Tiny Stories | Blackpool | England
Paul Shanahan is a man who is inspiringly open to discourse about his experiences of I'll health and mental health. He is not subject to the pressures and fears of stigma, choosing instead to be open and honest about his past where he once drowned under the weight of Mental Ill Health. He talks of his past with humour as if telling a tale of another. This is something I find quite common with those who have recovered, and I think it is a mark of recovery, when you can look back on your story and no longer feel afraid, or ashamed of it but rather see it as a different, ‘other life.’
We first met a few years back, back then I was working at Trust House Lancashire (a charity for survivors of childhood sexual abuse) part time, whilst starting up a community magazine with the time I had left. Paul had just set out to offer mindfulness as a recovery tool so I featured his story and we became friends. Fast forward a few years and I am sat in Quilligans Cafe, Blackpool drinking tea talking about his journey (metaphorically).
After an extremely difficult childhood of poor mental health, added to the melting pot came abuse and identity issues. Like so many others, Paul received inadequate, infrequent and often inappropriate care. Issues from his childhood surfaced, his mental state unpredictable and unstable had compounding effects on all parts of his life. From school and education, to relationships and the very sense of himself, everything was stained by mental iIl health.
What i admire in Pauls story is this inner burning light, like a gas pilot light, it just wouldn't go out. No matter how hard things got, or how hard he fell, he still, over time, got back up on his feet, dusted himself down and tried really hard again at life. I see this in him still today, this dog determination to move forward, to improve.
For Paul, the biggest change, (you know, the one that finally tips the scales so you feel like this time you just might have a fighting chance to escape the gravitational pull of planet mental health), began quite by accident. Paul discovered Mindfulness and so, step by step, his recovery began.
Today Paul lives and works in Blackpool. He is the founder of GoGetYou a registered funded Charity that delivers programs and workshops to improve people's mental, physical and emotional health. It all began with Mindfulness but Paul has expanded this to combined mediations with movements such as ThiChi. I do so admire people who find something from somewhere to never give up.
Working Out Loud
Mental Health is not an isolated condition like a boil on the skin or a rash on your feet. It may well be in “our heads” but it seeps into our hearts, our souls, our friends, our education, our careers, jobs, dreams and ambitions, It eats everything like a locust. Pills don't fix mental health. Pills can and do help people short term to get of the edge. They may be the difference between exploding today or simmering through to tomorrow but they won't cure all. It is the other things, the ‘not on prescription’ things that will lead to recovery. Friends, connecting with others, purpose, storytelling, story sharing, creativity and little easy to learn tools to like mindfulness that help us take back control of our own lives. That to me is one of the unwritten secrets to recovery, at its core, recovery is about taking back control of our own destiny and as such taking control of our own decisions and choices.
Tiny Stories | Blackpool | UK
I bumped into Brian Eaton the other week as we both attended the Community Action Day at The Space, a beautiful community space managed by Ruby Coupe . As always, it was a joy. Brian is a very positive and passionate man brimming with excitement, stories and a good pull of his own leg. For anyone who knows Brian, I am sure you will agree with me, that he is one of the most loveliest of people you could ever wish to meet.
In some ways if you could bottle Brian on prescription you could go along way to improving community Mental Health. Brian is a person who naturally will make anyone feel motivated and Happy.
With support from Claremont Park Community Centre. Brian also runs a lovely community project. He set up the ‘Linda Eaton Craft Awards’ in memory dedication to his wife, Linda, after she sadly passed away. Linda was an artist, she also cared about people. So, Brian with his infectious personality set about travelling all over Lancashire, talking to and inviting people, schools and community groups to take part in the LECA annual awards for community art. In particular, amateurs and non-artists especially are always warmly welcome.
Each year the all inclusive community art awards gains in strength and numbers with hundreds of pieces of art, photography, sculpture, illustration and more contributed. The ages range from as young as five to the oldest people alive and the quality is both diverse and refreshing to find. You will not find art snobbery hear instead you will find a celebration of people and the joy of making marks.
