A Letter of Love

Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.

Source: International Association for Suicide Prevention

Suicide remains a major gender and social inequality and is a devastating event for families and communities. There were 6,708 suicides in the UK and ROI in 2013. In 2013 22% of contacts with Samaritans UK (more than 600,000) involved individuals expressing suicidal feelings

We can choose to stand together in the face of a society which may often feel like a lonely and disconnected place, and we can choose to make a difference by making lives more liveable for those who struggle to cope. We believe we can do this because we know that people and organisations are stronger together.  ~ The Samaritans: Working together to reduce suicide 2015-21

The male suicide rate is the highest since 2001. The suicide rate  among men aged 45-59, 25.1 per 100,000, is the highest for this group since 1981.

Just over a month ago Poorna Bell, Executive Editor of the Huffington Post UK, lost her husband to suicide. This is her letter to him.

In the end, there really is only room for love.

My dear husband,

It has been nearly 30 days since you held the spark of your life between your hands and pressed them shut.

Since then, I have been trying to make sense of the world.

In Hinduism – a religion you wholeheartedly set about getting to know even though I had long lost my faith – we have an 11-day ceremony and a 30-day ceremony.

I’ve never understood what these were for. But perhaps they are to mark a set of realisations.

By 11 days, I was aware that your death had made me a different person.

Everything looked, smelled and tasted different. People that I had known for years now seemed like strangers in the midst of what I felt, and what I thought they could not possibly know about.

I saw you in everything. I saw you in the sea, imagining you in the shift, turn and swirl of water. I saw you at your graveside, in the freesias you so loved. I saw you in the birds you had encyclopaedic knowledge about, in the double rainbows that lit the sky the day we said goodbye to you.

You were a big, Kiwi man in real life, and yet I saw you in the most delicate of things.

I wondered about whether to write this to you, in such a public way. But I think considering how much we talked over the last year about mental illness and how strongly we felt that not talking about it in society contributed to the sense of shame and stigma that surrounds it, I know you’d want me to do this. (I find myself doing that a lot: ‘I’m sure Rob would want me to eat that extra bar of chocolate’ and other such important life decisions).

I know it because you felt very strongly about my ability to bang a big drum to raise awareness around depression – an illness that you battled with all of your life.

I know you wanted me to speak up, so that if anyone else needed a friend or someone to talk to, and was going through the same struggles as you, I’d be able to help them. Privately or publicly.

I know we both felt greatly that the silence around mental illness created such a toxic environment for men, who were expected to – in your words – ‘man up, suffer in silence and get on with it’.

There is a lot I have discovered since you took your own life.

Firstly, while there is no hierarchy of death where one is better than the other, it’s safe to say that living a long life is at the top while a short one is at the bottom. I don’t know where suicide sits, but it’s safe to say, it makes other people REALLY uncomfortable.

I was advised against telling people how you died. And in the initial bizarreness of picking your burial plot and coffin (and being asked whether Robert was an eco-friendly man), I erred on the side of caution.

But by this 30th day, I have realised when the worst, most devastating thing possible happens, you lose the energy to maintain any artifice.

There is also an indignance that rises in me. If you had died of cancer, would I have kept your death or the circumstances a secret? Of course not. There would have been fun runs and cupcakes to kick cancer’s ass.

It was as if the method of your death implied weakness, when I know how hard you fought to stay in this world.

Despite the hand you were dealt, you achieved so much, you loved so deeply, you were gentle and kind and would help anyone who was struggling (even the homeless guy at our local bus shelter who you wanted to let stay on our couch), and you were also the most intelligent man I met – why would I not want to honour that?

And perhaps this speaks volumes about the mountain we have to climb in getting people to understand that mental illness is exactly the same as cancer. It is exactly the same as a cardiac arrest. No amount of love, medical care or money can help prevent it if it’s terminal.

When someone dies from suicide, there is anger directed at the person in a way it isn’t with physical illness. No one goes: “Oh, I can’t BELIEVE Larry died of cancer, how could he?”

In the aftermath, a lot of people have said to me: “I’m angry at him”. There was a lot of that floating around: how you made that choice and left us mired in such deep grief. There was anger at the life you had given up and the people you had left behind.

