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 We asked also what happens with relationships, people said they may become more withdrawn, and feeling like they are not deserving.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.
We started by identifying what is difference? The group came up with that difference is something that stands out, something out of your comfort zone or familiarity, it can be empowering, exciting, it may be something which is unexpected, breaking free of conformity, it may be different attitudes or the first experience of something.
Next we looked at ‘how do I feel different, and how does that affect me’? Here people were able to talk about how they felt stigmatised due to their mental health and feared rejection if they were honest about it. Other people referred to how their gender was perceived or assumptions made about it and how this could be frustrating and can leave people feeling dis empowered and almost having to prove their identity.
Finally we talked about how we respond to other people’s differences. Some people avoid or ignore this so that there is no conflict. We talked about how sometimes we overcompensate because while culture is in a state of flux of how certain groups are identified and what is appropriate or not, we get worried about offending people resulting in us going over the score (like positive discrimination) and we can accidentally patronise people.
By the end we agreed it is important to keep listening to difference and to just ask people and be curious about how they would like to be seen and treated and hopefully as we educate ourselves and build relationships, ultimately the relationship will be important, the rest won’t matter, it’s just what we are housed in.
While constructing a group programme we try and make the content as varied and diverse as possible. When we do group sessions on art and crafts we find that it creates a real sense of ‘freedom’ for members to engage in their own creativity. This setting also seems to make people more relaxed to chat.
This is really interesting article from mindfood.com on the benefits art and crafts.
Today’s group focussed on how people deal with the benefit system and more specifically, ‘Work Capability Assessment’ interviews. At group sessions we often hear of how the current system invokes strong feelings of anxiety and sheer terror. With this in mind we thought it would be good to have a look at the different processes involved and the options people have.
Below is an example of the different stages involved upon receiving assessment letter;
Attend ‘Work Capability Assessment’ interview
You receive a letter from the DWP* informing you that you are not being awarded benefit.
You disagree with their decision so respond by sending a ‘Mandatory consideration letter’ to inform the DWP* of your reasons for disagreeing with their decision to see if they will reconsider.
If the response from the DWP* is that they are upholding their original decision you then have the option to appeal it and have your case taken to at an independent tribunal.
If you are feeling anxious it is so important to seek support.
Group members felt that having someone to help support them in filling in forms was extremely beneficial and relievied some of their anxiety. With no support it can literally feel like a real life or death situation with the looming uncertainty of having no income to survive. That is why it is so useful to have supportive people around you to help provide some hope for your future.
Why are we attracted to the people we are attracted to? The group discussed how this was due to multiple factors, an initial physical attraction endorsed by shared interests and core values-not too similar, as this is not stimulating or too opposite as this might be too uncomfortable. Shared experiences also created attraction, along with many subconscious factors and feeling that we are a match with a particular individual. Some stated that they always chose the wrong person and others sensed attraction when there was a ‘click’ or made a connection.
We began talking about how is it that we give out messages which attract sometimes before we have even spoken to someone. There is a theory that 93% of communication is non-verbal, from Professor Albert Mehrabian. He theorised that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. Some group members observed that there are ‘types’; Passive, Assertive or Aggressive and due to past experiences we are drawn to, and draw towards us those of a certain type. This perhaps fits with attachment theory whereby we are drawn to patterns with which we are familiar. The following article by ‘The School of Life’ suggest three components for why we have particular types and the guiding direction of our attractions which you can read about here: ‘How to find love’.
We then turned our attention to maintaining a sense of self in dating. We discussed that relationships sometimes just happen to us rather than it being something we seriously think about and what we would like in a partner or from a relationship like we might do when considering buying a house or applying for a job. Group members discussed that they wanted was equality and a mutual appreciation and respect for one another, to feel important to someone, to share humour and to both bring and contribute to the relationship overall, whilst acknowledging that different individuals need more support than the other with various things at different times. We lose a sense of self when we change to become what the other person wants us to be.
At the beginning of a relationship it can feel stressful and confusing to know the balance between ‘being myself’ and perhaps curtailing some over-eager behaviours, and therein is a minefield of rules…how often should I text? How soon should I reply? When should I say ‘I love you’?
Returning to our earlier discussion of why we are attracted to the people we are, we discussed the theory of attachment leading us to pick partners where patterns of attachment are familiar to us as they are reminiscent of early childhood experiences. We had watched the following video by Alain de Botton which first inspired the topic on dating and sense of self as a group topic.
What is most important to remember above all is that we all deserve to be treated well, even if you have experienced bad relationships in the past. Remembering this can reinforce the importance of valuing yourself in meeting the right partner.
Below is a small snap shot of how we used with Russian dolls to help us develop a better understand the dynamics of our ‘Inner child’
1. Inside the grown-up deep inside is the child just like these Russian dolls. You might feel it a positive when you are playing with children. For example I feel it while playing football with my young nephews.
2. You might feel it in a negative way if you are waiting to go in for formal appointment and you start to feel as if you did when you were called to the headmaster’s office. (Or maybe you were all good kids and were never sent to the headmaster’s office!)
3. (Using an elastic band) Like this band we are all big and stretched out, but certain events, circumstances or people could make us feel small again.
4. (Imagining all our younger selves) Thinking about when you were at primary school what 3 words would you use to describe the wee person you were then?
5. (Pick an age between 5-10 years old) – Thinking about you at the age you have chosen we will ask a few questions if that is OK to that part of you, be it 5 or 7 or 10 years old- whatever age you have picked. – Think about who was your teacher, your favourite toy or who were your friends then. Ok so we are all focused in on an age and who we were then. QUESTIONS- If that child had something to say, to be heard what might it say? What did it need? What would you like to say to it? How might you soothe it? (Note: Demonstrate by putting the little one in the big one.
6. We end by putting all the dolls back inside each other so there is just one big one. It demonstrates we are back in our adult place.
After a busy few sessions requiring much thinking and discussion and brain power….this group was a celebration of all the achievements, growth, learning and development within the group and as individuals over the year. As we look to Christmas too and the New Year we had a party celebration and a consideration of how people may look after themselves in what can be either a busier time or more isolated time. Difficulties seem more poignant in a season which emphasises togetherness and family if these structures for some individuals are missing or fragmented. Being in Scotland too in December we are well aware of the very short days at this time of year, so much darkness for some can feel heavy and draining, as we post this we are just about at the shortest day sunrise 8.42am, sunset 3.39pm!! It’s so dark…though this does mean that after tomorrow the days start getting longer again as we sprint towards spring.
In the meantime however we celebrate the light and hope that is so much a part of this group, where one is in a place where it feels hard to hold hope, the others will hold it for them.
So, fun was had in the form of games, party food and warm wishes to one another as we head off for a break and look forward to starting a new year together in 2019. The first group back will be Thursday 10th January.