Brian is passionate about art in communities, how it brings people together, along with its contribution to better mental health. His awards nights are great too. All LECA entrants an attend free of charge to a night of musical entertainment, delicious food and the awards ceremony. To add more fun and joy then the real highlight of any awards night are Brains stories and his occasional jig or two.
Working Out Loud
Age does not have to be a barrier to participation in your community or even being someone who creates opportunities for change for others in their communities.
You do not have to be a big organisation, or a small one fo that matter, our communities are full of often unseen people making goodthings happen.
Tiny Stories | Fleetwood | England
"Stories & Conversations are the souls and sparks of life, they have important roles to play in the future of community"
That was what i said to the Healthier Fleetwood Team. Soon after, I find myself listening to many Fleetwood residents stories about the new found hopes and opportunities that they had with Dr Mark Spencer and his team. I visited what I feel, so far anyway, to be a genuine community development project known as ‘Healthier Fleetwood'. It seems to be more than a single project, being more accurately, a genuine attempt to create a movement on a town wide scale.
At the helm of the Healthier Fleetwood movement is Dr Mark Spencer. Now, I am often dubious when high ranking professionals “have an idea” about “fixing” communities. This is not to disrespect them or their skills. The point is this, if you don't live alongside or inside of something how can you possibly know what it is really like? How could you really know what is needed to create sustainable meaningful change?
This is often the problem with top to ground level and outside ideas about community change. All good intentions inevitably fail in part because the “ideas people” are not part of,or immersed at an everyday ground level of the community they are trying to fix. Change comes from the inside no matter how much theory, ideas, time, resources or money is thrown at a person or community from the outside.
However in this instance things are a little different from most community change projects I have witnessed. Dr Mark Spencer is in touch with the everyday life his patients in Fleetwood experience, their feelings, loneliness, sadness, depression, poverty and lack of prospects and hopes. He lives, works, eats, socialises in essence he is part of the Fleetwood Community and just so happens to be well connected, influential and a stack of education and professionalism behind him.
Now in both my own recent research and others most people complain (rightly so )that their GP’s do not have time or sometimes the inclination to listen to them. Dr Spencer would also agree. In some respects it was this experience of people with bordering mental health issues, loneliness, depression, poor health and a lack of hope for change compounded with his own overstretched practice and lack of time to give them what they wanted time to tell and time to rewrite their stories that frustrated him to taking action for change.
After sharing story with residents it is clear that they not only respect Dr, Spencer and his team but also feel truly part of the design process of rebuilding what was for several generations a failing forgotten town. I have a lot of positive feelings of hope around this growing movement that is being built “together” from the grassroots up, rather than the glass ceiling down. This is a community, a town that I believe will thrive.
Tiny Stories | Salzburg | Austria
This is Ahilje. She is a very warm German lady, presently living and working in Salzberg, Austria. I had borded a train in Salzburg, heading to Munich when she sat by my table. Often it is me that starts a conversation with a stranger but today was diferent. Today Ahilje started a conversation with me. It started over a cup of tea.
Ahilje is a mother of 3, has a husband, an animal lover and drinker of tea. She is travelling back to her native home to visit one of her daughters and I can see already on her face how much her family is important to her. she is so proud and shares the story of her daughters determination to suceed. After some bad times her daughter has built up a business making rich delightul organic chocolate and is about to sell it to the UK.
Ahilje herself is quite the remarkable lady and I instantly can see where her daughter has inhereted her mothers gift. The gift of giving and never giving up. She dedicates her life to helping and healing people as a therapist. But in 2014 she experienced multiple losses and traumas and as such these broke her strength and resilience.
Yet despite how dark it felt for a while, Ahilje recovered and recovered stronger than she was before. She shared with me what really helped her to get well and it is simple yet something our social age has lost all conections with.
She recovered by connecting with people. Conversations, company, storytelling, listening and just being around inspiring, kind and loving patient people, and dogs.
One of the biggest loves she has is for her aging dogs, they gave her the love she was unable to give at the time, to her self, they forced her to get up and go out. They loved her, snuggled her, and made her laugth. Then, when she was ready, she bagan to do the same with her human friends.
It was this unconditional love from her dogs that Ahilje points as the original seed of her healing. Her advice to those suffering in Depression is this;- Tea, conversation and dogs are the best pills to heal mental health.
