Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

So May is here and Mental Health Awareness Week has rolled around again. This year the theme is nature, which I was initially unsure about but after reading The Mental Health Foundation’s website, it made a lot more sense to me, even if I wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choice…

  • “During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more. It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.”
  • “Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world… During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.”
  • “We have two clear aims. Firstly, to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health. Secondly, to convince decision makers at all levels that access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.”
  • “2021 is going be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament which will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November. There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.”

So, with all of that in mind, I thought I’d make a list of all the nature-related things that make me happy. The list started out pretty short but the more I thought about it, the more things came to mind. I could’ve kept going but I decided to stop before the post got out of control. We all know me and lists…


1. THUNDERSTORMS / RAIN

I love thunderstorms. I mean, I freaking love them. I love the thunder; I love the lightning; I love the pouring rain; I love how the air feels. I read that thunderstorms release negative ions into the atmosphere and that’s what makes the air feel electric and invigorating after a storm (x); I love that feeling. There’s something so incredible and powerful and emotional about thunderstorms; I don’t really know how to explain that response but that’s how they feel. They make me feel really alive in a way that nothing else does.

“There was a crash of thunder, the sky shattering right above our heads.” – Abby Geni


2. THE CATS PLAYING IN THE GARDEN

As soon as it starts getting warmer and drier, my cats are out in the garden all day every day. We basically only see them for meals. Most of the time they lounge around in the grass, soaking up the sun, or in shady corners, when it gets too hot, but they also play, which is just the most adorable thing in the world. They dig, they chase butterflies and bees, they pounce on unseen things, they bat at the wavy grasses, they chase each other, rolling around and leaping in the air… It’s so cute. It’s like nothing else exists, something that’s been a source of calm for me over the last eighteen months.

“Concrete is heavy; iron is hard — but the grass will prevail.” – Edward Abbey


3. THE BEACHES IN NORFOLK

I mean, I’ll take any beach going because I love beaches but the beaches in Norfolk have always been extra special for me. I can’t really explain it. Those beaches are one of the few things that make me feel like I’m in sync with the world when usually I feel like I’m not, like I’m on a different frequency to everyone else. But the sand, the sea, the sky, the air… it makes me feel more real. If that makes any sense at all.

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“Nature’s law is stronger than any little law you have made for yourself.” – Frank A. De Puy


4. MY YELLOW ROSES / MAGNOLIA TREES

When we moved into the ‘new’ house, there was a yellow rose bush and every year, it blooms magnificently. It’s utterly stunning with these huge, liquid gold roses and I fell in love with it from the first flower. I look forward to them every year and I love watching more and more buds open and practically shine in the sun. The petals are big and soft and gorgeous too. The plant itself is taller than me now and even as the family member least inclined to gardening, I’d do anything to keep it alive and healthy.

I’ve loved Magnolia trees since I was a child: my Granny had one in her big, beautiful garden and me and my brother used to climb into it (it wasn’t very big so we’d sort of climb inside it rather than climb up it), hidden by the flowers, and play in our massive imaginary worlds. I’ve always had a fondness for them ever since. Then there was a huge one outside my therapist’s office and it always used to make me feel better when therapy felt overwhelming and just too hard. We have one in our garden now although it’s still a baby and has a way to go before it’s a ‘real’ tree.

“Flowers rewrite soil, water, and sunshine into petal’d poetry.” – Terri Guillemets


5. SITTING IN THE SUN ON THE DECK

I don’t often sit out on the deck – I’m not very good at just relaxing and not doing anything – but when I do, I love the feeling of the breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin. The word kind of makes me cringe but it feels so nourishing. I have to be a bit careful though: for some reason, my skin seems only able to take a certain amount of direct sunlight before reacting, getting red and overheated (so far no one has figured out what causes it). But in small doses, I love it and I can almost feel an inner meter going up, like a health meter in a video game.

