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Sssshhhhh….

​My first blog for a month. A number of lovely people have been in touch to check if I am ok. They know that going quiet can be a bad sign with me.

The reasons for my recent radio silence are several. I admit that I have had one or two days of lower than optimum mood. Nothing terrible, just feeling a bit bleurgh. This came as no surprise; my mood tends to reflect the lack of daylight at the start of the year. As usual, I am perking up with the lengthening of days.

I have also been busy. Family stuff, domestic projects, volunteering and my coaching work.

As a coach, it is important that I practise what I preach, and develop non-preferred ways of thinking, doing and being. By nature I am an extraverted thinker; I tend to work things out by writing about them or talking them through. What comes naturally to an introverted thinker, ie working out ideas fully before expressing them, takes considerable concentration and effort on my part. But I can do it when I need to. And I have felt that need recently.

Something I have been pondering is the personal cost of sharing, specifically in relation to the book I have written. It is a memoir of my NHS career as a leader, including a how-not-to-do-it guide plus a bit of polemic about the future. The style is similar to many of my blogs. It is ready to be published this year. But I have been wavering. What added value might publication bring? Maybe the benefit was in the writing of it? Some may find the stories of interest and the lessons useful. But there will also be criticism and negative comments about difficult stuff from the past. Can I face this? Do I need it? I grow increasingly unsure. Thoughts on a postcard please…

I have also been thinking about the nature of mental illness, and how some of us are prone to it while others seem to have greater immunity. I tend to agree with those who say that that there are few people, if any, who, faced with enough mental trauma, would not crack under the strain. Some of us simply experience mental distress more readily than our fellow humans.

But despite all the evidence about the impact of genetics, other inherited traits, early experiences of trauma and loss, plus environmental factors, to have a tendency to experience mental illness is still seen by some as an indulgence, a weakness, even a personality flaw.

Those who, despite all that has come their way, have learned to tame their mental health, are heroes in my opinion. They should be admired for their assets, not pitied or shunned for their deficits. Many are the kind of people you would most want to be stuck on a desert island with. They are kind, resourceful and patient, and often less prone to judge others than those at whom life has thrown less excreta.

I have also been thinking how lucky I am. When I was last off sick with depression (from my old job as an NHS chief executive), I didn’t want to be alive. But I wasn’t worrying about paying the bills, losing my job or being made homeless. A few nameless folk were judgemental, but the ones who mattered most were hugely supportive. I got excellent treatment when I needed it from a wonderful psychiatrist and GP. When I was ready, I had the wherewithal to pay for psychological therapy. And as I got better, I didn’t have to waste precious emotional resources fighting a hostile benefits system. Nor did I find myself in accommodation where I felt unsafe, or removed from a caseload because I no longer met their treatment criteria. And I had no fears of deportation or having to hide from an abusive partner, people traffickers, drug dealers, pimps or lone sharks.

It is true that mental illness can happen to anyone. If we can find the strength, most of us can do something to help ourselves. But people who are lucky like me have many times more chance of a meaningful recovery and successful management of relapses than those who have been dealt a less favourable hand.

It was always so. And as austerity sinks its vicious fangs ever deeper into public services, it is those who already have the least who are most negatively affected. Instead of achieving their optimum, they are diminished and disabled, not necessarily by the condition itself, but by the need to fight battles every day, the lack of immediate and ongoing support, and by not having all the other things people like me take for granted.

And that is why I have been quiet. I have been thinking about this a lot. I am privileged in so many ways, including having a voice. And I feel I have a responsibility to make use of it.

More anon.

Suggested Ambridge New Year Resolutions 2017

Brian

Stop behaving like an ageing alpha male lion. Otherwise you might lose more than your pride. Give in graciously to Adam’s plans. Once you accept that you are, just like the rest of us, completely replaceable, you will be a lot happier.

Adam

See above. Also, maybe you could get in touch with Charlie?  We liked you being with him much better than poor old Ian.

Jennifer

Keep Brian on a shorter leash. Buy plenty of tissues for Lilian. And make more time for your writing.

Lilian

Dump Justin before he dumps you. He’s not nearly as much fun as you think. You can do much better than Ambridge’s answer to Sir Philip Green.

Toby

Don’t let people’s low expectations define you. Get a proper job, preferably in Brighton.

Tom and Kirsty

Buy a pram.

