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The Mindful Approach to Breaking Habits

2021 is upon us and perhaps you’ve committed to a New Year’s Resolution. Like many resolutions before, I’m tackling the smoky spectre of nicotine addiction, but this year I’m taking a different tack.   

I’ve spent the festive break immersing myself in mindfulness practice (specifically following the ‘Waking Up’ app mindfulness training programme from Sam Harris) and reading a lot on the topic.

A book that resonated with me is ‘The Craving Mind’ by Judson Brewer M.D., Ph.D.

In the following blog, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned, more to spark your curiosity than to provide a step-by-step instruction on how to break whatever habit haunts you.

Let’s start with the basics – habits are difficult to break. This will probably be self-evident to us all. Whether our latest attempt at cutting out sugary snacks has gone downhill, or we’re bugging flatmates for a cigarette after swearing off them (whilst dramatically casting the contents of an almost full pouch of rolling tobacco down the very real, non-proverbial, toilet…)

Brewer asserts that mindfulness in the West has become a term synonymous with meditation and self-care, but for him it comes down to science. Brewer says that mindfulness as a concept has been hijacked by misunderstanding and hype. For instance, many believe that the goal of mindfulness is to empty your head of all thoughts. That’s a difficult thing to do, and if you’ve tried mindfulness under that assumption, Brewer states that you’re destined for disappointment. 

Mindfulness is actually about paying close attention to our thoughts and behaviours, not trying to rid ourselves of them. When we pay careful attention, mindfulness helps us clearly see the costs and benefits of any given situation. Mindfulness can help us overcome anxiety, cravings, and addictions, according to Brewer. For example, one study demonstrated a 48 per cent reduction in anxiety among participants after completing an evidence-based mindfulness training program. Brewer cites many other examples of success not only with anxiety, but also with smoking, social media use, and overeating.

Brewer argues that the effectiveness of mindfulness is rooted in neuroscience. Our brains are wired based on the most evolutionarily conserved learning processes—the reward-based learning system. This system has three steps: trigger, behaviour, and reward. For example, we see food and our brain says, “Calories! Survival!” Secondly, we have the behaviour: we eat the food. Finally, our bodies send a signal to our brains – something like, “Remember what you’re eating and where you found it”

We form what behavioural scientists call a context-dependent memory and learn to repeat this process next time. See food, eat food, feel good. Trigger, behaviour, reward. Brewer states that with time, however, the reward becomes so enticing that we no longer eat only when we’re hungry, but also when we’re stressed, bored, or even tired. Before long, overeating becomes a habit that can be incredibly difficult to break.

Choosing to act differently when stressed is particularly difficult in today’s world, complete with modern marvels like refined sugars and cigarette additives. We’re constantly bombarded by stimuli designed to make us crave and consume, stimuli that commandeer the reward-based learning system that evolved in our brains for our survival.

So why can’t we just control ourselves and decide to create new habits? After decades of promotion, the doctrine of self-control continues to dominate even though research shows that the brain networks associated with self-control, such as the prefrontal cortex, are the first to go ‘offline’ when faced with triggers such as stress.

Experientially, we’re all probably familiar with this to some degree: I know I’m much more likely to annihilate a packet of biscuits or rapidly work my way through a pouch of tobacco when I’m stressed, regardless of any prior commitments to the contrary. The self-control rhetoric is likely just as familiar. Want to lose weight? Quit eating junk food. Want to stop smoking? Go cold turkey or get some nicotine patches to wean yourself off smoking. According to Brewer, this just doesn’t work in real life.

Enter mindfulness. Brewer promotes it as a tool to tap into the reward-based learning system to ‘hack’ and rewire our brains, so that we can tackle unwanted behaviours and overcome even the most pervasive, engrained habits. By paying close attention to all aspects of our conscious experience, we can start to notice the push and pull of cravings.

For example, in Brewer’s lab, smokers completed mindfulness training where they were taught breath awareness and how to pay attention to habit triggers and actions. The participants in this study reported a greater awareness of why they smoked, the behaviours they could substitute for smoking, and just how disgusting cigarette smoke smelled and tasted when they just paid attention. The study reported that mindfulness training was five times more effective than the existing ‘gold standard’ pharmacological approach to helping people quit smoking.