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.” – Alice Walker


6. SWIMMING

While I’m not swimming in a ‘natural environment’ (especially with the pandemic, the water has enough chemicals in it to make your eyes burn), water itself is a natural environment so I’m going to include it anyway. Due to my chronic pain, swimming is currently the only exercise I can do – at the very least until my joints, strength, and stamina are better – and fortunately, I love swimming. As you can probably tell from the photos below. It’s always such a relief to get in the water and be essentially weightless, and I love being able to exercise and work hard without pain (even though I have been known to overdo it and suffer the consequences the next day). The whole experience makes me so joyously happy.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau


7. SUNRISES / SUNSETS

I’ve always loved sunrises and sunsets. I don’t think there’s an incarnation of the sky I don’t find beautiful but, being a person that feels so emotionally connected to colours (especially the ones we see in the sky), sunrise and sunset are always particularly special to me. And the more striking they are, the more I love them. Like this one below: it was an ordinary day made extraordinary by the sunset. The really stunning ones always feel like a rare gift. Photos never really do them justice but I often find myself coming back to this photo because I remember just how beautiful it was and how it completely took my breath away.

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“Clouds blaze brilliant colours in a sky on fire.” – Terri Guillemets


8. STARS / THE NIGHT SKY

I’ve been going out to watch meteor showers (especially the Perseid meteor shower in August) for the last several years and I love it. I love staring up, barely breathing as you wait for a meteor. Then suddenly one will streak across the sky; sometimes they’re so light that they’re like a white pencil barely touching black paper and sometimes they’re so bright, like a knife cutting through the roof of the tent and giving you a split second glimpse of blinding sun. I’ve only seen a few of those but they’re breath taking every single time. The whole experience is just magical. And just looking at the sky, I love how the longer you look at the stars, the more you see, like you’re seeing further and further into space. It’s amazing (although a little scary if you think about it too hard).

“The stars are the street lights of eternity.” – Unknown


9. NATURE DOCUMENTARIES

I know it’s not exactly ‘engaging in nature’ but I think it’s still staying connected to nature, just in an indirect way. It’s not like any of us can just jump on a flight and see these animals in real life on a whim so a documentary is the next best thing. Me and my brother used to watch all of the David Attenborough documentaries with my grandparents when we were little so they’re a huge part of my childhood; they’re probably a big part of why I’ve always loved animals so much. I especially loved the ones with big cats, although I never liked the parts where they killed other animals (I know it’s essential for their survival but I still don’t like watching it happen).

“Nature is new every morning, but its cycles are ancient, independent of all our anxieties, oblivious to our plans.” – Barbara Cawthorne Crafton


10. ICELAND

I’m not sure that this is something that really fits on this list because it’s not like a place you can just visit whenever you feel like it but if we’re talking about nature and the power of nature, then I have to mention my trip to Iceland. Seeing the waterfalls, the mountains, the glaciers, the Northern Lights… I’ve never felt as connected to nature as I did there. Even the air felt different as I breathed in and out. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited and I really hope that one day I’ll get to go back, one day when I’m stronger and fitter and can manage the more difficult walks and therefore see even more.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” – Frank Lloyd Wright


So here are ten of my most important nature-related things. If you made a list, what would go on yours?

The Mental Health Foundation has a lot of resources on their website for this week but they’re also issuing a challenge…

“During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking you to do three things: 

  • Experience nature: Take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
  • Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Talk about nature: Use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.”

EDIT: This post is in response to The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of ‘nature,’ which is important when it comes to managing your general mental health, but I do think it’s important that we all acknowledge and are aware that managing your mental health is not the same as living and coping with a mental illness. I think, too often, they’re lumped together as the same thing when they’re very different. Maybe we need a different week or separate days for different conditions because whilst connected, managing your mental health and managing a mental illness are not the same and can require vastly different approaches.

World Mental Health Day 2020 – Mental Health For All

One of the biggest days on the Mental Health calendar.

The theme this year is ‘Mental Health for All’ and this is what the World Federation for Mental Health said about that choice…


Psychosocial support and mental health national plans need to address the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on citizens.

It is therefore of great significance and importance that the theme for World Mental Health Day 2020 will be:

Mental Health for All
Greater Investment – Greater Access

Mental health is a human right – it’s time that mental health is available for all. Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for universal health coverage and is urgently required as the world grapples with the current health emergency.

We therefore need to make mental health a reality for all – for everyone, everywhere.


