Category: General

What is Occupational Therapy?

“A doctor will add days to your life. An Occupational Therapist will add life to your days.” – Unknown

This week has been #OTweek, where we raise awareness of occupational therapy (OT) as a profession.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is about quality of life and what we as human beings choose to do with our time. Where doctors extend your life, a good OT will help you find things that improve your life and wellbeing. Whether it is hobbies like cooking or knitting or helping you improve your independence or motor skills: it is about what the service user wants and needs to do. It is less about the impairment and more about the person. Occupational therapists put the person first and work with a wide range of people from every level of society and ability.

This week also happens to be the first week I have gone out into the world as a student OT. So far I am loving my work in a neurological rehabilitation centre and the wide range of work OTs do there. The work is hard but rewarding. As a disabled person myself the ideology of occupational therapy really resonates with me. It seems the perfect balance between practical and medical intervention for an illness or condition, and helping people achieve their aspirations in other areas of life such as hobbies. After years of studying to get on this course- I am finally on my way to reaching my OT dreams and am proud to be rocking the bottle green flares!

PD: a mouse in a white tunic and bottle green trousers stands heroically alongside text that reads “OTs: adding life to days”. Imogen in the same OT uniform in a garden smiling with green hair. Guide dog Noodle sits alongside.

Follow my Mouse artwork on Instagram @upsidedownchronicles.

 Birthday Celebrations of Survival

: a brown mouse stands triumphant with arms in the air and wearing a party hat. Confetti is in the air and a banner reads “well done on surviving another year you absolute fighter!”.
Today I turn 21. It feels… big. On my 18th I had been in hospital nearly a year, convinced that everything around me was a ‘game’ and that I would be killed before I turned 18. My 19th I was terrified of food and an anxious mess. My 20th I felt glad to leave my teens but had so much uncertainty. This year things feel better. I wanted to create a mouse cartoon for when birthdays are celebrations of survival for whatever reason. Physical health, mental health or bad experiences- for some of us birthdays are reminders we survived. Though it’s hard to accept all the fuss and ‘niceness’, it only happens once a year. Let it happen. 💚

New Beginnings and Your Opinion

Endings and beginnings come and go whether we are open to them or not. Though you feel like you don’t want the end to come sometimes a new beginning can bring things you could never imagine.

There’s been a lot of endings and beginnings since I blogged last.

The placement where I was living didn’t go as planned and once again I found myself in a situation where my life was in the hands of social services. It was a horrible, sickening, few months of not knowing where I was going to end up and not really belonging anywhere. It felt familiar to when I couldn’t leave hospital because I had nowhere to go and so it brought up a lot of difficult feelings. I got a new social worker who literally pieced my life back together and then I was able to say goodbye to her. A happy goodbye, because she found me somewhere great to live and be. A home.

My psychiatric nurse of two years retired. That was a sad ending because she has been a massive support to me during some very turbulent times. She was a fantastic nurse and I really landed on my feet to be assigned to such a caring and committed professional. I’ve also met my new psychiatric nurse, which so far looks like another positive new beginning.

Among the new beginnings is a massive one on the horizon. I have an offer to study Occupational Therapy at the university I’ve desperately wanted to go to for years. It’s another new beginning on the horizon and it’s scary but I’m ready to grasp it. It’s time.

I don’t know where I’m going with this site at the moment. I feel very emotionally attached to Upside Down Chronicles still, but I don’t feel like sharing my mind online in times of turmoil is much use to anyone. During a few of the more recent dark times I have thought about writing it all out here, but then stopped because I don’t want to overshare. Instead I think I will blog about specific things that have happened in my journey, but with the clarity and abilities of hindsight. I think that there is great strength in personal narrative, but at the same time I don’t want readers to worry about me, in the way that I have often felt about other people on social media. So maybe a more reflective approach is the way I will go, hoping to raise awareness but also share practical things that can help people with mental health conditions cope. The message I love receiving every time is the one which says thank you for making me feel less alone. If I can make one person feel less alone with their mental illness using this blog then I’m a happy blogger. In my absence from here I have been doing a lot of mouse drawings on instagram @UpsideDownChronicles, which I think I will integrate into this blog as a lot of them are mental health related. But you, whoever you are reading this, are massively important in where Upside Down Chronicles goes. If you could answer the poll below I would be really grateful, you can choose multiple options then press vote.

