Mental health is a tricky bugger. One day you can be fine and on top of the world, the next, down in the dumps wondering how you will ever get through the day.
I am fortunate to know that my depression and anxiety aren’t so bad that I cannot function at all, but my brain will sometimes get caught in a negative spiral, with logic and illogic chasing each other’s tails, making concentration and happiness elusive. On the whole, I am okay most of the time, but small worries can easily mutate interest ever larger ones, and depression and anxiety can take hold.
Take returning to college, for example. On the day my mum died earlier this year, I made a decision to get back to my counselling course, get qualified and become a really good counsellor, working preferably with children. There are certain things that need to be in place before returning to college, BACP membership, insurance, and most importantly, placements. I knew about these things, of course, but this year has been tough, and getting my act together has been hard. So, when my return interview didn’t happen last week, my brain spiralled down into panic overload, and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get things sorted and return to my studies.
Stepping back, making a list, and taking some time has allowed me to overcome my anxiety, and I have now got a referee in place; drafted my letter asking for placements; and have applied for my insurance. I also have someone in mind for my sponsor, and feel more positive about my return to college in September.
As I write this, I am calm, centred and focused. Onwards…
Has it really been over a year? Gosh. Mental health really battered me last year, and its only now that I feel more myself than I have for a long time.
A lot has happened in the last year, which I’m sure I’ll talk about later, but for now, let’s talk about skateboarding…
I’ve skated on and off since my mid teens, with the last big blast around my 40th birthday. Now, at 47, I’m taking skating on again, having just bought a new board last week.
I’m happy to say that my basic skills on a board haven’t deserted me, having rolled around my local park, pulling kickturns and rolls, and today have started conquering my fear of dropping in, which has always been the big one for me.
I found a really good video which went through the basics, and that really helped me today, as I can now drop in from the small fun box… still a way to go, but it’s a great start after not skating for years.
Hello again folks, I didn’t realise how long it was since I last posted here. Our business has been working really well, and alongside studying counselling (I passed Level 3, and am now on Level 4…), life has got in the way, but in the best of ways…
So, back to the blog. This weekend I’ve been visiting my dear friends and their children in Hampshire. I shared a house with my friend after his partner left him, and my first wife had left me. We had a true bachelor pad, and life was like an episode of ‘Men Behaving Badly’ at times, but it was a wonderful time, and we looked out for each other.
Fast forward many years, and we’re still best friends, and I go down to Hampshire to visit when I can… it’s nice being back in a place I loved living and was happy (even with a marriage break-up and depression), happy days.
On Friday, we went fishing. My friend had booked 24 hours of carp fishing at Willow Park Fishery, which I was really looking forwards to. We were up at ‘Sparrow’s Fart’, which meant being at the gates just before 7:00am. We got the kit loaded into the ‘Tackle Taxi’, sorted my rod licence for the day, and headed off to our swim, ‘Pig Pen’. First things first, we got the rods and nets set up,then baited our swim, then pitched our bivvy (sort of an open tent…), before getting bacon and coffee on!
I only caught my first carp last summer, and it was a fantastic buzz. I’m a bit squeamish about handling fish and slimy stuff, but that will change. Back to the weekend… I learnt so much. How to bait a rig, cast long and short, which baits work, how to tie rigs…
The last few weeks have been quite stressful with work and studying, so spending time with friends at the lakes was a wonderful way to unwind. Being in a beautiful setting with good weather was so calming, even with an A road behind us (partially obscured by trees and fences). The sound of heavy traffic was quickly tuned out, as I simply lost myself in being outdoors, relaxing and seeing if we would catch anything. All of the pressure and worries of the last few weeks evaporated, and I was just being. I was completely in the moment. Such a beautiful feeling.
Later, my friend’s wife and kids came to visit us (after school…), which was lovely, as he had not long caught his first fish of the weekend, a beautiful 19lb 7oz carp, so we could all celebrate together. Our fellow angler also joined us after finishing work for the week, and we could relax again, crack open a beer or two and order pizza! (Luxury fishing, I tell you!) As the gates were locked at 7:00pm, a lovely hush descended upon the lakes, and we settled in for the night, hoping for another catch, but it was not to be… Good company, food and conversation made up for it though. I think we all crashed out around 10:00pm, bivvy doors open to the elements, rod alarm lights twinkling in the night. Bliss.
The following morning was bright and breezy. We were up early, and I got breakfast on, plenty of bacon, sausages and eggs on the stove in a BIG pan, whilst I went off to get my rod licence for the day. Walking around the lakes in the early morning was so good. Quiet, peaceful and relaxing, just being around nature. The morning passed peacefully until it was time to pack up. The rods are always the last thing to get packed, and as my friend was bringing his rods in, a swan caught his line around its leg. The swan was distressed but uninjured, as my friend cares for the wildlife above and below the water, and we didn’t leave the lake until we knew the swan was okay. It was funny seeing folks on the other bank run to get their rods out as the swan cruised around!
