Being Kinder to Yourself Despite Mental Illness

I first experienced severe depression when I was twenty-three. Up until then, I’d had the odd bout of heartbreak but I’d been lucky enough not to have any serious mental health issues. I got stressed out when I started my legal training to be a solicitor. I changed everything in my life at once and it was too much – a big move, living with my boyfriend for the first time and thrown in at the deep end at work. I’d never even failed an exam up to that point so it was no wonder I struggled to cope with life after university. I am ambitious but sensitive, and not great with too much responsibility, but I had to learn that the hard way. When I got ill, I had to move back to my parents and totally change direction, I knew that Law was going to be too stressful for me.

At first, I didn’t even know what was going on with me. I was tired a lot, struggling to get up in the mornings and worried all the time. I lost my appetite and snapped at the slightest things. I wasn’t enjoying my life at all at a time when it should really be fun. It was a big shock to the system being told I was depressed and had to take medication, and I felt like a failure instead of maybe looking at how I was treated at work (there was some bullying going on). The thing is, a big part of depression involves blaming yourself. Your brain lies to you and tells you that you’re worthless. That you’d be better off dead. I compared myself to my friends who at the time were all doing well at work, which just made things worse.

Luckily with age I’ve learnt to have much more kindness and compassion for myself, but it didn’t come easily. I became ill again after I’d done my teacher training and was left to run a department in my first year (I was working eighty to a hundred-hour weeks). My mum got cancer too. But again I kept going, not wanting to admit that I hated my job that I’d worked so hard for. I fell down again, and was ill for three years. It took a long time to find the right medication that time and I don’t know how I got through it to be honest. But I finally realised that traditional professional careers were not for me. It was time for a new path.

My mum suggested to me to try writing and I started an arts and culture blog, and got my reviews published in a local magazine. I was finally enjoying myself! I took different roles working in universities for a while, where I could do a thirty-five-hour week and not have to take work home. I built up my writing on the side and realised I could be paid to write for businesses. I took a job as a copywriter and at thirty-one finally felt like I’d found the right job. But unfortunately, I was made redundant after three months and the depression came back. I ended up in hospital and asked for ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) which thankfully worked. I worked as a temp for a while during my recovery and eventually felt well enough to become self-employed as a copywriter, and was well for three years.

It was difficult for me not to blame myself for the depressive episodes, but in time I realised that it’s easy to end up in the wrong job and society puts a lot of pressure on people to aim for those careers. I have pushed myself very hard at times, but now I have come to learn that I have an illness. I have a responsibility to manage that illness with medication and the right support, and try to avoid too much stress, but at the same time life happens and becoming ill is often unavoidable.

Since my Bipolar II diagnosis, I am learning to accept that I am not to blame for being ill. I have an illness which is no different to a physical illness. I want to share my story to help others to realise they don’t have to push themselves so hard to fit into a box. Some people take longer to find their purpose than others, so it’s important to accept your own path and become aware of what works for you. If you have to change direction, be brave enough to follow your heart. When we get creative and do things differently, life can get so much better.

Debbie Stokoe is a freelance mental health and wellbeing writer based in the North East of England. She has experienced work-related depression and has written about her experiences in her book Awakened: Depression, Recovery and Breaking Free. She has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar II at 40. Finding her passion (writing) has been pivotal in her recovery. She also runs a Facebook group on the subject of mental health and spirituality. She is a former copywriter and teacher.

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Don’t Just #bekind – Be Kind!

I am personally delighted to see more empathy, promises of kindness, and trends to #bekind in the world right now. It is a shame that extreme events e.g. high-profile celebrity suicides have driven this, but it’s a timely call to arms to all of us to think how we behave towards others.

Unfortunately, this new movement has created its own meta-faction, the ‘be kind brigade’ a sadly ironic slur towards those who virtuously talk about being so, then a week later argue with people online and thoughtlessly ignore social distancing rules to protecting each other.

We need, as a more-than-ever interconnected human race, to practice what we preach. For those who are cynical, and/or those who have their own challenges to deal with just know this; according to Australian Institute of Family Counselling (AIFC), people who practice kindness have “lower stress than the average person” and “kindness improves mood, depression and anxiety and stimulates the production of serotonin which heals wounds, calms and increases happiness.”

We all have a hunch about what kindness is and we all probably think that we’re kind, but I wanted to hold myself to a higher account and check out what it really means. First stop, the Oxford Dictionary where kindness is defined as: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

I would argue right now, being aware of your own levels of kindness is more important than ever and it feels rather timely, this thematic week of awareness. In this new/temporary/future world of COVID-19, I feel I have seen more kindness than ever overall.

