at work was precisely because being open about my experiences is fundamental to my wellbeing (it’s why I started a blog), and being well means I’m happy and productive at work. Simple, see?! I realise that not everyone wants or needs to be so open about pretty personal stuff. But for those of us who do want to be open, I think it’s important that our workplaces make this possible, and I’m so grateful that mine does. Being able to bring our whole selves to work, and all the possibilities and skills and talent we bring with us, is so important. For more on this theme, I highly recommend this fab blog post by Clare Moriarty, a senior UK civil servant, about showing vulnerability as a leader.

 

  • On the Thursday of MHAW, I went on a magical train journey with my 3-year-old side-kick. ‘What’s so special about a train journey?’ I hear you say. Well, leaving aside the fact that I actually love trains, there was something about this train journey that was different to usual: I chose to take the slow train. Yes, as in I decided that getting to our destination by the fastest possible route wasn’t a priority. We took the slow road. We travelled from Redhill to Guildford on the stopping service, through some of the loveliest, leafiest parts of Surrey. And it was blissful – green, lush, rolling hills, sleepy stations, yielding an utterly enthralled 3 year-old. So lovely was it that, after our catch-up with some very dear friends in Guildford, we chose to get the slow train on the return leg too. Don’t get me wrong – I was also thrilled to arrive home to busy, noisy, London (I love London). But that train journey was a lovely reminder of the power of being in the moment, of watching my sidekick marvelling with wonder as she took in the beautiful greenery of spring whilst humming along to the sound of the train running along the tracks, and of giving myself permission to opt out of the fast route every now and then.

 

  • One of the most positive consequences of having multiple miscarriages (and there was more than one positive, believe it or not!) was discovering the therapeutic power of connecting to others with similar experiences. I have written before about my ‘RMC ladies’ – a group of women I met online who have all experienced recurrent miscarriage. They have been a constant presence and amazing source of support over the last few months (all the more amazing given I’ve not actually met them, so I’m cheating slightly to call this one of my ‘five moments’). What justifies the mention here is that during MHAW I confirmed plans to actually meet up with some of my RMC ladies. In real life! I am very excited about this. As a former super-sceptic about meeting people through social media, I feel very lucky to have met and befriended a bunch of amazingly strong, positive, wise and supportive women, and I’m excited to get to know them in person. All hail t’internet!

 

  • I suspect I’m rather late to the party in discovering the gem that is Elizabeth Gilbert, and her lovely book ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ Somehow, and with not-a-little serendipity, it was during MHAW that I encountered her work at last. I can’t profess to be an expert on it yet, but I was stopped in my tracks and filled with joyful resolve when I listened to her TED talk on creativity, success and failure. As someone who has long had a tendency towards setting myself ridiculous standards, this talk really resonated with me. By my reading, Elizabeth’s thesis is that to release ourselves from the shackles of judging ourselves relentlessly on our relative success or failure, we need to find and remain connected to the one thing that most ignites our heart (this is my paraphrase of her wise words!). To quote just some of her brilliant words from the TED talk: “Find your way back home again… (Find) the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house on top of it…. Diligence and devotion and respect and reverence. Whatever the task is that love is calling from you next.” The talk was very powerful in reminding me that life can actually be quite simple (notwithstanding all its busyness) – if we know what matters most in our hearts, and if through the busyness, we find enough space for what matters to us most.

 

  • Lastly and probably most frivolously, during MHAW I realised anew that I love colourful things and I will seek them out wherever they are to be found, because they make me smile. Admittedly, in this I am influenced quite a lot by my 3 year-old sidekick, amongst whose favourite things are: her pink sandals, her favourite fruity ice-lolly, her yellow lemon top, purple jelly for breakfast (why not, just occasionally), her box of colouring pencils, and (my own favourite) convincing her father to buy Mummy beautiful flowers ‘just because Mummy loves flowers.’ Simple.

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Those are my ‘five moments‘. If the ‘five moments’ idea resonates with you, I’d love to hear what yours would be. Get in touch 0 either comment below or email me lkosullivan [at] googlemail.com

For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week, the work of the Mental Health Foundation, and ways to look after your mental health, take a look here

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