And perhaps while this is a completely natural reaction – and I certainly thought ‘How could you do this to me?’ in the first couple of days after your death, I think after a while, we must remember your best, brightest parts.

I’m not saying I have it figured out. I don’t know that I will ever fully understand your decision to end your life.

When I finally mustered up the courage to place my hand on your chest one last time, and I felt how cold you were, your soul evaporated, your eyes never to open again, I understood the finality of it. I understood that any idiot can create life – an episode of 16 and Pregnant will tell you that – but once given, it is a gift and a precious one at that.

I think the anger comes from not knowing we were on rations. It is fuelled by the guilt we all felt.

We should have hugged you more, spent time with you, memorised every part of you, told you we loved you – had just one more day with you – because deep down, we feel that if we did that, you wouldn’t have killed yourself.

The point I am trying to make is that I get it. With suicide, what feels like a choice to other people was not a choice for you. Our love – and you had an ocean of people who felt that way about you – was not going to anchor you to this world when you felt there was no possibility, no hope.

As I write this, there are plenty of people who feel like that. Some of them will not make that terrible, final choice, and some of them will. And although I don’t have the answers yet (maybe in another 30 days), I do know that we must talk about it.

We must make it easier for people to reach out when the blackness threatens to swallow them whole. We must give men the space, voice and understanding to be scared and vulnerable and not see it as weakness. We must say that mental health desperately needs funding, that it should be as top a priority as tackling obesity or cancer.

I’m not saying any of these things would have saved you. But I am saying that I refuse to remember you in anger and shame, when what we had was immense love.

poorna

For Robert Owen Bell, 23 December 1975 – 28 May 2015

If you need help, there is The Samaritans whose helpline is 08457 90 90 90. [UK]

Read the original article here

First Published 2015/07/03

Let’s talk… Tarot, Spirit Guides, Angels and New Age Hipster with Vix

Originally from Australia now drinking a lot of decaf tea while living in Yorkshire, England, Vix is the creator of New Age Hipster.

New Age Hipster is more than just a website, it’s the idea that anyone can be spiritual. Whether you’re a corporate kind of chic, a student kickin’ it in Converse, a working Mom or a Stay at home Gypsy, everyone can connect with their intuition, chat with the Divine and live a magical life!

Meet Vix.

How has your own personal journey influenced your work and life choices? 

My personal journey has been very long and winding and I often wonder why the heck it took so long to get from where I started to where I am right now! I’ve been down many paths, but I know that even though at times it has seemed like I’ve been wondering aimlessly, I was always heading in the right direction. The trick is just to keep moving, even if you have no idea WTF you are doing with your life.

I’ve pursued many career paths over the years, from professional dancer to hotel housekeeper, Drama school student and special educational needs teacher and I’ve learned a hell of a lot from all of it. I got my first deck of tarot cards over ten years ago, and they’ve always been with me, helping me through tricky times, but I never imagined I’d be doing this as a real job! It’s bloody brilliant though. I’ve just always followed my path, whether I knew where I was going or not, and trusted my journey.

10997029_847457398668320_1101945357249977387_nWhat inspired you to create New Age Hipster and how did you get started? 

I was applying for a new teaching job and I bought a tarot reading off Etsy as I really needed some advice. The reading was terrible. The reader cut and pasted card definitions straight off the internet and the words she did type were full of typos and spelling mistakes, and on top of all that, the reading was totally inaccurate. I told one of my besties about it and she said “why are you even paying for readings when you can do it yourself?” It was the moment I realised that actually, I could do a hell of a lot better than the reading I’d just paid for! I did 100 free readings for randoms practicing and collecting feedback. When I finished I had 98% accuracy, and the other 2% were huge learning curves. So I opened up my Etsy store, and the rest, as they say, is history!

What does it really mean to be ‘spiritual’? 

For me being spiritual is about being free to believe in and follow any spiritual or religious path with love, light and without dogma. I love that I can talk to Jesus, hang out with Angels, read books about Buddha, dance with Faeries and then go and do some Numerology all in the same day! But really, I think spirituality is whatever it means to you. Maybe it’s just watching the sunset and being grateful for your life, you know?