To understand how to be kinder, let’s break down the three areas of kindness per the definition, to enable us to address.

Be Friendly

The act of being friendly and pleasant to each other, friend or not. We all deserve this don’t we? Do the oh-so-British thank you ‘nod’ to the person who stands at least two-metres aside on the path to let you pass. Saying ‘after you’ to the fellow shopper who wants to grab the yoghurts from the chiller in the supermarket to show you are aware of their needs and personal space. COVID aside, don’t honk horns and don’t bite at everything you don’t agree with.

Be Generous

Jack Dorsey, Founder & CEO of Twitter, donated $1bn of his net worth for coronavirus relief. As incredibly benevolent as this is, it can be humbling for us mere mortals. Honestly speaking, with business as it is the last couple of months, I’d struggle to donate £1. But that is just it, have a think about what ‘currency’ you have to offer. I have had more time on my hands and a means of transport. I have knowledge and skills in what I do for a living (marketing) that I can share that. In relative terms, I feel very lucky. As a result, I have aimed to be as generous with my time as possible by picking up the shopping for the old couple who live near my parents, and offering to help some small businesses with website and marketing ideas pro bono. I like to think this is generosity, however small. You don’t have to be a tech entrepreneur/philanthropist in Silicon Valley to be generous. Just make me a cup of tea – milk, no sugar please.

Be Considerate

It’s as if this was meant to be right now, and the tenet of kindness most needed right now. Consideration is by definition performing acts that are not to the detriment of others. When I hear about gatherings at city parks being planned by ‘anti-lockdown’ groups, I think, putting it lightly, this feels inconsiderate. To put others at risk whilst prioritising the relieving of your own frustrations. The face masks for example. It is meant to be less for you, more for others (stop spreading particles when talking etc. I’m no epidemiologist to speak of its efficacy, but the principle remains.

Conclusion: All of the Above Please

Right now, THE ABOVE feels all the more pertinent. I would add in the extra layer of thoughtfulness, that duly underpins all of this, be thoughtful to others and their mental health. Think about being friendly, generous and considerate. We can all practice kindness right now. It doesn’t have to be Gandhi-esque, it might just be a FaceTime to an old mate, or a Whatsapp of a stupid meme of an in joke.

Whatever you do, just be kind.

Simon Akers is the founder of Archmon, a growth marketing consultancy, a mental health advocate and friend of Trigger Publishing and Shawmind.

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Insomnia and Mind States

In my previous profession, I spent many years treating patients with, amongst other issues, insomnia, anxiety and depression. After a lifetime of being an ‘easy sleeper’, I never expected to find myself in the same position.

Life always has a way of throwing us all a ‘curveball’. Back in 2008, I’d heard rumours of something called a ‘credit crunch’. Those rumours turned into what became the most stressful period of my life to date. Of course, all these things are relative but, to each of us, we can often only focus on what’s happening to us right now. By the end of 2008, the business that I had grown from seed started to come crashing down around my ears. All I could think of was the look on the faces of my wife and children when I told them that we were losing our home. As I was an employer, this had the potential to affect twelve other families, as well as my own. All this at what was to become one of the most difficult recessions for almost a hundred years. This only heightened my concerns. So, the prolonged worry over what turned out to be at least a two-year period, eventually started to take its toll on both my body and mind. The chronic anxiety that developed was eventually partnered by depression, both of which I had plenty of experience treating in the clinic but very scant first hand personal experience.

I didn’t want to worry my wife, my parents or my young family. That felt like it would just make things worse. I didn’t want to worry my employees, either. So, I just ended up bottling it all up. A recipe for disaster. The insomnia, night-sweats, palpitations, nervousness, worry, anxiety and depression started to take hold.

I didn’t consult my GP because of the terrible stories from my patients of the lack of help they received and my witnessing the side effects of the medications they were prescribed. There was a sheer pointlessness to the approach, as I saw it. I didn’t want to consult my own colleagues for treatment because I felt I needed to appear as if I was holding it all together. I was convinced that the only real solution was to ‘get a grip’ and change my circumstances. That’s no mean feat when one can’t think clearly for long because of feelings of anxiety.

Fortunately, I was equipped with a tool kit to help me manage my symptoms: Tai Chi and various meditative techniques had been a part of my life since I was a young man. They’ve long been shown to have a profoundly beneficial effect on both body and mind. I’ve been teaching these ancient arts for the benefit of other people since 1996. Now, it was time to walk the talk for my own benefit.

The significant turning point came when I realised I had only two choices:

  1. Getting a grip
  2. NOT getting a grip

I didn’t fancy the latter because it meant continued suffering; and I’d had quite enough of that, already. I had to get through this crisis using careful, considered thinking and develop a plan.

