One of my favourite ways to look after my mental health and deal with a crisis is through creativity – in many different forms. I truly believe that we all have creativity, and the beautiful thing is that it looks different for each of us, a product of our own expression, imagination and original thought. Since we all have mental health as well, it only goes to say that using creativity to look after our mental health is a viable option for all of us.
For me, writing as a way of expression, and sometimes performing what I’ve written,is a go to when I experience difficult emotions. It not only helps to distract me, but allows me to externalise my thoughts and feelings in a non harmful way. Writing, drama, and art therapy now exist as alternative forms of therapy. Many people report success using these forms; Alzheimer’s sufferers have been helped by art therapy as it can enhance communication, brain function, and social interactions – it can even trigger dormant memories and emotions! This shows how powerful the creative arts can be.
Not everyone will want to engage in full art/ drama therapy, or therapy at all, but we all deserve to look after our mental health (even if we’re feeling good in ourselves currently) and so being creative can still serve us in many ways. Maybe you would like to try picking up a pen, doodling, and just seeing what happens. Maybe writing or acting to express yourself. Perhaps you’d like to try origami as a way to focus, painting as a way to relax, or using writing prompts for a fun activity (having fun is vital for feeling good).
Flexing our creative muscle can also be really helpful in our every day lives as well – we may find it easier to balance tasks and find ways to overcome challenges. Plus if we’re using creativity to look after our mental health, we might feel better and brighter, giving us the energy and stability to get through the day.
Using creativity to approach difficult topics for us that we might find difficult to open up about otherwise – even to ourselves – can be super healing. And we can use our imaginative minds to overcome any difficulties we may face in doing so!
Looking after and facing our mental health doesn’t have to be boring or scary – life offers so much more than that.
A version of this letter spoken to camera can be found on my Instagram @our.happy.notes
Last night I dreamt of you. And it’s hazy, in the way that memories of dreams often are, but I remember the premise. You had disappeared. I had woken up one day and you had disappeared. And whenever anyone asked me what I wanted, at a restaurant or in life, all I could reply was that I wanted you.
You see, I used to be so afraid of you. I’m not anymore. Not like I was. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone the other way, or a different way, and now I’m obsessed with you. Maybe you’re obsessed with me. Whatever it is I know you take up far too much of my time, and the dream – well it made me think perhaps we were due another conversation.
Here we go again, aye? You just couldn’t give it a rest, could you? I mean it’s partly my fault. Or our fault. No, my fault, or – well sometimes it’s hard to separate us out really. The things you say to me, have the nerve to say to me, they are something else. Living in my thoughts, daring to breathe the air that I do, rent free – well, not anymore. I will not allow those thoughts to become my emotions and my behaviours anymore. And now I sound like a therapy book! Spitting out these promises that really mean nothing without the actions you try so very hard to impair. Screw it, that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning. And the more I learn, my friend, the less power you have. You wouldn’t believe how much the thought of that thrills me.
Now look, ok, look, I’ve wondered for a while now, been turning it over in my mind, so I’m just going to have to come out and say it – I wonder if secretly you’re on my side. Our side. Humanities side as a whole. And don’t, because I can feel you laughing at me, and I know you’re far too vain, devilish, frankly destructive to admit it, but hear me out. The best people I have ever met are the ones you have brushed against. The strongest, and most courageous people. The kindest. What’s more, the ways you alter our brains, force us to work to move beyond you, I’ve seen first hand how that can change the world – how it revolutionises through our daring to move outside of the box. And on those occasions, many occasions really, that you happen to take those wonderful people away (you lying bastard) – it shows the rest of what needs to be changed in the world. So maybe, just maybe, you’re not all that bad. Then again, maybe it’s just our fighting spirit, the one you highlight in us. Either way, I refuse to believe that your hopelessness breeds only more darkness – my dear I will transform you into light, like I already am, and I’ll marvel at that process every step of the way.