Practically, for me, when I experience the craving to smoke, I stop and pay close attention to how I feel in that moment. Cravings often cause us to behave like we’re on autopilot, and a lot of the research cited by Brewer shows that using willpower alone to resist them simply doesn’t work.

Blaming reward-based eating, for example, on lack of willpower ignores our underlying biology and the social and cultural contexts in which these behaviours develop. Only when we stop relying on willpower and recognise that we’re about to reach for that second piece of cake can we start to gain control and make a change.

With the simple act of paying close attention in the moment, we give our brains accurate and updated information. Awareness, or mindfulness, makes sure the reward value is accurately updated in our brain. However, Brewer states that this is only part of the solution.

The next step, he argues, to creating sustainable, positive habit change is to find a new reward that is more rewarding than the existing behaviour. Instead of just going along with a craving to smoke, or eat a cake, to counteract a negative emotion like stress, he advocates substituting curiosity about the craving itself as a new behaviour.

The reward value is tangibly different. Curiosity feels better than craving. It opens us up, instead of anchoring us to some frenzied drive to consume. Curiosity is obviously much more enjoyable than the self-blame and rumination that often accompanies the habits we’re trying break.

To tap into curiosity, Brewer advocates a simple mantra: ‘What does this craving feel like?’

I’m still a novice when it comes to mindfulness practice, but it’s already helped me to implement significant behaviour change around smoking, without crutching on my usual arsenal of nicotine patches, inhalators, lozenges, and gum. I’ve touched on some big ideas here, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve done them justice, so if you’re interested, I’d recommend listening to ‘Judson Brewer – Mindfulness and Addiction’: a conversation with Sam Harris, available on the ‘Waking Up’ app (and probably elsewhere if you’re wily!) There’s also Brewer’s book, which delves into this topic in much greater detail and presents a lot of interesting research to support the arguments presented.

Happy New Year to all, and good luck with whatever habit you might want to flush down the proverbial toilet.

 

Karl O’Shea

Service User Participation Lead – Youth Services

 

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 13th January 2021


I Hate Christmas

For as long as I can remember I’ve hated Christmas. Now this hate for Christmas probably started when I realised I wasn’t going to get everything on my Christmas list and my mum would make my sisters and I wrap our own presents (can you imagine). I would always try to muster up some excitement for the upcoming Christmases, after all, it’s one of the biggest and most loved holidays on earth, but… Christmas and I just never clicked.

 

Growing up things weren’t always smooth sailing at home; from the pile of bills on the table, to family discord, something was always up. I always envied the happy narrative displayed on the TV adverts every December because that wasn’t my reality, I envied hearing about people’s family traditions because we didn’t have any, I was always jealous of how people’s families came together to share such precious moments with one another because it felt like mine was always falling apart.

 

For as long as I can remember I’ve hated Christmas and to my surprise these feelings still stick with me and I haven’t grown out of it like I thought I would. However, the irony of this is, despite my sisters and I having very similar experiences, they, my older sister in particular, became so motivated for us to have better memories. Recently she has taken the lead and not only organises our Christmases now but has initiated some new family traditions, traditions I thought we’d never have. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve grown to really love some aspects of the day, like when we eat food and open gifts- who wouldn’t!

 

And whilst I acknowledge not everyone may have a certain loved one in their lives and may be feeling somewhat down this period, I would like to share a few things I have learnt in the past year or two from this experience of mine.

 

  • We have the means to re-write our stories. Our lives are not all “doom and gloom” and despite it seeming that way at the start, you have the ability to change some things around and give yourself the chance to have the best happy ending. (Mental)

 

  • Brighten up your space. I’ve always appreciated the lights that go around a Christmas tree and one of my favourite things to do is to turn them on in the dark and have only them on whilst listening to my favourite playlist. I’d encourage you to open the curtains in the morning, get some fairy lights, put on your favourite playlist, get in the kitchen and make your favourite dish. Do something that will brighten up your space. (Practical)

 

  • Try something new. Be open to the possibility that things won’t always be bad for you; put yourself out there and reach out to someone, try a new meal, help at a community foodbank, accept help from your community foodbank, start a new tradition e.g. let’s start naming 3 things we’re grateful for every Christmas morning. (Practical/ Mental)

 

If you’re wondering whether “I hate Christmas” still, let’s just say my favourite Christmas movie is “The Grinch” for different reasons (I’m getting there).