I got myself a coach to get that invaluable third party, impartial perspective and worked consistently to follow my plans. I accepted my symptoms as part of the challenge and included their management in my overall plan using:

  • positive affirmations
  • regular Tai Chi practice to regulate my body and mind

In time, my mental state started to improve, my body started to relax and my business started to turn around.

Ten years or so on, that business is not only still alive but has prospered without me since I sold out to my employees in 2015 to pursue a new career in coaching, myself. I’ve always believed that there are practical solutions to most any healthcare scenarios and managed to prove it to myself through this experience.

I can’t say that my symptoms disappeared overnight. Inevitably, there is a practised behavioural element to these things. Now and then, I would still wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of panic and sense of impending doom. However, in time, I became able to transpose these feelings through conscious choice and practised process. Just like anything, it’s a skill that is honed gradually over time.

Life is never without it’s worries. Buddhism teaches that ‘life is dukkha’, which is often translated as ‘life is suffering’. However, I prefer the translation ‘life is challenge’. Indeed, it is only through challenges that we develop and grow. One thing I have learned, with time, is to show my vulnerability. It takes a great weight off one’s shoulders.

Sean Barkes is an Executive Coach, Mentor, Business Consultant, Strategist, Thought Coach, Unconscious Assumption Identifier, Faulty Thinking Detective and Habit Analyst at Refinity.

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Mental Health Training for the Nation

In 2017 our charity championed children’s mental health education by raising 103,000 signatures for the landmark Parliamentary debate which led to children’s mental health education being made mandatory in schools from September this year.

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Fundraising Update

As coronavirus arrived on our shores, we were celebrating a month of successful fundraising activities that included our Sock it to Stigma campaign which raised almost £1,000 in one day – thanks in part to the London Sock Company, who donated a £1 for every mention of our hashtag and a percentage of the sales of their socks on the day.

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Our Mental Health Heroes

In response to an increase in the number of people who are looking for mental health support during this crisis, we put out a call for volunteers – and are delighted to welcome onboard more than 20 new mental health champions!

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Breathe – In It Together

Since we went into lockdown at the end of March we have made some significant changes to our services. Now, the people who regularly visited our Breathe Café, ManCave and Breathe Pop-ups can access our support and signposting through our regular call, text and email service run by our volunteers. We also have a dedicated “Breathe – In It Together” Facebook group with more than 500 active members, so if you’re looking for some human interaction under lockdown, or even after lockdown, that’s the place to be. 

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Set an Inner Compassion Compass for a Kinder Life

Many new Facebook groups have sprung up and two of my favourites are Project Kindness and What Do You See From Your Window? #StayAtHome

The first one speaks for itself really. It was set up to share thoughts and acts of kindness to help people navigate these difficult times with more positivity and hope. The latter is to share your views. Many are breathtaking and I’ve shared views of the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside where I’m in lockdown, complete with an array of animals including lambs. 

One woman posted a photo of a brick wall saying that the other views were depressing her as this was all she had to look out on. There was an outpouring of love, support, words of encouragement and kindness and over a thousand people sent her messages in a few days.  It really touched me and I’m sure it lifted the lady in question up too.

Recently it was ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’ and I posted the graphic below on social media to mark it. I first discovered Random Acts of Kindness in the early 1990s when I was attending Tony Robbin’s ‘Unleash the Power Within’ course. At the time social media was in its infancy so we purchased packs of cards that had an angel on the front and then some suggestions for blessing others with random kind acts. Suggestions included paying a toll on a motorway for the next driver (this was in America!). Paying for the groceries of the next person in a store. Leaving money for 10 coffees for the next people to come into a coffee shop and many more similar suggestions.

I love the idea of being kind and paying it forward. In these times of challenge there have been so many heart-warming stories of just that. In fact, in the news today it is reported that only 9% of Britons want life to return to “normal” after the coronavirus outbreak is over, a survey suggests.

People have noticed significant changes during the lockdown, including cleaner air, more wildlife and stronger communities. More than half (54%) of the 4,343 people who took part in the YouGov poll hope they will make some changes in their own lives and for the country as a whole to learn from the crisis. And 42% of participants said they value food and other essentials more since the pandemic, with 38% cooking from scratch more.

The survey also found that 61% of people are spending less money and 51% noticed cleaner air outdoors, while 27% think there is more wildlife. Two-fifths said there is a stronger sense of community in their area since the outbreak began and 39% say they are catching up with friends and family more.