We wended our weary way home, but returned a little later as we still had some time left on our day tickets. We headed for the small lake so I could practice short casting and hopefully catch a carp before I went home! We had just baited up with sweetcorn and put some feed out to attract the fish, when I got my first bite! It was great learning how to bring the fish in safely, and the feeling was fantastic as I saw my friend net my first carp of the day, such a buzz. I didn’t get a photo of my first catch, as it was quite small, but I was so proud of myself for catching it. Amazingly, I had literally recast when I got another bite, this carp being much bigger. Again, my friend netted the fish for me, and gently unhooked it, checking it was okay before I took a photo. Beautiful fish, around 8lbs. We slipped it back into the water, and off it swam… Lovely.
I had a seriously funny turn then, feeling like I was drunk. My friend said it was an adrenaline rush after catching two carp so closely together. I definitely felt weird, and had to sit down with his daughter for a while, until I felt more myself… Composure regained, I cast out once more, as I had seen some carp under the deck near the bank, and I was determined to catch one more. They eluded me on one side, so I switched over to the next deck, casting under a tree… Success! My third catch in two hours, another beautiful carp around the 8lb mark. I had a hat trick, and was so happy.
Before I came home yesterday, my friend very kindly gave me some of his much older rods, reels, hooks and weights. We stripped the reels and rewound them with new line. I was very touched by this incredibly kind gesture, as my friend knows of our current financial position, and always helps out when I visit them, be it a takeaway, day tickets or, on one occasion, some fresh coffee to take home. I feel truly blessed to have such a good friend.
I never really thought I’d get into fishing, as it seemed a bit alien to me, but after this weekend, I am hooked (!). The sense of peace at the lakes, allowing me to remove myself from everything is wonderful. Catching fish is a wonderful way to unwind, and I look forwards to learning more about this relaxing past time, and the beautiful creatures at the heart of it.
The last week or so has been incredible. My head has been buzzing with so many plans, plots and schemes that I haven’t known where to turn or what to do first…
I finished six months of personal development last week. It seems unbelievable to me that I’ve been working on this for six months, but the strength and confidence I have now is amazing. Which brings me to the last couple of weeks. The whole head buzzing, whirling, not knowing where to start thing had reached a point, and I was paralysed by starting the next step on the journey. It wasn’t until my counselling class two weeks back that I realised what was happening…
My tutor in the afternoon that takes us for the process part of our course (practical skills), made an observation on my counselling session where I had said that I felt as though I was in the centre of a tornado, like in the ‘Wizard of Oz’, with everything whirling around me out of control. It was fear that was sending me into a spin, fear of the unknown, and that’s what my tutor commented on.
For a long time I’ve held very set, black and white views on how some things should be, like work, and now with all this amazing confidence, assertiveness and positivity, that view has been blown apart. I don’t have to fit into a set pattern of behaviour, attitude or appearance any more, as I thought I had to before. My mind is finally free of constraint allowing me to do as I wish, not as others do. I am in charge of my own future and am moving forwards at a rate of knots with nothing to hold me back. It’s amazing and I’m really happy.
All of you are amazing too and capable of so many incredible things. Take the leap.
Urgh, what a week. My brain has been tripping me up over the last few days, leaving me in a depressed state and on occasion, close to tears.
Yes, I know it’s not my brain directly, as it is an organ which carries and processes chemical and electrical signals throughout the body, amongst other things. It’s how you choose to act on these impulses that causes the problem and issues. Of course, if you haven’t taken prescribed medication, supported a partner with serious mental health issues, written assignments, made music, drawn, written…
As I got so physically tired out by the end of Monday, after studying counselling all day, I was shattered and the week loomed ahead of me, full of meetings, conferences, projects and assignments. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be me. Been there, done that. I got my fresh supply of meds, turned off my alarm and cancelled what I could. I know that getting so exhausted was an alarm call warning me to back off and slow down. I took heed and stopped. The last time this happened, I didn’t heed the warning, and ended up being signed off work for three months. Mind you, this was one of the best things to happen to me, as it gave me time to take stock, focus on my needs and decide what I wanted from the future.
The first thing to go was my job. Working in education has been amazing, but it was costing me my mental health. That last spell was my third serious ‘episode’ of depression in 10 years working in education as a teacher, library assistant and media technician, not all at the same time, however!
