Today while out on our dog walk I looked down just in time to notice a tiny frog crouched completely still just in front of my feet. This little creature was trying its hardest not to move until the threat my huge wellies posed had gone. All well and good if this little fellow had been in his normal habitat, I would have walked past without noticing his magnificent speckled green and yellow skin. Unfortunately for him he had moved out onto the grey expanse of tarmac path where his camouflage left him horribly visible. As I peered down he was quite obviously uncomfortable and aware that he had been rumbled. I imagine if froggie feelings are anything like human ones he was experiencing what it is to be alone and very vulnerable!
In stories and recounts of war time, spies and soldiers often survive by ‘hiding in plain sight’ – a talent not gifted to many. So, when most of us choose to do something different it is extremely hard. We can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable just like my frog on the path. For me this is rather comforting as several recent decisions have taken me right out from the long grass of my comfort zone. For example, choosing to take my beloved assistance dog out with me everywhere is massive. I am rebuilding a meaningful existence. And gosh I feel priveledged to have him. However for anyone considering a step like this it is wise to remember it is not all plain sailing. Extra plans need to be made before travelling to ensure Angus’ welfare; we have to keep refreshing training and feeling that we must be on our very best behaviour at all times and facing the gauntlet of endless intrusive questions about the finer details of my depression an panic attacks . Usually I don’t mind too much- it promotes the cause! But just occasionally when I am feeling below parr assumptions and opinions can make me feel as out of place as the frog on tarmac. It is good then to be able to understand why I feel this discomfort and to realise that to be different is fine. We are probably doing ok -it is just that this part of my journey requires the courage to go against instinct, step out of the long grass onto the pavement and be seen for a while!
Angus loves local speedway… but this is an experience in a new league for him- literally! Speedway GP 2017 in Cardiff… oh my! After a quick trip round the shops it’s off to the Principality Stadium. For anyone in the know speedway is noisy! If you are wondering what Angus thought to this check out his huge grin at the end of this video as he meets up with some Polish fans who are definitely in good voice😀
You see Angus is by nature a gregarious doggie. He likes nothing better than to do a spot of people watching… if, as it usually does, this involves him getting an extra bit of fuss it is bliss!
Then it is into the stadium to our seats in the accessibility area ( to allow plenty of room for Angus to sit comfortably.) on with his dog ear defenders and ready to watch the fun!
(Thanks for this photo BigWoofa)
Wow – fantastic racing and although our favourite Tai Woffenden was out before final stages it was thrilling stuff. Although I have to admit Angus did miss out on some of the action for a nap (I have no idea how you sleep through speedway!) and to stock up on the attention he attracted! Another hilight for him was in true Winnie-the-Pooh style a ‘little smackrel’ of the traditional yummy lap 17 hot dog!
Many thanks to the stadium and security staff for making Angus’ and my visit a really positive and fun trip.
Cardiff Principality Stadium and Speedway GP 2017 – you both get 10 out of 10 in our accessibility rating- nothing was a problem and you went out of your way to help us.👍
Cardiff are really set up for this regular event- stewards even handing out trendy rain gear as we waited for our train to come in 😂
Home to bed after a fantastic day. Sweet dreams Angus!
When we find a place in the world to be ourselves and let everything else go for a while we are truly fortunate. My place is the sea.The last few days have been blissful- a time to wander and explore. To build memories with close family and discover even more of the natural wonders and people around me. Magically all this time my mind is working in the background to replace my negative learned behaviour with positive experiences that will continue my journey to better health.
Neuroscience assures me that in future when my brain finds itself in situations that mirror these times my reactions will not be stress, panic and freezing helplessly on the spot. Let me share an example, a sudden crowd of people around some rocks on the beach automatically triggers my ‘fear, fight, flight’ response. My instinct defaults to, ‘go as quickly as possible in the opposite direction- encounters with strangers are painful and embarrassing! ‘. Fortunately now my most recent memory of a crowd is : of the sun warming my skin, the smell of the sea and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. This added to the story behind the crowd- of ‘the Blue Pool’ where locals follow tradition to jump into its clear, deep water just as they have for generations. Then there is the story of the lady who told us about this tradition… All of a sudden my respons to a crowd is more positive.
The words of a long forgotten tutor suddenly come to mind. As he finished a mind bending explanation of chemical titration equations which at the end of a long laboratory session had once again left me frustrated and dispondent . He would scribble quickly on the page, rearrange my result figures and then triumphantly declare, “There, you see? QED!” At the time I never thought of his calculation method as Qite Easily Done. However time and life experience perhaps brings true understanding of his comment. Maybe his real meaning was, ” Yes I know it is difficult, but keep going, keep practicing and eventually it will become second nature!” Why do humans never say what they really mean?! So then, keep going to the beach, keep making good memories and eventually experiences will become positive. Perhaps even one day …QED!
human brokenness … how to describe it? Perhaps a shattering of either spirit, body or mind ? Or deep impenetrable sadness? I wonder though if this always has to be true?