Helen

Do not, on any account, let Rob back into your life. Whatever he tells you, abusive males like him are extremely unlikely to change. Do everything you can to keep your lovely boys safe. One day you might meet someone else. But for now, while you recover from such a damaging few years, you are much better off alone.

Pip

Do not let other people tell you who to go out with. But equally, don’t let the poor opinions of your family cast Toby as Romeo to your Juliet. Like Lilian, you can do better. You won’t meet new people working on your parents farm and living at Rickyard Cottage. Time to spread your wings in 2017.

Jill

What is going on with you, Jill? Why do you hate Toby Fairbrother quite so much? You have alienated your beloved granddaughter, you risk doing the same with your daughter-in-law, and as a church-goer, you are showing some extremely un-Christian attitudes. And you won’t listen to reason.  It isn’t really about Pip, is it? Nor is it about Toby’s father and his long-ago affair with Elizabeth. It goes much deeper than that. I suggest you talk to someone outside the family who you trust, possibly Reverend Alan, and explore these feelings. You may need some professional help. Because such uncharacteristic vitriol at your age is really worrying.

Ed and Emma

Stay as sweet and honest as you are. Undoubtedly we could do with more working class characters who are in the cast for more than just their comedic value. But you two are brilliant. Please don’t change a thing.

Usha and the new vet lady

Likewise, we need to see much more of you both, as well as a few more characters who just happen to be Black, Asian or from other Minority Ethnic backgrounds. Or those of us who argue that The Archers is no longer totally white and middle-class will have to admit we are wrong. Bring back Iftikar Shah; he is much more glamorous and interesting than that boring doctor, Elizabeth!

Pat and Tony

If you thought semi-retirement was going to be quiet, think again. Prepare for incoming grandchild number 4. And congratulate yourselves on being true to your characters but at the same time amazing in 2016.

Here’s to a wonderful 2017 in Ambridge, which remains an oasis of compassion and commonsense compared with the rest of the world.

Calling the Jubilee

yestolifeblog

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” – Martin Luther King

Several years ago I sat with my good friend Yvonne Coghill having dinner. We talked about many things. It was night of deep conversation, much laughter and real energy. Yvonne then told me something that shocked me. She explained that across the NHS when you go up the structure people like her – black people and people from minority communities – start to disappear. The top was all white. Yvonne explained all the evidence shows that this occurs all over our health systems. Yvonne also explained there was good work going on to change this. I was deeply disturbed and…

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Three blogs and a bike ride

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week.  I’ve written three articles, visited a friend, given a talk, attended a party and been on a bike ride.

There’s been some other more difficult stuff which I don’t feel able to write about just now. More anon.

I wrote this piece about the loss of Sally Brampton through depression and what is assumed to have been suicide.

Suicide casts a long, cold shadow. My heart goes out to all who have lost someone that way. And to all who have tried to keep them safe. There is sometimes talk of failure in such circumstances. I fully understand why. But it can be cruel and destructive to those left behind. It can affect the grieving process and have terrible repercussions. I decided a while ago to devote some of my time to being a volunteer in suicide prevention. This work can of course be distressing. But is so worthwhile. If more people were involved in understanding about suicide, it would improve compassion and more lives might be saved. Blame doesn’t save anyone. If anything, it can have the opposite effect.

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On Monday I popped up to Rugby to see the lovely Gill Phillips and learn more about the groundbreaking work she does through her company @WhoseShoes. Gill had a special birthday this week – now she’s nearly as old as me! I love the way that this entrepreneurial woman has started a new adventure. I hope I can support Gill to bring Whose Shoes to the world of mental health. Go us!

Just Giving asked me to write this list of ideas to help people to manage their own mental health. It’s been fun watching the list grow throughout the week, and hearing comments from unlikely places about the tips. I just curated the list – none of them were invented by me. I try to follow them, not always successfully.

And I wrote this piece called Serendipity for NHS Employers. It was also Equality and Human Rights week. It was serendipitous to bring two things together that matter very much to me but which I hadn’t realised before had so much in common. I’ve had some useful feedback. It has sparked conversations about how we can use Mary Seacole’s legacy to inspire young people not just to dream, but to work hard and not be deterred by setbacks from achieving their ambitions.

One of my ambitions is to see the top of the NHS become less white and less male. Nothing against you guys, but as it says in my blog, the way things are now just isn’t representative. And having an unrepresentative leadership breeds alienation and resentment which has a negative impact on services.

