On taking a step back when you need it most

When Simone Biles, the American gymnast, took a step back during the Tokyo Olympics this summer citing that she needed to focus on her mental health, I listened carefully. She wasn’t the first sports person to hint at the crushing pressures that being at the top of your game can bring. But it came in the middle of the most celebrated, anticipated and prepared-for sporting event. Athletes are expected to be at their very best physically and mentally so that they can achieve their dreams of an Olympic medal. The idea of winning at all costs suddenly didn’t sound so enticing with the backdrop of mental health. So, to me it was telling, so very insightful, that even with all the preparation in the world, an athlete was struggling with her mental health. There’s no medal for breaking your spirit or crushing your soul and I think Simone Biles realised that.

I don’t think I have heard the words ‘mental health’ pop up in the press as much as it has in recent months. Perhaps because everyone was faced with mental health challenges of their own in those dark days of spring 2020 and the many that followed, when there was no end in sight. People reported low mood, lack of sleep, feeling isolated and lonely.

There’s a lot to be said about a shared experience. Hearing another person express the same or similar challenges makes us feel that little bit less alone. And let’s face it mental health or ill health can be very isolating. So, it stands to reason that when we see a successful athlete share her mental health challenge it had an impact and a welcome one at that. Mental health challenges can affect us all at any time and in any number of ways. Being able to address it, express it and not be seen as ‘other’ or ‘different’ has to be one of the few positives that came out of a terrible year.

I think we have all learned over the last year that strength is not just about powering through the tough times. It’s in knowing when to take a step back and evaluate what’s important. Accepting that we can’t control everything and we don’t have to pretend to either. That giving yourself permission to slow down and take your time could be the best thing for you.

It raised an uncomfortable question for me though. We aren’t all on an Olympic team. When someone is dealing with crushing mental health issues are employers in a position to support their staff? What would happen if you took a step back to recover? Would it be accepted and supported or would you fear for your job? Are we using our shared experience of the last year to try to better understand  and address the mental health challenges that people face all around us?

I hope that the debate continues. That people continue to stand up and talk about mental health in all areas of life. That we will always be able to open up in the way we have recently.

Mental Health Awareness Week: You are good enough

Mental Health Awareness Week blog series

You are good enough

by Michelle Rhodes, Pathways to Employment Lead

“Happy, fun, hardworking, loyal, energetic, loud, conscientious, kind, lots of banter”

These are just a few words that people have referred to me in these terms.

“Anxious, tired, grumpy, not good enough, frightened, nervous, unintelligent” – am I enough?

These are the words I use to describe myself on a daily basis.

I may look fine on the outside but often feel like the duck gliding along the surface but paddling furiously to stay afloat.

Being a mother, wife, a daughter, sister, auntie, team lead are all things I juggle with day in day out, always questioning my abilities and actions.

I have come to realise that I am my own worst enemy and am often not very kind to myself.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and it is time to stop, take a step back, breathe and be kind to ourselves.

Instead of concentrating on the things that may have not gone so well, we need to concentrate and be grateful for all the good things in our lives – family, friends colleagues, laughs, smiles, hugs. I could go on forever!

Today is the third anniversary of the attack at Manchester Arena, which took the lives of 22 people, injured many others, and changed everything. I will always remember talking to my three young daughters after what happened at the Ariana Grande concert. They were so shocked and saddened and could not understand why someone would be so cruel. It really affected their mental health and wellbeing.

I had to explain that there are people in the world that do bad things and that bad things happen in life. But for every bad thing that happens there are millions of amazing things and beautiful people, and the aftermath of the bombing was the perfect example of how we can all come together and support one another.

I feel that same sense of community and support in these unusual times. The way that everybody is taking care of one another – family, friends, neighbours and strangers – with mental health at the forefront of many conversations. We don’t know what the aftermath of this pandemic will bring, but we’re all here to help one another, on the happy days and the sad days.

We also need to remember that happiness is an emotion and like sadness is fleeting. It’s unrealistic to strive for happiness all the time. It comes in waves and we are all different, complicated, amazing human beings that are trying our best.