Tried to tell me this one was a solution didn’t you. And god I want to kick myself sometimes for being so naïve, for not seeing your tricks earlier, because I know, I know, that’s the way you work. And yet I also know it’s not too late. It’s never too late. I see the beauty in you. And I really do enjoy annoying you by saying that. Let me thank you again for all your lessons, your opportunities to grow, and this time for your chaos. From that fire I fashion creativity, hope, and… so much more. In an almost paradoxical way, the part I appreciate most in myself is you. You make everything else worthwhile. You make every other bit of me stronger. I mean, I hate you, I loathe you, I battle with you every day, and let’s not fail to mention that I am exhausted, but I am not finished yet.
Well I don’t really have much else to say today. I guess I just wanted to check in with you. I hope you’re struggling, like I do. That would mean we’re growing. Because this is the time. This is my time.
When I was at one of the lowest points of my life, six months into a crushing depressive episode, I made a list of reasons to stay alive. My mind was plagued with suicidal thoughts, yet there was something inside of me that told me I didn’t want to die – I just wanted the pain to stop. So I sat down to write a list of reasons to stay alive. This list could also be called a list of where to find hope in life, and where to find some happiness. I started small and gradually I built up the reasons to bigger ideas. I am so thankful that I made it through that time because though I continue to struggle, I am stronger and more appreciative of the things around me. Below is a list specific to me in parts, but one that I hope might remind someone that there are some things in this life worth living for, even if just for a moment more, and the list only keeps growing the more we look around:
Cold water on a hot day
The top of an ice cream tub before someone takes a scoop out
A smile on someone’s face
The sound of laughter
The smell of new books
The smell after it rains
The feeling of flying on a swing
The possibility of discovering a new song that speaks to you
Soft fur on a cat
Sunsets and sunrises
How satisfying some dates look on paper (eg. 20/02/2020)
The possibility of a blank notebook
The click that headphones make when you put them into the jack
The satisfaction of knowing you bought someone the right gift
You didn’t finish watching that show
There are so many places you haven’t been to yet
There are so many people you haven’t met yet. Some of them are going to love you and support you and become wonderful friends
Daisies close up at night and go to sleep
The shape of trees
The colour of the sky
The feeling of dipping your toes into the sea
Making snow angels
Laughing uncontrollably until your stomach hurts
You’ve made it through every worst day of your life so far; you can make it through this one too
There was a time, no matter how long ago, that you were genuinely happy and hopeful, and therefore there will be a time in the future
There are people who want to help you and so many different ways to try to help
Your dreams may feel impossible, but if you aren’t around, you’ll never know. Maybe you’ll find an even better thing on the way – you can find out
Someone loves you. Your pain only transfers to them
You haven’t performed on a west end stage
The feeling of being clean after a shower
When you smell something or see something and it transports you back into a good memory
Making snow angels. Or grass angels when snow isn’t available
Your friends and family; their love
Crunching leaves under your feet
You haven’t seen all of Shakespeare’s plays
You haven’t read all of Audre Lorde’s poetry
There are actually a lot of books you haven’t read and some of them are going to have some wisdom in them that you want, and some of them will make you laugh
Dancing in the rain
Late night adventures
That cozy feeling when it’s cold out but you’re all tucked up inside
Your struggles will make you uniquely able to help someone else one day, and it is possible to grow stronger and more compassionate from them. You deserve to see that day and be there for others
Charity store shopping
To prove anyone who doubted you wrong
To give love into the world
Late night drives
Learning new things
You make a difference. You are important. Think about it logically – six degrees of separation means your life really does have a big impact
Flowers in spring
The theatre curtain coming up
Finding a monologue that encapsulates what you are feeling
Crazy dreams you can’t quite remember after waking up but you know where really special
So one day you can look back and say to yourself how incredible it is that you survived and are still here.
This list only begins to scratch the surface. Please add your own and share. You are never, ever alone.
There’s no need to introduce myself, we know each other well, don’t we? As such I know that you have a habit of finding new ways to creep into my life – you’re always going to be here I suspect, so I suppose it’s time I had a proper conversation with you. Embraced you. Accepted that you are, and always will be, a part of me.