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On Thursday afternoon I spoke at a Brighton Housing Trust Health and Wellbeing Service event (photo above). I was invited there to inspire the women with my experiences of being a high profile woman who is also open about my own mental illness. But to be honest, it was they who inspired me. I heard some stories I will never forget. I want everyone to know what we agreed, which is that people who live with mental illness have assets to share. Rather than deficits to avoid or accommodate. I’m going to be returning to this theme in the future.

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I was at the beautiful Black Cultural Archive in Brixton on Thursday evening at a comedy night with a purpose – to thank all the ambassadors and trustees who have spent 12 long years raising money for the Mary Seacole Statue.  That’s me with our brilliant and indefatigable Vice Chair Professor Elizabeth Anionwu CBE. Mary’s statue goes up in six weeks – much more about this soon.

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And on Friday I was out cycle training with my friend Sally who is joining me on Ride 100 on 31st July when we will be raising money for Samaritans. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that shortly. Suffice to say, after doing 20 miles of hills, including the notorious Box Hill (twice) we felt pretty smug 🙂

 

Please join my social media experiment

I haven’t done a blog like this before. I’m trying what I hope will be a relatively simple experiment to help me run some seminars on Thursday 3 March 2016 for the East Midlands NHS Leadership Academy.

And you can help me!

  • If you read the blog before Thursday, I would love to have your comments at the bottom of this blog to help me help the people in the seminar groups think about the use of social media in the NHS.
  • And if you read it afterwards, you can help me to think about it some more. Comments would be really welcome from seminar participants and others. Because like all of you, I am a lifelong learner.
  • I intend to use this blog as my main audio-visual aid for the seminars. It is therefore shorter than usual and presented mainly as
    • Bullet points!
  • As well as seeking your comments in bold, I will be encouraging comments and discussion from the attendees.
  • I plan to start by asking people where they are on scale of 1 – 10
    • 1 = a social media virgin
    • And 10 = social media savvy warrior
    • I am pitching the seminars and the blog towards the people who place themselves towards the lower end of this scale, but I will try to engage the more informed attendees by inviting their comments, as I am inviting yours.
  • How does that sound to you?
  • I will then introduce social media as a form of media where the control lies with the individual.
  • I will illustrate my point with a newspaper story that ran about me recently (two blogs down from this one if you haven’t heard about it) and how I was able to redress the balance myself via Twitter, Facebook and my blog.
  • Is the above example too self-indulgent, do you think? And if it is, can you think of a better one?

I will then list the different forms of social media thus:

Social media products:

  • Facebook: An early product. I use it to stay in touch with family + friends. But people use it very successfully for work, even instead of a website
  • Instagram – good for sharing photos, I am told.
  • Linked-In: For keeping in touch with people at work, finding jobs, making connections. Again an early product. I don’t like the interface. But I’ve missed some important messages from people who have tried to contact me that way, so be warned!
  • Skype: Free video calls. Can be erratic. But great for interviews or meetings with people far away. Much cheaper than video conferencing
  • Twitter: Admission time – my favourite. I love the discipline of the character limit.
  • Viber: Similar to WhatsApp. Also free calls
  • YouTube: used by President Obama, Justin Beiber and me!

  • WhatsApp: Great for staying in touch with individuals and groups. And free phone calls!

Does that sound overwhelming? Any glaring omissions? And does expressing my preferences help or hinder?

Benefits of using any/all of the above:

  • Control
  • Thrift
  • Contacts and connections
  • Equality

Things to look out for:

  • No such thing as a free lunch – you are the product for the companies providing these “free” services
  • Warning: social media can be addictive
  • Loss of privacy with some formats (see my blog On Forgiveness)
  • Trolls and other monsters (see my blog Please Take Care, Twitter can be Cruel)

Again, your thoughts please?

Blogging

  • Why do it? (see my blog called Why do you Blog?)
  • And why not do it? (hint: there are lots of good reasons)

This is where I hope we will have the richest discussion.

I’d really welcome your comments here too please.

Some NHS-inspired bloggers that I think are worth following:

  • Zoe Bojelian Wonderful mother of a brilliant boy who we will never forget
  • Annie Cooper Senior nurse + social media genius – she will be at the conference
  • Andy Cowper The most original writer on health policy I know. Also v funny
  • David Gilbert Writes in a brilliant, challenging way about patient leadership
  • Paul Jenkins Ex CE of Rethink, now runs a mental health trust. Deep thinker
  • Liz O’Riordan A breast surgeon with breast cancer. Stunning
  • Charlotte Walker A mental health patient (like me). Writes in real time. Gutty, startling insights
  • John Walsh My personal compassion guru
  • Rob Webster A brave, wise leader who shares generously

The list is of course not exhaustive, but I’d love your thoughts – who would you add?