Every day is a struggle in some way. Admitting that is a huge relief. I am not alone and neither are you.

I’m making a promise to continue telling myself I am good enough. We are good enough. In fact, we’re much more than good enough.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Where flowers bloom, so does hope

Mental Health Awareness Week blog series

Where flowers bloom, so does hope

by Georgia Scott, Communications Lead

I’m sure a lot of you have heard the saying ‘work to live don’t live to work’. I lived to work, to an unhealthy degree. After finishing my degree in advertising and marketing I dove straight into the world of public relations and loved every single second. Unfortunately it became every single second of my life – I worked a 9 to 5 but it was so much more than that. It consumed my mornings, evenings, weekends, and I had very little else in my life.

I started to fall out of love with my job and daily life took a toll on my mental health. Fast-forward to 2017 and things had gone from bad to worse. Everything started to fall apart and the mask I’d worn for so long was disappearing. I tried so hard to keep up that twenty-something, PR girl, city centre living, ‘everything is perfect’ persona, to cover up the reality – a girl who was lost, who needed help, had stopped taking care of herself, had gone through a lot and didn’t want to be here anymore.

I started calling in sick to work and turning down social invitations. I only went to things I had to go to. I knew it was time to go and get help and I’m so glad I did. I thought I’d leave my doctors appointment feeling like a failure. But I didn’t. My GP was amazing and I felt hope, relief and that I’d done the right thing. I knew I had a long road ahead but I felt ready to start heading down it, one step at a time.

Medication and one-to-one counselling was a really great combination for me. It was during one of my sessions that I was advised to find a new hobby – something therapeutic to help me on my journey. I’d always been creative, I went to art school and was always better at the creative subjects when I was at upper school, but I hadn’t done anything creative in years. I was excited to go out and try new things, and it was so amazing to feel excited about something again.

I signed up to a few different classes and tried out a few online tutorials. I gave card-making, knitting, and candle-making a go, but it was a floristry class that really caught my interest. I went to a flower crown class at a local independent florist studio and loved it. All of a sudden I was making arrangements at home and going to more classes. I made Christmas wreaths, bouquets, and so much more. My job was still very demanding but I drew lines where I could and now had something fun to do with the little bit of free time I had. Finding floristry gave me my confidence back and I will forever be grateful for going to that first class.








But after a while I hit the middle-of-the-rom-com moment. You know the one – the main character thinks they’ve got it all sorted and all of a sudden there’s a plot twist. Due to gaining a few new clients and projects, work suddenly started to take over again. This also coincided with a very negative experience in my personal life. I felt like I was back to square one, and I knew I needed to make big changes to move forward. I’d found myself on a career conveyor belt I didn’t want to be on, and in a situation that was no longer safe.

I started looking for a new job and moved back home. I loved working in PR but I needed to go part time and find something with meaning.  This wasn’t an option where I was. That’s when I found The Cellar Trust. A part time communications and marketing role came up and it felt like fate. I had the chance to do something I really believed in for a charity that did amazing work. I’d never wanted anything more in my entire life, so when I got an interview and was offered the job I was over the moon. As I’d be working four days a week I enrolled on a part time college course – a Level 2 BTEC in Floristry. I started The Cellar Trust and my college course in the same week and it felt like I’d pressed reset on my life, but in the best way possible.

I was never referred to The Cellar Trust back when I went to get help because I was living in a different city at the time. But The Cellar Trust came into my life in a different way when I needed it the most. It’s been nearly two years now and I’ve never looked back. I finished my college course last summer, bought my own house, and turned my floristry hobby into a career, running my little business on the side of my communications and marketing role. I feel so lucky to be able to do two things I love, and I’ll never take either for granted. I work with amazing, understanding, and kind people every day, who come together to make a real difference in peoples lives. I couldn’t be prouder of my journey and the perfect purple place I get to call home.

Mental health really is a journey and I always remind myself to be kind to myself on down days, which have of course been much more common during lockdown as it will have been for so many others. Very aptly, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 is kindness – please always remember to be kind to yourself and others, especially during these unusual times.