 

“Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” – Kung Fu Panda

 

Merry Christmas & A Happy Happy Happy Happy New Year

(*Happy… an extra one for luck!)

 

P.S. For those of you eager to make something good out of what’s left of 2020 I’ve compiled a list of activities and community organisations you can volunteer with or simply attend : )

 

Local Foodbank (Hammersmith & Fulham):

hammersmithfulham.foodbank.org.uk

Local Foodbank (Ealing):

ealing.foodbank.org.uk

Volunteering opportunities:

https://www.caritasvs.org.uk/coronavirus.php

Christmas baking recipes:

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/christmas-baking-recipes/2

A 2020 friendly Christmas bucket list:

https://www.countryliving.com/entertaining/g2801/christmas-bucket-list/

Christmas movies to get stuck into:

https://www.timeout.com/london/film/the-50-best-christmas-movies

Christmas Carols Concerts in London:

https://londonist.com/london/christmas-in-london/christmas-carol-concerts-services-london-christmas-2020

http://www.londonforchristmas.com/pages/what/concerts.html

Christmas Helplines:

https://www.itv.com/thismorning/articles/christmas-helplines

https://www.motherdistracted.co.uk/2019/12/christmas-helpline-numbers.html

 

by Abigail Omojafo

Volunteer Mental Health Advice Caseworker

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 18th December 2020


My Journey to Mindfulness

I’m sure you’ve all heard it before… “mindfulness is a great technique to improve your mental well-being”. For me, I most recently heard it from my GP, so I was on a mission to give it a go. I’ve been one of those people that downloads all the apps, but I never opened them after the first week. I decided that starting Monday I’ll attempt guided mindfulness meditation sessions with good old trusted YouTube.  

Monday came around and it was a stressful day, I knew I had a workout session planned and that would help reduce the anxiety and stress. But I wanted to commit to more, I wanted to take time out of my day to do my guided mindfulness session. I planned the session for a time when I thought I wouldn’t be disturbed; but I had no idea what to expect. I found an introduction video on YouTube that was 10 minutes long and of course I thought “10 minutes is nothing!”. I was very wrong.

During the session I had many different thoughts going through my mind, mostly reflecting on my day. I couldn’t get myself away from those and pick up on about all the little noises I could hear around me. About 5 minutes in, I stopped the session early. I felt calmer and less anxious than before, so I thought “that was great and so what I didn’t finish the full session”. 

After my first session, I knew I wanted to do better and put 100% into my sessions. I spent some time looking online for tips on how to maximise the effectiveness of mindfulness. I got some great tips like use earphones to block out distractions and to experiment to find a time that suits me best. 

It took some time for me to give mindfulness sessions a go again. In my next session I used the app “Calm”, and I tried the techniques mentioned. I experimented to find perfect time in the day for me and I used earphones to block out distractions. Did it help? Yes. Was it a perfect session? Definitely not. I attempted their 7 days of calm course and set up daily reminders so I would have no excuse to not get it done. Saying that, it did take me 14 days to finish a 7-day course…

After about a month of trying, I found I wasn’t able to stick to a routine with mindfulness. I did like the sessions but was I excited for my mindfulness time? Not really to be honest. I decided that instead of trying to force mindfulness into my life, I would be better off trying other techniques to improve my mental health and finding what really worked for me. 

What I have learnt through-out this journey so far:

  • It’s okay to admit when you don’t like an activity.
  • Be open to getting tips and advice from people with a similar experience.
  • If something worked for someone else and not me, try something different. After all, we are all individual.
  • Routines take a long time to build, and don’t feel guilty when it’s not going 100% to plan.
  • Just because I didn’t get into a routine with mindfulness, doesn’t mean I didn’t benefit from it. But also, I can try it again in the future. My journey hasn’t finished, it’s constantly evolving.

Things to try to improve your mental well-being.

Mindfulness – I used the free apps “Calm” and “Headspace” or if you’re looking for an alternative try YouTube.

Journaling – A beginners guide for you to read

Gratitude – You’d be surprised how much you do this without even trying https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/40-simple-ways-practice-gratitude.html

Walking – I found walking in a park was so much more relaxing than walking on a busy road.

Take a break from work/personal life/technology and enjoy a conversation with the people around you.

Get advice and tips from people with similar experiences. You’d be surprised how many people can relate to what you’re going through.