It’s not a bad message in principal. Everyone deserves to have access to good mental health care, especially when going through the trauma of a pandemic. That would be incredible. But how governments will cope with all of the pandemic related cases when they can’t even handle the current number, I have no idea. In the UK, for example, they’d have to actively stop defunding the NHS and start directing funds back to it and specifically to their mental health services. And the system itself would need a drastic overhaul: we need a system of professionals that can accurately identify symptoms, prescribe medication, treatment, or a therapist if necessary, provide resources such as suggested reading and contacts for local support groups, and schedule regular follow ups. Even the language around mental health is long overdue an update. That’s a massive undertaking but if they can do it, then they have my full support.

But back to World Mental Health Day. This slogan makes me so angry that I almost couldn’t write anything today. Mental healthcare for all, right? We have to have a global pandemic that affects the mental health of the entire world for mental health to truly rise up the list of priorities? So… what? All of us struggling with mental health problems before the pandemic weren’t worth the effort? That’s what the message sounds like to me.

I was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses at eighteen and Autism Spectrum Disorder at twenty, although I was obviously struggling long before we could put a name on what was happening. And that’s the simple version. The long version involves hundreds of hours of research and phone calls and appointments, tears and screaming and self harming, invalidated over and over and over again. Since receiving my diagnoses and getting support in various forms, when my physical and mental health have allowed me to, I’ve done everything in my power to raise awareness and support for those of us struggling with our mental health. I’ve donated money, taken part in fundraisers, volunteered for research projects, supported charities, attended conferences, and so on. I’ve created art about my experiences and dedicated the proceeds to charity.

I did not and do not expect to change the world alone with these actions but think about every single person who has been doing the same and more up until this point. The message being circulated today on World Mental Health Day with this slogan seems to invalidate all of that. To me, it feels like all of these organisations promoting this phrase are saying that we weren’t important enough before to dedicate serious help or resources to; that our mental health problems weren’t caused by a massive global trauma and therefore they aren’t as important; that there weren’t enough of us to make the effort worth it so they weren’t going to bother; “oh, but now look at how many people need help, that makes it worth doing.”

These organisations do a lot of great work and I’ve always had great respect for them but right now… this feels like a betrayal and a hard one to swallow. Maybe I’m the only one who feels like this, maybe I’m not, but this is my blog and my blog is where I come to talk about how I feel. So there you go.

More voices telling me that my experience isn’t important or valid doesn’t change anything though. I’ll keep working, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep helping in whatever way I can. Because this is bigger than all of the politics and bullshit that constantly get in the way of improving the lives of people who suffer from mental illness. I truly wish I had something more positive to say, on today of all days, but I don’t. I’m angry. And I’m sad. And I’m exhausted. Never have I felt so let down by the community that is supposed to support me and after all I’ve experienced, that’s really saying something.

The Empty Semester of My Masters – The Other Side

Back in June, I made a post about what had been my plans for the empty semester of my Masters and how I’d adjusted those plans according to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I was still hopeful that I could get a lot done in the time before my next semester started but the pandemic had a massive effect on my mental health and therefore my productivity so it took me a long time to gather myself enough to do anything even vaguely productive. So while, in pre-pandemic times, this list of completed goals probably would’ve felt disappointing, I’m trying to shed those expectations and be proud of what I’ve achieved considering the current circumstances.


MANAGED TO DO:

  • Sort through my clothes – I actually did this twice because I know that I get decision fatigue and end up keeping things that I don’t want because that’s the easier option. So I did a second sort through, reducing my wardrobe further. There’s still more than I’d like to get rid of but I feel like I made a serious dent in what felt like a pretty overwhelming situation.
  • Watched some of the things on my To Watch list – For a while, I only felt able to watch familiar things because it didn’t feel like there was the space in my brain for new stories or characters but eventually a few things started to catch my eye and it turned into a really good method of escaping all my anxiety about the current situation. I’ve also been watching quite different things, which has been fun. Plus, it’s a great source of inspiration while not much is happening in my personal life.
  • Improve my piano skills – I’ve spent a lot of time playing piano during this unstructured time and not only has it been really fun, I have actually improved. For a long time, I couldn’t hear or see any improvement but recently, I’ve been able to do things or pick up things much quicker and much more easily and that’s really exciting, even if there is still so much more to learn. To be fair, it’s not like that isn’t a universal fact.
  • Music Theory lessons – These didn’t even up happening the way I thought they would but I’ve spent some solid time working on my theory in the hope that it will make the upcoming Musical Language module less stressful and more fun.
  • Shot a music video – Despite the current circumstances, somehow Richard Sanderson and I managed to come up with a safe way to make a music video for ‘Back To Life‘ (from concept, to planning, to execution). It was actually fun, despite the high levels of anxiety I was experiencing. I hadn’t thought we’d be able to do it but somehow we did and I’m really proud of the result.
  • Get caught up with my photo albums – Despite the death of my computer, setting up a new one, reorganising my entire photo library, setting up the albums on the computer, and choosing photos for the eighteen months I was behind by, I somehow managed to get my photo albums up to date. It was a massive job, a much bigger one than I’d anticipated, so to have done it feels like a really big achievement, especially given how long I’ve been wanting to do it.
  • Start coming up with ideas for my Masters final project – As I said in the original post, the project isn’t for several months still but I wanted time to find a concept I could really engage with. I’ve jotted down a list of potential ideas (which I do have to find as it’s apparently wandered off…) and spoken to one of my tutors about it. He was really enthusiastic about the ones I mentioned so I feel like I’m off to a good start.
  • See a meteor shower – Me and my Mum drove out of the city and lay in a field to watch the Perseids meteor shower in August. It wasn’t the best meteor shower I’ve ever seen but we saw a handful of fairly decent shooting stars and it was a really clear night so just looking up at all the stars was a beautiful, pretty profound experience.
  • Catch up with my friends – Obviously when I set this goal, I’d imagined hanging out at people’s houses, movies nights, going to the beach, and so on. But then the pandemic happened (or more specifically, began…) and none of that was possible. Considering the amount of anxiety I’ve been dealing with, I think I’ve done an okay job of staying in touch with my friends, doing video calls and Netflix parties. Since the restrictions have eased a bit, I’ve seen a couple of friends too (socially distanced, of course), which has been really nice since I do find the constant communicating via screens exhausting.
  • Write new songs/work on old songs – I haven’t been as productive as I would’ve liked to be during this period but then my creativity is always negatively affected when I’m struggling with my mental health. But I’m trying to remember that I’ve done the best I can. At no point did I give up (beyond taking a break to avoid unnecessary distress) and when I couldn’t directly write songs, I worked on surrounding areas, like production or chord progressions and so on.
  • Have as many cowriting sessions as possible – I’d planned to do as many cowrites as possible, with as many people as possible, and while writing sessions have been possible via platforms like Zoom, I must admit I find it much more difficult to be creative and collaborative when I’m not in the same room as my cowriter. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible and I’m pleased with what I have managed to do but doing it this way has meant that I haven’t done nearly as many sessions as I’d hoped, especially as I have found Zoom sessions with less than familiar people harder to do than spending time with less than familiar people. If that makes sense.

IN PROCESS:

  • Catch up with my diary – I’d really hoped to have caught up with the diary I was behind on and then aborted when lockdown began, wanting to document this surreal experience in real time. I’ve been trying to catch up alongside everything else but I’m still behind and with everything going on at the moment, I’m behind in the current diary too. So when I start university again, I’m going to be trying to write three diaries at once, which feels very stressful. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that but I’m going to have to figure it out because, if I haven’t said it before, OCD’s a bitch.
  • Update my songwriting book – Initially I made quite a lot of progress, writing up a decent amount of my more recent songs, but then I realised that I’d somehow left out a significant number of songs. That was very frustrating. And since then, I haven’t been quite sure what to do. I hate the idea of having them out of order but I’m also reluctant to add to my workload by making the decision
  • Sort out my bedroom – I’ve made a lot of progress over the last several months and it looks and feels so much better but I’ve been waiting for a couple of sets of shelves to arrive to help me better organise all the ‘loose ends’ of my stuff, if that makes sense. There’s just still a lot of bits and pieces around that don’t have their own space. I think that, once that happens and once all those things are a bit more organised, I’ll feel like most of the work is done. I’m looking forward to that.
  • Create my studio space – Again, I’ve made a start. I don’t have all the equipment I’d ideally want. For example, I wish I had some better speakers. But I’ve set up the equipment I do have, although it’s still a bit trial and error when it comes to the most effective set up. I’m still not super confident when it comes to all of this but I’m learning all the time. So we’re getting there, step by step.