Tell us about your love of Spirit Guides and Angels? Vix headshot

OMG I love them! Working with Guides and Angels is just so super easy. All you have to do is say – “hey guides, please can you help me out with this,” or “thanks Angels for helping me do this thing”. Spirit Guides are supposed to be spirits of people who had lives on Earth while Angels are said to never have had lives here, they’ve only hung out in the Angelic Realms. I’m not sure about that, because one of my main guides appears to me as a Native American woman with Angel wings and another one I’m pretty sure is some kind of Alien. I don’t think it matters who they are or where they’re from, as long as the energy is from love and light then it’s all good. Call them whatever you want, they seriously don’t mind. They told me “call us what you like, just call us”.

What could we expect from an intuitive reading with you?

My email readings are like a channelled download of messages from your Guides and Angels and my Skype or phone readings are pretty relaxed and informal, but full of golden nuggets of wisdom which I take no credit for personally, because it comes from your spiritual team. In a reading we can do whatever you want. You can ask me as many questions as you can in the time given, or we can look at one thing that’s happening in loads of detail. We can bust blocks, clear paths, pinpoint problems, identify past life issues, clear karma, find your life purpose, get you back on track, or just have a chat about woo woo stuff!

11693880_865693796844680_6441222615444224931_nWhat advice would you give to anyone wishing to get a bit more Woo Woo in their life? 

Follow your guidance. Read books that catch your eye. Subscribe to YouTube channels that resonate. Talk to your Guides, Angels, God, the Universe or whatever you want to call it, in the shower each morning. Do what feels good and works for you. Ignore what everyone else is doing and find your own path!

Oh and definitely keep your eyes out for my course – Woo Woo 101! It’s a spiritual boot camp for beginners and will cover a whole load of stuff for newbies, or anyone looking to learn more about all this spiritual stuff and how to make it all work for you.

What does Holistic living mean to you? 

It’s all about finding balance and giving love and attention to every part of your life. Having a decent work/life balance and cutting yourself a break if you screw it all up.

What is your message to cynics, sceptics, and the intrigued? 

Interestingly enough the biggest cynics I’ve encountered since starting New Age Hipster are people in the spiritual community who don’t like the way I’m doing it. My message is really that anyone can be spiritual, everyone can have a connection to the divine (or whatever you want to call it!) and the angels hear us all! If you don’t want to be connected, that’s totally fine too. I believe everyone is on their own journey and we should remember that often, I know I need to! Haha!

Finally, what are your top five tips for self-love?

  1. Stop reading women’s magazines, unless it’s Psychologies or you need them for your vision board
  2. Write a gratitude list, of things you are grateful for about yourself!
  3. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re beautiful, even if you don’t believe it… at first!
  4. Find one place in your house that has flattering lighting for a selfie and take them often
  5. Put your own oxygen mask on first

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Further Information

First Published 2015/09/05

 

Living with Mental Illness

I forget that I am mentally ill more often than I like to admit. But I am, aren’t I?

The diagnosis, the drugs and my own words confirm it, yet how do I forget?

I haven’t been sick for a while now so when it hit me last week it was like a hurricane. It nearly took my head off and tore my heart apart.

I have known for a while now that I have to manage my ‘triggers’, but what are they? To the best of my knowledge I have narrowed them down to (1) extreme stress and (2) extreme excitement (this one’s a toughie, as I get excited about absolutely everything, no matter how big or small).

The problem that has arisen is that while I had identified my triggers I hadn’t put anything in place to manage them, and identifying them alone is evidently not sufficient. One might say, it has been a total fucking howler.

Trying to explain what a bipolar low, or high, is like may not be possible but I’ll give it a shot.

It’s in my head, everything is in my head. It literally feels like the weight of the world is trapped in my head. I honestly think it may explode with the pressure. I can’t focus but I fight against it. Now my head is rushing, as if on drugs. Hours pass like minutes and I achieve nothing. Paranoia sets in and I think everyone can see that I am falling apart. Suddenly I am not me anymore.

This time I am trying so hard to manage it. I should have walked away when it hit, I know this now. Had I removed myself from the initial situation and triggers maybe, just maybe, I could have prevented the spiraling episode that ensued.

