Posted in autism, Managing Mental Health, Mental Health, Personal Growth

How to Make a Happy Kit

I still struggle greatly everyday with my mental health, and that can be enormously frustrating. It can also make it feel like the smaller things I can do to help myself are useless in the long run. However, I know this isn’t true. I know that when I add up all these little bits and pieces (like writing and walking for example) they do make an impact. And, yes, sometimes it’s a very small impact – but I know how much more hopeless and desperate it would make me feel if it wasn’t there. One of my favourite things I ever did to help myself manage my mental health was to make a ‘Happy Kit’ (as I call it). The great thing is that it’s totally unique to me and my needs, so I thought I’d share a little guide on how to make your own Happy Kit to suit you. I really love mine and I would recommend that everyone make something like this, because we all have mental health and challenging days – or simply just bored days. In my case it has loads of stuff in it to help me manage my anxiety, depressive episodes, sensory overload, and boredom; I keep it in my school bag at all times. So here’s how I made it:

My ‘Happy Kit’ is almost like a summary of all the tools I’ve gathered over the years to help myself. However, before you decide on the specifics of what will be in your kit, decide how you want to use it. Do you want it to be a box full of stuff that will keep you entertained when you’re bored at home? Or something you can always keep in your bag? Or maybe it’s something you use to help you wind down in the evenings? Once you’ve decided this, you can then choose what container you’re going to keep it in. I keep mine in a black makeup bag with sparkles sewn into it – I like the texture and the way it catches the light. You might choose to keep yours in a box or on a shelf in your bathroom cupboard for example.

Before I go further, here’s an overview of the contents in my own Happy Kit to give you an idea of what to keep in mind when making yours:

Me and My Happy Kit
  1. Fiddle toys – they help me focus in lessons, ease anxiety, and remain grounded during sensory overload. I have several different kinds with different textures
  2. A list of distractions – I have so many different activities on this list! And they range from things that are easier for me to do when I’m feeling low, more creative for when I’m hyper, and calming for when I’m anxious. I have this list because I’m learning that if I can direct myself towards an activity, it eases how I feel, but sometimes I can’t think of anything to do, so I refer to the list. And if I still can’t decide, I can always just pick a random number and do that activity!
  3. Gemstones – I’m not entirely sure if I believe gemstones work, but I do believe they can act as a placebo at least, and I find it very calming to hold them, if only as a way to remind me to try and bring myself back into a more neutral place mentally
  4. Items with sentimental value – To remind me of good times and the love of people in my life
  5. A toolkit list – This is a list with easy to follow steps that summarise particular tools I’ve learnt to help me manage and think more clearly, like how to accept emotions and reduce judgements
  6. Sweets/ mints – Sometimes I have Rescue Remedy sweets in my kit and sometimes I just have normal sweets, but something that tastes nice and I can suck on is just pleasant and calming for me
  7. Something smelly – not smelly in a bad way! Just something that smells pleasing to me, like lavender or essential oils or a mini perfume. Sometimes because they’re calming scents, and sometimes just because they make me feel fancy. As someone who’s autistic smells can also help when I am sensory seeking (kind of the opposite to sensory overload/ avoiding such) in a really simple way
Some of the things in my happy kit

Obviously all of that is specific to what helps me, but it might give you some ideas. If you like fiddle toys or nice textures then put something like that into your kit. For me they represent something calming and soothing to me that I can also use to engage my brain. I’d definitely recommend you to make a list of distractions/ activities regardless of what you’re using your Happy Kit for – you can tailor it to yourself but it comes in really useful in lots of situations. For example if you are making your kit to help you relax in the evening it could have a a list of ten things that you can do to help you relax and you could pick one each evening. If it’s to calm anxiety, then put down a few distractions and a few activities that might calm your anxiety – like breathing exercises, colouring, or reading a book perhaps. And if you’re making your kit for when you are bored then throw down a load of different activities, and make sure to include some you might not usually do (for example, writing a song even if you’re not musical). My list includes a mixture of all these different things! Here’s some of the things on my list:

A picture of some of the activities on my distractions list

I hope this has inspired you to think about making a little toolkit for yourself (or even for someone else). Please feel free to ask for any advice or share your ideas for your own happy kit. Sending all my love and support. Xx

