Reading Lives

You meander back after a long bus ride
When something catches your eye
From that charity shop window

And a mat shakes hands with your shoes

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Shelves burst with wallpaper samples
That swallow chunks of intricately shattered porcelain
Showing skillful limbs or perceived skirts

Then you see droplets
Marked with words like “Huckleberry Finn”
Whilst, somewhere,
Clusters of other letters dissolve into a grid

That canvas bucket can carry each drop
But it doesn’t hold the aroma of royal silver

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Your feet create the latest dance craze
Born between those display cases
And kindled by the looks of tired assistants
The calcium in your arms turns blue

Finally a plastic bag cradles a clear conscience
Anticipating only the journey
Unobstructed by personal greetings
To the reader who thinned the pages

Once home your new book falls open
To reveal an abyss 
From where Twain returns a ticket
To the city of Yellbormoon

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You claw for the box
Where an envelope addressed “…”
And a faceless group image
Both specked with red wool
Scrunch the train ticket to Y….moon
With the energy of 4,000 giants
And they will for 40 years

Like stranded boatmen
At times bump a buoy
Familiar strangers
Gently graze your history
Requesting in lieu of your gratitude
A mere time capsule

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By A.L. 

This poem is about collecting together the old train tickets, messages, and even photos, which are sometimes found in books that are bought at charity shops. Though I certainly do not keep things that aren’t mine, my poem here aims to hint at the notion that by putting each of these things in a time capsule one could hypothetically preserve the existence of strangers (who have floated into an out of one’s life) for years. I contributed this poem to Leeds Wellbeing Web, because I felt the above notion was an interesting concept.

Writing on the wall

Short on motivation or inspiration for something to write about?  I often am, I start drafts then abandon them.

If that happens I find using a pictorial and/or photographic image that I own might act as a prompt, or alternatively there are many on the internet that inspire me.

Here I’m using a photo of an ‘art work’ I did in the early stages of recovery from ‘breakdown’. Which was long before smart phones, it’s a polaroid…..fading fast.

As one of the last people on admission in the soon to be closed psychiatric hospital, I along with others had been asked to create art ‘on the wall’. Not previously known for my ‘art’ skills, I chose words.

The photograph helps me to remember the sheer determination and slog  it took to recover from the experience of ‘breakdown’, the kindness of some, in this case a male nurse who helped me, and though heavily medicated, the inner voice that helped me be bold enough to write an indictment on the wall of that particular establishment. It felt good, it still does!

I wasn’t making a statement about the staff, for most were kind but was a statement against a society and an institute that uses both invasive and psychoactive medication as the first line of treatment. I think since then there has been some progress in using complimentary and alternative treatment, and much of that change has come from the activism of those with lived experience, often called ‘survivors’. People who continue to tell their truth whether it’s ‘writ’ large or small, in text, verbal or pictorial.

And the writing on the wall? What does it mean? A ‘google’ search might give you an approximate translation but the interpretation of the art is yours and mine.

Sue.

When Mother’s Day is difficult.

Mother’s Day will soon be here, on the 26th March.

For many of us this may trigger difficult feelings.  There is an expectation, less so now I am much older, that on this day we give love and appreciation to our mothers. Mothers are wonderful.  Facebook will, no doubt, be flooded with pictures of mothers alongside glowing tributes.

The media is abound with adverts depicting a harmonious but busy family life.  This sells goods:  Christmas presents, washing powder or gravy powder – you get the picture.

I would never resent anybody who has such a loving relationship, I say embrace it and cherish it.   By all means, show it to the world, dig out those photos and share away. And for those who had a loving (or not so) mother who has passed,  I’m sure the day is both bitter and sweet – a chance to remember and yet a reminder of such a loss.

But what about those of us with more complicated relationships or non-relationships? We may be a daughter, a son, or even the mother?  Should we lay low?  Should we be ashamed? Would a day off social media would be a good choice?

In reality there are many who are estranged or have difficult relationships with family members. Adverts do NOT represent reality for all.  Social Media often reflects the good times, rather than the more difficult times.

What I am trying to say is that if you feel this way that you are not alone.  The charity Stand Alone aims to support people who are estranged from a parent, a child or another family member. The charity works with people of all ages: Students who are without family support to senior citizens who still struggle with the difficult relationship they have/had with a parent. They also support parents who may struggle with relationships with their children.

You are not alone.

Stand Alone runs support groups for adults who are estranged either from their parents or children.  The groups run in Sheffield, Newcastle and London.  (Not in Leeds at the moment)

It’s okay to have a complicated family life, it’s not easy, but you are not alone.

Finding a voice

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A series of upcoming presentations found me feeling somewhat apprehensive, they’re not my ‘thing’. If the topic I have to discuss is something I’m not enthusiastic about, I also find presenting it nerve racking. I strongly dislike feigning enthusiasm for something my ‘heart’ isn’t in, If I’m obliged to do it, I suffer physically with anything from headaches, to an upset stomach.