So, the true values of connection, time for each other, enjoying nature and taking time to cook and just slow down seem to have come to the fore. My biggest fear is that we forget these valuable lessons too quickly. My biggest hope is that we don’t and that we see the synchronicity and connection in our lives and to the world around us. 

I remember reading Oedipus for A-level and the Ancient Greeks saw every act and everyone as ultimately connected. They described it as taking a piece of cloth, screwing it up into a ball, pushing a sharp blade through the ball and then opening the cloth again. It will be pricked with holes all over. All seeming random and not in a pattern yet truly all connected through that one blade and one cut.

I find that I can keep all of this seemingly random synchronicity in mind by visualising a ‘Compassion Compass’. Life may seem random, and sometimes our best efforts to plot a course to happiness or fulfilment may get set back or even thwarted, but if you trust that your life is guided by a greater force, in this case, your ‘Compassion Compass’, then it stops being scary.

A few things led me to establish the ‘Compassion Compass’. Compassion is one of the highest values of all, so my vision is of a compass where the set point is firmly in the direction of compassion.

In the early 2000s, one of my marketing consultancy clients was True North and I loved the imagery of the True North: the place we all ultimately want to chart our way to. There are many deep and spiritual meanings to the directions of North, South, East and West. Celtic symbolism holds that the East equals air, communication, new beginnings, new growth; South equals fire, energy, passion, creativity; West equals water, emotion, psyche, movement; and North equals earth, home, security and fertility.

With the Compassion Compass the set point is always to be kind to yourself. Start the random acts of kindness with you.

All the strength that you need to save you is within you. The trick is to tap into it, hone it, head towards it, and if the road gets bumpy or you lose your way, trust in your ‘Compassion Compass’ that maybe things that don’t look so good at present are actually there for a good or greater reason. Like the three redundancies I faced in my earlier working life. Like the cancer I came through 15 years ago. Like so many other adversities that inspired me to write my book Reset! A Blueprint for a Better Life and led me to changing career in my 50s to become a therapist and coach.  That then led to being an author, a columnist, a broadcaster, a speaker and more as I speak about my life and how kindness and balance remain at its core.

As Proust said: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Rosalyn Palmer is an Emotional Wellbeing Expert with a private practice in Newark (and Worldwide reach via Zoom) as an Advanced Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapist (ARTT), Clinical Hypnotherapist and award-winning coach.

She co-hosts the Radio Newark show Girls Around Town, and has a monthly newspaper column in The Newark Advertiser focusing on wellbeing issues on both. As a bestselling author of the award-winning self-help book ‘Reset! A Blueprint for a Better Life’ she makes emotional wellbeing accessible to all. Rosalyn is now also a co-author of Amazon No.1 bestselling self-help books ‘Ignite Your Life for Women’ and ‘Ignite Your Female Leadership’.

A member of the National Council of Psychotherapists; General Hypnotherapy Register & Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

Formerly the MD/Founder of award-winning PR agency RPPR, Head of Marketing for an international charity and with an enviable CV from leading London agencies in the 80s and 90s, Rosalyn has grown from many challenging life experiences. These include cancer, financial loss, loss of identity, depression, redundancy and divorce. She has moved from a top-level business and corporate life to now supporting women and men who are facing burnout and overwhelm and other challenges of modern life. All of this colours and tempers her writing, broadcasting and speaking and makes her a highly empathetic therapist and coach.

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Eight Acts of Kindness We Can All Implement

Anne Frank once wrote, “no one has ever become poor by giving”, and the difficult times we are living in now are a true testament to these words.

Giving doesn’t need to be a monetary donation – of course that always helps charities – but a small act of kindness in difficult moments goes a long way!

If your neighbourhood is anything like mine, then you’ll have noticed just how much it (and its people) have changed during the pandemic. Yes, at first everyone was panicked and worried about themselves – but this quickly transformed into a communal spirit of togetherness.

Neighbours who previously didn’t have time to say hello are now having conversations over fences. The elderly shoppers who youngsters would pip to the checkout till are now actually being offered to jump ahead by the same millennials.

And those doctors and nurses we usually moan about – they are now being hailed every week with nationwide applause.

There is no doubt that when the going gets tough we need to band together as a national, and perhaps global, community to pull ourselves through the challenging moments.

Whatever you call it, we need to find that common currency we all know – care, humanity, neighbourliness.