Posted in Happy Notes, Notes

Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness is something intangible, and yet it is very real and very powerful. In the Cambridge dictionary kindness is defined as ‘the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality’. If we think back on our lives I’m sure we can think on many moments where people have shown us kindness. Sometimes a seemingly small or insignificant act of kindness can have the greatest impact – for example someone helping someone else carry a bag on a particularly bad day could remind them that there is good in the world and prevent them from spiralling into a worse place mentally. And sometimes it’s the grand gestures of kindness over a long period of time that make an impact on us – for me the fact that my friends never gave up on me during the dark times is one the greatest acts of kindness that I have ever experienced. The point is, what we qualify as a kind act may be vary for each of us, but the underlying caring and generosity always helps to brighten up the world and our lives.

Back in November I posted on my Instagram about a 30 day random acts of kindness challenge. The idea behind it was to inspire myself and others to think about doing something small but kind once a day in order to be more mindful about how we can make a positive impact on the people and world around us. Why? I believe that when we put good energy out there, it spreads – a bit of a butterfly effect if you will – and it goes beyond the original act of kindness. Also, as someone who struggles with their mental health I know that being kind can have a profound effect on how I feel; it makes me feel better about myself and also helps to get me out of the cycle of my thoughts. But don’t forget you can also show yourself kindness, in many forms, and that is just as important. It helps us to be able to function better and feel better and do even more for others.

So here’s a list of 31 random acts of kindness. I would encourage you to try one out, or make it a challenge to do one a day for the next 31 days! Please comment below with any more ideas or stories of how someone else has helped you out:

  1. Tell someone you appreciate them
  2. Sign a petition for a cause you care about
  3. Say hello to someone and ask how they are
  4. Donate old clothes to a charity store
  5. Hold the door for someone
  6. Bake or cook something and give it to someone – a neighbour, family member, coworker
  7. Give three honest compliments
  8. Write a happy note and leave it for someone to find/ post it online (use #ourhappynotes)
  9. Comment something positive on a post
  10. Make/ hang some bird feeders
  11. Leave a thank you note for your mail carrier or another civil worker who does a lot for you
  12. Buy some food for a food bank
  13. Smile at someone
  14. When you’re going on an errand, ask a neighbour/ friend if they need you to do anything for them
  15. Share a post about an issue you care about
  16. Write some positive messages on the pavement with chalk
  17. Leave a bit of change in a vending machine
  18. Bring some food to a homeless person
  19. Wear your mask with vigilance if you can – this one should be some every day!
  20. Support a small local business, either with money or by leaving a positive review/ following them online
  21. Spend the day trying to be kind to yourself – listening to what you need, letting your emotions be, relaxing etc
  22. Do a chore that someone else would usually do
  23. Plant something
  24. Have a complaint free day
  25. Send a letter to an elderly person
  26. Read an article to educate yourself on an issue
  27. Encourage someone
  28. Check in on your friends
  29. Write to your MP/ representative about something you feel needs attention
  30. Let someone go ahead of you in line
  31. Brainstorm more ideas for kindness and how you can incorporate it into your everyday life

Let’s spread some sparkly, shiny, generous energy in the world! Sending all my love and support,

Millie xx

Posted in Advocacy, autism

A Guide to Autism Awareness Month (By an Autistic Girl)

April is autism awareness month, so you might well come across information floating around about autism online. For many autistic people, especially autistic advocates, can find this month difficult or have mixed feelings around it – not all the information circulating will be correct or portray a positive narrative, and this can be frustrating, stigmatising, and exhausting to correct. So here is a short guide on how to navigate autism awareness month for autistics and neurotypicals (people who do not have autism and are not neurodivergent) alike:

The Ground Rules

Firstly, let’s lay some ground rules for autism awareness month – the stuff you really should know. When you read something about autism online, do not automatically assume it’s true. If it’s written by an autistic person, then it’s generally trustworthy. If it shows autism as a problem to be fixed, or a desperate life, then it’s not to be listened to. And if it comes from ‘Autism Speaks’ then completely ignore it (more on that later). Next, make sure you are not correcting autistic people on their own experience, or trying to speak over them. Instead, uplift autistic voices – and all autistic voices. We are as diverse as the world, and we all have value, so make sure you’re paying attention to LBGTQ autistics, Black autistics, non-verbal autistics, autistics with higher support needs… all of us! Finally, don’t use the #actuallyautistic hashtag if you’re not autistic, it’s a hashtag we use to find each other and to identify posts by autistic people.

