Mental Health is the New Kale

Before I even start this piece, I want to say that this post is not intended to demean anyone with mental health issues.  At all.  My target rather is the politicians and celebrities who are rather cynically in my opinion ‘raising awareness’ for their own causes.  If you have to deal with your mental health in any way, I wish you love and cuddles.  Or at the very least, a smiley wave from across the room if you don’t want people in your personal space.

I suppose I have rather given the game away with that above caveat, haven’t I?  But in the interests of my own mental health, I shall continue post haste to the meat of the issue.

It had been an aggressive morning.  The persistent rain had me shirty before I even left the house, a shirtiness taken to boss level by the white van parked across the pavement but 20 yards from my house, blocking the path, forcing me to deviate from my predestined path and shove the pram (yes I was with son) across the road.  I shouted and tutted at the workmen who looked on openmouthed, so stunned by my vitriol  as to be rendered immobile, unable to apologise, fall to their knees with shame or even move the goddamn van.

I had made an impression. I waited on the other side of the road to see if they were going to move the van in a rush of guilt and responsibility, but HID the fact that I was checking on them by looking at my phone; a classic mum – spy technique (and not at all suggestive that I could perhaps do with a chat about my own mental health).

Most of the time I wish I didn’t have a phone, especially one with such an eager to please commitment to current affairs.  My phone is always sharing headlines with me, like a cat, dragging bird entrails into my mind-porch.  Harmph.  I hate the news, too.

But the headline of choice this morning sent me beyond boss level shirtiness.  It was this:

‘Theresa May Vows to transform Mental Health Support’ (The Mirror)

Two things – and I will deal with the lesser one first.  If a politician ‘vows to’ do anything, in my considered opinion and experience, it don’t mean shit.  If you vow, pledge or promise, it means that you haven’t done anything to this date.  It’s an acknowledgment of failure in political circles.  Show me your progress, not your process, Theresa.  (Note:  since I was first angered by this article, Mental Health Professionals have come forward to say that such a ‘vow’ means nothing unless backed up by funding.)

Secondly, why Mental Health?  Why not? She added, lazily.   My beef here is that the broad term ‘Mental Health’ is veering dangerously close to buzzword territory and is in danger of losing its impact as a social condition affecting millions of people.  Carrie Fisher spoke about her mental health with humour, with gravity and from diverse experience – and as such came closer to resolving the stigma around the subject than anyone ‘vowing’ to ‘tackle’ Depression for example as if it were a boil to be lanced.  Mental Health is the new Kale – its worthy to talk about and people like to hear about it, but few who are talking about it know what to do with it.

But hey, its not Brexit, is it, hey Theresa?  Must give you a bit of a break, just to emptily vow something.  I have an image of the PM slowly drowning in a lake of Headlines, bravely waving a sprig of kale overhead.

 

 

 

An elegant ‘now’ monkey

Noises Off Experiment:  Completed!

This week has been pushing back the cuticle of noise and distraction to reveal some lovely healthy brand spanking new thoughts and sources of creativity underneath.  Like pushing back a cuticle, it has involved some commitment; not because I have particularly missed noise and distraction, but because, if you have read the rest of my blog posts, you will know that I have been preoccupied with my thoughts to the detriment of thinking about my body and ‘the moment’.

And this has been mighty frustrating at times …

Overall, I think I’ve made some headway. I’m proud to say that I don’t crave an episode of Mad Men or even John Humphreys in the morning and although  I’m a long way from ‘cured’ (which is completely the wrong phrase to use) I feel  more fulfilled and  excited by the prospect of living a quieter life.

So what have I found out from this week?

I can be more productive if I take the time to switch off external noise as far as possible and engage a little.  And my choice of words is deliberate – there is a big difference between swtiching off and blocking out, which would have required some effort on my part and would have meant that I was still having to account and repair for outside distraction.  Nope, best to cut it off at the source, which means no telly, radio or music.  Rip off the plaster!

My mind, as it turns out is not a lonely wanderer, but an amateur rockclimber.  It has all the kit, but by golly is it nervy! It clings to precipices of dark thoughts, refusing to budge for hours, dangling on the same phrase, riffing on the idea of ‘you can’t do this you can’t do this you can’t do this’, rather than loosely swinging from moment to moment like an elegant ‘now’ monkey.  How I long to be an elegant ‘now’ monkey!

