To Anyone Considering Working with Mentally Ill Young People

Dear Doctor, Psychiatrist, Occupational Therapist, Nurse, Manager, Health Care Assistant. Or the soon-to-be any of the above.

So you want to work with young people with mental health problems? Or maybe you already do. Welcome to the wonderful world of child and adolescent mental health services.

You are likely to be, or have been, met by a group of young people. Some of whom will be kind and nice to you and some of whom will not. But don’t rule any of them out just yet. Because even the nicest, kindest and friendliest person on this ward will have days where their illness gets in the way of being just that. Mental illness blocks the light and makes pleasantries difficult sometimes. If you are boasting that your experience is all based upon having survived being a teenager yourself- stop. We are ‘average teenagers’ minus the ability to ‘get it together’. We are average teenagers with acute and chronic illness that -were it anywhere else in the body- would lead to hospital tubes and wires. Today the young people are ignoring you, but please don’t take it personally. They aren’t ignoring you- they’re trying to ignore the demons you can’t see. Some illnesses can’t be helped by tubes and wires.

You’re going to work long hours with, I won’t lie, people who will sometimes wish you didn’t bother. You’re an OT pushing a new group, a psychiatrist cutting a medication, a nurse saying no to leave and a HCA pushing dinner. You will be sworn at. You will be insulted. But we need you to keep trying because you can bet that of any group of kids we are the ones who have seen it all. Collectively we’ve had abusers, attackers, family issues, health issues- the works. And if nothing else we have stand alone mental health issues that have bulldozed our lives for a bit. Don’t expect to be told you are doing a good job everyday- but aim to be told you’ve done a good job when your patient goes their own way. You can’t cure us all but you can help us open the box, rearrange the pieces and fill in the gaps.

I wouldn’t fancy your chances in a debate. Especially over issues like suicide. We need you to keep us safe until we can do it for ourselves. One day at a time. If you say something wrong, apologise. If you’re going ‘tough love’ on us don’t be mad when we return it. We’re unreasonable, unlogical and sometimes painfully understanding. It’s you we need to annoy us but not hurt us. Our illnesses are consuming. We need to know that when we shout you will still be back in the morning. We need you to tell us that you are going to do your damnedest to make it okay. If you can’t do this, then you’re in the wrong job. 

… So… Are you in or out? 

To My Dad On Father’s Day

Dear Dad,

Thank you for being so unashamedly you. Thank you for passing me the bricks to build myself back up when I’m down. Thank you for holding my hand, lying beside me and wiping my tears. Thank you for the arguments that end in laughs and the postman pat parodies. Thank you for waiting outside many a course, party and event. Thank you for the acceptance, the acknowledgement and the encouragement. Thank you for admitting when you have been wrong and for treating me like an adult. Thank you for your Dad worries, though I would rather you didn’t have them. Thank you for guiding me, for fighting for me and being there through thick and thin. Thank you for being my warrior, although sometimes we acknowledge you didn’t make the best move. Thank you for the hugs, for the advice and for the unmistakable love between us. Thank you for hiding pictures of saints under my bed and praying I get better, I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Thank you for my first pair of heels, my first bike and my first prom dress. Thank you for teaching me the power of the written word and how to respect it.

But most of all thank you for being my flying instructor, and for helping me to spread my wings.

Love,

Littlest Daughter

my Dad and three year old I drinking out of the same glass with two straws. Dad is a grey haired man with glasses who is smilingly comically

Music: Paul Simon Father and Daughter 

Black Clouds – A Letter to a Stranger

I don’t have much to say this saturday.

I am train sitting. The train is rumbling beneath me. I am sitting in the seat where I was put two hours ago. I have seen people come and go, busy thinking about their destinations. Earlier I saw a young man who appeared to be trying to forget where he was coming from, knocking back Bulmers on the 7:53am train to Picadilly. Sitting hunched with his feet on the seat and his mind chained to his heavy heart. I’ve heard about children, dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Oh and a good restaurant in Stockport. I’ve heard how Martin married too early and how the kids will never accept her as their real mother and how little Charlie is mixed up enough already. How black clouds are looming and the rain will be coming soon. And it seems to me like we are all mixed up in our own ways.