Acceptance not Awareness

While becoming more aware of the diversity and lived experience of autistic people is amazing, and helps to de-stigmatise autism, it’s not enough. Furthermore, sometimes the idea of awareness can become a connotation of a problem that needs to be solved or cured, which autism is not. So during this month, you may see it called ‘autism acceptance month’ instead. That’s because what autistic people really need is acceptance. More than that we need to be accommodated and valued in society, because every single one of has worth no matter where our traits lie on the spectrum, and when accommodated to we can do so much. So please, make sure that this month you are also thinking about and working on your acceptance and accommodation of autistic people. If you want to read more about why I think autism is amazing, please read my post ‘Autism is My Superpower’ here.

All Year Round

The fact is that autistic people are always autistic – all year round. That means that you cannot only work on accepting autistic people during the month of April. Including us, accommodating us, appreciating us and loving us is a full time job. And it’s important, maybe even paramount, to note that accepting autistic people isn’t just about accepting those who have a diagnosis or are public about that diagnosis. Many of us can’t be open with our diagnosis, or are uncomfortable about being open with it (which is why we need your help to de-stigmatise autism). Many people don’t even know they are autistic. So what does that mean for you? It means accepting the weird kid who only talks about the same few topics or can’t make eye contact, and saying hello to them, regardless of what response you might get. It means not laughing at the way in which someone flaps their hand or the odd noises they make. It’s about being sensitive to the person who finds light and sound overstimulating. It means accommodating the quiet girl, even when she can’t talk at all. It means caring.

No Autism Speaks

You may have heard/ hear about Autism Speaks’ light it up blue campaign, supposedly in support of autistic people. However autism speaks have been hugely damaging to the autism community, portraying autism as a thing that destroys lives and families, and something that needs to be solved. They also do not help autistic people in a financial sense – only a tiny portion of their budget (I believe 4%) actually goes towards autistic people and their families, while their CEO receives an obnoxious amount. Furthermore, not one person on their board actually has autism, which is an outrageous sign that they do not listen to us. So instead of lighting it up blue, please light it up red, a way we are combating Autism Speaks, and use the rainbow infinity symbol instead of the blue puzzle piece of this organisation.

A Guide for The Autistics

This month might get overwhelming for you, especially if you are trying to correct information online or advocate a lot. So this is my reminder for us to check in with ourselves and allow ourselves time to rest and do what we enjoy as well. If you are feeling worn out maybe reach out to someone who knows you well also and ask them for a bit of extra support. You are under no obligation to do anything this month if you don’t want to. And maybe while everyone else is working on their acceptance of us, we can also try to accept ourselves. It’s something we can struggle with as autistic people. But we are so valid, and honestly really awesome.

Thank you so much for reading. If you have any questions please do drop them in the comments, and feel free to get in contact. Sending all my love and support!

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Letters to my MP

This is the first of five letters to my MP regarding the mental health system, sent originally in May – it is not even worth me posting the others because they are all very repetitive following evasive responses. However I thought I would post this one as it gives a comprehensive overview of how I regard the mental health system in the U.K. and I’d like to say is a reasonably interesting read. If you’d like to read any of the others or responses please do get in touch.

Dear Mr ****,

My name is Millicent ****, I am 15 years old, and I am a resident of the **** district. I am writing to you today concerning the topic of the mental health system in the UK, particularly regarding young people. This is of great personal and nationwide importance since the mental health of citizens is an intersectional issue impacted by and impacting most aspects of society. You may be aware of many of my concerns already, however there is so much still to be done and these issues need highlighting, especially in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic which will no doubt influence the mental wellbeing of the population. I firmly believe that investment into the improvement of support in the UK will aid the return to life following this pandemic. I will also send a copy of this to you handwritten. It is my hope that you will take the time to read this email in full, as it is a comprehensive display of the complex problems within the system, and that it may open a discourse with you about what can be done to improve the system, and therefore society. Essentially – how will you, as an MP, push for change?

