January 9, 2014

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and dip your toe into the water (so to speak) to get anywhere in this life. And, that's just what we did one cold - but sunny - November day in 2013. It's enough for now to say there were twelve random humans and one well-behaved canine round the table in a small room in the old Bensham Hospital - now given over to Sight Service.

Talking with strangers

We had an agenda (of sorts) but before going into that, here are a few comments on talking with strangers - this being, for me at least, one of the delights (and challenges) of organic events such as this. I say 'organic' as this is what I have come to expect of Angela Slater, our North East Coordinator's unique style of leadership. I am never disappointed.

This was ground breaking - an attempt to widen the remit of Time to Change in North East of England to include members of the organisation Sight Service - those whose loss of sight often makes them particularly vulnerable to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. This suggested a delicate liaison, due to the unfortunate stigma and discrimination experienced at one time or another by both groups.

Things won't ever improve for any of us without honest conversation and the building of absolute trust. To this end, we quickly progressed from giving our Christian names and organisations to a few of us talking with strangers about our experiences of mental health difficulties and the circumstances that preceded them. The ice was broken, but it was still early days ...

Over coffee and cake, the room gradually relaxed.

We were working together (maybe).

Mission accomplished (nearly).

Everyone has a story

Transparency and openness about our individual journeys and the consequences for emotional wellbeing was the order of the day. For instance, I shared my experience of being a participant in the BBCs 'Everyone Has a Story' competition some years back. I was thus able to report to the group that Life Story Work is now a significant part of my voluntary work and (paradoxically) how I earn my living.

Other people's equally valid disclosures are, of course, confidential. But, it was suggested that the writing of one's story is a useful exercise whatever one's age and circumstance. This put Angela in a good position to steer the conversation into a discussion on that modern phenomenon; blogging.

As said earlier, I was able to report that Life Story Work through blogging is now my business. Moreover, it is something I am doing right now - right this minute - and I will continue until I get it right. Perfection is not required. Just perfect effort.

Blogging is simply the telling of stories, written or spoken. These stories can be long or short, public or private, the choice being yours. Telling stories creates a sense of order around an event or experience. I am not alone in thinking that the stories of others who have walked in your shoes need to be told again and again. People with mental health difficulties need to know that there are many, many people who get well, stay well and lead rich, rewarding and valuable lives. Always remember the truth of these words that have travelled down the centuries:

The greatest of empires, is the empire over one’s self.

- Publilius Syrus

Welcome to a small group

Finally, we left the meeting with an 'action plan' which mentioned the possibility of another North Eastern 'blogging event', this once again designed to inform, persuade and (hopefully) inspire! See my other blog about a previous event for more information.

Remember:

There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer. There is no disease that enough love will not heal. No door that enough love will not open. No gulf that enough love will not bridge. No wall that enough love will not throw down. And no sin that enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble. How hopeless the outlook. How muddled the tangle. How great the mistake. A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. And if you could love enough you would be the happiest and most powerful person in the world.

— Emmett Fox

Me - as narrator? I have done what I set out to do and have brought to your kind attention a new 'small group' of some potential. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.