Mental Health, Wellbeing

What I Learned From Being on Retreat – a Spiritual Reflection

Whilst reading Dr Kate Middleton’s Refuel book about managing stress and avoiding burnout, one piece of advice really stood out. She talked about taking some time out, even a few days, to rest and recover.


Fortunately, I’d been watching an online retreat from the Royal Foundation of St. Katharine’s and discovered that they were open for overnight stays. Swiftly I decided to book a two-day retreat for the following week. I couldn’t wait! After several months of being unable to find any respite, (I am a carer to one of my sons with special needs), I had become quite desperate for some space to myself. It gave me something to look forward to, kept me motivated for the wait I had to endure.

I was quite busy beforehand and didn’t really have time to plan ahead as to what I’d do whilst there. I started packing the day before but kept it to a minimum so that I could practise some simplicity whilst there. However, I include some items to pamper myself with, such as nail varnish, a face pack and an uplifting shower gel (to name but a few items!)

Statue of St. Katharine
The garden at the Royal Foundation

On the spiritual front, I also packed some Christian books to help me to destress and focus more on God. I was able to finish ‘If Not Now, When?’ by Fernando de Paula: a really helpful book, showing me how to better live in the moment and value each day that God has given me. I started reading this during lockdown but wasn’t in the best place to receive it. Over time my improved mood has meant that I have been more motivated and hence more open to completing the activities at the end of each chapter. On some level I’ve been able to let go of the past, feeling more positive and looking forward to what God has in store for me.

I have continued with Refuel and the chapter on staying calm that discussed practising mindfulness and introduced an exercise to try out really stood out. Previous chapters had looked at 1 Kings 19: where Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and was experiencing a low period after the adrenaline rush of this event. I reread this passage and contemplated how God refuelled him – Kate made the point before there was any healing for Elijah God made him rest, eat and drink. I was thankful to be in the tranquillity of St Katharine’s that was already providing these things. The food there was amazing, not having to cook, having healthy, gourmet dishes, really helped my mood and physical body. I felt challenged to be more mindful of making healthier and appetising meals on arriving home, increasing my fruit and vegetable intake that I’m sure my family will appreciate the more appetising bit!

Slowing down my daily pace also helped and I’m aiming to maintain this in even small ways, now too. I was kind to myself about relaxing my quiet time in the mornings so that it didn’t feel so rushed or a tick box exercise. The first morning I attended Morning Prayer in the Chapel and focussed on the liturgy and just being present in the moment. It felt so good to just breathe and ‘be’ a bit. No agenda, no plans apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner! I decided to do some writing for my mental health memoir around the theme of retreats!

The weather was beautiful, so I could sit out in their garden in the afternoon to eat lunch or read a book. I loved just enjoying the warmth of the sun on my face. I found journaling my thoughts really helpful, sometimes turning these into prayers for the issues I was grappling with.

I’d planned to meet up with an old friend living nearby and we met over a coffee at the Yurt Café, also run by the Foundation. It was a glorious sunny day to be sitting outside. It was wonderful to catch up on the past 2 years or so and how our kids were doing. In fact, it was a Spirit-filled time where we were able to share and pray for each other, picking up our friendship where we’d left off.

From the library I’d borrowed a few books: a meditation with art book by Sr Wendy and Surprised by Joy by CS Lewis, the first part of his autobiography. It was interesting to read about his childhood and where his Christian beliefs had started from. It was useful to see his writing style to feed into my own memoir writing too.

Canary Wharf

There was also plenty of time for solitude too: I woke early each day and took a walk down to the River Thames, a short walk from the Royal Foundation. One day I walked via Shadwell Basin to Wapping, whilst the next day I walked in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf , giving me the space to enjoy God’s natural and manmade creations which were awesome and quite overwhelming with the towering buildings! I saw the sunrise on Day 2 and caught some great light for my photos, including views into the City, across the River and of Canary Wharf. Sometimes I listened to worship music on my way but at other times enjoyed the silence and beauty around me.

I found the liturgy comforting in the Chapel services. Isaiah 43:18-20 leapt out at me:

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert

To give drink to my chosen people.”

God often speaks to me through water imagery and these verses gave me hope, a sense of being refilled and refreshed, ready to return to the real world.

My time away may have been different to previous retreats but one that blessed and uplifted me, restored and renewed me. As I assimilate back to family life, I intend to keep some of these practises alive to remind me of how God spoke to me and how to daily live this out.

Is there some way or some place you can get some quiet time to be with God? What does that look like for you? Perhaps diarise some time to make this happen in the next week or so.

Mental Health, Wellbeing, writing

How Writing helped me to survive lockdown and better manage my mental health

With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.

Credit: pixabay.com

Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.

Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.

Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.

What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?

Wellbeing

Exhaustion

Burnt out, weary, gasping for breath,

feeling oblivious yet spurring myself on because that’s what I do.

When I feel like this,

automatic responses against my inner

voice to stop,

calm down, take a deep breath

STOP.

Why is it so hard to stop?

To give myself permission to let go of

the relentless ‘to do’ list.

It’s so important to take care of myself

and break the childhood habits of caring for others at the expense of myself.

Memories, fears, past anxieties triggered. Can I get past them, break the cycle?

Only by giving them to God.

Letting Him take the burden.

Copyright © 2020 AT Kelly

Family relationships, Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing

How to intentionally rest whilst being present with my family

Posted with permission @mindinharrow from Instagram

I am thankful for a week’s rest from work and other admin but it’s been a challenge to switch off and stay off social media. However I now see the mental tiredness that being on a screen so much brings and the greater sense of peace that resting from it brings.