I am reminded of a work by the contemporary sculptur Paige Bradley. In her search to move on to a new creative level she took the decision to drop a piece that she had spent months developing. The result is an overwhelmingly vulnerable and beautiful figure which she calls ‘Explosion’. Read more on her thoughts (and photo below ) from her blog http://paigebradley.com/blog/the-story-of-expansion/
Last week I sat down in a cafe to begin writing this blog. Instead I found myself absorbed in conversation with the lady next to me. By chance or fate, which ever you believe in, and without mentioning my topic we began to discuss this very theme! ( As an aside: There is something extraordinary about cafe life. Inevitably, as I did last week, I find myself meeting interesting and inspiring people. So to those who wonder if our current obsession with cafes can only be unhealthy – think again. I truley believe that I leave enriched in soul as well as waistline! )
In any case as my coffee cup emptied I pondered the process of being emotional broken and the journey towards healing. How else could we deepen our understanding of life without going through experiences that shake our beliefs to the very core? Psychologists constantly remind us of the significance of childhood in forming our personal beliefs – the moral code we choose live by. Sometimes events throw doubt on these precious and long held beliefs.
At this time there is a choice. To endeavour to rebuild everything just as it was on unsteady or weakened foundations. Or to recognise that change could be better. It takes courage to step away from old beliefs and allow the wind of experience to mould you into whatever shape it will. It takes even more courage to stay with it as the wind sweeps the sand further down the beach changing the shape of life again and again, creating amazing forms that could not have been previously contemplated. It is also vulnerable and exposed out there on the empty sands and sometimes the wind blows you backwards for a while. Change has got to hurt whether it be in work, hobbies or mental health. Kintsoui is a very old Japanese technique to repair smashed pottery using gold. The principle behind Kinsoui is that nothing is ever beyond repair- perhaps it may even become more beautiful and valuable in the hands of a skilled and patient craftsman!
Walks are my sanctuary during good times and bad. Sometimes, on rare and wonderful occasions an onrdinary morning for no particular reason turns into a special day.
This begins with a tingle of expectation as the glorious serindipity of small things coming together hits me. What does that mean? Simply that I will spot a beautiful flower and notice it’s stunning beauty. Then I will notice why: it is a’colourwheel’ contrast to it’s surroundings meaning of course that it is displayed to its absolute best.And all of course by chance?! On such days it is as if the senses are all on overtime and an inexplicable feeling of oneness with nature -a peaceful ‘knowingness’ almost that I am in collaboration with the universe and I am in on all it’s precious secrets.
Too much? Maybe, but I get the sense that there is so much in our world that normally we are unaware of as we charge almost blindfolded through the day. An extra dimension that in our business we just don’t see. There are so many unacknowledged truths that could make living so much easier, if we could take the time to experience it. How? If you don’t already do this try it- stop for a moment- breath in (… yes and out please) –just where you are stand perfectly still and stare. I promise the blinkers of pressure and schedules will drop revealing the beauty in the street or the view you can see from the office window. Escape outside. Let the delicious sensations of the breeze brush your face. Listen for a bird and allow its song to shut out the usual drone of the traffic. What is it telling you in that one moment? Not the past, or the future but now- for this is where life is lived.
Getting out and about is something we can take for granted. Birds singing, sun radiating through the window becoming me outside and that glorious feeling of the whole day stretching out into endless possibility. Quick grab your essentials and off you go out into the world for an adventure…
Bang, the door closes triggering a whole new train of thought. Suddenly a cold breeze blows and the sun disappears behind a cloud. The mist has begun to descend. Recent science states that in people who suffer from ptsd and depression the brain reacts differently to triggers. The normal instinct to investigate a feeling, assess it’s significance and the ‘risk factors’ attached to it and produce a reasonable physical and emotional response are unfortunately overridden. Previous painful stimuli are remembered in this area of the brain stimulating the release of chemical transmitters alert sufferers that they cannot deal with this situation causing feelings of being overwhelmed and spiral into ‘meltdown’. In 5minutes I am back inside the house. Mission abandoned. This is why having an assistance dog trained to recognise the initial physical symptoms of my meltdown or freeze is such a lifeline for people like me. Confidence that he will alert me in time to take action and guide me out of the situation make it easier to access the fresh air, exercise and socialisation that we are all told are positive for good mental health. It is indeed gauling that the very things we are encouraged to do to help ourselves can seem completely out of reach by the very nature of depressive conditions. The irony of the situation is not lost on me and is the reason for this post. It does not need to be the help of a dog- anything that inspires positivity and provides a reason to keep going has to be embraced. If the dream you have seems impossible to achieve- be realistic but don’t give up on it. Take small steps towards your goal and just see what comes of it. The chances are it will take you further on life’s journey and you will learn something important to improving the quality of your life along the way.
Since Angus has begun to wear his work jacket I have had so much interest in his role that I decided it was time to write about it! The following is from a fb post after a trip to a local town event. Crowds, conversation and nowhere to hide. Soooo outside my comfort zone!
People: Aww assistance dogs are so clever. What kind is he?Had him long?
Me: He is my mental health assistance dog. We have just finished training. It took us two years.
People: Gosh I didn’t know they did that! How does he help you ? Dogs do make you feel calm.
