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Catching up with Sheena

The other day I caught up with Sheena. You might know her from a short video interview we made earlier in 2018.

That video has been viewed a remarkable 8,400 times on Facebook, which just proves that you need don’t need a fancy production to capture people’s minds.

If your story features a compelling personality with a fascinating story to tell then you can’t go far wrong. And that was certainly the case with Sheena.

In the video she recalls how her drink problem led to a mental breakdown. The breakdown led to her not opening post and falling behind in her rent payments. She was evicted and, at her lowest point, slept under a bench in Wythenshawe Park.

Not surprisingly, it took her a while to get her life together. She was officially homeless for three years. Coming to Back on Track was a major turning point. She took our health and social care course and that turned out to be the start of a new career in care work.

Sheena’s story is really inspirational because it shows that what may seem impossible, can actually happen.  That’s mainly down to Sheena’s amazing resilience and determination, along with the right support being available.

Sheena has now moved on to another job – with Mencap. She applied online to be a relief support worker, and has been going through a series of training sessions with all the other new recruits. The training has included medication, first aid, risk assessments, manual handling, and Sheena has been unfazed by all of it. She loved trying out CPR, and finding out how defibrillators work.

When she’s a fully trained relief support worker Sheena will be supporting a woman with learning disabilities. As well as caring in the home she’ll be taking her out for day trips to local parks and the cinema – things she’d never be able to do on her own.

‘It’s lovely to be able to bring some joy into someone’s life’, says Sheena. And it’s lovely for us to see that Sheena just keeps on achieving amazing things!

Withington Golf Club and Back on Track enjoy a record breaking year

A year ago we were thrilled when we found out that we’d been chosen by Withington Golf Club as their charity of the year.

This week we found out that they raised almost £9,000 for us over the year. Phenomenal! We’ve had great fun at lots of their events in 2018, including a successful attempt to break the record for the fastest ever round of golf. The amount they raised also our breaks our own record for the most in a year.

Siobhan, our CEO (left) is pictured with Martin, the Captain, and Carol, the Lady Captain. Huge thanks to them both and to everyone at the club who donated.

Whichever charity is chosen as their next charity of the year is very lucky indeed.

Strong support networks

Every day most of us are around a multitude of people, but who can we turn to and establish deep connections with in times of trouble? Don’t get me wrong, I think that acquaintances and small talk have their place in our everyday lives, filling the gaps in our day and adding more sociability to our world, but sometimes we need a but more. Yes, that’s right – we are human, and being so, we all need help sometimes.

As you may know, I have been hospitalised with schizophrenia in the past. The truth is, I believe it would never had got to that stage if I had entrusted the people around me more in the first place. In the lead up to my illness, I was overworking and isolating myself. It’s safe to say this was not a good combination! I had structured my life so that I had little time to talk to people in my day. As time went on, my declining health meant that I had to give up a number of activities but I did little to replace this with meaningful connections and shunned the help I was offered by services. Granted, my delusions had got so strong that I thought everyone was against me, but I had let things escalate in the first place.

Today, I have learnt never to bottle things up! As I have said, I see both the purpose in a bit of normal chit chat during the day but, more so, I have learnt to rely more on my closest friends and family. I do not tell everyone everything (I use my discretion), but equally I try not to hide anything. One good example is that I always talk to someone now when I am frustrated with myself for making a mistake. Recently, I missed an early appointment because the alarm either didn’t go off or I didn’t hear it. I was mortified because it could have meant I didn’t get an assessment done in time for my university placement in the summer term. It turns out they had another appointment just a few days later, yet I was still upset with myself. I rang my mum and she widened my perspective, making me see that sometimes things don’t always go to plan and that I wasn’t the only person in the world who isn’t a morning person! We even had a laugh about my nana amplifying her alarm clock by putting it on top of two biscuit tins! The support networks we put in place can help us to be kinder to ourselves, as this is not always easy (see my last blog post).

Back on Track have also been a support to me when I needed them. As I am now so much more open with people, I told some of the tutors about the struggles I was having revising for a maths exam I needed to pass in order to get on to a primary teaching degree. They empathised with me because some of it did sound tough, but they also took the time to mark a test paper they gave me to see what my strong and weak points were. I am thankful for their help!

Therefore, it is important to appreciate others around us when things go wrong, so that we can turn to them when needed. Although I am now fully recovered from mental health problems, it doesn’t mean that I never need any support. We all experience challenges in our lives, big and small. Trusting others can get you far.

Maysie Stott-Morrison

Sleeping out

Our trustee Mark took part in the CEO Sleepout event to raise awareness of homelessness in Manchester, along with our CEO Siobhan and two other trustees. Here he blogs about the experience of giving up his bed for the night.