In this email I will cover:

– Personal experience

– Statistics and widespread perceptions of the system 

– The intersectionality of mental health 

– Issues with the diagnostic process 

– My questions about the system, what can be done, and ideas for what could be improved 

– Summary for your convenience 

In the last three years I have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, anxiety disorder, cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) and disordered eating. To say I have struggled would be an understatement, and in terms of intervention from mental health services I have struggled alone. I only received these diagnoses after reaching breaking point, and through the private system funded by charity money after being consistently failed by CAHMS. Even then I faced long waiting lists and inadequate support. I will raise my concerns within the context of my own experience. 

When I was first referred to CAHMS I saw a counselor who I did not connect with; when I asked for a change of treatment, I was denied such. A year later – after a sharp downward turn in my mental health which meant I could no longer partake in a full school timetable – I was referred to the service once again. I had an initial assessment which left me confused, and they brushed aside my difficulties with my moods. I was offered group therapy, which intimidated me, and a check in with the eating disorders unit. I was not consulted about my treatment. After a panic attack in the office and a month of complaints I was offered CBT – but only 3 sessions; this is completely inadequate by any standards, including the NHS NICE guidelines, to make any change. When I raised concerns unrelated to my anxiety in these sessions, they were brushed aside as unimportant or not relevant to their unit. I was told by the eating disorder unit that I was ‘not light enough’ to qualify for in depth treatment – despite having lost a stone in the space of three weeks and being unable to eat more than five-hundred calories a day at the time. At the end of my CBT I was let go of by the service as they felt they had nothing more to offer me. I was told an ASD assessment would take eighteen months. Four months later I was struggling with suicidal tendencies, self harm, bulimia, and other issues. The overarching theme here is that I was continually told I was not ‘bad enough’ and by the time I was ‘bad enough’ I had no support systems in place. 

So my first questions are these: how can we change the system so that the needs of individuals are taken into consideration? How can we improve communication across units within the system so that the individual’s struggles are dealt with at all levels? How can we ensure that all the patient’s concerns are being taken into account, without ridicule? How can we create better measures to support people at all levels of the system, so that they always feel valid and the preventable outcomes do not occur, which often leaves people alone or the system overwhelmed? A simple answer would be funding – the system needs better funding to be able to cope with the influx of patients coming through, and approach each one with compassion. However this is not the singular solution, which I will come to later, and would require a shift in the focus of government by essentially making clear that it puts the wellbeing of its citizens first, and is not afraid to invest in long term solutions and improvements. 

I am not alone in my experience – a quick survey on my Instagram provided me with several answers, all of which backed up my perceptions of the system; I have heard conversations about the same problems repeated over and over again. Here are just a handful of responses from my Instagram: 

‘I’m sure mental health problems could be caught and helped earlier with better funding’ 

‘Mental health services for young people are woefully underfunded’ 

‘I’d say more funding for counselor programmes as there are massive waiting lists for them’ 

‘Private services are so dear, and many slip through the net because they can’t access help in time’  

‘Not enough work is done to prevent mental health problems and when there is a crisis, the systems are not properly equipped to deal with them’ 

In terms of statistics, the Community Mental Health survey 2019 by the Quality Care Commission reports ‘many of those areas identified as in need of improvement in 2018 have declined further, continuing the negative trend of results consistently declining over the 2014 – 2019 period’. This follows the publication of the government’s ambitions in the Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View (2017) and the NHS Long Term Plan (2019). As reported by the charity Mind, this weekend also marked 18 months since the Mental Health Act review – and we are still waiting for the government to make vital changes. Some key statistics from the survey are: 

– 31% of all respondents said they did not know who to contact out of office hours within the NHS if they had a crisis 

– One in five respondents that did know who to contact, and had done so in the last twelve months, reported they did not receive the help they needed during a crisis 

– Less than half (42%) of respondents said they had ‘definitely’ seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs. This is five percentage points lower than 2014 

– Almost a quarter of people (23%) were not involved in agreeing their care with NHS mental health services.

– Only 52%, of those who agreed their care, felt they were involved as much as they wanted to be in that process

– 29% of people had not had a formal meeting with anyone from the NHS mental health services to discuss how their care is working in the last year 

This barely scratches the surface of the 92 page report, which shows quality of care throughout to be below expectations and satisfaction, and many of these issues may also be exaggerated further within CAHMS which presents the challenge of dealing with those under 18. I think you can agree this is simply not good enough. 

