Art as Therapy – a local example with Donna McGhie and Powertex

Art as Therapy – a local example with Donna McGhie and Powertex

Several years ago I had the privilege of meeting Donna McGhie at a business networking meeting. We are kindred spirits in many ways. Whilst I talk about mental health, teaching the language, knowledge and sufficient skills to address mental health issues on a first aid basis, Donna is very practical running workshops releasing our creativity and giving us some much-needed downtime or breathing space.

Donna writes –

It is often said that people can “lose themselves in art.” I disagree with this. I strongly believe the opposite is true. In my experience, we ‘find ourselves in art.’ I am a self- employed artist and I run Powertex® fabric sculpting workshops which are suitable for all ages and abilities.

Without fail, after almost every workshop, someone takes the time to come up to me and tell me how therapeutic they have found it to be. Often though, it is someone who is genuinely surprised at how much they have gained from simply taking a few hours out, just for themselves. More than once people have become overcome with emotion in a positive and cathartic way. Sometimes, these are people with a diagnosed mental illness and are well aware of the benefits engaging with creativity can have for their well-being. At times like these, I feel really honoured to have played a part in this release.

There is a lot of pressure on all of us nowadays to act a certain way, to think a certain way, to look a certain way. If we don’t naturally slot into the various boxes that society, predominantly social media, expect us to, we find ourselves in danger of losing who we are as we try to gain access to a box. Metaphorically we end up squeezing uncomfortably into someone else’s ill-fitting shoes simply to fit in. Sadly, the pressure to fit in is starting at a younger and younger age and schools now have to work to improve things by becoming educated about mental health issues and engaging with counsellors and inclusion workers.

Donna McGhie

Donna McGhie – the artistic and creative force behind the Powertex workshops – art as therapy

 

Art and creativity are safe ways of kicking off those too tight shoes and dancing barefoot in the woods if that is your thing. I have honestly been surprised by some of the feedback I get from my workshops:

‘I suffer from a lack of confidence.  Donna’s workshops give me an amazing sense of accomplishment.  I leave them feeling incredibly pleased with myself.  Not only have I met some lovely people, I have tangible and lasting proof I am, in fact, quite artistic. It really does my confidence a world of good.’  S, Southampton.

 

If you would like to know more about what Donna does go to her website here or contact her directly by email on donna.mcghie@sky.com

Oh Wow What a Week – lessons in learning to respond not react

Oh Wow What a Week – lessons in learning to respond not react

The past seven days or so have been rather busy and somewhat draining. There is good stuff and not so good stuff.

The good stuff revolves around signing an associate trainer agreement with an organisation to deliver the courses I am accredited to do, on their behalf – the sort of work I enjoy. There is also more work being booked into the diary and some red hot prospects in discussion. These give me that cosy warm glow of accomplishment and satisfaction. With the not so good stuff, hang on a moment; let’s call a spade a spade. The bad stuff has been diverse and I told the universe (karma if you will) that I must be doing something right due to the flack I was taking!!

Yes, even I get flack and have to deal with it. So what flack? How have I dealt with it? How do I feel about it? Each issue has made me stop and think, and wonder how to respond. I have written elsewhere about responding to challenge rather than reacting against it. This week I have responded well – taking time to make considered decisions and take appropriate action. For once (yeah!), I have responded, not reacted, not fired from the hip and gaffed it, having to eat humble pie afterwards! So what am I patting myself on the back for? It is kind of hard to detail without divulging identities, which I wish to keep hidden in order to protect the innocent and the guilty. That said, the basic lessons are there and those I’ll share. And yes, some of the details have had to be fudged a bit for privacy (sorry)!

One of the groups I am an administrator is a social group. One of the lovely members posted an advert for a particular type of event in a particular type of venue. I loved the idea of the event, it personally appealed to me, and I am wondering if my diary will let me include it, so I was happy to approve the post. More importantly, that post fitted the group ethos. A few days later one of the members attacked the event in the venue, dogmatically quoting higher authority as to why it was wrong for that event to occur in that venue. Initially, I was somewhat gobsmacked that this type of fundamentalism was happening in my community; but then, going back 20 or so years I might have done the same thing (I have, I hope learned a thing or two in the intervening time!). The comments were verging on the personal in terms of their criticism and judgement.