I now haven’t slept properly for two weeks. I got so drunk I can’t remember getting home. I can’t think straight. I cry everyday. I am still not myself. My resilience is now almost non existent. I am so fragile I may break. I begin to hate myself. This is not me.

But it is me, and this is my life.

I write about surviving mental illness and being in recovery but sometimes you just have to exist and get through the days. Right now this is how I am living, day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. It is really hard.

I debated writing this but I would be a hypocrite if I only wrote about being in recovery when all is fine and dandy, or just reflecting on tough times. I started this site to break down stigma and with some small hope of helping others. Well, this guys is really what it is like living with mental illness. It is painful. It is scary. It fucking sucks.

While my work, friends and family, and of course any reader knows, I am very open about my condition. However, speaking up when you are ill is another matter. I feel pathetic. I feel a failure. I fear that everyone will see me in a different light. I will lose my job. I will lose friends. I’ll become unloveable, unlikable even. This is what I fear. I feel ashamed.

These past two weeks I have cried in front of colleagues, in front of people I don’t even know that well. I have refused to follow old patterns and I have done everything I can to keep going. I have been honest. I have shown up everyday and I have said “I am not in a good place”. Do you know what, not one single person has made me feel anything less than supported and cared for.

So, if you’re reading this and can relate I want to give you hope that confiding in people could be the best thing you may do today. Without it I may not have shown up for work or even for life this week. I could so easily have just curled up in a ball and hidden from the world once more. But I didn’t.

Through speaking up and not giving up I am getting there, albeit very slowly. I am learning to live with mental illness. It is not easy and it may never be but this it. This is me and this is my life.

I am scared. I am scared one day an episode may be too much for me, so I just focus on today. I am scared that no one will ever love me, so I focus on those who do and surround myself by them. I am scared I will fail and lose my job, so I focus on my successes. I am scared of so many things.

Underpinning my survival is the fact I speak up and as a result I realise that people care. People will support you. People won’t judge you. People will like you and love you, just as you are.

I am scared to post this, so I remind myself that I am not alone and that the only way to educate and bring about change is to speak up.

The Semicolon Project

Tattoos which have an inspiring message about mental illness? Hmmm. I was dubious.  But, what the hell, thought I would take a look anyhoo.

A Semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. That author is you and the sentence is your life.

Semicolon tattoos have now become an ongoing awareness campaign that seeks to engage communities in suicide prevention and mental health awareness.

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The Semicolon Project is for everyone who  self-harms, is suicidal, depressed, has anxiety, is unhappy, going through a broken heart, or just lost a loved one, Draw a semicolon on your wrist.

In 2013 The Semicolon Project was founded to inspire and provide a public awareness towards Mental Health. Project Semicolon Founder, Amy Bleuel wanted to honor her father whom she lost to suicide. Through the semicolon symbol many related to the struggle of depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide and their will to continue on. The title, “Project Semicolon,” also represented a goal – to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning.

Over the years Project Semicolon has become much more than just one person honoring a parent. Through musician support and social media, the message of hope and love has reached a big audience in many different countries.

By writing a semicolon on your wrist, you are making a promise to yourself that it is ok to reach out and seek for help.

It is a statement. A sign of solidarity. It is a conversation starter. A movement of empowerment. It is a symbol that says “Stigma, we are coming for you.” Quite frankly I may have just found my next tattoo.

Join the fight and stand up for YOU or anyone you know who has depression, anxiety, has self harmed or has contemplated suicide and help our peers, our friends and our family know that we speak up for them and that we stand up against Mental Health and the stigma that’s attached to it.

Together, we can save a life.

STAY STRONG; LOVE ENDLESSLY; CHANGE LIVES

Further Links

First Published 2015/07/08

Let’s talk… Compare and Despair: The Power of Social Media with Lucy Sheridan (Proof Coaching)

Lucy Sheridan is the ‘Comparison Coach’. You may recognise her from recent articles in Now and Grazia. She has appeared on Oprah’s show three times and splits her time between the Yorkshire countryside and Brighton but coaches clients around the world.

Lucy’s fresh approach is full of pizazz and geared towards getting You where You want to be.