While I am on statistics, here is an introduction to why the mental health of the country is important: 

– Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (Mental Health Network, NHS confederation, 2016) 

– In the UK and the Republic of Ireland there were 6895 suicides in 2018, a 10.9% increase (Samaritans). That is 6895 lives lost, futures lost, family and friends in mourning 

– The rate of suicide among under 25s increased by 23.7% in 2018 (Samaritans) 

– The rate of suicide in the last quarter of 2019 hit a 19-year high, at 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people (ONS)

– Mental ill health is responsible for 72 million working days lost each year and costs £34.9 billion each year (Thriving at work: The independent review of Mental Health and Employers, 2017, Stephen D, Farmerson P), although some other reputable studies reckon this to be as high at £74-99 billion (Business in the community, Mental Health at Work 2019: Time to Take Ownership)

– One in eight 5 to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 (Government Statistical Service) 

The figures above are just that – numbers. However they represent the pain of millions of people each year, the tragic loss of life; the prevalence and therefore importance of mental health issues. We all have mental health; at any time we could be forced to rely on the system, therefore we must ensure it is properly equipped to support us, and allow us to return as functioning and contributing members of society. In the last three months three of my friends have attempted suicide. Thankfully they are all still alive today, but as they were all already involved in the system before this and had been failed by it invariably, I also live in fear for them, and others – like myself – grappling with mental health issues. This affects all of us. 

The main support I received for my mental health came from my school, simply because I was lucky enough to have understanding and empathetic teachers who always looked out for me. They kept me safe during manic episodes, kept me going during depressive episodes, and constantly took it upon themselves to educate themselves and offer me suggestions. However the level of care which they gave to me was not required of them, nor should it have been, and they are not professionals in the field. As the majority of young people spend most of their time in schools, however, it has highlighted to me the important role that schools play in supporting students’ mental wellbeing.  Furthermore, stress is well known to have a negative effect on mental health, and the stress placed on students in competitive atmospheres only increases as they move up the educational system: how can we alleviate some of the pressure on students and make it part of the curriculum to provide them with coping skills? This is one example of how in improving the NHS system, we must also involve coordination across other aspects of society that support the wellbeing of our citizens.

I know that my teachers were unsure who to contact when I had a mixed episode (undiagnosed at the time) which left them bewildered and in fear for my safety. In improving the system we must raise awareness, and education is key to this as it allows us to reach so many young people. How can we ensure that teachers – all teachers – are trained to recognise early warning signs, and create a structure that would mean they are aware how to approach with empathy, knowing what their next steps would be? Within schools, how can we promote the tolerance and awareness of mental wellbeing in a dynamic, informed manner that fosters compassion? Perhaps required teacher training and reforms in PSHE would be a good place to start, alongside establishing schemes of referral and counselling in educational settings. However, we must also recognise the impact that a teacher’s role may be having on their mental health, and therefore I suggest that it should be the norm that educators are offered easily accessible support to help them, which would not only allow them to offer better assistance, but would also make them better teachers. Mental health is an intersectional issue that requires a multifaceted approach; I hope you will appreciate this, and start formulating ideas on how we can put this into practice. 

Again I reference some quotes from my Instagram survey:

– ‘More investment in mental health training for teachers’ 

– ‘Talks for young people. They feel too’

– ‘Primary schools need to be more aware of mental health in my opinion’ 

– ‘Education beyond anxiety and depression because nothing else is talked about’

In terms of intersectionality, there are also clear trends among different demographics which should be addressed in formulating a plan for improvement. For example, the current protests have brought to my attention the disparities faced by BME communities in receiving mental health treatment: 

– Risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the White population (Mental Health statistics for England, Briefing paper 6988, Baker C., 2018)

– Detention rates under the Mental Health act during 2017/2018 were four times higher for people in the ‘Black’ or ‘Black British’ groups than those in the ‘White’ group (NHS, Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual report 2017-2018)

– 29% of Black/ Black British women experienced a common mental disorder in the past week, higher than for White British women or Other White women (NHS, Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey) 

Once again this only scratches the surface, but the trend is clear. Research suggests that racism can have a very negative effect on overall health and mental health, and as BME communities are often more likely to be economically disadvantaged – and mental health issues more prevalent among lower income communities –  this is sure to have an effect on these figures. Therefore in facing the problems with the system, we must also look to where we can alleviate stress elsewhere, by educating young people through schools and the wider population through schemes about racism and how to be anti-racist; by aiding those economically disadvantaged and perhaps putting further funding into the services in areas with lower average income; by actively reversing racism and increasing understanding of issues faced by BME people within the service. However, it matters what is then done with this funding as well – there should be clear cut structures that direct where the funding should be applied. For example – community programmes, hiring more nurses and psychologists, further research into the effects of medication and disorders, training/ encouraging the training of the next generation of mental health workers, improving training structures to implement the values of NICE that should already be put in place. We need to not only pledge to look into it, fund it, but also how the process should be guided, surely? 

