We all need some help from time to time, right?
Sometimes we need friends or family. Maybe time alone. A nice bubble bath. Meditation. Chocolate. Shopping. Nature. There are many things which we may turn to for when things aren’t going so well.
As anyone who has experienced some form of stress will know, you can never have enough tricks up your sleeve to cope.
Enter Rachel Kelly.
‘Walking on Sunshine. 52 Small Steps to Happiness’ is Rachel’s second book, following on from her Sunday Times bestseller ‘Black Rainbow’ This new offering provides 52 tips, tools and positive ideas to guide you through the seasons and better manage the pressures of everyday life.
Where did the idea for you new book come from and who is it aimed at?
Last year I published a memoir entitled ‘Black Rainbow’ in which I described my past experience of debilitating depression and how I recovered from this serious illness. The book was based on diary entries, letters and emails I wrote at the time.
Since then, I’ve continued to get better. And I’ve also continued my habit of writing letters and keeping a diary. This time, I was able to move away from the heavy stuff and focus on what helps me through what Freud called ‘ordinary human unhappiness – the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life rather than depression. Most days I feel steady and well – and sometimes I even feel as if I’m walking on sunshine. I wanted to share the strategies that had helped me.
So the book is aimed at anyone who feels stressed, is busy and overwhelmed, and needs to find ways of feeling calm and grounded so that they can allow happiness to flourish – in other words, all of us! It’s not aimed at those suffering the serious clinical illness which is depression.
As both a sufferer and a campaigner, what do you see as the key challenges facing us with mental health?
The key challenges for us as a society facing mental health are to make sure we take our mental health as seriously as our physical health. At the moment in the NHS mental health is the poor relation: less money and resources are spent on it: we need to increase investment in the provision of mental health services. There are endless challenges: too many children and adults are still ending up in police cells rather than hospital when going through a mental health crisis. Too few people who lose their jobs are having the mental health impact of unemployement taken into account, and so lack treatment that might help them get back to work.
Tell us about your work with the mental health charity Sane?
I was very honoured when in the Spring of this year I was appointed an Ambassador for this mental health charity founded by one of my heroines, Marjorie Wallace. I’m lucky enough to help raise awareness of mental health issues, to try and combat stigma, and to highlight the work does by speaking at conferences, schools, and to businesses in my role as an Ambassador. I also try and help fund raise for Sane. All my author proceeds from my memoir ‘Black Rainbow’ go the charity. One aspect of Sane’s work that I’m especially proud of is its mental health hotline, providing a friendly and knowledgeable person on the end of the line when often those suffering poor mental health have no where else to turn.
What have you found the benefits of talking about your own experiences with depression to be?
By sharing my experience, I’ve felt less alone. Others have confided in me about what they’ve suffered, and I feel as if I’ve found my tribe. It’s also be truly wonderful when someone tells me that something I’ve written or a speech I’ve made has helped in a tiny way. If I can make a tiny difference helping others, then I feel as if what I’ve experienced has been put to good use, and I can’t ask for more than that.
What is your favourite philosophical nugget?
It’s a line from Corinthians in the Bible:
My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness.
I love the idea that our broken – ness and weakness is also what makes us strong. While I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone it’s made me who I am.
How do we move from focusing on our destination to enjoying the whole journey?
I’m working on it! I think it’s a real challenge, in a results-driven world, to take the time to stop and stare and to enjoy the ride. I’ve found elements of mindfulness especially helpful, particularly the breathing exercises and learning how to meditate. You can’t breathe in the future; you can’t breathe in the past, you can only breathe in the now. It’s a great way of enjoying the moment and being in the present, thereby enjoying the whole journey.
What are your thoughts on mindfulness?
Bits of mindfulness have proved very helpful, especially the breathing exercises and meditation. But I’ve found it’s not been enough on its own to help quieten my mind. I also use diet, exercise, some philosophical nuggets, bits of poetry, and other approaches in what I like to think of as my ‘salad bowl’ approach to staying well and calm.
Like a lot of holidays and important occasions Christmas can be a really tough time for some. What is your advice for those who find the festive season particularly challenging?
I’ve found the easiest thing is to try and remember that the Christmas we expect today is not the original meaning of Christmas, which was much simpler and not about things, but about our values and our spirituality. The best advice I can give if you’re finding the season challenging – and who doesn’t – is to get back to fundamentals. And the most fundamental way
I’m helped is by trying to make a tiny difference to someone else. We know that’s really good for our mental health. When I volunteer at my local prison, or run one of my workshops for MIND or Depression Alliance, Christmas ceases to be so stressful.
What would you say are the key ingredients to nourishing our minds, bodies and souls?
I believe in several key principles. The first is that small steps work best. Set the targets too high, and I end up feeling a failure. Second, I don’t think you can pursue happy minds, bodies and souls directly. Rather, we feel peaceful and happy as an indirect consequence of the way we think and our actions, whether its tending a garden on helping others. And finally, mind and body are inextricably linked. By learning to relax physically, I’ve learnt to relax mentally.
Finally, what are your top five sanity-saving tools?
- My pet dog – Our wheaten terrier Sammy who wills me to get up in the morning and take him out when I find it hard to get up. He’s five now, I would bottle his biscuity smell if I could. His crazy optimism and edible looks bring a smile to my face.He also provides a clue when I go to the hairdressers at the right shade of bronde to dye my hair.
A St Andrews University study last year showed that dog owners over the age of 65 have fitness levels a decade younger than their biological age. Pet ownership promotes exercise, lowers blood pressure and heart rate as well as reducing loneliness.
2. Gardening – Chancing on a last fading rose while sweeping up the rotten leaves in our back garden. Gardening always reminds me that this too shall pass, however grim life can seem.
Research by the National Gardens Scheme showed that more than a third off people questioned said that being in a garden makes them feel healthier, while 79 per cent believer that access to a garden is essential for quality of life.
3. Human contact – When saying goodbye or hello, embracing someone for that little bit longer, sorting acknowledging their physical presence with yours. Touch is the very first sense we develop in the womb and I’m cheered every time someone reminds me of their human warmth.
David J. Linden, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins Unviersity in Baltimore, Maryland says that touch is not optional for human development and reinforces social bonds, inspires loyalty, encourages cooperation and enthuses sports teams.
4. My dance class at a local community puts a spring in my step, literally.
Dr Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics reports that the best activities for human happiness are when we are in the ‘flow’, and dance is one of them for me. I can’t think about anything other than where to put my foot next.
5. Thinking of myself a cracked pot – I like to remind myself of the Japanese art of mending, known as ‘kintsugi’. Far from chucking out a broken pot, artists mend them with golden glue, making the piece more beautiful. I often try and think of myself as that cracked pot. I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone, but it’s made me who I am. There isn’t any hard research for this, but I think that too is important. Sometimes the research just hasn’t been done yet, but that doesn’t stop such philosophical approaches being important.