But how was I going to deal with it? I know of other groups that would have simply barred the criticiser, for not conforming to the group’s aims, goals and accepted behaviour; but I wanted to be inclusive. To me barring the person would have been just as unacceptable as the posts I was seeing and I learnt growing up that two wrongs do not make a right. So my actions, in short, were to let the advert stand, delete all the comments (both the supportive and the judgemental ones) and block future commenting on that post so it could not re-start. I added a note that the social group was that – a social group, there were other, more suitable forums, for “that type” of discussion, but this group was not one of them. Via a direct message an apology was given to the event advertiser, telling them what I had done and asking if they were happy with that (they were, thank you). I then decided to wait a few days to see what transpired, if anything new. To my mind, an apology was due from the person to the advertiser, a common courtesy.

I can note that no apology will be given as the person causing the problem has left the social group. We could read all sorts of things into that, but we should not as it would be speculation based on our personal subjectivity and life experience. If they ever read this blog and recognise themselves – I bear you no malice and sincerely wish you well.

What else has happened? Ah yes, I was nearly assaulted by a gobby mouthed seven year old in public. Goodness gracious me! Do you remember those days when you are walking somewhere with your children and one of them has a total meltdown; the terrible two’s that can become terrible three’s and foul four’s? I heard the commotion and stopped to people watch. My heart melted for the mom trying to assuage a toddler (the middle child) having a tantrum, rolling on the pavement and screaming loudly whilst an older child was fuelling the fire and yelling at mom to get a move on – it appeared to me that this one was playing up, demanding attention, trying to distract Mom from the heaving fireball writhing on the ground. In a buggy safely strapped in, sat the little one, bless them, oblivious to the chaos ensuing behind. Mom did what all moms do in this situation – picked up the wriggling screamer, grabbed the buggy handle and walked on… for about 3 steps. For her efforts, the middle child in her arms hit her several times in the face, wriggled like an eel and had to put down for their own safety. A few moments later mom picked this one up again (still screaming) and progressed a few more steps before the elder child took a running swipe at them, missed and almost ended up in the road (thank goodness there were no cars). Jo Public was either staring or embarrassed and walked on by. Those with children of a similar age range were no doubt thinking “And there but by the grace of God go I!”

At this point, I couldn’t help it. Mom needed another pair of hands. If someone pushed the buggy, that gave her two hands to calm the middle child down and perhaps the older child would be happier as peace would have been restored and progress towards home would have been made. So I walked over. Without going into detail the older child screamed at me, threatening to hit me (not once but twice). They very loudly didn’t care that mom needed help; I just had to go away. Realising I was might be making matters worse I apologised to Mom and left, getting out of the line of sight by heading off down a cut-through.

I have no idea how that debacle turned out. I can only imagine what I would have done in that situation and tears are included. Could I have done better? Been more effective? Certainly. The older child may have believed they were protecting Mom from a stranger and I can understand that, but violence, actual or threatened has not, does not and never will make things better. I have said before that if we ever have world war three it will decide what is left, and not who is right. And where and from whom did the older child learn that behaviour? My mind boggles. Mom, if you ever read this and would like a cup of tea – contact me. At the very least I would like to give you a hug, a few moments of downtime and commiserate that raising children can be b****y difficult at times. Been there, done that, and we survive to tell the tales!

The third contentious issue concerned a blog post I wrote. Well, sort of wrote. I quoted from someone else’s post as I thought the post was a good one. Being a fair individual and liking to give credit where it is due I cited the original author, as one should. It did not take long before comments and personal messages started being received about fraud, lies and a variety of falsehoods revolving around that other author. Looking at it logically, it sounded initially like some people had revenge and retribution as their agenda. That is how the messages came across. I looked at the words I was quoting in my article, in their own right they were good, very good and I had quoted from a good post. If the author had done a crime and done the time then that was okay by me.