Try something new – you never know what you might end up loving. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/fun-things-to-do-at-home/

Ask for help if you need it. Single Point of Access, West London Trust have a 24/7 phone number for mental health advice and information. Their phone number is 0800 328 4444.

 

By Hemali Manek

Mental Health Advice Caseworker

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 4th December 2020


Safeguarding Adults and Covid-19

“Safeguarding adults means protecting a person’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect.”

 

With the global pandemic taking over and the potential for a second wave on the horizon, it is key that safeguarding adults is at the forefront of our thinking and remains an organisational priority.

The pandemic has highlighted key vulnerabilities in people due to age, disability, an impairment or poor mental or physical health.

In addition, due to lockdown many businesses/organisations have closed, which has increased the financial hardship faced by individuals due to unemployment.

Perpetrators therefore continue to exploit such situations and individuals leading to more vulnerable members of our community.

 

Key safeguarding issues that have become more apparent during this pandemic include:

Money scams

Fraudsters claiming to help people out of financial difficulty, generic money scams which are more successful due to lack of contact with family members

Domestic violence

Perpetrated by and against both adults and children due to families living n confined spaces for long periods of time together

Neglect

Due to carers not being able to meet people as often or spend enough time with people. Or a lack of inspection of care homes and hospitals

 

Evidence has also highlighted that social isolation is key during this time and exacerbates the vulnerabilities of individuals as abuse or neglect may go undetected for a period of time.

Therefore, it is key that we are aware of these contemporary issues and continue to diligently report issues to the local safeguarding teams.

Safeguarding duties and responsibilities apply to adults who:

  • have care and support needs
  • are experiencing, or at risk of abuse or neglect and
  • are unable to protect themselves because of their care and support needs.
     

If any kind of abuse or neglect is suspected or disclosed, professionals have a duty to report this regardless of consent due to risk.

Therefore, if you have a safeguarding concern to report for adults in any area, please contact the local authority (council) where the abuse took place to find out how best to report it.

 

By Arti Modhwadia
Head of Adult Services and Safeguarding Adult’s Lead

 

Helpful contacts

Action Fraud: 0800 555 111

Victim Support: 0808 168 9111

National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk – run by Refuge)

The Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 (For male domestic abuse survivors – run by Respect)

The Mix: 0808 808 4994 (free information and support for under 25s in the UK)

National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)

Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7 service)

 

Emergency Numbers

In all emergencies: 999

 

Safeguarding Teams

Adults

Ealing

0208 825 8000

0208 825 8000 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected] 

 

Hammersmith & Fulham

0208 753 4198 option 3

0208 748 8588 (out of hours)

Email: h&[email protected]

 

Hounslow

0208 583 3100

0208 583 2222 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Kensington & Chelsea

0207 361 3013

0207 373 2227 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Westminster

0207 641 2176

0207 641 2388 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Harrow

0208 420 9453

0208 424 0999 (out of hours)

Email for community service users: [email protected]

Email for mental health service users: [email protected]

 

Children

Ealing

0208 825 8000

0208 825 8000 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Hammersmith & Fulham

0208 753 6600

0208 748 8588 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Hounslow

0208 583 6600 option 2

0208 583 2222 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Kensington & Chelsea

0207 641 4000

0207 641 6000 (out of hours)

Emails: [email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

 

Westminster

0207 641 4000

0207 641 6000 (out of hours)

Email: [email protected]

 

Harrow

0208 901 2690

0208 424 0999 (out of hours)

Email: duty&[email protected]

 

Mental Health Teams

Single Point of Access West London: 0800 328 4444 and 0300 1234 244 (24-hour help)

WLMHT (H+F, Hounslow and Ealing): Email: 

Single Point of Access Central and North: 0800 0234 650

West London CNWL: Email: 

CAMHS Ealing: 0208 354 8160

CAMHS Hammersmith and Fulham: 0208 483 1979

CAMHS Hounslow: 0208 483 1798 /  0208 483 2050 / 0208 630 3237

CAMHS Kensington and Chelsea: 0203 317 3599

CAMHS Westminster: 0203 317 5999

 

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 20th November 2020


Life Changes During a Pandemic

I think we’re all pretty aware of how chaotic things have been this year – COVID-19 has thrown the whole world into turmoil and we’re not sure what’s going on from one week to the next. On top of this daily instability, I seem to have found myself going through some big life changes during this time too!