Speak soon!


A cartoon mouse in a red raincoat and boots stands in front of a big sun on one side and a rain cloud on the other. Next to the mouse reads "Reminder: Good News Can Be Just as Stressful as Bad News"

The Yankee Candle Life Bomb

Sometimes Life thinks it is lighting a Yankee Candle… but really it is causing a major explosion. Oops!

The gang on my Facebook page said they’d like to see more of my original illustrations on both UDC and Facebook. So here we go.

This one is a bit symbolic of my life at the moment, things start okay or nice and then… boom. If there is anything that could go wrong it does. Hence the blog silence. BUT things are getting sorted slowly, which means when I’m up to writing a full blog post I’ll have lots to tell.

Mouse stands next to a small pile of explosives. ‘Life’, a character which looks like a blue and purple ghost, is standing next to Mouse. Mouse says: “Okay Life, if we stay very very still we might be okay.” In the next image Life is holding a pink candle in a jar and a lit match. “Yankee Candle?” Life asks. “No Life No!!!” Shouts mouse looking shocked. In the next image, after the inevitable explosion, blue and purple Life is lying on the floor looking forlorn. Mouse is standing looking at Life. Mouse says: “oh for crying out loud... let’s start again... “ Copyright Upside Down Chronicles

Thanks for reading 🐭x

‘I Will Do Better’

New year is difficult. You feel the pressure and exhilaration of trying to make this ‘your year’. If you have OCD this can become a compulsion. All year long I promise myself that I would do better on a huge array of things. Some people call it determination, I wouldn’t say that. It is constant feelings of disappointment and perfectionism and it is intensified by the season.

For example last summer I received my AS level results. I opened the envelope and was relieved that I had done well in two exams but received a ‘U’ in my other subject’s main paper. A ‘U’ is actually worse than a fail, and as I had recieved pretty respectable grades in mock exams despite being poorly I had no idea how I’d managed to get such a low grade. Had I gone into an episode during the exam? Somebody would have definitely noticed. Anyway, I went home in tears and used a drawing pin to attach the piece of paper to the side of my wardrobe. The purpose of this was to ‘make me work harder’. I knew deep down that I had worked hard anyway and that the grade was unusual for me, but I accepted and internalised that it was because I was rubbish.

A week or so later my tutor ordered my exam back to see how I’d got it so terribly wrong. She opened the paper and found that three quarters of it were missing. The exam board had lost all but one of my questions before marking and I was given a U. It wasn’t my grade after all and so it got corrected, however the piece of paper is still nailed onto my wardrobe. I must be a glutton for self torture.

The same thing haunts me with coursework. It takes ages as I read it again and again irrationally fearing it contains a murder confession or expletives, I can never hand it in because there is always something in my mind that I need to add or do to make it ‘better’. I set a lot of resolutions this new year, most of which talked about improving on 2016. What I didn’t think about when writing them into the front of my journal was that last year wasn’t a bad year. I wasn’t locked in a ward and there was no major traumas. It was pretty alright by previous years’ standards. By desperately trying to improve too much, mostly on things I can’t change, I will likely send myself back into oblivion and that would not make 2017 good at all.

This is a rambly post because my head made the first post of the year into a big deal, when actually it shouldn’t be. What I’m trying to say is:

Just try not to have a worse year than the one before and do what you love. That’s enough. 

We Are On The Facebooks!

It feels quite egocentric to say “I’ve made a Facebook page”.

The way most people follow this blog is through my personal Facebook account. I have on there a mix of people- some I know well and some not so. But I’d like to get to a point where I can reach more people with a more public Facebook presence.