I could delve further into the intersectionality of mental health among LGBT+ communities (more susceptible), disabled people and their access needs, the workplace – but I feel by now you have gotten the picture. To finish I will cover the topic of diagnostic issues. 

The process of my autism diagnosis was fraught since I was being assessed under a criteria developed based upon the experience of white males of a certain economic background. This is the case for the diagnosis of many disorders, for which the criteria is based upon outdated research of particular demographics. How can we work to reverse this and therefore provide a smoother process for all by being represented in research? Not only that, but I found that without a diagnosis, my concerns were brushed aside as ‘just a teenager thing’. Yet the diagnostic system is not clear on what should or should not be diagnosed in teens, so my diagnoses were almost impossible to achieve, and still I was left feeling that regardless of labels I should have been validated anyway. I then found that after each diagnosis, there was a definite lack of explanation to me and guidance on my next steps. 

The end goal of psychiatry shouldn’t be diagnosis; all aspects of a person should be taken into account; those receiving such should be provided with clear understanding and guidance. Diagnosis also raises the issue of stigma in society – we are still afraid of labels, and yet invalidated without them. As already shown, mental health problems are so prevalent in our society that the very idea of them being a ‘disorder’ is arguably wrong and very damaging, causing divides where there needs to be acceptance and compassion. What can we do about this? There is a clear gap in the understanding around mental health that needs to be closed, which again brings me to the topic of education, and a supportive system at all levels so that the patient feels their individual needs are being heard and the preventable outcomes do not occur. Could research and community schemes help to bridge this gap? 

From my Instagram survey:

-’They don’t do enough for people who have only recently been diagnosed with mental health and therefore it allows their mental health to get worse’

-’It’s important because young people’s lives are being ruined by lack of access and explanations’

– ‘STOP TELLING PEOPLE IT’S JUST HORMONES/ A TEEN THING it’s not helping anyone!’

Mr Holloway I thank you deeply for taking the time to read this email. I hope that you will understand the importance of what I am writing about and receive these points with an open mind. I look forward to receiving your reply. You are a leader, and I trust that there is the possibility for tangible change in opening discourse with you. In conclusion:

  • How can we improve communication across the mental health system and other sectors? 
  • How can we use funding to improve the system?
  • How can we address individual needs?
  • How can we address the intersections of this issue to create a better society?
  • How can we improve the mental health system in conjunction with improving the educational system?
  • How can research help to overcome issues, and how do we ensure action is taken from it?
  • How do we overcome issues with diagnosis and stigma?
  • What can you do to lead this change?

If you would like me to clarify any points or forward my sources please do not hesitate to ask, 

Kind Regards, 

Millicent

Posted in Advocacy, Happy Notes, Mental Health, Notes, Personal Growth

What is positivity?

This post is inspired by I note I made for my Instagram – @our.happy.notes – which read: ‘For me being positive doesn’t mean being happy or positive all the time, it means allowing myself to appreciate the moments that I do feel positive, and allowing the possibility of hope to exist’. I wrote it because being the inquisitive person I am and being active on social media brought the thought into my mind – what is positivity? What does positivity mean to me?

I’m a person that tends to find myself living in extremes. There either is or there isn’t. I am all or nothing. So with positivity and a mood disorder, I found that I either lived in a state of overwhelming optimist or complete lack of any positive thought at all. What I have found interesting, and beneficial to my mental health, is exploring the space in between. The idea that even in positive moments I can accept that it won’t last forever, and in the times where I lack such I can acknowledge that it doesn’t mean that positivity has disappeared.