Back in March I was new to Mind, having only started at the end of February. This meant that by the time working from home was implemented and lockdown hit, I’d only actually spent about 3 and a half weeks in the office. It’s so odd to think that I’ve been with my team longer via Zoom than in person (but they’re all amazing and I feel close to them, so that’s great!). It’s definitely been a challenge settling in to a new job whilst everyone is also adapting to working from home and meeting via Zoom.

More personally, I started a new relationship during all of this too! Having been slowly dating for a few months, my boyfriend and I ended up having the dreaded “talk” the day before the first lockdown was announced. This meant that as soon as we got into a relationship, we didn’t see each other for over 2 months then could only see each other outdoors before eventually having a normal relationship. Finally able to have a normal relationship and seeing each other, we’d finally booked a week off in November to go away together and spend more time together – only for lockdown 2.0 to hit! This means limited contact outside again for the next month as we don’t live with each other.

Finally, I moved out of my shared house due to terrible housemates. I’m now living in Surrey for a couple of months with my aunt and uncle, which is great because I am in a nicer environment (I’m sure there are plenty who relate with horrendous housemates!), have nice people around in the form of my aunt and uncle, and the bonus is can save money. Moving is stressful at the best of times, but doing it whilst working full time AND during a pandemic is absolutely manic. I had a feeling a new lockdown was coming so pushed myself to work faster and be moved before it happened (and was in my new place 6 days before the new lockdown announcement so clearly timed it well)!

To summarise, during this year I have: gotten a new job, started to settle in only to then have to adapt to working from home; packed my entire life into boxes and moved home; entered into a wonderful relationship but had to deal with months of not seeing my partner. But – I did it! Overall, the biggest thing this has taught me is that I can do more than I realised or gave myself credit for. If I can do all this during a lockdown and pandemic, then I can tackle anything else thrown my way!

My gratitude has also increased hugely as a result of these changes. I am so grateful to have such a wonderful job and team around me that made working from home so early on doable. I’m also grateful for wonderful friends and a relationship that has lasted such big difficulties already (so is hopefully very strong!). I’m grateful to have family to look out for me and take me in to give me a more tranquil work environment.

I’d encourage everyone else to take stock and reflect on what has been a particularly difficult year for us all and congratulate yourselves for getting through it and anything you’ve overcome during this time with such a big shadow cast over us all – even if that victory is simply “I got through it” (or should I say “am getting through it”, my optimism is making me a bit pre-emptive!).

 

By Jade Reed

Project Support Officer

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 6th November 2020


Feeling Under the Weather

The season is changing as we are moving into Autumn. The weather is getting colder and wetter; the amount of light we are getting is decreasing. Beyond weather, students are starting to settle into their new academic year and workplaces are getting busier. Not to mention, harsher COVID restrictions are starting to be put into place.

 

These changes may be influencing our general mood and behaviour. We may be finding we are feeling less motivated than we were in the Summer, or we are feeling “under the weather”. Alongside a dip in motivation levels, you may also be finding that your self-care routine is dwindling, affecting your mood further. But why is it so common to feel this way at this time of the year? There could be several reasons that can contribute to a dip in mood levels:

 

Summer is over

As Autumn begins, we mourn the Summer that has passed and brace the winter that is coming. When September hits, we try to get back into the swing of the routines that may have been dropped over the summer, and this could be a source of anxiety. Some may still associate this time of the year with going back to school, which can bring about a sense of trepidation. Not to mention those who are heading back to school – either to learn or to teach.

 

Seasonal change

In Autumn, it gets lighter later in the morning and darker earlier in the evening. This means we’re getting less sunlight, ultimately affecting how we feel. It only takes 5-15 minutes of sunlight to increase Vitamin D in the body, which helps reduce inflammation, modulate cell growth and keeps our bones healthy.

 

Getting your dose of daylight can also affect how well you sleep at night, as sunlight exposure produces a hormone called melatonin (responsible for helping you sleep). Another hormone the brain releases from sunlight exposure is serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel regulated.

 

Weather to motivate

In the Summer, it is generally understood that individuals feel brighter and more motivated, in comparison to the colder, wetter months. However, there is some research to suggest that in rainier seasons, people work more, simply because there is less distractions (12% workers admitted to extending their lunch break during good weather).

