All posts by Vikie Shanks

New Year: The best advice I’ve seen!

It’s New Years Eve and I find myself in the same mindset that I have every year, to make resolutions or treat this the same as any other day of the year?  I’m always torn, I like to try to treat every day as a new start so my brain argues that the 31st December should be no different, but, at the same time, measuring life and success in chunks can be a handy reference point.

The whole thought process this year has been harder as I haven’t been well the past few days so the trusty brain hasn’t been working efficiently, very frustrating.  Anyway, what is my conclusion?  Well, thanks to my very good friend Paul McGregor, I have decided to follow his excellent advice and do the following:-

– Set smaller goals

– Reward small wins

– Remind yourself ‘why’

– Stay accountable

– Be patient

He’s right, we tend to fall by the wayside with our New Year Resolutions because we set our goals so high that we fall at the first hurdle.  Disappointment in our efforts just creates a negative impact on our self-esteem and self belief, we’ve proved again what we proved last year, we can’t stick to our goals!  NOT HELPFUL!

And we do need to reward small wins AND remind ourselves of what our ‘why’ is whilst staying accountable to ourselves and others and being patient.  So this year I’m not going to be so hard on myself and I’m going to recognise the small successes because it’s the small stuff that adds up to the big stuff.

I have huge ambitions to change the world and the way we treat people with mental health challenges, reduce the number of suicides and challenge the way we perceive people with ‘differently wired brains’.

Recent figures show approximately 120 suicides are recorded every week in the UK but this number doesn’t include suicides not recorded as such  for a variety of reasons and those committing ‘passive suicide’, the real figures are much higher.  So many of these deaths are avoidable if only the appropriate  help was available to more people when they need it, when is the lack of support going to become unacceptable?

We need more openness, more acceptance and more understanding alongside better services that are ‘fit for purpose’.  Join me on my journey this year and let’s see if, together, we can make a change?


Autism and why Santa has ruined Christmas for me forever!


I’M APPALLED!  The song ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ will never be the same again for me, the very epitome of Christmas has been ruined forever and shed huge doubt on one of the greatest, most generous and caring of men to have ever existed.

What am I talking about?  Well, have you ever listened to what the song is actually saying?  Any decent headteacher or boss would be seriously alarmed if such practices were taking place in their establishment and would probably be liable for a lawsuit, but Santa seems to be perfectly ok with it?

You know how the song goes:-

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
Their beautiful ‘goody two shoes’ image hides a sinister secret
So far, so good. Lovely reindeer with beautiful names who pull Santa’s sleigh every year to help him deliver millions of presents globally (no mean feat I might add and much here to be admired!).  However, listen to the lyrics as they continue and we see a much more seedy side of life at the North Pole.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
BLATANT BULLYING!  Just because Rudolph is different from the other reindeer he gets called names, laughed at and isn’t allowed to join in with the games the other reindeer play.  How could Santa possibly tolerate such despicable behaviour from his beloved reindeer?  It really does beggar belief.
No wonder poor Rudolph looks so sad
And the sorry state of affairs doesn’t end there!
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You’ll go down in history”
One minute the other reindeer are behaving in such a disgusting way that any tribunal would be awarding Rudolph huge damages and the next they’re sucking up to him because meteorological conditions are making delivering the presents one year impossible, so, suddenly they need his ‘difference’ in order to get the job done.  They were lucky he was such a nice guy and became the ‘bigger person’ to save the day.
(We we won’t even bother to go into the infringement of various ‘Elf and Safety issues here with regard to flying in such inclement weather, although I’m sure the ‘Elf and Safety Executive would have a lot to say about Santa’s recklessness and the risk to life of the reindeer in his charge, which are, of course, his sole responsibility)
Santa flagrantly ignored ALL ‘Elf and Safety guidelines
How shallow of them!  “You’ll go down in history!”.  All of a sudden he’s their best mate and everyone’s hero!
Now, Rudolph may not be autistic, but how many autistic people suffer from the same bullying and isolation because they’re different?  I’m here to tell you, it’s a lot!
But, how often do autistic people have the talent and unique ability to solve problems that the rest of us can’t…HUH??  Just have a think about all of the miraculous gadgets and systems that these amazing people have created that make our lives so much better?
Without Bill Gates there would be no Windows and anyone who remembers the days of MS-DOS will know that Windows transformed everyone’s lives.  Without Steve Jobs there would be no Apple, no iPhones, no iPads, no nothing Apple!  And without Sir Isaac Newton we might still be scratching our heads about why things always fall down, not up?
Hands up if you would be lost without your iPhone?
Some of the most creative and forward thinking people have transformed our lives, and if you look at the list, a lot of them are autistic!
Now, we can’t turn the clock back and prevent poor Rudolph from being bullied so mercilessly, but we can learn a lesson from his experiences.  Just because someone doesn’t conform to the generally held idea of ‘normal’ doesn’t mean they don’t have a huge amount to offer the world and the people around them.  We never know when we’re going to need their unique abilities and really they should be grateful that Rudolph didn’t tell them all of to ‘shove it’ when he was suddenly put at the top of the list!
Don’t bother looking for any deep meaning to this picture, it just made me laugh!
So, the next time you listen to ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’, let it remind you that we need difference, in fact, we would all be in a sorry state if it weren’t for the people in our world who add something a bit alternative, life would be extremely boring as well!
I hold Santa accountable for not intervening and stopping the bullying that Rudolph suffered for so long and hope that he learnt a good life lesson about protecting the vulnerable..and may we all learn the same.

