The word failure in of itself can create quite a negative feeling for people by conjuring up feelings of humiliation, disappointment, smashed expectations and things that went wrong. We explored the difference between what failure actually is, and what it means for us and our identity.
Failure is something which did not work, or something we did not do. When we start to apply failure personally; ‘I am a failure’ we can get into upsetting territory. Maybe if we view failure as something at which we tried but wasn’t for us, perhaps we gave it our best, but whatever happened, we did not succeed, seen in this way we can view failure as something from which we learn, and not something we should make people feel bad for. We talked about not being invested in the outcome, but just being able to be free to be you in the process and encouraging the same in others; if we are not stressed about the outcome we are more likely to be creative, productive and work from a place of joy rather than anxiety.
Group members reflected that not succeeding at something can be helpful for teaching humility, building resilience and quite possibly leading us down an alternative route altogether to be successful in something we hadn’t imagined or set out to do. Derek Redmond and his father did not set out to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona intent on becoming on of the most inspirational, moving, father and son examples. More likely they set out to set a record and win gold. However, the hamstring injury totally changed what was achieved that day. Failure also teaches determination and not losing heart-look at Edison and his 10000 light bulbs!
Someone in the group suggested that the difference between success and failure is a good story! And Nelson Mandela famously quoted Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What exactly did she mean by this? Have we sometimes got so comfortable in not succeeding to the point of not trying something different, and we can get comfortable in the negative story that we tell ourselves about ourselves that we wouldn’t know what to do with success and needing to change our story?
Is the fear of failure greater than the hope of success? Has being stuck become more comfortable than the discomfort of risking doing something new?
Group members reflected on changes and successes they have made and observed each other making over time as we have been meeting together.
It is over 10 years since the government and the NHS started circulating leaflets and information about ‘5 ways to well being’. In recognising, from evidence that a small improvement in well being can help to decrease some mental health problems and also can help people to flourish. Five actions were therefore set out to improve personal well being, and these formed the origins of this group. These are below:
We started out this discussion with what group members considered important for mental well being, and this is what they said:
Although we can know the healthy things to do, they can be difficult to implement when struggling and feeling overwhelmed, so we asked people what had helped them to do what was good for them even when they felt bad. People had appreciated in these times the kindness of others, receiving counselling, remembering to dismount! (i.e to not go charging into things when stressed out), to take time to make a responsible decision, and perhaps to remember to be kind to self. The to-do list need not be full of impossible sounding tasks, but maybe to get up, stand outside and make contact with someone is enough for one day.
Freedom of speech came to be a topic for this session as people are affected by the political climate as we experience it in certain parts of the world. So for us, in our part of the world, the debates which have raged for the last few years around the referendum for independence for Scotland, and the referendum for Brexit for the U.K can have a significant impact on how people feel about where they live, how secure they feel, perhaps how welcome they feel. Because big media issues can have an impact on the mental and emotional well being of individuals we thought it would be important to discuss it.
It feels very very difficult when somebody disagrees with us! We acknowledged this; none of us like it when someone disagrees with us. Some of us are better at asserting their point of view, others may keep quiet to keep the peace, either way it is uncomfortable. But our beliefs and values sit deeply in us and facing someone who believes opposite to us feels very unsettling. So maybe it would be nicer if we just all agreed about everything, right? No!!
So, what is free speech? Amnesty International define it as:
‘Freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, by any means.’ Freedom of speech and the right to freedom of expression applies to ideas of all kinds including those that may be deeply offensive. But it comes with responsibilities. We also spoke about the social consequences of freely expressing offensive ideas, you may lose friends, your career and respect.
There can be a real power balance in expressing free speech because society accepts some views more readily than others; there are acceptable stigmas, such as stereotypes of people on benefits, or perhaps stereotypes about the profile of someone who went to Eton. Some people are seen as fair game to be discredited, is this right? Who is allowed to have free speech and who isn’t? We discussed the current debate about universities curbing controversial voices, the group discussed how this could push views underground and intensify their virility. How do you treat a person who has an opposing view to you? It is important to not lose the humanity of the person opposite you, disagreeing however powerfully with someone’s views is not a license to dehumanise or demonise them-as discussed earlier they may face consequences, social or even criminal for their views, but people remain human whatever their beliefs. Free speech moves to hate when it encompasses:
“abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
We considered how people can end up with what we perceive as horrendous views; in a documentary about white supremacists, a black lady interviewed members of a group in America. She discovered that many members were in the group because it was a place where they had a feeling of being connected and of belonging to a group. Through meeting her, and building relationship and receiving education, some members left the white supremacists group as they no longer saw the beliefs and values as valid.
It is helpful then for use to be aware where we generalise, stereotype, stigmatise and discriminate; some would argue that in doing so we are coming from an evolutionary protective system in looking out for ‘our tribe’. However, we are all human and maybe sometimes we need to understand the human in front of us and the reason for their very distasteful point of view, maybe they will even change it if we manage to treat them well at the same time as disagreeing. Or, as someone in the group brought, maybe we are the ones to have it all wrong, and by being open we could learn something from the other.
Obtrusive Thoughts, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Mental Health
The life worth living group met today where the discussion surrounded around intrusive thoughts, OCD and mental health concerns more widely. As always it was a lively, constructive and considered sharing of our own lived experiences and/or those of others.
The first question posed was:
What is the definition of Intrusive thoughts and how might they impact on someone?