 

These are some reasons, which suggest how the change in season can affect some people, and it is worth highlighting that it does not affect everyone the same way. Some people may thrive in Autumn and enjoy the warmth of a hot drink and staying indoors. Some may not be bothered by the change at all. However, roughly 1 in 15 people in the UK is significantly affected by the dull weather.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is thought to cause a biochemical imbalance of the brain, associated to the lack of bright light. SAD can be presented as having sleeping problems, lethargy, overeating, depression, social problems, physical and behavioural problems.

 

How to make the most of Autumn

  • Get as much natural light as possible. Try to get that 15 minutes of daylight during your lunch break. If this is not possible, there are SAD lamps available to help produce serotonin and melatonin levels during the darker days.
  • Keep to a routine. Because it can be difficult to motivate yourself during the colder seasons, if you make a schedule of what you need to get done, you’re holding yourself accountable. Schedule in your workouts, phone calls and time to yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness. It can be difficult to highlight the positive things happening in the moment when you’re not in the mood, so it can be useful to notice what’s happening in your body. Are your shoulders tense, do your eyes need a rest from the screen, do you need to stretch your legs? Pausing to notice your body senses is a great first step to grounding yourself.
  • Put your waterproofs on and go outside. It’s really easy to stay cooped up inside when there’s limitations to where you can go and with who. However, feeling the cool air on your face and in your lungs is a great way to feel fresh and reset yourself.

 

If you would like to find some more information about SAD, visit:

 

NHS for an overview and treatments:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

 

Mind for causes, self-care and treatments:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/about-sad/

 

The Mix for symptoms, causes and treatments:

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If your mental health has been affected, contact your GP for an appointment, or call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you need to talk to someone immediately. 

 

By Jessie Au

Education Mental Health Practitioner

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 23rd October 2020


Pandemic Puppy

“Get a puppy” They said. “It’ll be fun!” They said.

As most parents prepared for their kids to start at school, I prepared to send my fur baby to a puppy creche. It was only when I went home, without him, that it hit me how much this little man meant to me.

Though my fur baby is an absolute joy, my introduction to ‘pawrenthood’ was like an unexpected slap in the face! I was so unprepared for what was about to go down. Believe me.

As if a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, I pushed myself to finish my house renovation, moved in and decided the house needed a puppy.

Day one was shocking. Putting rugs down was a thing of the past. My skirting boards became fair game as chew-toys and we did not get one minute to ourselves.

No one tells you about the sleepless nights, that lead to arguments because you’re both just so tired! Or the incessant biting that leave scars on your arms and holes in your best clothes!

Well, maybe they do tell you. But the gorgeousness of a baby bundle of fur overpowers all logic in your brain!

After many sleepless nights, lots of crying and despair we decided to take control of the situation. With the help of a great colleague, I got him a puppy trainer. And slowly the experience got better. We’re still not there yet. But it’s a definite work in progress.

He still makes regular cameo appearances on my Zoom calls. To call him anything less than a HFEH Mind employee would be a travesty! It was only last week a colleague alerted me to the fact that she could see him on the video, climbing on my front door and helping himself to my post. We no longer have use for our paper shredder and I’m not sure I’ll ever know what that bill was.

He’s also super clever but his intellect is used in the most sneaky ways! He can steal food off the countertops without us even noticing! Or nick socks from the laundry rack outside. When there is silence, there is trouble.

It was an absolute learning curve for us and a steep one at that! Though we had our tough times…. and believe me they were tough! To see him grow, learn and thrive- makes it all worth it!

He’s also taught me a thing or two about my own wellbeing:

 

  • To have work-life balance. I’ve struggled to achieve for the last ten years. But now I know he needs my time, so I prioritise clocking off at 5. I’m still not perfect at this but it’s better than before.

 

  • To understand that cleaning is not the most important thing in life. I spent 18 months renovating my home waiting for it to be perfect and clinically clean! I quickly learned it wasn’t going to stay like that with my bubba. Now I accept that he loves to play, which inevitably makes the house untidy. So ‘clean’, is good enough.

 

  • To take regular breaks. Normally he jumps onscreen during phone calls or meetings that have gone on for way too long. And though we’re working on the ‘don’t jump on me’ thing, it highlights that I need a break and he needs attention.

 

So, were they right when they said it would be fun? Yes. Definitely. It is fun. It’s a joy and a privilege to be a puppy mum to my little man! But it is hard. It requires commitment, being open minded and just letting things go with the flow.