It took a persistent phone caller – you know the ones you play telephone hopscotch with. They call and you are driving so cannot answer. You call them and it goes to voicemail. They call you back and you are in a meeting and cannot take their call. You call them and again it goes to voicemail, and you begin to wonder if it is a joke or one of “those” phone calls – you know the type, PPI, telemarketing or similar. The persistent caller and I did eventually speak. The short version is this. Despite the post being a good one, it is possible that the fraud, lies and falsehoods may be continuing. I, therefore decided, for the greater good, to take my blog down. If someone was to follow up the original author and any difficulties ensued, I would be mortified! That said I shall in time write another version of that article using my own experience. And in the interim, there is a person on social media I shall be keeping a distant eye on!

Photo by Rich Jones

Why this picture? Because it is a good picture and I am sharing good things! Photo by Rich Jones on Unsplash

Ending on a good note – there are other good things that have happened in the past week too. I received my tax calculations back from the accountant; there is less tax due than I thought. Looking forward to next week I will take a train heading north and add a seventh course to my portfolio of mental health awareness and first aid courses.  Have a good one. Week, that is 🙂

 

Hygge and Good Mental Health

Hygge and Good Mental Health

There is something special about spending time outside, with friends around a campfire. The togetherness, a hot drink, clutching a mug, telling stories. Closeness. Laughter.

The Danish call it hygge (pronounced “hooggah”). Meik Wiking describes hygge as cocoa by candlelight. Others translate it as “the art of creating intimacy” or “coziness of the soul”. In its essence, hygge can be described as the feel-good factor binding ourselves to others. There are a lot of other factors but they distill down to great mental health, a “with it in the moment” time.

Meik’s lovely book “The Little Book of Hyyge – the Danish way to live well” is packed with all things hygge. But then as the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, he should know. To create the right atmosphere we need to follow a few guidelines from lighting (candles), food (of the comfort variety, of course) and clothing (comfy and relaxed) and of course (but not essential) friends. The atmosphere of hygge is sumptuous and feeds all our senses. If it is taste, the food is sweet and delicious or has added richness. The sound of hygge is waves lapping on a beach, a splashing waterfall or fountain, wind in the trees or the gentle luffing of sails. What does hygge smell like? Like the first rains after a long dry spell, of fresh bread or a roast cooking, or early morning freshness and flowers. Hygge feels like a warm wool sweater, the smoothness of a wooden table or a ceramic mug, of fur, throws and leather, it is warm, rustic and organic. To see hygge we look at the glow of logs in a fire, or the northern lights dancing overhead and stars on a crisp cold night, of lightening outside when we are cozy inside, of gently falling snow in the darkness, at a flickering candled flame.

Great hygge and good mental health are well matched. To learn more, read Meik’s book obtainable here.

Hygge around a campfire

Togetherness, with friends around a campfire.Special times and special memories.

What is Mental Health?

What is Mental Health?

We all have mental health and there is no health without mental health. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, I am presenting a series of articles covering a variety of issues around mental health to increase our knowledge of the subject in general. The more we know the more we can decrease the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. Let’s get started.

So What is Mental Health?

A good starting point is with some definitions:

Mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we interpret events. It affects our capacity to learn, to communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships. It also influences our ability to cope with change, transition and life events: having a baby, moving house, experiencing bereavement. (Dr. Lynne Friedli, 2004)

Mental health is part of our overall health – a good barometer for the quality of our mental health is shown by (MHFA England):

  • How we feel, think and behave
  • How we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life
  • How we feel about ourselves and our life
  • How we see ourselves and our future
  • How we deal with negative things that happen in our life
  • Our self-esteem or confidence
  • How stress affects us

Mental health is the emotional and spiritual resilience which enables us to enjoy life and to survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in our own, and other’s dignity and worth. (HEA, 1997)

Mental health is a level of psychological well-being or an absence of mental illness. It is the “psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment” (WordNet Search, Princeton University). From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life, and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. (Wikipedia)

In short, we can sum up mental health as everything that has happened to us in the past that has set us up for how we respond to events and issues today. That response can be emotional (how we feel), physical (what happens in our body) and mental (what we think about it).

 

Future articles will cover the impact of mental ill-health, when is a behavior a problem and what symptoms to look for in various illnesses.