I think sometimes even in well meaning spaces, there can be such a pressure to be positive and see the good in life. Unfortunately this simply isn’t possible all of the time, and when we put pressure on ourselves to feel one way or the other it can lead to us feeling even worse. The reality of the situation is that all emotions on the spectrum are valid. Yet the lack of positivity or hope in one moment does not mean it will never return; that it has ceased to exist. Nowadays this is something I like to remind myself – writing it out helps me to absorb it.

So, what is positivity to me? Positivity is not the blind belief in a bright future, but the acceptance of the fact that a bright future could exist. It is allowing the possibility of a good day for someone else happening, even if it isn’t for me. It is embracing the small, joyful things in life – the most minute parts of the world that make me a little less down, even if only for a moment. It is an intangible thing, an emotion, an idea – a beautiful prospect.

However I recognise that in moments we really can want to increase our positive thoughts and feelings in life. I am no expert on this, though I do have some tools that have helped me. In the morning I write down affirmations for the day – ‘Today can be a good day’, ‘I am enough’, etc. In the evening I write a gratitude list – ‘I have a roof over my head’, ‘someone smiled at me in the street’. I list the small things in life that bring me joy. I allow myself to dream wildly, but remind myself that whether or not these dreams materialise, I will be ok. I smile; sometimes I simply sit there and I smile. And when I feel that positivity is disappearing, that hope is waning, I repeat aloud and write on paper that they are not gone forever. These might seem a little silly, but they are some of the most healing things toward my mental health.

Sending love and support to anyone who needs it today!

Love, Millie x

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Funding Mental Health – An Introductory Question

Today’s post is inspired by @jcss.c (insta)

I’ve spoken about funding for mental health systems here before, but I wanted to write a bit about what we want to fund. The mental health system as it is is flawed – I am certain of this – and while extra funding is needed and would help, it won’t fix everything. That is whey when I talk about improving the mental health system I use the word reform.

When we talk about funding the system we need to consider what we are funding. Do we want to pump money into a fundamentally broken system (because it’s been getting worse for quite a while) or do we want to use that money to reform the way the system works, promote independent person led treatment, and then provide resources to help make that happen? 

Here’s some examples of areas that need to be changed: 

  • fatphobia within ED (eating disorder) treatment. That means not having to be under a certain weight to be validated, the mental side of an eating disorder taking precedent, and providing space for people who don’t fit the ‘typical’ ED profile you might expect 
  • Medical racism. This needs to be tackled at all levels and in all areas of society – they all influence each other
  • Inability for medical practitioners to see individuals rather than symptoms. The individual patient matters; they should have a say in their own treatment; all of who they are should be recognised and celebrated. There’s a difference between having to tick boxes and refusing to see anything outside of those boxes 
  • Inappropriate medication/ sedation in inpatient. There should be more resources and a better system of action that doesn’t lead to drugs so quickly, especially if that is against the patient’s wishes 
  • Criminalisation & lack of human respect for people with substance use issues. 
  • Staff who always validate the experience of the patient, don’t rush patients through, tell them they’re not ‘bad enough’, aren’t rude, aren’t tired etc etc etc 
  • Voluntary treatment truly being voluntary. Rather than ‘admit yourself or we’ll section you’ (which happens far too much) 
  • Language changes. Being labelled as compliant or non-compliant, for example, and threatened with no help at all or penalties on freedom in inpatient, when in reality the reasons behind each person’s choice should be explored and respected. They should be helped to be motivated, and if the treatment isn’t working for them, there should be other options 
  • Space for alternative treatments. For example art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapy – just using other methods to get through to patients can be pivotal in their treatment. There should be the ability for this to happen on a wide scale 
  • Recognition of the wider factors impacting and maintaining mental health. Such as money, identity etc

There’s so much more I could discuss and it’s not like I’ve studied this for years, so this is just the opinion I have developed, but I know I am not alone in this. I’d also like to say that I respect any professionals that want to make a difference for someone struggling with their mental health, but I recognise that in such a strange system, it’s often hard for them to do so, and after time that motivation may just disappear. 

If anyone wants to add anything, please comment below, would love to have a discussion on this topic.

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

I Want Change.

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.

– Millie

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Affirmations for the future

Hey Happies!

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.

Keep Smiling. X

Posted in Happy Notes

How to write your own Happy Note (and why you should)

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: our.happy.notes@gmail.com.

Keep Smiling. X