Well I’d rather not start with the negatives, so let me thank you. You have taught me strength in ways I could never have imagined just a few years ago. You tried to break me – hell, you still do – and yet my scars hold power as a consequence. So thank you for that. And thank you for teaching me kindness, empathy and wisdom. If it wasn’t for you I never would have known what to say to my friends in distress. I never could have overcome issues unrelated to you. If you’re going to stick around you might as well teach me some more of those lessons, because I appreciate them, I really do. And thank you for showing me how lost I was. Thank you for teaching me who I am. Do not mistake me, I am not you. You are a part of me yes, but in realising that I have seen some of the other parts of me that I failed to notice previously. Pretty amazing really.
Now if you were a physical person I would probably beat bloody at this point. I would scream at you until my throat was raw. I would cry at you, how dare you try to take me away, how dare you try to take my friends, how dare try to cause my family such pain. I would shout at you for every opportunity you took away from me – I wanted to go on that trip. All those days I missed. I actually wanted to be able to go to lessons and focus. I wanted to be around my friends. I wanted to be able to be a stupid teenager for just one day without there being the constant reminder that at any moment I could be struck with the feeling that my heart might explode, or the knowledge that addiction is in my blood.
Yet note I speak in past tense. For in the end, whether you taught me, or I found ways to learn it through necessity to survive, I realised I didn’t really want those things. For every opportunity I missed, I was presented with something else that formed me. And the ones I didn’t miss were golden as a result. If I could let go in the ways I wished, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be able to see the world in the ways I do.
Still, know this, if you were a person I saw you run at someone else – god forbid someone I love – I would not hesitate to put myself between you and them, for no one deserves that pain, and my dear we are not done fighting yet.
Seriously though, you are just made of hopelessness and chaos. Some days I think, surely my mental illness must be exhausted because I sure am, but no, there you are again. So come at me. Come at me with everything you’ve got and watch me rise, because I have come too far to give in to you. I will take the creativity from mania and your chaos and I will make something beautiful. I will take the desperation of your darkness and the shaking mess from your anxiety and I will use it to cling to the others who are suffering to make sure we get through. To ensure that you never have such a grip over another person’s life. Come at me – I think you forget that you are a part of me. We have to find some way to live in harmony or we will destroy each other. Come at me old friend, and watch me grow.
This was originally written as a post for Mental Health Awareness week on Instagram. It serves as an introduction to my Mental Health advocacy here at Our Happy Notes:
I’m an advocate for mental health awareness, but sometimes I feel as though I don’t know what to say or do. But I know what I want and I will build from there through myself, my community, and reaching out.
Positivity and compassion are important, but so is speaking up for change and against the romanticism of mental illness.
I’m fed up with all these ‘the true side of mental illness’ posts – no, it’s not the ‘truth’, it’s your experience; it’s just as damaging to say it is the only one. Fed up with toxic positivity telling us mental health can be fixed by self care. It will never be ‘fixed’. It will always be a part of us. All of us. Self care is not a singular solution, and we are not failures when it doesn’t take it all away or we can’t commit because brushing our teeth is hard enough.
Speaking about our experiences is valuable, because there needs to be a tolerance and dialogue, but more than anything there needs to be a system change. I want change. I would never choose to take my illnesses away because they shaped me, and they give me creativity and kindness, but I shouldn’t have had to arrive at that conclusion on my own.
It shouldn’t be down to a teacher to hand out all the real advice I’m getting – and only then because she’d experienced what I was going through herself. It shouldn’t be a system where we come away from each meeting feeling worse than when we went in, a three month check in from a psychiatrist you had to pay for with charity money otherwise it was an eighteen month wait and quite simply you would be dead by then, but all they did was make sure that you weren’t dead already anyway. Mothers shouldn’t be burdened with such worry when this is something that happens and can be supported. There should be research to prevent the endless trial and error of medications that messes around with yet another patient’s brain. For the kids who need understanding there should be explanations.
There should be staff for CAMHS and inpatient. When the teachers are so worried, you’re wondering what it might be like to fly, they’re talking about phone calls to parents and police – you shouldn’t be more afraid of hospitals than you are of dying. It shouldn’t have gotten to that point where you weren’t light enough, bad enough, clear enough, strong enough – teenagers shouldn’t have to be strong and blamed for their reluctance when all they’ve known is that they’re not enough. There shouldn’t be so many inequalities – any inequalities – in the system; so much lack of understanding of the challenges that Black people, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people face.