So here are eight easy acts of kindness you can do today:

  1. Know someone who might be struggling? Please pick up the phone and offer some support. Even if it is a friendly chat for just ten minutes, it could make the world of a difference to them.
  2. Indoors is the place to be. Be kind to the NHS and help to prevent over-burdening the already stretched health service by following the government’s advice of staying at home. All medical staff will thoroughly appreciate this, especially if we do this together.
  3. “Neighbours…should be there for one another” (according to one ‘80s Australian TV show!). This is a great time to build those neighbourhood communities. Help an elderly neighbour with their shopping, make a bit more dinner and drop some off next door, or simply say “hello” with a big smile whilst on your daily walk.
  4. Pick up some extra food items to donate to a food bank. Amidst all the panic buying and worry, there will be a significant number of people – too many – who won’t have dinner tonight at all. You could pick up an extra tin of beans and pass it on.
  5. Donate to charity. With many charities struggling to provide enough support to their beneficiaries, they need you to thoughtfully spare some change. A small amount will go a long way. It may not be a lot a lot to you, but it could be a lot to the person who receives it. It could be a homeless shelter, a hospice or even a mental health charity (like the wonderful Shawmind).
  6. Eight o’clock every Thursday night. Clap for our carers. They need and deserve our support and motivation.
  7. Make a call to a loved one who you cannot visit, and lift their spirits. With lots of great virtual platforms such as Zoom, you can now see each other’s faces (and new haircuts!) and connect live.
  8. Self-kindness. As important as it is to be kind to others, you need to remember yourself, too. Use this slower pace of life to do all those things you always said you didn’t have time to do before. Learn a language, take up a hobby, read more, or simply get some well-earned rest, but take care of yourself!

Kindness, compassion, humanity – they are unspoken pacts between people. They mean each person knows they are safe and supported in the other’s presence.

Kindness quickly builds a connection that can result in a lifetime bond, or mend what was destined to be eternal animosity. It usually doesn’t take much – it just takes something – and then you just need to stand back and watch the ripple effect it can have.

This is the power of kindness, and it lies within each and every one of us. Let kindness be contagious.

Muntazir Rai is the co-founder at Pledjar – a mobile app recently launched, which allows users to round-up their card transactions and donate them to their favourite charities. He is also a trustee at the international grass-roots charity Who is Hussain, and a former secondary maths teacher and head of year.

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Mental Health Training Giveaway

We believe that everyone should have access to mental health resources when they need them.

To help achieve this and break the stigma of mental ill health for good, we recently launched a series of online interactive mental health and wellbeing training courses with our professional partners, Samantha Kendall, Ann Russell and Tana Macpherson-Smith.

The courses are aimed at everyone from individuals, parents, teachers and children to employees, HR teams and line-managers, and will equip attendees with a better understanding of a range of mental health disorders, how to spot the signs and how to access or provide basic support for themselves or others.

We’ve been inundated with enquiries and have started to book our first few sessions, but during Mental Health Awareness Week (18th-24th May) 2020, we’re going to put our money where our mouth is and give one lucky person access to the Basics of Mental Health Support course (worth £100) for free.

All you need to do to enter is book and pay for your place on any of our other courses between 9am Monday 18th May and 5pm on Sunday 24th May 2020. 

Anyone who books on a course will be automatically entered into the draw. A name will be selected at random and announced on our social media channels on Friday 29th May.

The four hour Basics of Mental Health Support course will be led by Samantha Kendall, Director of SK First Aid Training. Samantha is a highly qualified front-line emergency ambulance medic with seven years’ experience dealing with 999 emergency incidents.

Samantha is a qualified Mental Health First Aid England tutor and her sessions are packed with first-hand experience and easy to follow guidelines for beginners and those needing refresher training.

Meanwhile the six hour Mindfulness course will be led by experienced mindfulness teacher, facilitator and coach, Ann Russell from Our Minds at Work, in a sensitive and yet lively and enlightening way which involves humour, stories and examples. There will be short videos, online white board activities and small group breakout sessions throughout. 

Ann is also delivering our Mindful Approach to Personal Resilience Programme, which follows on from the Mindfulness course.

And finally, Tana Macpherson-Smith, Founder of ClearMinds Education Ltd, an organisation dedicated to enhancing the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of children and teenagers will lead on our parent, teacher and child sessions.

Tana, a mental health trainer; Child, Adolescent and Parent Coach and NLP Practitioner; a Psy-Tap Practitioner; holistic therapist; motivational speaker and former teacher, will take the lead in our introductory one-hour Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshop for Parents of Teenagers and Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshop for Parents of Younger Children.

She will also run our survival guide for parents (of 0-12year olds) and teenagers and specialist Monkey Wisdom: From Fearful to Fabulous (for teenage girls) and Monkey Wisdom: From Fearful to Fearsome (for teenage boys), all of which call for an hour of participation over six weeks.

All courses are split into 60-minute live online sessions to ensure everyone is able to participate.

To find out more about the courses and to secure your place visit

For our latest updates follow Shawmind on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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