If you want to get clear, confident and on track with what you want, once and for all, you’re in the right place. 

Meet Lucy Sheridan.

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Why is comparison so controlling in this day and age?

Via the power couple of technology and social media, we have never had more access to content to compare ourselves to which invites opportunities to benchmark, compete and strive for our own made up metrics of success. This means we’re dealing with a ‘Keeping up with Jones’s’ on steroids that our parents will never have experienced. For this reason we find it difficult to focus on ourselves and what we want because we’re constantly drawn to compare and second guess if we’re ‘doing life right’ – for many of us this leave us in a state of analysis paralysis.

Seeing only the showreel of other people’s lives creates the impression we’re the only ones that don’t have it figured out. This leads to feelings of jealousy, isolation, being disconnected and that we just can’t ‘keep up’ or be as good as those people popping up in our feeds.

How has your own personal journey influenced your work? 

Comparison has followed me round for a looooong time – my first distinct memory being observing my parents and what they were like with my baby brother compared to me – needy much?

I have, in the past, damaged my sense of self, emotionally beaten myself up with comparison and social media was my weapon of choice.  Not cool and not very life coachy, is it?

An example being around five years ago, a reunion at my very well to do school served to bring up my comparison ‘self nasties’ in a way I could never have expected. On the day itself I had a blast and was delighted to have connected and caught up with some real lovely girls and boys from that era in my life – the whole day was a real giggle!

Lucy Proof 002Unfortunately, the aftermath I created for myself was not so much fun – with all the renewed friendships came all the new Facebook contacts and, having experienced a very difficult time around that reunion (my partner’s business folded and we lost our house), via comparison, I started to feel really ‘behind’ everyone and a million miles from their perceived wealth and success. I binged on people’s posts and holiday photos and all the while thinking every win for them was a loss for me – like success was a zero sum game.

I became really insecure and looking back, quite obsessive. It was realising the toll it was having on myself and my relationships that led to a wake-up moment that saved me. The silver lining is I have some great friendships from that day but it was landmark in my comparison story. The full gory details are here in a post I came clean with last year. I received so much support afterwards that I felt so silly – when you know better, you do better!

Comparison today will still raise its ugly head with me but occurrences are few and far between! If I do start to silently compete or benchmark with others, or worse, bitch and moan about them, I can quickly get my self focus back through the mantra:

I trust the timing of my life.

How does your work help others?

I get people over the compare and despair of social media and focussed on their own lives – this means each client gains a plan for success on their own terms and also learn how to stop looking over the fences of others. It’s all about authenticity, in that, I help people stop acting from a place of ‘should’ or being a tribute act for someone else’s dream which is exhausting and confusing. There’s always time to create the life you want – we just need impartial support to get there sometimes.

Tell us about your coaching packages?

I love working one on one with clients – one off sessions are available but my most popular way of working with people is via my coaching package The Proof. I also get a lot of joy from speaking at schools or group meet ups to spread the #comparisonfree message!

Why is Social Media so bad for the soul, and WTF do we do about it?

Social Media is bad for the soul because it causes us to look outside of ourselves for answers and wastes the time we could spend investing in ourselves.

It’s not all bad – I love a bit of aspiration and inspiration and I get this in heaps by following people I respect Lucy Proof 009and accessing the brands I buy from or will buy from one day – life should sparkle! However, for many of us we don’t stop at being inspired, rather, we go down a rabbit hole of comparison feeling isolated and jealous of random people we met once as much as our good friends. It can play a big role in creating tension in real life, offline friendships because of the perceived personas we assume online. We’re all caught in our fame bubble and even second guess what to post based on expected likes or shares – in many ways we’re as image conscious as any of the Kardashians!