The Mad Shanks Residence: It’s raining Cats!

The saying is that ‘everything happens for a reason’, and it certainly is the case that, in retrospect, we can often see that something that happened that didn’t appear to be so good at the time turns out to be for the best.  So far, so good…

In the ‘Mad Shanks Residence’, weird stuff happens all the time, mostly it seems with absolutely no rhyme or reason, even our friends tell us that you couldn’t ‘make this shit up’!  So the tale I’m about to tell is exactly one of those ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ occurrences.

Tuesday Morning

Lorie is working on a film set at Wroxhall Abbey, is running late and takes a tiny one track road that most of us never use for safety reasons.  Half way down she comes across three cats, what look like a mother and two of her tiny kittens.  Lorie rings me and I shoot down in my car to see if we can catch them but they’ve disappeared into the bushes.  Lorie has to go, and I have a meeting so can’t keep looking, but I resolve to look again when I get back.  I search in vain later that day and decide to come out again in the evening.

Tuesday Evening

Jamie’s partner, Ben, has taken the same lane on return from work and has seen two adult cats and one kitten on the same road?  We all ponder whether he’s talking about the same cats that Lorie had seen in the morning?  Cat carrier, food, head torches, cat treats etc…are bundled into Jamie’s car and we drive down the lane….nothing!  I’m driving so Ben and Jamie get out and walk while I hold back a little in fear the car engine might spook them, but after a few minutes I drive down to meet them.  In the middle of the road are two adult cats and two kittens, mystery solved it would seem regarding the disparity between Lorie’s sighting and Ben’s report.

With not a lot of coaxing but a fair amount of food Jamie manages to get all four into the carrier whilst Ben wandered a bit further down to make sure there weren’t any more.  Unbelievably, he hears rustling in the bushes and a tiny ‘meow’, Jamie rushes down while Ben puts the other cats in the car and eventually Jamie manages to reach the terrified third kitten.

Back in the car with the fifth cat wrapped in a blanket and back home where Jamie and Ben settle them in their bedroom whilst I rush to Sainsbury’s for cat litter and a mountain of food, these cats are starving!  Back home again and I have a chance to look at them, they’re so friendly, no way are these feral cats, they belong to someone.


Jamie, very responsibly, spends the day with the cats and takes them to the vet to be checked over, they’re all very skinny and riddled with worms and fleas, but otherwise pretty much ok.  The vet concurs with our theory that they’ve been dumped by an unscrupulous owner who couldn’t be bothered, and it turns out that the second larger cat is actually another daughter of the mums but from a litter several months previously.

We are now a baffled and bewildered family ourselves trying to work out how we have suddenly become five cats richer (we already have seven!), and what on earth are we going to do with them, they’ve been through hell living rough for a couple of weeks so we need time to think, but for the  moment, they’re safe, fed, warm and all together.

Thursday Night

The early hours of Friday morning, 3am, and Lorie is restless in her bedroom on the ground floor of the house.  As she tosses and turns she thinks she hears a tiny ‘meow’?  No, she must be dreaming, and she returns to trying to get to sleep again.  Another tiny ‘meow’, this time Lorie jumps up and rushes to the window, as she looks out she sees the kitten that has been named ‘Basher’, a tiny tabby.  Jamie had let the cats have a roam about before bed and Lorie assumes this is Basher, who has, somehow, managed to get out.