 

By Arti Modhwadia 
Head of Adult Services and Safeguarding Adult’s Lead

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 9th October 2020


Book Review – Barking, By Lucy Sullivan

Content warning: mental illness, suicidal thoughts, hospitalisation.

 

Lucy Sullivan’s debut graphic novel, Barking, follows Alix Otto, a young woman haunted by the death (and possibly the ghost?) of her friend, and by a black dog that only she can see. It opens with Alix standing on a bridge over the Thames and the dog goading her to jump, when she’s picked up by the police and quickly taken to a psychiatric ward, where most of the book is set.

 

The black dog as a metaphor for depression dates back at least as far as Samuel Johnson[1] but Sullivan’s version is portrayed with unusual force and malevolence, a snarling, scribbly presence, sometimes lurking in the shadows of a scene and other times bursting out from the panel borders. The dog is also the voice of Alix’s intrusive thoughts, in speech bubbles scattered across the page, disrupting and confusing the narrative as they disrupt Alix’s thought processes.

Having a second character voice the protagonist’s interior monologue reminded me strongly of Sarah Kane’s work, particularly her play 4:48 Psychosis, and as in Kane’s work the impression is of someone under intolerable pressure, caught between the relentless haranguing of her inner voice on one side and the alienating, jargon-ridden speeches of the medical professionals on the other.

 

The art style is loose and scribbly, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz at his scratchiest, or Dave McKean having a particularly bad day, and with a confidence and fluidity to the figure drawing that demonstrates Sullivan’s background as an animator and life-drawing tutor. The art is perfect for the book and inextricable from the story it’s telling, but is hard to decipher at times, and might prove a barrier to people who are new to reading comics.

 

Barking is presented as a graphic novel rather than a memoir, and while Sullivan has been very open about her own experiences with mental ill-health in interviews, she’s also been clear that this isn’t  autobiography. Having said that, she clearly knows what she’s talking about. Some of the details – the evangelical nurse pushing Jesus as a miracle cure, for example, or the weird, elliptic conversations during group therapy sessions – chimed uncomfortably closely with my own experiences as a psychiatric in-patient.

 

The psychiatric ward as depicted here is a brutal and frightening place; definitely part of the problem rather than the solution. While this isn’t a universal experience of psychiatric hospitals, it’s common enough that it definitely should be part of the wider conversation about mental ill-health and its treatment. And the depiction isn’t entirely one-sided – Sullivan offers us a ray of hope by having one nurse, at least, show compassion towards Alix

 

This is a brilliant and challenging book about depression, but perhaps not one to read when you’re actually depressed. But if you’re feeling brave and you’re interested in the current state of the art of comics as an artform, I’d say it was necessary reading.

 

Barking, by Lucy Sullivan

Published by Unbound, 2020

ISBN 978-1-78352-880-6

128pp Hardback, £16.99

Available to buy from Lucy Sullivan’s website: https://lucysullivanuk.com/

 

If you’re currently affected by depression, contact your GP for an appointment, or call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you need to talk to someone immediately. HFEH Mind also has a list of other sources of support in the West London area: https://hfehmind.org.uk/get-support/advice-and-information/

 

By Daniel Bristow-Bailey

[1]     http://alienson.com/files/Black-dog-as-a-metaphor-for-depression_a-brief-history_by-Paul-Foley.pdf

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 21st September 2020


Pandemic Parenting

As schools begin to return, I have had some time to reflect on the last few weeks (20 to be precise!) of how our home lives entirely changed overnight. Becoming a full-time homeschooler, continuing to work full-time whilst maintaining parental boundaries has been quite the challenge to say the least. Whilst it’s been quite an insightful experience, personally for me it’s time for my child to go back to school.

It all started so well with organised timetables, scheduled breaks, exciting experiments and Spider-man lunges with Joe Wicks to start the day. We were full of enthusiasm and thought it will only be for a few weeks at the very most. After all, I would be only be homeschooling one child, how hard was this going to be? The first few weeks went well, we even made it into the school newsletter, I thought ‘we’ve got this’ apart from the odd eye roll, we were thriving.

The novelty of ‘school’s out for summer’ for a 9-year-old was about to wear off and the reality of lock-down soon began to sink in. There have been slammed doors, tantrums, refusals to do pretty much anything other than play on the Nintendo switch and far too many days in pajamas. With everything used from bribery and the dreaded phrase every child hates ‘I’m going to have to call your dad if you don’t get on with your work’ – yep that’s right I had to go there.

