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Wellness – what works for you?

“One car! That’s all there was!” It’s difficult to imagine, but we all know it’s true.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m in the IT room at Back on Track. I’m attending the ‘Having a voice’ group, and Jennifer has us all mesmerised. She’s telling us about a photograph of her and her sister, as children, on the street where they grew up. It’s the 1960’s, and the street is empty, except for one car.

“One, car. We were just looking at it the other day. We couldn’t believe it! I bet it was easy to park though.”

Having a voice is a weekly session to help participants develop their communication skills and build the confidence to speak up and have their views and opinions heard. During January the sessions have been focused on photography as part of Macc’s ‘Sharing Our Wellness’ campaign. We’ve agreed to take photos of what works for us in terms of wellness, or in other words, what makes us happy. It’s a really useful way to demystify wellbeing, and to help people think about it in everyday ways.

Our first session involves a trip to Manchester Art Gallery to see the Martin Parr exhibition – Return to Manchester, which contains photographs of everyday life in Manchester taken over the last 40 years. Everyone gets animated about the images – laughing at the fashions, and trying to identify the places.

Credit: Martin Parr https://www.martinparr.com

We all end up talking about things from the past that make us happy.  “I’ve always loved playing football.” says Anthony, as we walk back from the gallery. “I still do. I’m looking to join a veterans team at the moment. Even 5 a side would do. I know it’s fast, but there’s life in the old dog yet.” I don’t doubt it. He’s full of energy, darting about, and snapping away at random scenes with his camera.

We review the images the following week. Lots of them are great, and the session tutor Kate is full of positive encouragement and advice about how we can take even better photos. Then we’re off again with a brief to photograph patterns. Which are suddenly everywhere, if you take time to notice them. When we review again it’s clear that we’ve already got lots of good images to choose from. Kate instructs the group about uploading photos to PC and how to use the editing software. Kevin’s racing ahead, so we have a chat about his photo, and that it reminds of his school Plant Hill School. He talks about what lessons he enjoyed there, and what he’s learned since coming to Back on Track despite having learning difficulties.

 

There’s a real variety of photos, and when I’m chatting to people it’s lovely to hear each person talking about the image they’ve chosen. Everyone is happy for their content to be shown on online, but some don’t feel comfortable about being recorded, so we agree to type something for the website. Others are more than happy to talk, and Jennifer is really warming to the subject of old photos. “I like looking at old photographs, cos it helps me to think about being alive now, and that we should make the most of it. I used to work at a school in Wythenshawe. I still get old pupils coming up to me in the street all grown up and saying ‘Hello Miss! Remember me?’ and I always do. I ask them how many kids they’ve got and they tell me and I go ‘Alright then, see ya!’ You see, things change very quickly.”

Click here to see all of the selected images and stories from the project.

 

 

 

 

Take a step back and enjoy life

As I write this, I reflect on how the Christmas holidays has been a new space for me to slow down and spend time with my family. It has also been a period of assessing my own values and goals as I prepare to start a new year. Whether you like this time of year or not, time off for festivities can definitely have an impact on daily routine. For me, although I honestly prefer being busy as it gives less time for brooding, it has however made me think about how I can get more enjoyment out of life.

Admittedly, spending a few days at my mum’s over Christmas meant that I decided not to go for a jog. To be blunt, I enjoyed not having to worry about this! Despite this, it has made me think about how I have definitely preferred my kickboxing and Zumba sessions and I have only been holding onto going for a jog sometimes as a way to punish myself. This may sound strange, but I’m sure we all do this with our lives to some extent, clinging on to past habits just because it is the way things should be done even if it gives us no joy. Why not consciously choose more of the things which you love to do? As I have mentioned, this has been a hot topic on my mind recently and a concept I want to bring to 2019. I have realised, through past mistakes, that although hard work is often important and necessary in achieving goals, such as health and fitness ones, we should always allow ourselves to have some fun along the way.

In addition, Christmas is a time for most of us for spending time with our loved ones. I hope you have had the opportunity to do the same. One of my most personal goals for 2019 is to develop more meaningful friendships. In fact, I have realised that at times other than holidays, I have not put as much effort into nurturing relationships. Realistically, we are all generally busier but without strong friendships we will suffer (see my previous blog entry on strong support networks). Before I got ill with schizophrenia, I had shoved many people out of my life and this did not help my recovery. I was also leaving little time for happiness and laughter. When we truly connect with other people in a positive way, we enjoy life more and we feel lighter. Christmas has been a time for me of singing, dancing and playing games with the ones I care about – I just might have to figure out how to include more of this in my life whilst balancing my other responsibilities. Not always simple, but it’s good to learn!

As you start a new year, maybe at Back on Track or somewhere else, make a conscious effort to try and reward yourself with spending time with some of the activities and people you like the most. Back on Track nurtured some of my passions, including writing which I am doing now! It also allowed me to meet new people. Here’s to a new year and a happier you!

Maysie Stott-Morrison

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!

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