COULDN’T DO:

  • Mental Health Awareness assemblies – Obviously these didn’t happen as the schools were closed when Mental Health Awareness Week was happening.
  • See Waitress The Musical again – This wasn’t possible as the show’s run closed during lockdown. I think it’s so sad that they didn’t get the finish. The show closed after Sara Bareilles’ last show so she and Gavin Creel (who played the male lead) had their closure but I’m sure Lucie Jones and David Hunter were really looking forward to coming back. Plus the rest of the cast must’ve been sad to see the show end with so little warning. They’d earned the chance to celebrate the incredible show they put on and the amazing run they had and it’s heartbreaking that they haven’t been able to do that.
  • Concerts – Concerts are only continuing to be rescheduled and even though some socially distanced shows are happening, I’m not at all convinced that it’s safe yet. I miss them so much but I can’t imagine feeling safe in that sort of environment for a really long time.
  • London gigs – Again, I’ve had a couple of booked gigs rescheduled multiple times but then it’s so hard to make concrete plans when we have no idea what the even near future holds. So I’m just trying to take things as they come, make responsible decisions, and not worry too much.
  • Get back to swimming regularly – Obviously for a long time the gyms were closed. When they opened up again, I went to see what their precautions were like but I really didn’t feel safe. The gym have been great about trying to make it easier for me to access their facilities as a disabled person but I’m still not completely convinced. We’re continuing to try to make swimming a possibility and maybe now that so many people are back in school, there will be more periods with less people. We’ll keep trying. I really miss it.
  • Improve my guitar skills – As I’ve already said, it took a long time for me to manage anything beyond staring at the TV in a perpetual state of panic and then, just as I started to feel capable of doing things, I developed awful pain in my arms, from my shoulders to my fingertips. Sometimes it was sharp, shooting pains, sometimes it was a deep ache, and sometimes I’d wake up to find my fingers completely numb. That’s been going on for most of this ‘semester,’ although it has started to improve recently. I still have a specialist doctors appointment at some point to assess the problem so hopefully I’ll be back to playing guitar soon.
  • Read some books from my To Read List – My ongoing anxiety has done a number on my concentration, particularly when it comes to reading. I’ll try to read a book, only to realise that I’ve read several pages and have no memory of what they said. I miss it and I am worried about what will happen when I get back to uni work but that’s the situation as it is at the moment. I’m talking to my Psychiatrist about it at my next appointment.
  • EP Gig – Since my timeline for the Honest EP has been pretty flexible, I wasn’t sure when the last single would be released and when therefore when we’d have the gig to celebrate the EP’s completion. As it’s turned out, the final single isn’t out yet so that’s not something I would’ve had to worry about, even if we had been able to put on events.
  • Start learning the Kalimba – Just as I’d managed to wrestle my motivation towards the Kalimba, I discovered that there was a problem with the one I’d bought and so won’t be able to start learning it before university starts again but I do still really want to learn. So I’m just going to have to reschedule that to a later date.

DIDN’T MANAGE TO DO:

  • Create a space to make YouTube content – This wasn’t hugely high on my list of priorities so it doesn’t surprise me that it’s one of the things to fall by the wayside. Plus, I haven’t completely finished the practical elements of my room so I think it’s something I can pursue without too much difficulty once that’s done.
  • Take some classes on Skillshare – I’ve struggled with my concentration throughout lockdown but most especially when trying to do things that involve absorbing new material so I didn’t manage to do much extra curricular learning. I managed a few TED Talks and read articles but I haven’t managed any in depth study like taking classes on Skillshare.

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve been trying to realign my expectations as to what has been possible during this time, based on the lockdown restrictions and my fluctuating mental state. With everything so uncertain, it was impossible to know what I’d achieve. Looking at this list now, I’m proud of myself. For the most part. And in the moments when I feel frustrated or disappointed, I acknowledge those feelings, let them have their space, and then try and let them go. I don’t always succeed but I try. Because, given everything going on, I think what I managed to do – especially looking back at how I was (or wasn’t) functioning at the beginning of lockdown – is something to be proud of. And when I can’t feel proud, I practice proud.

Now, on to the next semester.