So, I decided to really focus on being self-employed as an artist and designer, educating myself about mental health, restarting my counselling studies, making comics and music, and looking after me. Yes, there’s my trait of taking on too much, but I was self-aware, ready for the fallout and had support in place. Since January 2014, I have rebuilt our art and design business from the ground up; written, drawn and published three comics; released loads of music and played it live (performing live was a big scary thing to tackle); passed my Level 3 Counselling course; started networking for business and pleasure; started my Level 4 Counselling course and a ton more besides. Yes, I still try and do too much, but I’m happy and in charge of my life now. I’m closer to my wife, our children and my family; I walk our dog most days and play fetch with her; cycle when possible; enjoy reading more often; listen to way more music and podcasts and generally look after myself and the world I inhabit.
I’m proud of where I am now, and as I can read the warnings now and know what to do. Life might catch me out sometimes, but I can stop it from completely pulling the rug from under me.
When I was 12 (there’s that age again…), I was asked by my step-father if I’d like a BMX. I jumped at the chance, being hooked on BMX, and reading BMX Action Bike cover to cover. That Saturday, we went to our local bike shop, I was given a budget, and walked out with a brand new Raleigh Burner. I rode that bike for years…
Fast forward to 1997, and I bought my second BMX, a Mongoose, then got my S&M frame and built it up the next year. I still ride that frame now. It’s bombproof and will probably outlive me! I’ve been riding BMX on and off ever since. Last year was probably my biggest lay-off, as I was focusing on studying and drawing comics. I still followed BMX companies online, checked edits, but riding wasn’t a priority.
With the knackered knee, I thought this might be it, no more riding. WRONG! This week, I’ve had two wonderful flatland (look it up if you don’t know…) sessions, one with my grandson, and a solo session today. I’m trying to learn one specific trick which is eluding me, but I’ll get it. I tried it again today, but my nerves wouldn’t hold out, so I tried something else instead, Barspins. I can do 180 degrees no problem, but the full 360? I tried it today, and cracked it first time! Not bad for a 45 year old on a 22 year old bike!
Today’s been amazing. I found out I passed my Level 3 Counselling exam, nailed barspins, soaked in the tub, and will be off out for chips and cider too. I am one happy dude!
I got a letter from the college I’ve been studying (and used to work at…) at today, offering me a place on the CPCAB Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling Level 4 course. I’m really happy about this, as this is another big step to my becoming a qualified counsellor.
I started studying counselling 2 years ago, when the head of the counselling faculty recommended that I took the Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Studies, as there wasn’t an assertiveness course at the college, and this would be a good start. This was a short ten-week course, and as I progressed through it, the modality we studied, person centred therapy, clicked with me and made such sense. It was so natural and intuitive, and felt like this was something I’d known for years. I also had a new hero, Carl Rogers, the father of person centred therapy.
By the end of the course, I’d made some really good friends, and more importantly, realised I could help others. This was reinforced by one of my friends telling me to go onto Level 3 and become a counsellor, as there aren’t that many male counsellors, especially those that work with children…
See, after we’d been on holiday with our grandson, who was 9 at the time, I started researching child development. Our grandson was behaving like a stereotypical moody teenager at the time, and I really struggled with this. After some online research, I found out that puberty starts early with lots of younger children, around 9. This must be really scary, as it’s bad enough when you’re older dealing with mental and physical changes, but imagine going through it at such an early age… Now, the reason I’d been recommended going on an assertiveness course at my college (I was working there at the time…), was that I had issues dealing with disruptive ‘bad’ behaviour from teenagers, and needed to learn better strategies to deal with this kind of behaviour. They are going through massive changes just like our grandson was.
So at the time I started Level 3, in September 2013, I had decided that my focus was to work with younger people, and help them through this time of amazing transformation from child to adult. I got three weeks in and had a complete breakdown, and was signed off work for three months, due to mental health issues. My plan to become a counsellor had stalled, though our lovely head of faculty told me it was fine, and that I could restart the course the following year. Phew.
Level 3 Counselling was amazing. I learnt so much, about myself, about others, how we are all different and all have issues. It was also empowering for me as I became the only male student in the group, and I really learnt how to talk to and understand women as equals, not that I’ve ever had an issue with this anyhow. The course also allowed me to be completely open and congruent with others, talking about issues which had held me back for years, viewpoints I held, and attitudes which caused me issues in the past. I felt so much better as a person in all aspects, and I finally put to bed the notion that I was stupid, as I had not done well academically in the past. Being told that my course portfolio had passed was a very proud moment, as I focussed in a way I hadn’t before, reading, checking facts, cross referencing and evidencing my work. The exam was okay, and we have to wait until April for the results, but I was really happy with how I applied myself to revising, and was confident with all of the answers I gave.
Level 4 is two years of hard work, and I’m already determined to focus really hard on my studies. We’ll start counselling others too, as we have to have at least 100 hours of counselling under our belts. It’s going to be hard, but I’m relishing the opportunity to push myself and challenge my preconceptions and attitudes. After this, I’ll be looking for a placement to start my counselling career, which will run alongside my creative one.
These are amazing times, and the best is yet to come. Thanks for reading.