Half asleep she dashes outside and manages to grab him and takes him upstairs to the room that has been allocated as our new ‘cat sanctuary’.  Still half asleep she looks for mum so she can return Basher to her and she can know that he’s safe, but, as she looks around the room, ‘Basher’ is lying on the bed, fast asleep.  Lorie looks again at the cat on the bed and then looks at the cat she is holding, she rubs her eyes, she looks again, mystified, she does a head count and arrives at six cats!  She tries again and arrives at the same number, we’ve just ‘grown’ a cat stronger!  She wakes Jamie up and gives her the news and all hell breaks loose!

Eventually the house settles down again and we all return to bed…


Friday Evening

Nikita’s boyfriend has stepped outside the back door for a cigarette, suddenly he shouts and we all jump to attention, it sounds urgent?

‘I heard a cat!’ he screams whilst running down the field in the direction of the noise, Nikita in hot pursuit and me not far behind them.  In all the kerfuffle the three dogs are now also on the loose and running around barking in every direction!  Cody, the smallest of the dogs runs off at every opportunity so I turn my attention to catching him and his brother whilst Rory and Nikita search for the cat.

Suddenly an animal appears and seems to have run off with something in its mouth, at first Rory thought it was one of the dogs but it turns out to be a fox who drops whatever was in his mouth (we still don’t know if it was the kitten) and runs off down the road.  It’s chaos!

Eventually, they found the kitten, even smaller than the smallest of the four we already have and she is safely delivered to mum who is more than delighted to see her.


Beautiful….but SO many!

So, returning to my initial point, if everything happens for a reason, what on earth could be the reason for us having seven cats dumped on our doorstep?  As a family, we are now all hyper-vigilant and constantly listening out for cats in case another one turns up!

As I said earlier, you can’t make this shit up!

What do we do?  This a family of cats, a very close family, a family that has been through hell and it feels unconscionable to split them up, but, with seven elderly cats already, keeping them doesn’t feel like an option either.  Meanwhile, the kids have become more and more attached to them, especially as they are the most beautiful, friendly cats, and to be honest, I’m becoming attached to them as well!

Years ago we had managed to get to fifteen cats and the ‘mad cat woman’ hat was fixed firmly on my head!  One by one they’ve met their end (sadly mostly being run over on the lane by drivers using it as a race track) and we’ve been whittled down to seven, keeping this family would take us back up to fourteen again!  I’ve only recently been able to, tentatively, take the ‘mad cat woman’ hat off, do I really want to have to put it back on again?

So, your assignment is to work out what the ‘everything happens for reason’ is behind this latest ‘you couldn’t make this shit up’ occurrence in The Mad Shanks Residence!  Answers on a postcard please to:-

You Couldn’t Make This Shit Up

Everything Happens For A Reason Street








The real meaning of life? It’s 18, not 42…

Not many people are aware of the staggeringly horrific statistics regarding suicide.  18 people make the ultimate statement of how unbearable their life has become by committing suicide, EVERY DAY.

How can any of us feel that this is acceptable? Whether we have been personally affected by losing someone close to us in this terrible way or not, we cannot accept that this is just a fact of life and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

So much can be done, we just have to convince the government that funding and better support for people with mental health issues is crucial.  Let’s get the right support in place, let’s speak to the people who live with mental illness and see what they say would help them.  Let’s stop listening to our learned professors and doctors who have never experienced the desperation associated with wanting to end your own life, talk to us, the real people, with the real knowledge.

Most of the support offered by the current mental health system isn’t help at all, in my experience it’s just an added stress that I can’t cope with.  I’ve asked many people, and from my own experience, what we need is, as Kacie puts it, ‘a hug in a mug’.  A place where we feel safe with people who really understand and know what to say to enable us to feel supported, not a doctor in a clinical room asking us (in a clinical way) if we feel suicidal.

I met with CALM recently and was so impressed at the work they do, targeting exactly the men who are at risk, with very appropriate support that ACTUALLY helps.  We held a charity screening of ‘Kingdom of Us’ in conjunction with CALM and Pulse Films and I sincerely hope we can do more work with them in the future.


PLEASE can I ask everyone to sign the petition they are running and then share and share and share, we need a government minister who is responsible for preventing suicide and currently there is no-one.