The evening started with everyone in great spirits about the event. In total, there were about 80 fundraisers from around the Manchester area all supporting various Manchester homeless charities. There were guest speakers who all brought to life the purpose of their charities and helped to explain exactly what benefits the money raised would do for their represented causes. Our nominated charity (Back on Track) was represented by the wonderful CEO Siobhan Pollitt who spoke passionately and informatively about the support and training they provide to people from a disadvantaged position in life, whether that be homelessness suffering from a mental health issue, in a period of recovery following substance or alcohol abuse or other disadvantages.

We then heard testimonials from 4 individuals who had suffered homelessness – this is when reality kicked in. I know that we all think we understand the reasons why people become homeless and sadly, there is a tendency to blame alcohol and drug abuse, but actually listening to the harrowing stories from these 4 amazing individuals really gave insight into how everyday events and a run of bad luck can have a knock-on effect eventually leading to homelessness in some cases. Not only that but we also heard from 1 individual about how her gender re-assignment led to a massive amount of prejudice and discrimination which forced her into a life of prostitution, drug abuse and homelessness. It wasn’t a pretty way to end the speeches but it certainly brought to the front of mind exactly why we were doing this and what difference our efforts would make to the supporting charities.

On to the stands then – fortunately for us it was relatively mild and dry. Me and my teammates found a cosy-ish looking area in the stands and laid out our comfortable sleeping mats and triple insulated sleeping bags – I did wonder at this point whilst I was laying out my expensive camping gear, how on earth I would feel if I was looking for somewhere to bed down for the evening with nothing more to keep me warm than the clothes I was stood up in. I felt an immediate rush of guilt and felt determined to do the best I could going forward to help and raise the profile of this plight.

I had the foresight to make hot chocolate and decant it into vacuum flasks before I left the house that night and we settled down with our books and hot drinks before trying to get some sleep. Unbelievably I slept decently but was still full of aches and pains on waking from having slept on concrete and my concentration and ability to keep awake the day after was severely impacted. I then had a realisation – how do people who have to suffer this every night cope? I am often angered when I hear people criticise how awful it was that they had to walk around or step over a homeless person asleep on the street but having insight into why they’re unable to keep awake in the daytime brings it into stark perspective – how would you cope if you had spent all night in the freezing wet conditions of your typical Manchester night whilst trying to fend off people harassing you or trying to steal your few meagre possessions?

Overall, the experience was truly worthwhile and it’s something that I’ll certainly be doing again soon – I think everyone should do it at least once until we can at the very least have empathy with what homeless people suffer on a daily basis. On to the great news now after all that – between myself and the 3 other trustees at Back on Track, we managed to raise a whopping £8,160 for our chosen charity! This is enough to fund a training programme at Back on Track’s learning centre in Manchester and will definitely go some way to making sure that the charity can keep its doors open for another year.

Mark Stapleton

The Secret of Self Compassion

I am writing this blog entry today because kindness towards ourselves is an area where lots of us (me included) can fall short. At school, we are often taught that an answer is either right or wrong, not appreciating enough that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses and we all possess different perspectives. Self-compassion is also important to our thinking process, staying optimistic and changing our own situation when needed.

I attempt to show self-compassion in my writing today by just recording whatever comes out first of all, letting go of the notion of perfectionism which makes us criticise ourselves and can block our creative flow. There are many ways we can practise this type of flexibility in our own lives. For example, at Back on Track creative writing group, I learnt to take a concept and write as many words that came to mind about it, uncensored. What was interesting was that everyone’s response was so different. Therefore, it seems to me like self-love in any process can be about letting go of our inhibitions and letting the world see us for the unique person we really are.

More recently, I have embarked on an adventure to study Primary Education at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are times when I’ve not appreciated my own perspective enough, comparing myself to others and wishing I could be more like them. For example, more often than not, I am an introverted character who sometimes doesn’t always speak a lot in social situations unless I am talking one on one or feel like I really connect with a person. At times, I have felt that, somehow, everyone else in my classes has seemed more extroverted than me and able to make friends easily. When I noticed this pattern of thinking, I showed self-respect by asking myself and looking at quotes about exactly what was good about my personality. “I am not shy. I just don’t like to talk when I have nothing meaningful to say” springs to mind. Our self-awareness may cause us to view traits negatively, but it is how we handle our own criticism which matters.

Yet, what if the action or quality under our own scrutiny is definitely negative and needs to change? The key first lies in a healthy acceptance of the issue. For example, as you may have discovered from previous posts, I can be an emotional eater. When I slip up, it could be easy to start a cycle of self-blame, but this would just promote really unhelpful thoughts. By acknowledging I have a problem and saying to myself it is OK to make a mistake now and again, I am able to get more quickly back into the habit of eating more healthily.

Last of all, if you really want to make quantum leaps in how you view yourself, join a wellbeing style course at Back on Track where you can explore useful tips and techniques to help you think and feel better. It is important to self-care to take time out to develop yourself, realising that you really do have something special to offer the world!

Maysie Stott-Morrison