I want staff. I want research. I want money for the service and societal change led by a government that actually gives a sh*t and we need that now more than ever. I don’t want to see another friend grappling with a mental illness all alone. I don’t want the statistics for suicide and self harm to climb. I don’t want another overdose that could’ve been prevented if only they’d learnt how to cope. I don’t want them to be blamed anymore. I don’t want anyone to feel alone when they are not. To feel unsupported simply because of their identity.
I want change, and it starts with us. With our dialogue – led by love and compassion and a willingness to learn. I want us to be validated without labels, and yet unafraid if a diagnosis is present. I want the criteria for diagnosis to reflect the diversity of the people who might be diagnosed. I want understanding and support of mental health built into every facet of our lives, including where we are fighting for justice elsewhere, because these are not stand alone issues. The ‘mad’ people are getting mad, and they don’t want that. I want change.
Today is GCSE results day in the UK (when the results for the national tests that 16 year olds sit are released). For many teenagers it’s a deciding moment for their future, so here at Our Happy Notes I (Millicent – the founder) have compiled some reminders and steps to help students, or otherwise, try and face the future with a positive outlook:
— It’s alright to feel daunted by the future and it’s uncertainties. If you are feeling like it’s impossible to go on then please reach out. An activity that I find really helpful is listing all the small things I enjoy or am looking forward to, and building from there – although it’s not a quick fix. Even in the darkest pits of despair and worry it is possible to find goodness in life; it doesn’t have to be much at first, but you do need to try and focus on it. For example, I enjoy the smell of rain much like I enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass. In the future I can look forward to experiencing these smells again. It’s small, but it’s something that makes me happy, and somehow by thinking about it the future seems a little less daunting and impossible because I have found a thing of comfort to focus upon. From there you can build.
— No one gets to define you; you are enough just as you are. You are so much more than your grades or your job or your appearance, and you can empower yourself to make positive changes and adopt a different mindset, should you so wish. I have found writing a diary instrumental in forming my sense of identity by allowing me to reflect.
— Change can take time, as can adapting to it. This may not be in itself a comforting thought, but it means we are provided with even greater opportunities for learning, development, and growth within this time.
— If you believe in yourself, so much more is possible. Not everything though – for example just because I believe I can fly does not mean I won’t be affected by gravity. Nonetheless, when we believe in ourselves I find that doors start opening for us. Or perhaps they were always open but we were blind to them? Of course belief on its own is not enough; there must also be a level of effort and planning, but at the very least it will make you happier in your own skin.
— Not everyone’s journey is the same; you must do what is right for you. This means for your wellbeing, mental health and dreams. The future is yours to shape of it what you will.
— We all move at different paces, what matters is that you are moving at all – or even thinking about it. Take one day at a time.
— You are allowed to be unsure what you want to do. This doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to figuring it out: write a list of things you enjoy or want to try for a start, and if you can’t think of any then have a look online or in your local area for courses/skills you might like to give a go. From there you can work out what direction you might like to go on in the future – and remember: passion and research are your friends. In addition, having a sense of purpose while your figuring it out can often be really helpful and validating. You could try volunteering, writing a blog, working or even sharing some Happy Notes.
— Just because you made a mistake or failed an exam does not make you a failure. Your future is still bright, you just have to find the light-switch.
— There is nothing shameful in reaching out for help in your journey – now or in the future. Guidance and support is invaluable.
— You have the power to make a positive impact in the world.
These are just a few affirmations to get you thinking. If you have any ideas or questions don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below.
Go forth and spread joy! And remember – it’s ok if you can only help one person and it’s ok if that one person is you. It’s a start; that’s the hardest part.
Hello Happies! (Apparently that’s what we’re called now, just came up with it – if you have a better idea do share)
This is a basic guide on how – and why – to write your own Happy Note. There is no set formula, except that you must try to spread joy or motivate and encourage through your words, but it might be helpful to have some ideas. First though, here’s 10 reasons why you should write a Happy Note:
1. Your words could really brighten someone’s day. You never know what someone is going through, so a few kind words found from a stranger could really mean something to them.