World Mental Health Day: The key to Happiness=Resilience

Today is World Mental Health Day and there will be an abundance of information across all media reminding us of the importance of understanding, being aware and being more compassionate towards those who experience mental health illness.

But, how many of us can understand the logic of how we should look after ourselves, and how many of us are actually able to do that?  The conditioning of our outlook on life starts at a very early age, and sometimes, it’s that conditioning that gets in the way of us doing what’s right for us, and being able to understand how challenging life can be for some others.

The new proposals for better awareness of mental health issues and critical life data in schools is wonderful news, the younger we start, the better the outcome.  The real problem is that everyone knows that one, single, comment from a parent, teacher or other person of authority can skew our thinking for the rest of our lives, so how do we overcome that one?

The only solution to being able to withstand the influence of the outside world is to build resilience within ourselves, with resilience comes confidence, and with confidence comes the ability to not cave in to peer pressure, or allow someone else’s point of view to tarnish our beliefs, therefore helping us to believe that we can pull through the challenges of life.

Building resilience is another matter entirely!  Some people seem to be born with more resilience than others but it is a skill that can be learnt and practiced, you just have to want to do it!

The ability to become resilient can come from many different motivators, when Paul committed suicide, mine came from knowing my children had been through enough, and trying to give them the best lives I could, in spite of the adversity they had encountered, just wasn’t up for debate.  Prior to Paul’s death I’d been grateful for my resilience in facing up to the challenges that came with living with a man who had a plethora of mental health challenges as well as having had a difficult life up to that point as well.

Survival is another great motivator when it comes to building resilience and the day my father tried to strangle me really did help with my decision to leave home at 17 and move to London, knowing that there would never be any turning back or help available if I needed it.  I was well and truly on my own, but, I survived, and indeed, I thrived!

It doesn’t really matter what motivates you to build more resilience, you just have to want to do it, it’s a state of mind helped by a few learned strategies.  It’s a case of believing you can, and in the inimitable words of the great Henry Ford:-

I’m part of the Global Resilience Project spearheaded by Emma J Bell who is fascinated by the question of why some people are more resilient than others.  She sought out 50 people from all over the world who had encountered extreme adversity, and, not only survived, but also thrived.  I feel very humbled and honoured to be one of her 50 Thrivers and Emma has discovered the 9 secrets to building resilience and her findings will be available shortly.

In the meantime, this is the page on the MIND website that talks about building resilience, you can do it, everyone believes in you, do you believe in yourself?

Film: Kingdom of Us

Book: Unravelled

TED Talk: Why my Autistic children don’t need a cure


Yep! We went there! Mike Veny on being black, male and being open about mental illness

On Tuesday I met with a wonderful man called Mike Veny, he lives in New York and was in the UK with his wife for a few days and wanted to meet up with me, I was very excited!

We’d been following each other for a couple of years and I had always known that I would love to do something in conjunction with him as our attitudes and approach to mental health issues are very similar, and Tuesday was my chance!

We met at Buckingham Palace with a cameraman to film us having a conversation about some of the harder aspects of mental health and filmed for 2 hours!

I learnt so much from him, and he tells me he learnt a lot from me, we just couldn’t stop talking!  I admire Mike, he’s a black man from the US and I wanted to know how being black had affected his mental health, I really didn’t expect the answer he gave me but it’s something we should all stop and think about.

He told me that being black and opening up about having mental health issues is extremely hard.  Black people have come so far over the past couple of hundred years and a lot of their culture is based around ‘respect’, respect for their brothers and sisters and themselves for everything they have endured and where they are now.  Having said that, we all know that, sadly, racism is still rife, both here and in the States.

He explained that general perceptions are that black men are the toughest and most macho of all human males, something I couldn’t disagree with.  But that underlying belief means that it’s so hard to admit, as a black male, that you’re experiencing challenges with your mental health, it goes against the very core of their culture.

Mike has been brave enough to be open about his challenges and needing medication, it hasn’t been easy but he’s now one of the most highly respected speakers in America and his hope is to enable other people, black or not, to  be more open to getting help and to reduce the stigma attached to mental health.

He’s actually written a book called ‘Transforming Stigma’ and given a TEDx talk entitled ‘Mental Illness is an Asset’, his talk chimes extremely well with mine and we didn’t know anything about each other in 2015 when we both did our talks.