With the hope of learning a few tips on how to ‘act as if’, the topic was the ‘best thing since sliced bread’ I signed up for a voice workshop.

I didn’t have the expectation that one or two lessons could help me completely overcome my reticence, or that I’d become an actress overnight. The class teacher however was an actress and an experienced voice coach, who gave me just the right amount of complimentary and encouraging feedback. She thought my existing use of voice and body was effective for the task.

.’Have you ever done ballet? she asked, as I performed a particular arm movement, part of the warm up routine for the workshop. It possibly being 50 years since I’d done a demi-seconde or an en avant, and now being more of a sugar plump, than sugar plum fairy! ……..I thought she was just trying to be kind, she told me however, that many people, including herself, found the arm positioning didn’t come naturally. I can’t say her compliment had me thinking……. ‘I’ve possibly a latter day career as a ballerina in the offing’, but the amusing thought did cheer me up.

Whereas I care less these days as to what people might think about my appearance, it is still a morale boost if someone pays a sincere compliment.

Having done the preliminary warm-up stretches, the teacher wanted me read some set pieces aloud. As an aid to finding good breath control while reading, she first asked me to do what she described as breathing ‘movements’. I found the idea of breath work being movements, preferable to some breathing exercises I’ve previously experienced at similar workshops, where having been directed to breath ‘properly’, I’ve held my breath a bit longer than advisable!

One of the readings was a poem, and though the location of the workshops was in a leafy laned, backwater of LS6, the poem transported me via sea-going vessels to more exotic climes, and to returning home again through the choppy waters of the English Channel.

Here it is,,,,,,

Cargoes‘ by John Masefield

 

 

The politics of Mental Health – Should people who use services commission them?

I recently attended an event at York University; run by the Social Research Council.  I went as a Blogger and as someone with an interest in Mental Health policy.  This interest has been borne out of my personal experience of using Mental Health services and wishing that this experience had been different and seeing the flaws in the system.

The event was concerned with  ‘Co-production and commissioning services.’

Co-production is the fancy term for involving people ( who have used or use services ) in producing mental health services. People may be involved in delivering or designing services.   This event was concerned with true Co-production which means involvement from the start which includes the commissioning of services.  

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Traditionally it has been Health Care Professionals who produce, deliver and shape these services.  Commissioners currently decide which services are needed and where the money should be spent.  But should people who use services also commission them?

There is currently a move towards people with lived experience becoming more involved in delivering services. Employing people with lived experience is logical as there is huge value in this lived experience at the same time it helps to dismantle the ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ culture.  However cynics see Co-production as being a response to austerity and say that it is a way of making people responsible for their own health as though it is a personal achievement.   Organisations often involve people who have used services but this is often as unpaid volunteers and then what happens to people in the long run?

We discussed the imbalance of power between professionals and people who use services.  People agreed that more authentic relationships need to be developed and that  “Professionals need to take off the protective mask and engage. ”  For a service to be more effective it needs to be human.

Pamela Fisher of Leeds Beckett University saw Mental Health Services as political areas which cannot be left to professionals alone.   So therefore does it makes sense that people be involved in commissioning?

Anne Rogers (University of Southampton)  criticised the NHS for largely commissioning and creating a culture which depicts mental ill-health as a biomedical diagnosis which is to be treated with either medication or  IAPT services or both. She talked about the importance of a person having diverse support networks and having ‘Weak tie relationships’  which may include a regular ‘hello’ to a  fellow dog walker in the park.   She explained that weak ties are particularly important as too invasive support such as an overbearing family could actually block people off from getting involved in other things. Diversity of support is important.

Commissioners do get things wrong.   A table of people from Liverpool informed the room how their local Library was closed in order to be turned into a recovery college.  A recovery college may sound great, but people actually wanted their local library. This resulted in a recovery service wasn’t used very much and no library. They wanted to know who decided this?  Co-production can open these decisions up to scrutiny.

Currently if people who use services are involved in commissioning,  it is often towards the end of the commissioning cycle when a lot of the decisions have already been made.  We discussed how true Co-production needs to take place at the beginning of the commissioning cycle.  When the public work alongside commissioners,  questions are framed differently,  and a different agenda emerges.

The event was one of a series of events by the social research council on Co-production.  In attendance were a  mixture of academics, people who work in the health services and people who have used services.   They have their own blog which you can view here if you’d like more information or to be involved.

Please feel free to comment on our blog or on our Facebook page or Twitter!

Thanks for reading.

Nodding acquaintances

On the value of having nodding acquaintances.

If you’ve lived in a neighbourhood any length of time it’s likely you will be on nodding acquaintance terms with many people. This type of recognition can be an aid to your wellbeing as it places you in a context, of the time and spaces you inhabit…..you belong!

In an age where many report feeling they don’t belong, that they are isolated or lonely, nodding acquaintances can be a reassuring acknowledgement that you are not alone…..we are known.

If over time you’ve been on nodding acquaintance with someone, you might have progressed to stopping and ‘passing the time of day’ with the them. You might chat about what’s trending in local, national or International news. These kind of conversations are valuable, even if the chit-chat remains only that, about …….’the price of fish’ or the weather.