2. Even if your note doesn’t have a profound impact on someone else, by consciously writing positive words you are training your brain to think positive thoughts; a happy mindset can change your life.
3. It’s super easy and takes less than 5 minutes, so why not?
4. It’s a great activity for kids to come up with something kind and have fun decorating their note, teaching them skills in creativity and kindness.
5. It helps you to feel good about yourself as you are deciding to do something for someone else and the world around you. This in turn encourages you to do more to aid the causes you are interested in.
6. It’s fun; you can be as artistic as you like because you are in control.
7. You can make a Happy Note wherever and whenever you like: on the go, while watching TV, during a break – it’s up to you!
8. A Happy Note allows you to feel connected to like minded people and be kind to someone else without having to deal with any social interaction, which can be really scary for some people.
9. It’s only a small step towards a happier life and a happier world, so you don’t need to be afraid to give it a go and it doesn’t require a lot of effort – go at your own pace in taking the step. You’re doing great just by reading this!
10. Happy Notes are symbolic in bringing about a more joyful world, and by creating one you are starting the process in making this dream a reality.
So, you’ve decided you want to write your own Happy Note? Great! But where to begin? As we’ve said already, there’s no set formula for your happy note, just so long as it’s full of joy, motivation and/or encouragement. Below you’ll find a step-by-step guide to creating your own Happy Note and some templates. Go spread that positivity!
1. Grab a pen and some paper. If you want you can also grab some other things to jazz up your note such as glitter, Pom Pom or coloured pencils.
2. Decide what you want your note to say. Remember to make it positive, motivational, joyful, encouraging or all four! It could be a quote or a family saying. Perhaps you’d like to tell your story to inspire someone else. Whatever it is, make it kind. (We’ve included some of our fave quotes at the end of this post)
3. If you want, add a little message on the back of your note to let the world know what it is so the movement can spread. You can use this template – or come up with your own:
‘Hi amazing person,
I am a happy note; my purpose is to spread joy, motivate and encourage others. I want the world to be a happy positive place so I’m part of a movement called Our Happy Notes. I hope you’re having a great day, but if not I hope I’ve helped to brighten it a little. Remember it’s ok not to be ok. There are people out there that care. If you want to find out more visit @our.happy.notes on Instagram or http://www.ourhappynote.wordpress.com
4. Choose where you’re going to leave your note – will it be on a train? In a book? On a shelf? Or under a coffee cup? Just make sure it’s somewhere that someone will find it, and it won’t get blown away by the wind.
5. So, you’ve written your first Happy Note, but what now? When the time feels right, write another and spread more joy. In the meantime look around you for the small things you can do to make a difference. Be kind to someone by holding open the door; smiling as you pass; helping carry a shopping bag. And don’t be disheartened if that kindness isn’t returned at first – it’s going to take time, but you are doing something great.
While you’re working towards all this joy for other people it’s possible you may have neglected someone very important: yourself. You can be kind to yourself, it’s not wrong – it’s necessary. When you smile the world smiles with you. It’s a slow process but it is possible (more on this soon).
If all this work for change has got you itching to do more, then we encourage you to find an issue you are passionate about and research so you can apply our principal that a small step can make a big difference to said issue. And while we’re on the topic of passion – if you can find something that sets your soul on fire then it’s going to revolutionise your world. Look into what you are curious about and try out something new. If doing something in person is difficult for you, the internet has a huge variety of courses for you to give a go. We promise it won’t be the end of the world if you try something and don’t like it, so you may as well.
‘You only fail when you stop trying’
‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light’ ~Albus Dumbledore
‘You are enough’
‘Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything it is’ ~Mandy Hale
‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life’ ~ Virginia Woolf
‘Only in the darkness can you see the stars’ ~ Martin Luther King
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short guide and now feel equipped to go forth and create your first Happy Note. You’re part of a movement now – a joyful movement.
If you make a note please do share it with us on Instagram @our.happy.notes or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.