I’ve worried relentlessly about the screen time; the school have been very organised but with all activities on Google classroom there hasn’t been much time away from the laptop. I have worried the online activities are not sinking in as much as the classroom activities would but what is the alternative? Our pre-Covid screen time rules have gone out the window, and left us negotiating time allowed for ‘free-time screen time’ versus allocated screen time for schoolwork.

During the pandemic I have learnt to pick my battles; core subjects have remained non-negotiable with others fading away. I can safely say my neighbors are pleased the French-horn was short lived. But the constant football and basketball (accidentally) being kicked over the wall into their garden I’m sure is wearing thin.

Parenting can be challenging at the best of times and the current pandemic is inevitably making parenting more stressful. Being a parent, teacher, and friend, has been incredibly difficult to maintain. I’m constantly questioning am I doing the right thing? Is my child happy? Somedays it feels like all I do is tell them to stop doing this or that or re-do their work again, whilst questioning is this what you produce at school or a special treat for me?

Balancing work and homeschooling are a challenge on their own, personally it is not something I would choose to do again. When my other half leaves for work each morning all jolly, all I can think is ‘take me with you!’ I personally do not feel qualified for this teacher role and welcome the time when I do not spend my evenings planning and researching tasks for the next day to keep my son immersed. As the weeks past trying to maintain professional at work was a thing of the past. Once your son pops into Zoom meeting to show the team his painting of a rainbow Heli-fish (Helicopter fish of course) it’s safe to say, our once bliss work-home balance has completely merged into one.

Reflecting on the last few months also gave me time to appreciate the fun memories we have made and cherish the time we have spent together. I have more appreciation for my son’s teacher’s than ever before, and I am fully prepared to apply for a place on ‘are you smarter than a 10-year-old.’

 

By Rachel O’Shea – Mental Health Advice Caseworker

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 8th September 2020


The Little Things Add Up

Since spending so much time at home during lockdown, I’ve realised I will do absolutely anything to put off little tasks. Whether its replying to a text; sending a parcel back at the post office; or sorting the flowers that are wilting in the kitchen; I just can’t seem to do it at the time at which it needs to be done.

Why is it so easy to look at these jobs and think, ‘I’ll sort that later’, knowing full well that it will be a long time before that happens. The list of jobs will then pile up, along with negative thoughts about myself for not being on top of things.

When I finally do these tasks, I feel a wave of relief and any anxiety I was experiencing is suddenly lessened. The more of these ‘odd jobs’ I do, the more my other worries – the ones I can’t do anything about – don’t seem as bad. Completing these tasks gives me an element of control, that during these corona times, is very hard to come by.

It’s taken me a while to realise this is the case. I don’t think I really appreciated the weight that these little ‘to-dos’ carry and the negative effect that endlessly putting them off can bring. But it makes sense, since we are so hugely influenced by our environment and it’s easy to forget that we need to look after it. Just by realising this, it doesn’t make it easy to suddenly do all of the boring chores I have waiting for me. Maybe I need to change the way I think about these tasks? Here are two suggestions that I’ve found helpful.

Firstly, I think it’s important to set aside enough time for the task. Not an abstract ‘later’, as we often do, prioritising other ‘more important’ things ahead of them. If we keep pushing them to the back of the queue, we’re not acknowledging the importance of them. Setting a specific time and completing the task can give you a sense of achievement.

It might also be useful to think of it as doing something for our ‘future self’.  It can be tricky to do something nice for ourselves as we often don’t see ourselves as deserving. It’s easy to put off the things we should do to feel better. But maybe it’s useful to think about the person you will become in an hour, or a week, month or year?  What if you were able to view your future self as a person who is worthy of being treated well? What if those tasks you put off, you complete as a ‘gift’ to  future you. Often, it’s a lot easier to do something nice for a stranger. For example doing the washing up late at night so that future you doesn’t have to come downstairs to dirty plates first thing in the morning.

This is just a reminder to take out your recycling, book in your car for that M.O.T and send that letter. Whether you just make enough time in your day, or imagine you’re doing it for your future self, you’ll definitely feel better for it.

By Emily Muntz

 

 

Author: HFEHMind
Posted on: 31st July 2020


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