So on my return journey I leave a note on the seat:

Dear Stranger,

I wrote this letter instead of doing my homework. I hope you have had a lovely day and that you have reason to smile. It’s raining at the moment and everyone on the train is declaring “we needed this” and “oooh isn’t it bleak?!”. The black clouds are rolling in and everyone seems to have things going on in their lives which they would rather weren’t going on. I have had an accurate description of the weather for the last 20 minutes. I’ve also gathered a rough blueprint of the people around me’s lives. There are lots of unhappy people in the world. So if there is someone on the train near you give them a smile… go on… because they might be looking at clouds. 

Love and Light,

A stranger. 

The letter left folded on a seat, it says read me.

“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” – Groucho Marx

 

A Note-Dropper’s Confessional

*Stands up*

My name is… and I am… a note dropper.

I know, it’s shocking, but for three years I have been dropping notes wherever I get the opportunity. It has become somewhat of an addiction.

My first note was placed after a particularly bad day at school. I had spent the day as I often did; not having half the resources the rest of the class did with the same exams approaching. My Mum would pick me up in the car park of a small supermarket across the road from the school after an hour or so of doing homework in the library at the end of the day. By this time however I had quite often had enough of school so would walk around the supermarket instead.

I would weave in and out of the aisles playing games. Counting chocolate bars, seeing which books had the fewest copies left, working out the price of items in the ‘20% off’ bucket. It all sounds very dull, but I was quite happy and sometimes I still resort to such tactics to let my mind drift away. However then I reached the magazine aisle. I looked at all the copies of the magazines and began to count. I was halfway through a rack when I reached into my bag and pulled out my orange school-issued rough book.

‘I hope you are having a good day and that you enjoy this magazine. Love. X’ It was something along these lines that I scribbled, I remember it well. Thoughts flashed through my mind: ‘is it illegal to leave notes to strangers?’, ‘will the shop security get me?’, ‘is there even a name for the opposite of shop lifting?’. So I took a deep breath and put the note into one of the magazines, half way up the spine and half way through because it was here that I hoped it would stick. Then I shuffled out of the shop and didn’t look back.

I felt better. I had, hopefully, given someone something to smile about. This is when my addiction truly began. I would leave notes anywhere in public; With left over coffee cups in cafés, on train seats just as I stood to leave the carriage, in library books and on park benches. I got progressively more daring from my first tentative slip of paper and developed multiple pen names and pseudonyms. Sometimes I would write quotes from songs, other notes included my own words of hope to the stranger and on particularly bad days I would just pour my heart out onto the page.

The length of the notes would vary, from one line to a double sided page. Roughly a year on from my first note I saw somebody posting about one of the letters I had written on social media, saying it had made their day. So my addiction grew and my note-writing confidence peaked. Then I went to a college for blind people. This caused infinite problems. There were no lockers I could slip well wishes into and there were infinite needs for making written material legible within the student body. But I tried.

My first note at college had me terrified. I left it on the reception desk in the learning centre, which is often maned by students. It was in a decorated envelope and included the full note in large print and in braille. It had taken me ages. I dropped the note and then ran up the stairs to my lectures. It took several goes. I kept finding the letter unopened but moved. I repositioned it several times until it was finally opened. For the first time in my note writing history (and by complete coincidence) I witnessed one of my letters being read. The student read it silently on one of the brightly coloured chairs around the desk, he then paused and smiled for a moment before returning it to the envelope and placing it back on the desk. I noticed the letter was still there when I passed several days later but then it seemingly disappeared during the holidays.

I’ve gone on to do similar things at college. Post-it notes under mirrors reassuring people they look lovely etc. But this is me coming out of the shadows. My name is… and I am a note writer. I try to do good, one note at a time. And this is one big note to you, have a lovely day.

pink post it nots under a mirror which read 'you look lovely' with braille underneath the written words

 

An envelope which reads 'dear you' in both print and braille with a butterfly drawn on.

 

 

 

To My French Teacher’s Daughter

This week’s ‘Thursday Cuppa’ is brought to you in a green mug with the help of a nameless pink elephant.