It was agreed that whilst intrusive thoughts are almost hard wired into all of us, they are mostly dismissed or filtered out so we don’t even notice them. However when someone is affected by a Mental Health condition these can become a major problem, and are chiefly experienced by people with OCD, Depression, Anxiety, Post Natal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Some examples given on intrusive thoughts were:
- Over analysing our responsibilities and exaggerating the impact were we to fail.
- Catastrophizing: always imagining the worst possible outcome.
- Unwanted inappropriate sudden thoughts such as kissing or punching someone when that is entirely against our actual wishes, but driven by a false anxiety alarm.
- Where we recognise how vital our care is such for a child, we might imagine harmful thoughts when all we are really focused on is care and protection for them.
Sometimes such thoughts lead to compulsive behaviours which may initially seem to offer comfort, but end up making things much worse. These can include excessive checking of locks and appliances to avoid danger or harm to others, and ideas of magical thinking, where the use or avoidance of certain numbers or tasks can either prevent or cause damage to loved ones. People who experience such thoughts know deep down that they are irrational and untrue, but shame and stigma can make these feel very real.
Depending on the extent of the problems there are a variety of treatments available such as:
- CBT: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Individually tailored help.
- Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to acclimatise to and overcome particular fears, e.g. contamination or social anxiety in busy public places.
- Personal Insight to learn how to diffuse delusional thoughts.
- Shared experiences and humour: There can be much stigma to any mental health condition but possibly more so with less understood and frightening conditions like OCD. Whilst sharing these experiences can be daunting, if able to do so, using humour and openness, it can serve to diffuse the power of negative thoughts and help affirm how we’re all affected by mental health and there’s no place for shame or blame.
Ahhh, sleep is an issue isn’t it? Vastly undermined as to how bad we actually feel after a bad night’s sleep, or run of them, or full blown insomnia, affecting mood, concentration, appetite, libido and serious health conditions both physical and mental. Affected focus and slower reflexes mean that lack of sleep can be as dangerous as alcohol when it comes to driving on a lack of sleep.
People spoke about their differing sleep problems, whether that was being unable to get to sleep, or falling asleep ok but then waking up and having a disturbed sleep, or only being able to sleep for a few short hours at a time. Some people also recognised that they can sleep too much and use sleep to escape from facing daily life; we know that sleep disturbance is one of the symptoms of depression.
Some of the reasons for being kept awake are internal such as worries, thoughts and processing the events of the day and problems. Other things are external such as noisy neighbours, children, seagulls or perhaps getting sucked into box sets! For some people it can be the anticipation of unwanted dreams or nightmares and it is the fear of that which keeps them awake. Some people spoke about feeling guilty for going to sleep when they needed to others view this as being lazy.
The discussion moved towards seeing our sleeping patterns as a cultural issue. We have a 24 hour society, people are expected to work late, having breaks can be frowned upon, and people are expected to respond quickly to work emails and messages. There is no space during the day to process what is happening. By the time we lie down at night to sleep, our brains can become very busy processing the day and keeping us awake.
We considered cultures where siestas are a natural part of the day, with an early start and a later finish but with a much more relaxed part of the day in the middle.
Other cultures, or business models recognise that not everyone is productive 9-5 and encourage people to finish when they are done and start when they are ready and this can achieve greater creativity and productivity. It was suggested that perhaps western society has informed our sleeping patterns due to the current business model and the layout of the working day; also industrialisation and digitialisation whereby we are further and further removed from our natural world and we are trying to fit our bodies into artificial schedules.
The group discussed that what might help better sleep is a more holistic approach; trying to find a sleep pattern where we can sleep when we need to-some people find power naps useful for example. Reducing stress overall would be helpful and what may assist this is creating space throughout the day, giving oneself time to process and reflect on the day’s events as they occur.
People gave their different experiences as to what has helped them to sleep, these included meditation, hypnosis, sleep apps and power naps. Interestingly, most people did not remember having difficulty sleeping as children.
This group regularly cite music and the arts as an important therapeutic tool for their well-being. Today we wanted to continue this musical theme in a more light-hearted way and look at music and performances which made us chuckle. As musical tastes are totally subjective this can lead to some finding certain songs to be funny that were not necessarily intended to be so.
Below are some of the videos we watched. Enjoy!
We started to explore this topic by firstly thinking about how do we know when we are well and what keeps us well. When mental health is good people acknowledged that they are more likely to stick to a routine, sleep is likely to be better. People noticed that they were more likely to keep things in perspective and stay in contact with friends and family. In well times there is a more positive view of the future along with good motivation to get up and do things-and to enjoy and find pleasure in those things, other people notice that ‘I’m my normal self’.
So in becoming ill, people notice that the above factors start to be affected; instead of having things in perspective ruminating can occur with the negative voices become louder. There may be disruption to routine, sleep and eating habits and maybe use of alcohol or drugs or other behaviours which can be destructive such as unhealthy reward seeking like self-harm or excessive shopping. Debt can become a problem along with avoiding people and irritability if with people, or a highly anxious energy. We asked also what happens with relationships, people said they may become more withdrawn, and feeling like they are not deserving.
We then began to think about what can help in these times; having a place to communicate how you are feeling is really important whether that is a supportive family, friends or a group like this. People spoke openly about how it feels to be suicidal and that it helps when you can talk about it openly and directly rather than people skirting around the issue as they are worried that mentioning suicide may put the idea in someone’s mind.
It’s useful to know what keeps you well, as when these things start to change this is an indication of becoming unwell, with the awareness of this people may be able to recognise that this is a time to use support and self care plans and to go gently.