Mike is a remarkable man and I’ve made a friend for life, which I am so grateful for, people like Mike are very rare, like diamonds, and need to be treasured.  I will treasure his friendship for all eternity…

Autism: The fun bits, courtesy of Lorie!

My wonderful daughter, Lorie, is not renowned for her culinary skills but last night was a bit too far, even for her!

Just for clarity, the items on her plate include baked sweet potato (vaguely recognisable), a pepper, courgettes, mushrooms and a dollop of tomato sauce (for health reasons!).  I was going to run a competition to see if anyone could ‘guess the meal’ but it felt impossible that anyone could manage to even remotely start to get their head around it so I decided not to, for humanitarian reasons….

Definitely not renowned for her skills regarding food, further proof below!

She tells us that she put the vegetables in the oven and it didn’t occur to her that there was a time limit as to how long they could stay in there and still be edible (?), raised eyebrows all round.  And their were many eyebrows to be raised last night, 15 in fact (a couple missing in the photo) we were having a get together to mark the fact that Meg is leaving us to go to uni in Gloucester, it was a kind of ‘send off’.  We’ll all miss her 🙁

Lorie comes in for a lot of stick but the photographic proof below shows exactly why!…..anyway, she knows we’re laughing with her, not at her!

Exhibit A: Eating an entire ‘Red Velvet’ cake, straight from the wrapper!

Exhibit B: Trying to eat a meal with 2 forks and not even realising until she was half way through!

I could go on, but for the sake of Lorie’s self-esteem, I will stop there.

Lorie keeps us all laughing, she is an endless source of joy and hilarity, intentional or not, we all absolutely adore her.  We all need to keep laughing so we don’t end up crying…laughter really is the best medicine.

Thank you Lorie, and please, don’t ever stop being you!!

The Mad Shanks Residence: Lemons to Lemonade!

I’ve been looking back at my last few articles and it’s all become a bit serious hasn’t it?  Nothing wrong with serious, we need to give subjects the weight they need and deserve, but we also need to have fun along the way.  In fact, I wrote about just that a couple of years ago in my blog, it’s actually imperative to have fun once in a while, we get a bit grumpy and sour otherwise!

The last few weeks at The Mad Shanks Residence have been, shall we say, ‘not very nice’.  I was talking to a friend about all the goings on and she commented that ‘you really couldn’t make it up!’, no change there then, it’s always like that but not quite to the extent of recent times.

But the ‘bouncibility’ of my family never ceases to amaze me.  Jamie had a horrible experience but a few days later she was climbing the very overgrown tree on the front drive and sawing branches off like there was no tomorrow!  I stood underneath as any self-respecting mother would, imploring her not to fall out!


By the time she’d finished venting her anger on the foliage around the driveway there really wasn’t much left!  And no, I’m not moaning, it was well overdue and needed a damn good pruning.

She then proceeded to put my new bed together (no mean feat with Ikea flatpacks!) and move my entire room around to the way I wanted it.  I was grateful for that.

No comment on what’s going on here, but this is Fudge!

On another note, we have 7 cats (long story!), the trouble is that 4 of them are Tabbies, 2 of them are easily distinguishable whereas Tufty and Fudge (I know, I know…not the most imaginative names but chosen by the children when they were a lot younger) are so alike that I sometimes struggle.

2 nights ago Jamie was lying in bed and heard a thud followed by distressed meowing, a cat had been hit by a car…that didn’t stop!  They went hunting for the cat and eventually found him and Jamie declared that it was Tufty.  He had obviously been hit on the side of his head but we had no idea how serious his injuries were, or whether they were life threatening.  Off to the vet at 1.30am with said cat.

They kept him overnight to observe him, meanwhile Jamie was so distraught she was almost inconsolable, Tufty is far away her favourite cat.  Once we picked him up from the vet and brought him home with orders to keep him as quiet as possible, Jamie fed him luxury food in a little tin (something they never get, they’re farm cats!) and fussed over him.  Then the subject of collars arose, all of our cats wear reflective collars so that cars can see them at night, they all drive way too fast down the lane and it’s the cats only protection.

Someone mentioned that one of the cats had lost their collar and they rang me to get another while I was out, which I duly did.  By the time I got home though, the whole house was in uproar, it turned out that the injured cat (who, somehow, miraculously, is fine now) wasn’t Tufty…it was Fudge!   Whilst Jamie was fussing ‘Tufty’, Tufty walked in and started eating, making everyone do a double take!