My plan is to share this blog via the seminars, including all comments received, to stimulate discussion. And I will invite those who take longer to decide what they want to say, to add their comments after the event.

My final question to readers of the blog is this:

  • Would you find a seminar structured in this way useful?
  • And if not, and I really want your honest answers, please tell me how you would improve it.

I promise to incorporate your ideas. And I will also let you know how it goes.

Thank you very much indeed for joining my social media experiment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January can be a wicked month

Whether you call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, the winter blues, even depression, January can be a wicked month for those of us who have problems maintaining our mood. The combination of miserable weather, not enough light, post-holiday flatness and getting back on the treadmill can feel pretty grim.

So what to do? Reading breezy articles in lifestyle magazines might lead you to believe that the answers to your woes lie in spending money you almost certainly don’t have on new clothes, visits to spas, holidays or even a home makeover.

Such advice can make people like us feel even worse. As can admonishments to start a new you via a radical change to your diet, new hobbies or an unrealistic exercise regime. When we are feeling low, stuff like this plays into the isolation and hopelessness that already beset us. We know we probably should do these things, but we can’t because we believe we are hateful and lazy and useless and undeserving and anyway, there isn’t any point because nothing will ever get any better.

From my somewhat extensive experience of Januaries past, I offer an alternative list, proven, on the occasions when I have actually taken my own advice, to work.

  1. Stop being mean to and about yourself. You deserve kindness. Start thinking of yourself in a kinder way. When you find yourself putting yourself down and focusing on your deficits, turn this on its head and make a list of your assets instead. Practice being proud of who you are.
  2. Walk places, if possible every day. Walking is proven to lift our mood. It releases endorphins. And it’s free. The first ten minutes may be hard going but after that it will feel a bit easier. The rhythm of walking is soothing. It strengthens the heartbeat. And even if you find meditation impossible in the more usual way, walking will help calm any troubling thoughts.
  3. Tidy something small. Start by making your bed. Do the washing up. Put out some rubbish. Creating order in our surroundings helps to us to create order in our minds.
  4. Whatever you are doing today, do it to the best of your ability. Even if it something you hate, like cleaning or filling in forms. And at the end of the task, take pride in what you have achieved. Tell yourself you did well. And remember to praise yourself not for the outcome, but for the effort you put in to achieving it.
  5. Force yourself to talk to someone else. It may feel easier to hide away, but this is statistically proven to make things worse. Humans need contact with other humans. Parties and large groups can feel overwhelming unless you are at your best. Instead, arrange to have a cup of tea with a friend. Or pop round to see a neighbour. Ask how they are. And when they ask you, answer them honestly. If you are really isolated, think seriously about calling a helpline.

If you are feeling desperate, please, please seek help. Try this wonderful app created by Grassroots, a charity I am deeply grateful to be associated with as a trustee. Or call Samaritans,  who are there 24/7 to listen, without judging. They really can help. I know, as I’ve tried them myself in the past.

January can be a horrid month for many of us. But we can get through, if we are kind to ourselves and reach out.

Because, as the advert says, we’re worth it.

 

Blessings

books

Books that have inspired me this year by @Suzypuss @jamestitcombe and @molly_speaks

 

 

 

 

 

 

To keep depression at bay, it helps to count one’s blessings. My Twitter friends are a very big blessing. Here are some thank you messages for 2015:

  • To campaigning journalists @andymcnicoll and @shaunlintern for supporting underdogs including mental health care and people with learning disabilities. Please never stop.
  • To Adam and Zoe Bojelian who lost their dear son @Adsthepoet in March 2015 but keep his legacy alive via Twitter. You are in our thoughts as you face a first Christmas without your wise, beautiful boy. We will never forget him and what he taught us.
  • To @JamesTitcombe who lost his baby son and has courageously campaigned for greater openness over mistakes in the NHS, despite some vile online abuse. I treasure my copy of Joshua’s Story. And I thank James for all he continues to do to make the NHS safer for patients and their families.
  • To all who bravely act as patient representatives, such as the indomitable @allyc375, and remind regulators, commissioners, managers and clinicians what the NHS is actually for. Only they know the cost of speaking up. Go Ally, @anyadei @ianmcallaghan @DavidGilbert43 and others who’ve earned the right to call themselves patient leaders.
  • And to @HSJEditor for taking a risk and running the first HSJ list of patient leaders. Thank you Alastair. I think it was a game-changer.
  • To those who’ve grasped one of the most feared conditions and are making life better for those living with it. I mean you, @dementiaboy and @dr_shibley. To you and others like you, thank you for refusing to leave dementia in the too-difficult box.
  • To @Liz_ORiordan who is generously sharing her experiences of breast cancer care, which for a breast surgeon is a pretty massive deal. And for some other stuff.
  • To @EastLondonGroup, who introduced many of us to a group of previously little known landscape artists from the early 20th Century. Sunday Morning, Farringdon Road has become a landmark of my week.
  • And to @penny_thompson, for pointing me to ELG and for always being true to her values.
  • To poet @Molly_speaks for painting pictures with words in her lovely new book Underneath the Roses Where I Remembered Everything
  • To @HPIAndyCowper, for his excoriating, original analysis of the NHS, and for his support to me in my scribblings.
  • To @clare_horton for running the excellent @GuardianHealthCare and even including some of my pieces. This meant so much.
  • To @seacolestatue @EAnionwu @trevorsterl @thebestjoan @pauljebb1 @joan_myers and many others for plugging away in the face of seemingly impossible odds. The Mary Seacole Statue will rise in 2016 as a permanent memorial to someone who showed how, if something matters enough, we should never give up.
  • To @nhschangeday @PollyannaJones @helenbevan dani_ellie @jez_tong @LydiaBenedetta @cjohnson1903 @WhoseShoes @fwmaternitykhft @DaniG4 @damian_roland and so many others for including me in NHS Change Day 2015. I was meant to be helping you but I gained many times more than I gave.
  • To @TimetoChange @suebakerTTC @paulfarmermind @carolinewild @danbeale1 @2gethertrust @NTWNHS @rethink @mindcharity and a whole raft more for being a major part of my life this year, working together to tackle the stigma that still exists within the NHS towards folk who, like me, experience mental illness from time to time but are so much more than our diagnoses. Here’s to you.
  • To @nurse_w_glasses @anniecoops @drkimholt @gourmetpenguin @AlysColeKing @DrUmeshPrabhu who show by words AND actions that compassion is alive and kicking amongst health professionals
  • To wonderful women leaders such as @SamanthaJNHS @BCHBoss @JackieDanielNHS @ClaireCNWL @CharlotteAugst @KMiddletonCSP @Crouchendtiger7 @DrG_NHS @VictoriBleazard @JaneMCummings @CarolineLucas @juliamanning @TriciaHart26 @clarercgp who stick their heads above the parapet and make the world a better place
  • And folk like @NHSConfed_RobW @ChrisCEOHopson @cmo @profchrisham @ProfLAppleby @WesselyS @nhs_dean @NHSE_Paul @ScottDurairaj  @stephen_thornton @jhazan @rogerkline  who prove that leaders on Twitter don’t have to be women to be fabulous
  • To bright, bubbly new leaders like @anna_babic and all those I’ve met via @NHSLeadership, who fill me with hope for the future. And to @Alannobbs @kirsti79 @NoshinaKiani and all the other great folk at the NHS Leadership Academy. You do stunning work.
  • To @GrassrootsSP and everyone who works to prevent the long shadow cast by suicide. Thank you.
  • To everyone who supported me in my bike ride for @samaritans in the summer. Especially @NurseEiri and @JackieSmith_nmc. They know why.
  • To @Suzypuss whose book The Other Side of Silence has inspired me to get on and finish mine.
  • To wise owls @johnwalsh88 @TelfordCC @KathEvans2 @gracenglorydan @timmkeogh @RecoveryLetters @profsarahcowley for being beacons when the world feels a bit too hard
  • To friends who also experience mental illness from time to time and who share their thoughts and feelings so generously. Thank you @BipolarBlogger @Sectioned @BATKAT88 @annedraya @clareallen @corstejo @schizoaffected @rabbitsoup_zola and many, many others. On a not-so-good day, yours are the tweets I look out for. You bring me hope.
  • If I could, I would add everyone else I’ve chatted with on Twitter this year. To everyone I follow and who follows me: Twitter is 97.5% good for my mental health, and that’s because of all of you. Thank you all so much. I wish you all much love for 2016. You rock :mrgreen: :😎💃❤