Tiny Stories | Blackpool | England
This is Sam Simpson. She is an artist and a lover of dancing. Not just dancing but the transformative power that it can have for individuals and communities alike. You will find her across Lancashire and in her native habitat of Blackpool, you won't miss her considering she takes to the streets like the pide-piper of Hamlin carrying a big "we love dancing come join us" sign over her shoulder, dragging a portable sound system and an eclectic mix of uber-cool sounds. She is encouraging people to drop everything and dance right now, right here. To be in the moment.
It is fun, infecting and a little bit bananas. But it has more power than that, it brings people into the moment away from worry, it brings communities together and it helps build social soul. But this isn't all she does, she takes her art and her dancing to some of the most vulnerable and often forgotten people in town helping them to feel valued, included and alive.
It is often the simplest of things that produce the greatest impacts for change that our communities need today, to grow and flourish. It is a pleasure to know sam and hear her passion for healing communities through her art.
Working Out Loud
Sam is a living example that you do not need to be a big or even small organisation to create community change. You do not need to be a psychologist, therapist or any number of other things. One person can effect change, help people, bring joy, unite communities and more. Just one person holding up a sign.
Tiny Stories | Munich | Germany
This is Rodger. Rodger left Bedfordshire, England in 1971. He left at seventeen, with no place to stay and no job in an era that now seems like a vintage age before Social Media. There was no such thing as GPS tracking, Google Maps or even mobile phones. come to think of it there was no internet and world wide web. There was no such thing as digital translators, or any other app for fast easy access to help or information. All he knew was that his heart and passion to play the violin was so great that to not even try would kill him inside.
It is now 2017 and Rodger has has just retired after a long career as a violinist in Germany, playing in many first class Orchestras including Berlin. He has played to people and kings, travelling the world, following his heart. He lives in Munich now and is looking forward to spending his retirement listening to other people play the violin to him instead.
We met quite by accident, lost in a Munich Subway in the winter of 2017. for twenty minutes we shared our stories, parted like old friends and said our goodbyes.
Working Out Loud
People ask me how come total strangers share their passions, fears, hopes and pain with me? I used to think it was my background, my training, my skills but it isn't any of that. Yes those things help me be a better listener and if need be, at times, a therapist. But the simple truth I have found is, that by simply telling people that I collect stories, is enough. We all have a story and the sharing of story helps meet a fundamental human need. It answers, partly, why we exist, the purpose of life and that is, to make our mark on the world, to leave our story behind.
Tiny Stories | Blackpool | UK
I so love our communities having people like Mark in them. You know that guy or that girl brightly coloured, dressed in the most original or period fashions. They are in my experience, always warm, kind loving and friendly. The downside though, is that sometimes they are misunderstood or cruelly labelled by others. Those others, who are often repressed by their own fear based story. The narrative that stops them expressing themselves.
You see, there is always a story or two to go with people like Mark. If you heard their story, you would find your perception shifts to one of empathy and inspiration. You would see the story of an interesting, strong and courageous human being.
I have a lot of admiration, the kind that makes my heart fill with joy when I am around people like Mark. People who have survived so much and still consider how they can brighten up someone elses day. Mark wears his clothes like a suite of armour, like a superman cape they make him feel more confident to overcome in the world. He brings a smile to most peoples faces that encourages conversations just like the one I had with him on Tuesday.
Working Out Loud
Mark illustrates two very good points in regards to Mental Health and the art of living a considered and expressive life;-
1. It is of great value to our sense of self, our identity, our soul that we express in some form the real “me”
2. People often laugh at those whose stand out because they are less free in themselves
3. Mental Health Labels are irrelevant when you listen deeply to another's story
Joanna Wagstaff is quite an amazing and courageous young woman. We met for coffee as she told me all about her new found love of public speaking. Indeed, she had just delivered a public speech the same morning we met. Now public speaking takes courage. Its daunting, sometimes terrifying especially when you are just starting out, it takes courage. Lots of courage.