But who knows? Awareness is half the battle and being forced to listen to my thoughts incessantly has made me take them less seriously than before. I feel that if I keep turning off that which I am not consciously listening to, I may be able to live more easily in the present.  A week is a starting point, and I will maintain an audio fast as a practice, maybe two days of the seven to begin with…. and take it from there.

But if you are interested in living mindfully I strongly recommend taking a break from outside noise  to foster your creativity and mental balance. One day we all might And move from the cliff-face of distraction to the treetops of fulfillment!

Stef

Enjoy the Silence

Noises Off Experiment:  Day 5

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

Living in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I have been blessed with an incredible view of the surrounding hills. The sky high rent affords me a sky high view of the brink of the shoulder of the Pennines, as it mooches off towards Scotland.  The weather at the moment is hormonal, swinging from sunny spells to fierce rain and the sky is a real Rorschach most of the time.  I like to think that the clouds are not the source of the problem, but its victim, pinioned to the sky, forced to obey whatever the weather throws at them (charming naivety or idiocy: you decide).  Whatever, I’m a cloud champion and today they have been majestic.  Great merchant ships of grey, looming into my window vision like the Deathstar, unencumbered by the literal sturm und drang which surrounds them.  They were immense and well ….cloud, in myriad forms right the way  to the horizon.  I tried some mental word association to see what would happen.  It went like this:

Kansas

Dorothy

Ruby Slippers

New Shoes

Aldo

I evidently need some mind opening alongside my audio fasting!  Still, taking in the clouds made me think about the term luxury and how misleading my perception of it is.  I think of luxury as a sky high apartment and a flatscreen, for example.  But at least the apartment gives me the opportunity to take in this spectacular view.  Granted, I could take in the clouds from somewhere less indulgent, but can I walk before I run?  The view is the thing, not the rest of what living here affords.

In fact, I have re-evaluated what I consider pleasurable and luxurious this week and have realised pretty quickly that a night in front of the box hasn’t made the shortlist. Television hasn’t  entered the mind-debate much for me this week, as it hasn’t been something that I have consciously missed and this is surprising.  Once through the door, the TV would habitually be on, for company, for edification (no, that isn’t true), for entertainment, for whatever reason, but rarely was it genuinely watched.  It was soundscape; all other reasons are pure subterfuge.  If I do sit down to watch something, I’m shuffling within minutes, checking my phone or my laptop or a magazine.  So my angst about losing the background sound was pre-emptive; there is no sense of deprivation, no withdrawal, just a happy change.  I realise now that silence is not an absence, a challenge, a trial; its a bona fide luxury, a true one, along with a few others, such as a chair, a window and clouds …

Creativity, good wishes and epiphanies

Noises Off: Experiment Day 4

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

The power of the written word!  Something about contextualising my frustrations in print yesterday must have done me good, for I spent the rest of the evening with the attitude of a meditative android, calmly going about the business of making aubergine parmigiana and doing the  washing in an audio-free bubble, judiciously and easily avoiding eye contact with my mind (if that’s possible) for the duration.  No explanation as to why it was so easy to switch off after writing, but stranger things have happened.

However, day 4 arrives and i’m frustrated at not having attained a plateau of peace.  This morning, my internal radio accompanied me with a Doors medley and ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ by Prince, both of which swelled in my brain and burst through my mouth in intermittent melody blurts, forcing me to randomly sing half lines here and there, unconnected to anything else that was going on.  How odd!  On the way to the train I pre-empted several conversations that I may or may not have today (update:  I didn’t have any of them) and mentally tried out a few lines from each one.  This may of course make me insane, but this morning I preferred to see my current state as akin to the island infested by rats that Agent Silva reminisces about in Skyfall.  Mentally, I’m letting my thoughts over-run me (and sometimes it does feel like a swarm of movement and unstoppable tessellations).  I’m observing this, waiting for the poison to be ministered and the hubbub to subdue.  All weaker thoughts will die out till we’re down to just two giant mega thoughts who must fight to the death.

But this is a pretty nasty metaphor and inaccurate.  I don’t wish to kill my brain-chatter, just find a way of disengaging.  Thoughts bring creativity, good wishes, epiphanies.  Frankly, thoughts are what I’m writing to you right now.  And, more practically, it’s impossible to kill them off.  Like creativity, good wishes and epiphanies, they are endless and spontaneous.  Just not always relevant or helpful.  So I’ll turn my attention to the present again.  These critters have had free rein for long enough.

Outside the sky is a block of grey white, and the trees all shades of green and in between.  It’s about to rain …

3 days to go.