I must confess that I suspected that we were calling the injured cat by the wrong name but Jamie is normally very reliable at knowing which cat is which, so I just trusted her, whilst all the time thinking it was Fudge because of his tan coloured ears.  I should have trusted my own judgement!

I think the vet still thinks they treated Tufty but unless they need to go in again it doesn’t really matter, we can always correct it next time.

Stuff happens but life goes on and in the fabulous words of Jean-Paul Satre:-

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.



Unsurprisingly I guess, I’m hugely passionate about suicide prevention and the misconceptions that are generally held by the wider population.

Our brains tell us the most unhelpful things when depression takes hold

In my experience, most people who feel suicidal don’t actually want to die, they just can’t see any alternative way out of the ‘black hole’ they find themselves in,  and if you’ve never experienced that black hole, I will try to describe it for you.

You wake up in the morning wondering why you weren’t afforded the gift of passing away peacefully  in your sleep.

Then the list of things you have to do that day rushes into your head and the panic rises like a Tsunami, engulfing your entire body until you feel as though you’re drowning in a tidal wave of panic that is going to carry you so far into the black hole that you suffocate on the enormity of the tasks ahead.

Even pushing the duvet back and putting a foot on the floor is a task so enormous that it feels tantamount to climbing Everest.  You finally manage to drag yourself out of bed, and if it’s not one of your worst days, you manage to drag on a hoody and sweat pants.  Self care has gone out of the window, brushing your teeth and washing are just too much, so you manage to get down the stairs, one weary step after the other.

You have zero appetite and making a cup of tea is beyond you so you just flop, staring into mid-air trying to work out why you should even try to go on.  Life has nothing left to offer you when you find it impossible to engage in even the smallest task.  Talking, even to the ones you love the most, is too much to bear, taking a breath is like running a marathon and moving is out of the question unless nature calls and you just can’t hold it any longer…And then you crawl back to your safe place on the sofa…

You feel as though a tonne weight is bearing down on you and crushing the life out of you, but you’re paralysed, so moving out of the way is impossible, the weight keeps bearing down, the light turns to black, there is no future…

You can’t connect with anything, it’s as though there is an unbreakable wall of glass between you and the world, you can see what’s going on but no-one knows you’re there and no-one can hear your screams… feel invisible to the world, you want to join in with the game of life but the wall is too thick, the pain too intense and your body is too heavy to co-operate anyway.

There is no light, there is no hope, there is no future, you can’t feel the love of those around you, nothing inspires you…you’re just an empty shell.

And this horrific feeling can last for days, weeks or even years.  So many people have told me that they would suffer the worst physical pain they’ve ever experienced rather than the debilitating numbness of depression, and I have to say, I totally agree with them.

When your brain shuts down to the extent that living is more torturous than the eternal nothingness of death, is it any wonder that people give in to those feelings of wanting to end it all?



I love the NHS but when I was under the care of their Mental Health team a few years ago, a group of us would sit in sessions designed to help us.  That was great, but so much of it revolved around positive thinking and gratitude, both brilliant attributes, but let me explain how someone struggling with depression feels when asked to engage in these tasks.

We were asked to write down all of the things that were good in our lives, having food, a roof over our heads, family etc…and then focus our thinking on how fortunate we actually were.

This served one purpose for all of us, we then added even more guilt into the mix than we were already feeling and crashed even further down into the black hole.  You see, depression isn’t the result of being ungrateful, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, we are still aware of how lucky we are compared to the majority of people on this planet, and we already feel guilty for not being able to be happy about it.

But being reminded of that by professionals makes us feel as though we are being ungrateful, that we should be able to ‘snap out of it’. By understanding that, and that the underlying insinuation feels as though we are being scolded for not being grateful for what we do have is totally counter productive, now a learned person with letters after their name has told us that we are very lucky to have what we have, so what’s wrong with us?   Everything is amplified when you are depressed and the guilt is really too much to bear.

Sometimes the best thing for someone with mental health issues is the tiniest touch.  I have been corresponding with a lady in Texas for the last 6 months, she is suicidal, her life is in tatters and she has nothing left to live for.  She messaged me and I responded, just the fact that I took a couple of minutes out to answer her and treat her like a real person meant the world to her.. She’s watched our film ‘Kingdom of Us’ over a hundred times, for some reason it keeps her going but she told me that I was the only person she has reached out to that has given her any time.  The tiniest task for me and she is still hanging on in there.