I’m lucky enough to have had visitors from all over the world despite my Facebook isolation- some follow me on Twitter, some subscribe by email and some just stumbled into me on WordPress. Some even do all three! But because I get the most interaction from readers on Facebook, I thought I’d give having a public blog page a go.

So if you like what you read here- come ‘like’ us!  I also wanted to say a big thank you to all my readers for making me feel a bit sparkly with every like, view and comment. I raise my tea mug to you all!

The Upside Down Chronicles

 

Mélodie’s best PLEASE face

 

I Am Exhaled: A Poem

I started letting things inhale me;
Books, films, documentaries and albums.
They restrained me from thinking for myself.
Entrenched me in the lives of others.
Whether they were humble,
Bewitched
Or powerful.
I was inhaled.

During this time it felt like my own respiration was at a stop.
I no longer took breath as myself.
I hid beneath duvets and learned the ins and outs of fictional character’s lives.
Until I knew them more than I knew myself.
Day turning to night, it kept me safe.

I was deprived.
I needed air.
My lungs like crumpled paper bags trying to inflate.
My feet pounding the fields and my heart ricochetting in its cage,
In an effort to self-resuscitate.
And then I could feel it,
Pounding in my ears and burning through my veins.

I’m running.
It’s behind.
I’m sprinting.
To the boundaries undefined.
I fall.
My lap is un-timed.

There it sits,
Over my senses like a mask.
Forcing the air into me.
Whether I want it or not.

The colours are bright and the smell embraces,
The petals kiss my hands and the herbs rub against my fingers like affectionate kittens.
I flop back on the grass and admire the nothing above me.
And how beautiful simple nothing can be.
And how lucky I am to have found it.

I can move.
I spin and walk and make my fingers dance on the surface of the pond.
I carefully stroke the baby apple tree and I can feel it respire between my index finger and thumb.

And then I had broken free.
And I was exhaled.

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“Don’t Count The Days, Make The Days Count”

Don't count the days, Make the days count.

It’s the holidays! With my exams done for this year it means I can enjoy the time off and relax properly. On the night I arrived home, after the regional delicacy of chip spice on chips and half a bad animated movie, my other half and I went out into the cul-de-sac. One pair of rollerblades and one pair of detachable shoe wheels later we were reminiscing our childhoods of bruised knees. We skated around the cul-de-sac (me clinging on very tightly) before deciding a cloud burst was imminent and heading back inside. It’s nice to have days to do things like this in, and I fully intend on continuing to do the same throughout this week. I will read for pleasure, play instruments because I want to and sing and dance to my favourite songs… Because why not?

In the UK it is a bank holiday today- so I very much hope you use it to do the same! Do what you love and have a great Monday!

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The Smell of Coffee in The Silent Cacophony- What Makes a Good Music Teacher?

I have been learning the mandolin since christmas 2012. For those of you who don’t know what the mandolin is, its an instrument which is strummed like a guitar, about the size of a ukulele, tuned the same as a violin and with two strings per note. It is the first instrument I have ever actively enjoyed playing and I have now reached the point where I feel semi-competent in making bearable sounds from it (I can change chords and strum at the same time… just).

This success is largely thanks to my brilliant mandolin teachers of the past and present- both of whom happen to be called *Trevor and both predominantly use the nickname *Trev. The similarities don’t stop there as both have hefty facial hair of some kind, the ability to play the ukulele and spend vast amounts of time in rooms filled with musical instruments. All of which they are able to play- of course. Trev number one, a folk musician who lives near the sea, appears to have converted his front room into a musical man cave. Guitars hang from the walls like trophies and the occasional bell or kazoo is perched on one of the many music stands cast around the edges of the room. On top of his piano lives an impressive collection of trilby hats which seem to all possess different personas which he chooses carefully from before heading out to a gig. I only had a few sessions with Trev One, but he did a lot of work with me on how to sing and play simultaneously which I am very grateful for.