To My French Teacher’s Daughter,

Hi there. You’ve never met me before but I have gathered a fair bit of information about you. I know you are smart and like asking big questions and that you really enjoyed seeing Matilda on the west-end. I am seventeen years old, have never grown out of asking big questions and your Mum spends five hours a week trying to teach me french.

I just wanted to say thank you so much for the loan of your lovely pink elephant. He has been to all of my exams and we have had some fun too. It was on the way out of the first exam that the elephant told me that he was a bit bored, it was four hours long after all, so I promised him a cup of hot chocolate after the next one. My word. I have never seen such a mess. He said he was trying to dip his toast in his hot chocolate ‘the french way’. He didn’t however want to clean up the kitchen… Other than this incident he has generally been very good in making sure all my exams went ok and he didn’t snore too badly at night either.

The elephant has told me that he isn’t sure he can promise that I will do well in my exams, but said that he has done his best. I felt a lot better to see his pink smiley face looking up at me! But he packed his case last night and said he had to get home to someone who loves him- that’s you!

So thank you for letting him be my lucky charm.

Love,

x

a cartoon of a pink elephant dipping bread in a hot chocolate cup, hot chocolate is flying everywhere.

 

Music: Un éléphant, ça trompe énormément

A Letter to The Years

Dear 2013,

Look where we are! It’s cold outside and we are looking at the start of a brand new year. To say you have been a year of two halves is a massive understatement. There have been massive highs and lows- that’s for sure. But maybe a person needs that kind of year every now and again so that we can truly understand the difference between the good and bad, and make the most of both. 2013 you weren’t that nice to me in the beginning, but you certainly built momentum. You took me through my GCSEs which right now seem so long ago. I sat large numbers of exams, some were successful and some were not so, but somehow I got through and passed all of my subjects. You are the year that I properly set about ridding myself of the eating disorder which has controlled me on and off over the last couple of years. A lot of people are unaware that food was, and is, an issue for me but many have provided me with valuable support which I can’t say thanks for enough. I would like to say I am anxiety free, but I’m still work in progress. You’ve been the year that I cemented my relationship with my beautiful guide dog and celebrated our one year anniversary. Now it feels like she is a limb of mine and without her I’d be completely lost. I also left school, which closed a very stressful chapter of my life. But my word that book was closed well- with a lovely prom and a fantastic summer camping trip with friends. As I’ve said before, school wasn’t easy, and many people helped me get through it when I really didn’t think I would. Thank you to those who have given hugs, been on the ends of phones for lengthy chats and listened to my keyboard screams through messenger. In the summer I went to the Czech Republic where I met lots of fantastic new people from all over the world. You also changed completely for the better from september onwards when I moved to my new college, which has definitely changed my life for the better. I have made amazing friends there who I refer to as my ‘non-biological family’ and I’ve also managed to keep good contact with friends at home. I am so lucky to have such amazing influences around me- friends and family, of both the human and furry variety.

Dear 2014,

You are so very close now. I wish my friends and family a very happy and successful year where their hopes and wishes can be achieved. For myself I aim to continue with the highs of 2013, and keep aiming to improve myself and my outlook on life. I also want to write more often, be more adventurous, hopefully raise some money for charity and keep speaking out about mental health. I also hope to be writing a similar post in a years time, accounting all the things I did in 2014 and wanting to see what’s next.

P.S. I know what I said to 2013 about maybe a person needs a year of highs and lows to acknowledge everything- but I wouldn’t mind if you cut out a few lows this year. 🙂

—-

To the lovely readers who stumbled across my blog, or were funnelled here by social media. Thank you for all your lovely support during the last year and for your ongoing readership of this blog. I hope next year I can carry on writing factual posts and keep trying to reach my aim of making this blog a bit more personal too. I think this post is a good start. Who knows maybe I will throw in some fiction next year? I want to get much more creative with what I do- both on here and on youtube and twitter. I hope you have a very happy new year, and I will see you in January!

20131230-170915.jpg

Music:

Mary Lambert – Auld Lang Syne

Sara Bareilles – Brave