I was finally diagnosed with bipolar after 3 admissions to hospital and almost 11 months spent on the mental health wards. I was also told by psychiatrists at the time of leaving hospital that I probably wouldn’t be able to work again. Tools and practices, I feel, are so vital to recovery and wellbeing, we are not a one size fits all society and when we find the things that work for us our whole life can change for the better. I have literally devoted the last 10 years of my life to learning what works for others and trying out different practices, tools and modalities to help transcend the challenges of the condition and then to share that with others.
The video takes us up to around 2010, when I was 30. The tools and practices I was learning were having a brilliant effect on myself and all the other members in SISO, so much so that in the years that the company ran not one member had a single admission to hospital. The company enhanced the lives of all us service users working for it, and the project will have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds to the economy. We all developed work around wellbeing and the platform that I was given within the company enabled me to work on projects at my own pace, with help from manager, Leon Herbert and the projects therapist, soon to be manager, Lindsey Shaw.
Being a singer/songwriter in the band ‘refuge’ has always been a great outlet for me especially working with its members Sam, Phil and Doug over the years. We developed an album called ‘Allowed a voice’, taking poems from workers in SISO based around our various mental health conditions. The album sleeve also signposted to many national support organisations.
Producing The Yellow Book has been wonderful – a resource filled with different tools and practices to build emotional resilience and intelligence, signposts to many national support organisations and inspiring poetry, art and photography around an #IFeelBetterWhen theme, submitted by people from all over the country. Originally it was designed as a resource that could support family and friends during challenging times. I feel it’s vital we look at the solutions rather than focusing on the challenges.
In 2014, I met Claire Evans who had just set up The Centre of Wellbeing in Hertfordshire, after a few months of knowing each other we decided to set up a ‘not for profit’ company to continue the work with The Yellow Book. Since then we have seen the book become personalised for an NHS Trust, University, College, Prison and now taking the resource into primary and secondary schools where its being used as a wellbeing textbook. We are also on the curriculum with our college music project in both Peterborough and Leicester Colleges. It has been wonderful that so many practitioners have donated content and tools to be included in the book. It was Stephen Fry’s: The secret life of a manic depressive’ that gave me the courage to speak out about the condition, all those years ago, and it was amazing when he chose to help the project by tweeting about this work which has now seen almost 40,000 books distributed.
Mindfulness and meditation had a huge impact on my health and so many others I knew. With Claire’s expertise as a mindfulness specialist and guidance from Joy Gravestock, a music therapist, we produced 7 guided meditations, set to music from ‘refuge’ with Phil Seaman at the fore. Since this we have produced a further 7 to feature on The Audio Yellow Book which also features all the wellbeing tools. It has been fantastic that this audio version has been made available for all students and staff to download at Loughborough University the University of Nottingham and Swansea University during this challenging time in our history.
Music is important to all of us in ‘refuge’ and we were very keen to bring live music on to the mental health wards. We developed a project: Moving InWards, originally formed with support from Leicestershire Partnership Trust team Lydia Towsey and Tim Sayers and the Arts Council to enhance connection and wellbeing. This has since headed down to Devon Partnership NHS Trust with Henry Dunn to train staff to utilise on the wards before coming back to Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust to work with Dr Lyn Williams to bring the sessions for older people in dementia settings.
It’s so important to utilise the things that work for you, whatever they may be. The music of ‘The Bluetones’ supported me through many of my challenging teenage years and it was a dream come true to get to work with their lead singer: Mark Morriss. He mentored us alongside Gaz Birtles on the album part of Moving InWards and has continued to support the growth of the band and work. Mark has since been involved in recording vocals and backing vocals on project songs and gave us the total dream come true of supporting ‘The Bluetones’ on legs of their O2 tours!
Don’t give up is all I can say, I’ve been through such challenging times but there are so many things out there that can help, reach out if you can. I feel the psychiatrist was right in the sense that I might never work full time, but I am so pleased to be able to put my energy into resources that support, signpost and empower. I am so very grateful to all the people that have supported me in my role and on my journey and I wish you all the best on yours. It was great to be asked to be part of this work with Alex and the team. It’s fantastic to read and hear all the other stories and always remember you are not alone.