Taking more time for self-care and resetting boundaries with my family have also been of benefit over the week. Although I didn’t intentionally plan it, there’s been breakthrough as I’ve had a mini retreat and more time for God, soaking up the healing environment of the hills and mountains . More to follow on Instagram this coming week….

Mental Health, Social Media, Wellbeing

Your Social Media Connections Come at an Emotional Cost

Here is the blog I wrote for the Kings College London Alumni website last year but is still relevant, particularly whilst we’ve been on screens more during lockdown:

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/anita-kelly-your-social-media-connections-come-at-an-emotional-cost

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Family relationships, Mental Health, Wellbeing

Perspective (Five Minute Friday writing prompt)

Depending on your perspective of this Lockdown situation, you can see things in a positive or negative light, or oscillate between the two.

I know I started off very calmly and positively. My elder son’s school closed first and I took it in my stride. Then my younger son’s school also closed but there was a plan for being given and handing in work from home so things were ok. Gratitude was emphasised by my friends and I used this to remember what God has given us: a home, food to eat, each other and beautiful sunny weather to do things in the garden as a family. For someone who is often quite anxious I was surprisingly calm!

With all 4 of us at home, we started to work out a plan to share study space in the lounge and dining room, especially for our son studying for exams. At times, this positive attitude has given way to low mood, fighting the uncertainty of when lockdown might end and some sort of new normality appear. The challenge has been to keep reminding myself that this time will pass and we will be given our freedom to roam wherever we want to outdoors at some point. Lockdown isn’t forever!

This blog is taking part in this week’s Five Minute Friday, check out https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/04/23/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-perspective/ for more information.

Family relationships, Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

The Easy way to De-stress…by Singing!

“God inhabits the praises of His people.”

Psalm 22:3, The Bible.

Image Source: Oleg Magni via pexels.com

Have you read the research that says that singing is good for our wellbeing? There are now many choirs up and down the country for exactly that reason. In fact, in Harrow, More Than A Choir, Harrow Community Choir, was formed to benefit those of us with mental health issues, to boost wellbeing and self-confidence. When we try a new skill, this can build self-esteem and doing something pleasurable, rather than something necessary, can give us a dopamine hit, boosting our mood.

Over the past few months, my mood had been slowly going downhill, to the point where my husband brought up the issue whilst we were on retreat in Wales. I found myself bursting into tears and it enabled me to bring to the surface some of the problems that had been bothering me.

Since then, with my husband’s support, I’ve been seeking medical and spiritual help but started to focus again on singing worship songs to God in my daily quiet time. Initially, I would listen to “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength,” by Rend Collective whilst walking in the park or sing whilst in the shower. It was then I realised the power of singing out praises to God, despite my low mood. It encouraged and uplifted my spirit as I took my eyes off my personal situation and lifted my eyes to Him. So now, I’ve added singing some worship songs back into my prayer time, usually at the beginning to put the focus back onto God.

Whether it’s singing in the shower or verbally calling out praise to God during your prayers – how can you worship God and give Him praise today?

Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

Recommended Book: A Desert Transformed by Tracy Williamson

After recently reading “A Desert Transformed” by Tracy Williamson, a 40 day Christian Devotional book, I was really thankful for the insight it gave me. This was partly in going deeper in my relationship with God, but also bringing to light some areas of my life God wanted to bring healing and forgiveness into.

Each day’s reading consisted of a Bible passage, focusing on different aspects of our relationship with God, followed by some Tracy’s thoughts on what God was saying through those verses.

The past year has been a time of great change for me, having experienced a period of illness, followed by a decision to leave my previous job and seek God for where he wanted to be next. It’s been a time of recovery and healing, spiritually and emotionally, and God spoke to me powerfully through the pages of this book. Sometimes there were words of comfort in a time of grieving and sometimes it was revelation of stuff I’d been holding onto and God showing me how to surrender my pain to him. I realised there were things that God wanted to remove from my life that had been unhelpful and He had new things in store for me.

I’d recommend this book if you’re experiencing a difficult period in your life and need to see more clearly God’s hand at work. It encouraged me to see that even in times where I felt wasn’t doing much, God was still there, bringing new fruit into my life. There were also reminders of my identity in Christ, which I found helpful when I was struggling emotionally.

You can buy her book from Christian bookshops or use this link to buy online from Christian book shop, Eden.co.uk

I was given a free review copy of this book just before its release in the summer 2019.

Family relationships, Mental Health, Trainer, Blogger, Writer, Wellbeing

A blast from the past…reflecting on my first publication, gratitude for surviving teen puberty and a calmer life!

Just before leaving for our family holiday, I came across my achievements folder, which included this old 1990 Wycombe High School magazine. I’d kept it as the editor selected my cartoon of the return from a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Surprised that it had been included, particularly as I’d forgotten to add my name, it makes me smile.

Fast forward twenty nine years later, and it’s my elder son’s turn to experience the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition: this time by canoe! At the award ceremony, I found tears of joy springing up, to see just how far he’s come in the past 2 or so years.

From a socially isolated , angry and mixed up teen, fighting the changes through puberty, to a well-balanced, thoughtful and caring young man who is confident in his own unique identity and able to express his views in a respectful and clear way. In fact, he shocked his fellow students and teachers whilst on the trip, by finding his voice by assertively directing each team member in their rowing, ensuring the group made it to their destination in time! I am thankful for all the good that have come out of my son’s difficulties these past few years, as God has brought healing and redemption to a hugely painful time in our family.

We have just returned from a week in the wet, wilds of the Scottish Borders, refreshed, refined and relaxed, having built new family memories, where we’ve been blessed by each other’s company and learned more patience and tolerance of each other’s weaknesses!