Me: Yes they certainly do! To be qualified he also needs to help me physically. One thing he does is to recognise signs that I am having a problem. He is trained to alert me by licking my hand and guide me safely out of crowded spaces if I freeze up in the supermarket.
Today so many people asked me about Angus.We chatted to some wonderful people at the Heritage fair including: caravaners from Belfast, a school party from Sienna, Brummie Vikings, Roundheads and their horses all mingling with lovely locals. What is really amazing is that I managed to be in a busy place let alone to stick around and talk to these nice people. Something that may not be evident on the surface but has become so difficult over the last few years. This is just one aspect of how Angus has helped me to begin the journey towards good mental health.
It is time for me to speak out now. If you know someone who may benefit as I have – please spread the word. And of course keep talking about mental wellbeing. It really helps.
Finally I need to mention the unsung heroes. My unflinching supporter and darling husband Neil and Darwin Dogs CIC who give so much in time and expertise to train mental health assistance and canine personal assistant dogs.
The definition of the assistance dog role is that of a partnership between a human and dog. Once formed both partners rely on trust in the other to provide what they need and eventually this trust becomes intuitive and enriching as they begin understanding what makes each other happy. Ok this is perfection and I know there are always blips on the way but you review, practice and move on learning more about each other along the way!
Trusting in another and developing a relationship where both parties gain from a friendship can be tough to achieve for those of us who live in a ‘mental health goldfish bowl‘ ( see below) *.
* there is no collective term that I am aware of to effectively describe how it feels to live in a world where someone can either feel on show for being different or iscollated and alone even in a crowd- cut off by an invisible wall from every thing and every one that you love. So, for now I will call it the ‘mental health goldfish bowl‘ .
Angus in a reflective mood at Llanddwyn,on the Island of Anglesey. “There is nothing to beat a day on the beach… except maybe one with a good cafe a stick throw away from it!”
Angus’s beach tips:
1. As always it pays to investigate doggie rules on each beach before visiting. Especially to avoid confusion on the split ones e.g. Dogs to the left only…if you are not prewarned by the time you have read the sign doggie will surely have sprinted off… to the right!
2. Check the status of the local birds (feathered!), April to September can often be off limits on the whole beach or certain areas to prevent curious kanines disturbing eggs or scaring off parents. Did you know that this is a prosecutable offence?
3. Beaches are often remote and not all have hot drinks and food nearby. For example Newborough is definitely worth a visit and has good toilet facilities but only snack food at high season. The wind sure blows cold out there!
4. Examine the outdoor shower carefully before using it to rinse off sand. There are shower heads and operation leavers at doggie and human height. Confusion over the correct leaver has resulted in a drenching experience for startled dog and owner!
5. Prepare to stay for ages…you will love it here! Photographic evidence below:
Plenty to watch and explore
New friends to meet
Penmore point with it’s picturesque lighthouse
And Llanddwyn Island. This is truly a magical spot reached by a short causeway from Newborough beach
Are artists custodians of our treasured traditions or trail blazers for our future aspirations?
Watching an art history documentary left me pondering this question. Take for example the artistic movements of this centuary and the last.
Impressionists were excluded from influential Parisian exhibitions, early rock and roll was considered by many as a sin and an unruly young woman’s ‘unmade bed’ was a glorious joke for the popular 90’s media. However, Monet’s water lilies are among the most loved and reproduced artworks in the world, Elvis was called the King and Tracey Emin is now a professor of drawing at the London RA. In a wonderful irony they have all become reveared mainstream and nostalgic representations of their time. More importantly they have triggered mind shifts in opinions and beliefs held by the man in the street. How has this come about?
Surely it is down to more than luck or change in taste. For many years these people were ridiculed and lambasted by society. Sadly some died before recognition of their work came. It is my belief that part of the creative gene is a compulsion to look at the world differently and an overpowering drive to explore and push boundaries. For this reason, to be a true artist you must also be willing to be a trail blazer!
This week saw us pack up and head to the lakes for a much needed tranquility top up. Torrential rain,wind snow and glorious sun made sure our short trip was full of drama and beauty. The soft light was perfect for photography and the people we met a joyful inspiration for my new street art project. Angus starts so many conversations and enables me to explore what makes Keswick buzz in such a unique way. Daily life for the locals and tales of travel and adventure from fellow visitors inspired some impromptu street art which I hope captures a little of the delicious atmosphere. There is something magical about the smile on a face or a far away look that opens the door to the mysteries that might lie behind it…
Angus of course met some new playmates…
… Supervised by the local wildlife
Teasing – I won’t turn round for a photo!
A swan family inches away from us on the pier!
No Angus -this is not a real sheep
That’s better- a local ‘Herdie’
… and took in the spectacular views
Oh that light! Just look at how it bounces, sparkles and throws moody shadows, adding atmosphere to these street -photos and the stories that they tell.
I indulged one of my passions- photographing from strange angles and focusing in reflections in puddles.
… meanwhile Angus does what he knows best-relaxing!
Many thanks to Dolly,Dawn,Steven, Max,George and Charlie for being so patient and allowing me to photograph them and share part of their days. It certainly made ours!