Sometimes, just knowing someone, somewhere cares enough to engage with you is sufficient to carry you through.  Sometimes, that little act of kindness lets you know that people do actually think of you and value you enough to make the effort…and, sometimes, knowing that can be enough to enable us to feel just worthy enough to keep going and not give in to the hopelessness of living.


Our mental health service is very well-meaning but, there are far more useful ways of helping people than the ‘uncomfortable’ appointments system we have now.  Walking into a doctor’s office and having them ask us ‘how we are feeling’ when we actually have no idea just makes for a feeling of even greater worthlessness and lack of gratitude.  At least you’re one of the lucky ones who is actually getting help…..enter more guilt because so many aren’t and you can’t make the most of the appointment because you’re brain refuses to co-operate, and what ARE ‘feelings’ anyway?  They’re a dim distant memory of something you know you long for but cannot access however hard you try.

Our mental health services are well-meaning but I can’t help but feel that they are being organised and run  by people who have absolutely no idea what it is to be depressed, experience bi-polar disorder etc….  We need real people who’ve been there and got the T-shirt to make the decisions on what’s best for the people struggling to cope in every area of mental health care…who agrees?



TED TALK:                          

LIFE: What does that mean to you?

If I said to you ‘what is life?’ and you had to say the first thing that came into your head, what would it be?  Do it now…and I would love to know what the first thing you thought was.

That’s why I’m writing this, I’ve just been thinking about life, firstly thinking about Pippa and something I’ve just sent her about BPD that I found online….

Matt here, mental health contributing editor for The Mighty, and it just so happens that my partner lives with BPD. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of the things I want my partner to know about my perception of BPD.

So, here it is, my dearest one, and everyone else out there who believes their BPD makes them “manipulative,” “broken” or “unsuitable” to be in a relationship.

I see how it hurts you, not only the stigma of others but the stigma you place on yourself. You believe I see you the way the stigma portrays you: as somebody who can’t possibly be in a loving relationship without your supposed “inherent toxicity” driving it into a smoking crater. But, that’s not the truth at all. I see a woman made raw by her trauma, stripped bare and left to scar without any kind of healing. I see the fear you will be abandoned, and I understand it. You’ve been abandoned so often, made to feel like you’re worth nothing but loneliness. I see you compare yourself to other women you believe are more beautiful and worthy than you, and expect me to do the same.

These things you feel toward yourself are not true. Your worth lies not in your scars, but in how you’ve survived them for so long with no guide to life but yourself. You are worthy, and strong, and fierce, and beautiful, and all of these things and more. You are not broken. You are not evil. You are not “too much” for me, and if anyone else believes you are then they definitely don’t deserve you. You were touched by trauma but not infected by it.

You’ve got this, and I’ll stand by your side the whole way.

She’s just told me that she relates to this totally but life is still hard for her.  Pippa’s story is so incredibly complex, from her autism to her Cerebral Palsy and endless operations, to her Anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder, from her PTSD from her father’s suicide to the constant Anxiety and depression she fights every day.  She’s been through so much and yet she’s become a strong woman in spite of everything that could have stolen her life before it has really started.  

I’m incredibly proud of Pippa, proud of how far she’s come and how she keeps battling on, proud of how open she was in the film and how many people have contacted us to tell us how much her openness has helped them, it took a lot of courage for her to be so brutally honest.

That’s all very deep and meaningful but ‘life’ means so many things to so many people and, on a lighter note, as I started writing this I accidentally opened the photos on my phone.  So, from mental health to fish!

We have a huge number of fish in our pond, they’ve discovered breeding and now they’re doing a lot of it!  But the ‘Grandaddy’ of them all is a Koi that I’ve had for several years, we don’t see him very often but this morning he was lying half under a Lily pad so I took some photos.  The pictures don’t really give much scale but I can tell you he’s about 12″ long and looks like ‘the monster of the deep’!


So, the word ‘life’ means something totally different to everyone and sometimes my personal perception changes depending on what’s going on in my life at the time, and sometimes, like today, it has many different meanings all at once.  So, here’s a picture of my fish (and the pot I planted last week that I’ve managed to keep alive so far!)

Why am I so proud of this pot of plants? Anyone who knows me well is aware that I have ‘killing plants’ on my list of hobbies (gardening isn’t my strong point!)