For Joanna, born with a stammer, more courage was needed than most. Joanna spent all of her life having her voice represented by other people. Trusted family and friends would speak on her behalf. Her stammer had far reaching impacts on her self esteem, confidence, social life and career paths. It stained every part of her life.
Three years ago Joanna set out on a courageous voyage of self discovery to take back control and responsibility of owning her own voice. With the help and support of the McGuire Program Today, Joanna owns with confidence her own powerful voice and has embarked on her next adventure public speaking and sharing her story with strangers and friends alike.
Working Out Loud
Joanna's story illustrates two points about life, beautifully.
1. Courage is born from facing fear
2. What we think are our weaknesses can be turned into our strengths
Tiny Stories | Munich | Germany
We joined a group of fellow travellers from Ireland, England, Scotland and the USA. Drinking in a roudy Munich BierKeller. in a Winter’s Germany. After I explained that I collect stories and the authentic reasons why, the conversations quickly turned to the sharing of our stories, our passions, dreams and fears.
Although we all came from different walks of life ranging from high ranking professionals to me in my threadbare jeans, it is story that levelled us as equals. I find this a lot, the magic that story sharing and telling has on ending labels, judgements, misconceptions and stereotypes. There is something quite magical that stirs in the heart when we know someone is giving to us a bit of themselves. It changes you, it adds something to you, to everyone involved.
Now, whether it is just a fluke or wether on some unconscious level the archetypes of German history are playing out on the night our stories turn to conversations about our hometowns, our countries and what we would love to change. Put eight people with alcohol in a Munich Bierkeller and you get politics of change.
We came from worlds quite different and yet one thing became very clear. Despite our seemingly amazingly digital instant world of communication, of social media and virtual anything, most of us feel, well, invisible and unheard. This applies on a personal or more social and political level to. We all felt our governments, councillors, local authorities, doctors, childrens teachers, employers. in fact everybody isnt really listening, properly, to anybody anymore.
Its more than just not listening, there is a sense of being alone today and I think it is deeper than not being heard. Its actually about not feeling known. For a moment just think about it. When was the last time you ever listened to yourself, your heart, your feelings, your dreams? Who really knows themselves let alone their children, friends, communities and more?
Yes the digital age is savy and i love technology so much but the fast paste, almost crack fueled social media age is like an addict in a drugs race. More, More More and even then that isn't enough, post this, post that, fast quick, get the likes, it's a very one layer superficial story telling age.
Savvy digital gurus tell us that content is king yet there is very little real depth story in what floods the internet these days. We think we are getting content and good story but the reality is we are just getting a really clever marketing campaign, spam on steroids.
Being authentic, honest and true has been eroded not just in the virtual world of the internet but within our communities to. In the world of instant connection we are more lonely than ever before because I believe, that the art of authentic storytelling has been mostly ignored.
Tiny Stores | Blackpool | UK
There is a depth in people that you can only know through story. We can often make quick, snap judgments about people, superficial decisions about who they are. We categorize people into uneducated stereotypes based on age, clothing, hair, looks, job, car etc. But if we look a little bit passed that judgment, if we dig a little deeper there is so much more, so much inspiration, courage and adventure. We can access a person's depth through a story.
Carole on first glance may seem like an elderly lady with her trolley and cute little dog. You may presume she does ‘elderly lady’ things whatever they are?
Carole helps people. Specifically homeless people & their dogs. I have been homeless and when you have nothing your dog is more than your best friend he or she is often the only thing you have left that feels of any value, the only thing you feel any form of emotional trust with. She feels this, so she helps people by helping their dogs. She has set up Soup kitchens in the past and many other activities all outside of the system, no charities, bureaucracies but that also means no access to traditional funding. Yet, she still raises enough donations and supports to keep helping dogs & people on the fringes of society.
Carole does not just do the easy stuff though, she also rescues dogs from starvation or violence and is known to go directly to people living in squats and crack dens. As she puts it, “other little cozy places” You can offer encouragement and if able, support, by connecting with Carole on her Facebook page Blackpool Street Dogs.
Working Out Loud
1. There is more to people that first glance
2. The lack of support for homeless peoples dogs is a barrier to their rehousing and recovery
3. Animals are super important to people and should always be considered in any interventions and help we build and do