Often when I’m about my daily chores in LS13, I see an elderly lady standing inside her house and looking through the window, as yet we only wave, but it’s a connection, I hope we get to talk some time.

Other people who see me sit awhile to catch my breath when carrying shopping, or simply if I’ve stopped to enjoy good weather, or just ‘people watch’…. may smile…..

‘Hills….you can’t avoid hills in Bramley love, can you?’……

It is said that Leeds is one of the friendliest cities in UK and certainly its rare if I stand at a bus stop not to start up a conversation with someone.

On days when the news is particularly alarming, as it was yesterday with the US election results, you might like myself only  have accessed it via the media, and without the opportunity to discuss it with anyone, the potential to feel disoriented, destabalised is real. You may doubt your own perception, or indeed the sanity of the ‘crowd’ who brought about that result. You might as a result phone a friend and commiserate along with them about ways to avert feeling hopeless. Just how can you as individual combat that?

On hearing the news, and feeling downcast I ventured out to the local greasy spoon cafe in a somewhat defensive mood. The conversation in there is often similar to the tabloids that are scattered on its tables, it is frequently sexist and racist…….usually because of that I don’t linger.

‘If someone praises that man’s success’, I was thinking ‘I’ll challenge them’.

The cafe was empty except for the staff who also seemed as dismayed at the result as myself. Fortunately other more pleasant topics were discussed and a simple personal compliment from one member of staff, cheered me on my way, my equilibrium was restored. By the end of the day I did need a ‘top up’ by discussing the days news with a friend but I still valued the earlier time of day passed.

Lily P.

 

Clocks go BACK ending British Summer Time: Memories of light

British Summer Time ends on Sunday 30th October at 02.00a.m.

We turn the clocks….. BACK one hour.

Click here to see …..why we do it!

I’ve always enjoyed the interim period as we’ve counted down to it, though not without a twinge of sadness for the diminishing light.

The nights have been drawing in naturally enough without the need of human interference. Nature in decreasing its daylight hours has alerted us that we have still had time to enjoy, what have lately been, wonderful autumnal splendor on sunlit evenings.

The words of the beautiful harvest hymn, ‘Come you thankful people come’…..are always recalled to my mind at this time of year.

…….”All is safely gathered in”

Humans and animals alike start to ‘gather in’, or replenish their store of winter ‘comforters’.

My comforters this year include a fleecy hoodie, and in keeping with the mantra of my mum….. ‘layers’ of thermals which keep me snug, these enable me to enjoy the fresher weather of the season.

It’s a time when memories of how comforting the coal fire’s warmth and light of my childhood days were.

October, the ‘season of mists”, when the ‘feint blue land’ prior to adjusting our clocks, still has sufficient light in the morning to wake me naturally, and in the early evenings to feel unrestricted by the ever increasing darkening streets.

It’s a time of year where festivals involving light abound,

Diwali almost upon us. diwali

Even Halloween and Bonfire night with their ‘darker’ side involve colour and light in one form or other.

During the last few year the newer festival of light,….. ‘Light Night’ has become a must see festival.

This year’s Light Night outing included for me and my fellow Light Nighters, a jaunt to China courtesy of the Nankai University choir.

Nankai Uni choir by Sue

Nankai Uni choir by Sue M,

The colorful costumes I photographed here, (and there were more) represented each of the different Chinese ethnic groups and their traditional dress.

The audience were treated to a variety of Chinese folk songs, one, Mo Li Hau,  we learned a verse of in Mandarin Chinese, and sang along to it with the choir.

Apparently the folk song is very revered in China. Many in the audience were Chinese and sang it with such depth of feeling, that it moved me to tears. A sudden ‘catch’ in the throat, I was uncertain from where it came,…

was it just the power of music and lyric that  tugged at my ‘heart’ and memory? though I don’t remember having heard it before, or perhaps the tender way those beside me sang it?..I can’t be sure.

The Light Night concert also revealed that the Chinese performers alongside their very disciplined, and polished classical and folk performance could also appeal, with comedic effect, to a Western audience.

The somewhat stern facial expression, and composed body posture of the choir mistress gave little hint of her sense of well timed humour.

….although she did later revert to a warrior like role as well as sing in fearsome tones

During her initial entrance, and as she paused to gain the attention and composure of her troupe and audience, her body language indicated , ‘I’m in charge’….except that is to a young child in the front row who let out a yell…or two!

At first the choir mistress didn’t flinch, remaining composed, unruffled for a further minute while the small child still continued to break the silence. She captivated us first by casting him an annoyed glance over her shoulder,  then by proceeding towards him with mock anger, …..he shut up then!…..

rather than looking frightened he just seemed transfixed, even though subsequently he remained on the receiving end of  other choir members attention, who singled him out during the enacted war scenes. He remained quiet!

Possibly because of the swirling swords!

Nankai choir warriors - Sue M.

Nankai choir warriors – Leeds Uni