Trev number two teaches in a music school above a shop which sells cheap-but-cheerful brightly coloured guitars. In his room he has narrowed his collection down to just a few instruments of choice, some preserved in expensive looking cases like coffins whilst others sit perched on stands welcoming students in. Before moving away to college, and away from Trev number one, I’d had no idea how hard mandolin teachers are to come by. In fact it took nearly a term to find Trev number two. However since our first session, we have met up nearly every wednesday to learn chords and songs.

It has not always been the case that I have had brilliant music teachers- in fact previously I presumed that hating children was a necessary attribute of being in the school’s music service. I met my first ever music teacher when I was around seven years old: she was an ageing woman who wore a lot of hand knitted jumpers. Every thursday morning she attempted to teach myself and a small group of other girls the violin within the confines of the echoey school hall. I had signed up for violin lessons having never held the instrument before, and mistaking its sound for that of the cello. I soon discovered that the shrieking wooden devil was not for me. Plus our teacher appeared to be on a personal mission to find us the most embarrassing and childish songs to perform in front of school assemblies. After much pleading to my parents I was finally allowed to give my violin and makeshift sponge and rubber-band shoulder rest back to the council.

My next teacher was a lady called Mrs H, who was a plumpish woman with angry red cheeks. This could have possibly been caused by her spending all her working day either playing the clarinet or shouting at her students. I had gone to her with the intention of learning the flute, but after being told that I had a ‘clarinet mouth’ I was lumbered with the instrument until I finally left primary school. I hated the noise that it made and the way the texture of the reed on my lips made me shudder. Telling her I wanted to quit has to be one of the bravest moments of my school career, and though at first she appeared angry she didn’t start a vendetta against me as I had feared she might. In fact, she disappeared completely and I didn’t see her again.

It is these experiences of instrument learning which make me so grateful for the two Trevs. My current Trev is the inspiration for this blog. Last week I went to the music school for my usual wednesday afternoon lesson, mandolin in hand. When I entered his teaching room, which smells strongly of coffee and wooden instruments in their silent cacophony, I suddenly had something very different on my mind.

“Trev… would you possibly mind showing me a guitar?” I asked. I have only held acoustic guitars a few times before, their size has always been slightly intimidating compared to my mandolin and I distinctly remember breaking one’s strings in secondary school. Trev however was more than obliging, and we went on to spend the whole half an hour session looking at all the different types of guitar. He let me hold and explore each one- classical, acoustic, electroacoustic and just electric and did his best to explain the differences between them. I asked a lot of questions, all of which started with “It’s a silly question but…”, however that was ok because all of his detailed answers began with: “There is no such thing as a silly question but…”. He taught me a few basic chords and has agreed to do some lessons with me on the guitar, because I would love to be able to play a bit and apparently it is a lot less fiddly than the mandolin.

The experience reminded me that the best teachers are the ones who don’t just teach you the notes, vocabulary and rhythms. The best teachers are the ones that install in you the passion that they have for music. Even if it is not the instrument you are supposed to be learning, a different piece to the one you have been working on for weeks or just you wanting to chat about music in general- enthusiasm is the most valuable thing a student can gain from their teacher. Once you have that passion for music or a paticular instrument the notes and chords tend to fall into place because you have the motivation to practice until you get it right. That passion is the thing that makes you want to play your instrument to gain calm after a hard day, or makes you listen more carefully to songs to find ‘that chord’. It is the passing on of this enthusiasm which I think makes a really exceptional teacher.

 

Me holding the mandolin

 

 

(*Trev is a pseudonym for both mandolin teachers, however they do both share the same name.)

