I just wanted to end the year by sending you my new poem , partly on a Christmas theme. It’s been such an odd year, no one could have predicted what was to come.
But I’d like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas, whatever that looks like for you. I pray you’ll be able to take the day as it comes and remember the good things, no matter how small and simple they are.
I look forward to greeting you again in the New Year, and just wanted to make you aware that I’ll be running an online Winter Wellness workshop on Thursday 21 January in the evening. Please email email@example.com to register your interest. More details to follow…
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
I’d hoped to have published this blog a few days ago, to coincide with the end of #mentalhealthawarenessweek. However, I’ve also been working on a short autobiographical story, which I’ve now submitted, which I needed to complete first.
I just wanted to share some helpful resources and activities that have improved my own mental health recently:
1. Running or Exercise
This is particularly helpful for overcoming anxiety. Check out the NHS Couch 2 5K app, over 9 weeks, it takes you from mainly walking, inter-dispersed with short periods of jogging, gradually building up to running solidly for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. By the end, you are running 5 kms. I started in January, and this was my 3rd attempt to complete it, so I was overjoyed when I finished Week 9, Run 3! The aim is to keep going with the running and I’m pleased to say I am, and do my best to do it 3 times per week. I am kind to myself if I don’t manage this!
2. Doing more of what you love
A few months back, I’d stopped doing a lot of what I usually enjoy, as I was depressed and lacking motivation. For me, going for a walk in the park, practising my drumming and writing are fun things which give me enjoyment. I had to go through a phase of pushing myself do 1 enjoyable thing a day, even if I didn’t feel like it! By doing these activities, my mood definitely improved.
3. Challenging unhelpful thoughts
I know I’ve blogged quite a bit on this activity but I find it works! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) identifies your self-critical thoughts, acknowledges the emotions and body sensations you feel at the time, and then looks at the evidence for and against that critical thought. A new, more realistic truth is written down, and your emotions rated again, which helps reduce the negative emotions, thoughts and associated behaviours. This helps to lift your mood, as you think more realistic thoughts about yourself. You can ask your GP to refer you to your local Talking Therapies, or you can self -refer using the Single Point of Access (SPA) in some areas. There are also online computerised CBT courses available, such as Silver Cloud, which you can fit into your weekly schedule. Again your GP can refer you via your local Talking Therapies. As a Christian, I have also found memorising relevant Bible verses, to counteract the unhelpful thought too. Psalm 57: 3 reminds me that “My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.”
4. Reaching out to others you trust for help and support
This takes courage, I know, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. It may mean having to get over self critical thoughts of “I should be able to handle this myself” or worry about what others may think of you. I find those friends who aren’t judgemental, are kind and understanding are the ones I feel safe to talk with about how I feel. Sometimes our friends give us a fresh perspective and help us to see things more positively. Give someone a call, and have an honest chat or go out for a cuppa together.
5. Find out more about the mental health condition you are experiencing
Mind’s national website has an A-Z list of all things mental health, and recently I’ve found simple, informative pages on various conditions I’ve been researching. They also have a variety of guides on different conditions, including an Understanding Anxiety Guide and the different types of depression. They also have an online membership you can join with some good benefits, such as an online community.
Also, if you are a mental health service user or a carer, many mental health trusts have Recovery Colleges, which provide free courses on many topics relevant to mental health recovery, e.g. Understanding mental health conditions, personal recovery, managing stress, self-compassion and getting back into employment. Look up your local mental health trust website and search for “Recovery College” to find out about your local courses. In Central & North West London Foundation Health Trust, Recovery College courses and timetable can be found here.