The ways to combat the dark side of social media are:

  • Notice what you notice: If you can feel your stomach tighten or nerves flare up around certain posts or comments online, then that’s a sign it’s time for action to get you back on track with what YOU want. All positive change starts with awareness and stopping any sort of ‘sleep walking’ behaviour.
  • Clean up your social media feed: Treat your social media channels like your living room – a fun place to relax and hang out. If certain people’s Facebook posts or Instagram feed make you feel inadequate, jealous or not good enough in any way, then it might be time to hide them or unfollow them for a while to allow you to focus more on what you want to do, rather than obsess about other people’s perceived standards, and conforming to those. Cleaning up your feed includes cancelling any notifications that can sabotage your good vibes or distract you from doing something which is worthwhile. Complete this sweep up regularly!
  • Remember the Filter Factor! An Instagram picture will never tell the REAL story – you’re just seeing an often cultivated and practiced presentation of a version of the truth. It’s about as real as Kim Kardashian’s arse on the cover of Paper magazine but we’re quick to forget that when we’re feeling a bit vulnerable. The Filter Factor makes us think everything is sparkly and that other people have it AAALLLL figured out when this is very rarely the case – again if you’re triggered by something you see try unfollowing it for a while
  • Don’t get caught with FOMO: Realise that we simply can’t be at every party, every workshop, every meeting, every reunion and our self worth or how much we’re liked by others isn’t dependent on whether we’re there or not or tagged in that post.
  • Swap competition for collaboration: One of the best things to do is to tune into the fact that we are all linked and connected not separate and in competition with each other. Reach out to those you feel you’re competing with, are ‘on your patch’ or in your face and instead of looking at how you can divide up and corner off what you share in interest, create something together and double the growth of what you both want. Collaboration and building relationships has only ever given me good results once I shifted from a place of being in opposition

What does Holistic living mean to you?

Lucy Proof 001Oooh I love this one! For me, it’s all about recognising that we’re connected to each other and anything I can do to make my connection with myself and others gets focus – sometimes with a twist. So for example, I don’t mediate sitting on a pillow, I leave my phone at home and walk my dog on the beach and while I do that I pray out loud and call in my angels to help me put my energy in the best place each day – I don’t wish or force future action – it’s all about that moment.

One big learning since I attended Gabby B’s conference, which has been key to a holistic approach, is to trust that good things are always on their way to me and ready to come through so I need to be careful of my ego getting in the way!

What is your message to cynics, sceptics, and the intrigued?

For the cynics or sceptics I say ‘love and light’ (only because it’s not my place to convince or persuade and I totally respect people’s different viewpoints)… and for the intrigued I say start somewhere and dive in… follow your nose and interest and see where it takes you… it will all happen in perfect timing.

Finally, what are your top five tips for self-love?

  1. Do not compare yourself to strangers on the Internet!
  2. Find your tribe – one of my greatest delights in life is being around, and connecting with, people that ‘get me’. Those with whom I can speak unfiltered and that will accept me at my best and my worst – some of my BFF’s I didn’t even know this time last year but because I went out and found my tribe they found me too. Make sure you’re evaluating the friendships and energies you allow in your life as it makes all the difference. It may not be very spiritual but I’m zero tolerance on a$$holes – I can’t save everyone and not everyone is my project and my self-love regime means I’m really choosy about who I spend my time with.
  3. Listen to your inner voice or ‘trust your gut’ – your feelings and emotions are there to act as messengers so tune in because your inner voice will never, ever let you down.
  4. Take time out – our modern world glorifies being busy but filling every minute will just run you down. Ensure you make space for fun and doing nothing – the world will continue to turn if you watch Netflix instead of clean the kitchen.
  5. Keep to your tools and know you can’t do self love wrong! I.e. if your meditation is a few gratitudes whilst you’re washing the shampoo out of your hair most mornings, that’s cool. If it’s a 20 minute meditation every day sitting on a special pillow and journalling twice a day that’s also the right thing. You can’t do it wrong – so just do it!

#HigherSelfie

#HigherSelfie is the UK’s only spirituality unconference independently organised by Lucy Sheridan and Jo Westwood in collaboration with Yoga uber brand lululemon athletica. This one of a kind, never before experienced mind/body/soul house party will take place on Sunday 10th May and will be a complete takeover of this warehouse in Bermondsey.

As an ‘unconference’ the speakers on the #HigherSelfie stages will be decided on the day and all guests are invited to submit a talk to be chosen on the day and get the chance to speak in front of c.200 like minded spiritual dudes and babes. Ticket release is coming soon and all guests must have registered at higherselfielive to join the magic so sign up now!

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Further Links

First Published 2015/04/13