Arty with Your Hands

I’ve never been an overly arty person. I enjoy art, but I’m not talented and I don’t do anything arty on a regular basis. Whether this defines ‘arty’ I’m not sure, but I did do GCSE art at one stage. I didn’t like it much even though I had an amazingly inclusive teacher who allowed me to explore the tactile element of art and encouraged my ‘unique perspective’ on the world. Though this was brilliant I found myself frustrated. I may not be arty but I am ambitious academically and there was something about my consistent C/D (which was stubbornly attached to my work no matter how long each piece had painstakingly taken me) that tainted the experience. It seemed no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move up a grade to a stable pass. Once when sitting in Maths with my Teaching Assistant, waiting for the teacher to arrive, we had the discussion: “How can you grade art?”. I don’t think it is as clear cut as the stickler specifications and effort evaluations that it is made out to be in schools. How can art be evaluated fully without standing in the pupil’s brain as a tiny neurone and assessing the emotion, understanding and perspective they have on the said task? Like I said before, my teacher was amazing, but I can’t help but think that the gods of all things ‘exam’ didn’t quite have the capacity to mark my different perspective on the world. To cut a long story short, I got sick for a month or so and had to give up some subjects at school and fish drawing in art was quick to go.

I like tactile things. I can see some forms of visual art- big, bold and basic are the best bet for my peepers- but I just prefer the tactile or haptic medium. Touching art gives you a physical connection to it instead of the distance needed to admire a picture with your eyes. You can feel what the artist is aiming for and you can analyse things that you would miss if you were simply gazing. “What is the purpose of this very straight line?” or “Does this curve express deep rooted emotion?”, it gives art a whole new lease of life. I like the tactile world so much that I have a ‘bag of tricks’ filled with feely things and fiddle toys. I find that having something to fiddle with or feel has a calming affect which really helps me.

But it is only in the past few days that I have started exploring how I can make tactile art myself. I’m not a huge fan of glue and it’s sticky and slimy texture, so I was sceptical in how far I’d get. I started with the basics and did some clay work.

Picture of two pieces of brown clay. The first is rectangular with the imprint of the back of a leaf on it. Underneath in indented braille it says 'Peace'. The other piece of clay is flatter and wider with an indent of a flower and some flower buds on their stem.

This was pretty straight forward to do and I was very pleased with the results. I used flowers and leaves from the garden to roll into the clay and once I was satisfied it had been sufficiently compressed I peeled the plant away. It leaves a very clear outline on the surface of the clay and is easy to find and to trace with your fingers. I also brailled ‘Peace’ into the bottom of one of them with a skewer from the kitchen… because why not?

Today I decided that after yesterday’s success I wanted to try and get another sense involved in my arty awakening. I decided smells would be interesting to throw into the mix so I commandeered the herb rack. The kitchen being raided appears to be a common theme in my work. My first experiment was with a large pot of Paprika. I can’t ever remember tasting paprika, and being aware of it anyway, but the smell is fairly distinctive so it was a good choice.

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This was a lot of fun to do and I basically went mad on the paper. I didn’t use any tools or paintbrushes because I figured it would be better to use my hands to make something designed for ring fingers not retinas. I splodged some old water colours I had kicking about in my room to make some raised dots and added Paprika to Gesso to make an interesting beige. I thought about the smell and what colour I would link it to in my mind so I threw in some blue watercolours too. In an interesting mix of paprika and water I also seemed to create the outline of a person. I think the person is jumping a hurdle or obstacle, which gives it a nice link to my current state of post-GCSE-ness. Totally unintentional- but I’m proud of it all the same.

Picture of a page with different shades of yellow. Herbs are scattered in clumps like clouds around a raised butterfly.

I repeated this with yellow and a pot of ‘mixed herbs’. I’m not sure of the deep meaning of the yellow sky, herb clouds and watercolour butterfly yet but I’m sure I will think of something. These pictures are really tactile, still smell of herbs no matter how ambitious you are with the paint and they look pretty cool too.

When presented with tactile art people tend to be cagey with their hands, they either eye up the piece and make an instant verdict or just give a tentative swipe of their finger on the surface. There’s no need to be cautious though, because you wouldn’t control your eyes in this way if it was a poster you were being presented with. It’s fine to separate your senses for a while and just focus on each tool of your understanding one at a time. Because that is what senses are in a way, together they are a toolkit that you can use to understand anything and everything, but it is up to the individual themselves which tool in the box they prefer to use most.