A note about recovery from mental health illness….

(A little detour away from nature based writing!)

I’ve been working in mental health recovery services for over 20 years.

I’ve spent the last 3 years researching mental health impacts in relation to the stories that we tell about ourselves and how we are perceived in Western culture once we have a diagnosis.

Here is something important that I have learnt:

It doesn’t matter what symptoms, diagnosis or treatment are delivered, the key to recovery is being treated with kindness, compassion, empathy and allowances being made for human fragility.

If people are treated as ‘otherly’ because of a mental health diagnosis they will continue to experience a crushing of spirit that is detrimental and permanently damaging to mental health.

We have few words in our culture for spirit. We often spend time focusing on our physical well-being, but barely any time is spent on our inner wellbeing as part of a normal routine and life style.

Imagine instead of paying a membership for a gym to workout your body, you paid a membership to take care of your soul. My mind gym would have relaxation suites, wifi free areas, spa rooms, confidence building classes, nap cafes, pet therapy, free talking services for validation of difficult times and counselling….all under one roof as part of a normal life style! It would be open to everyone, as after all – we all have physical health / we all have mental health and we all have the potential to experience ill health in either of these areas.

What would your soul gym include ? What words do you use to describe your inner self and spirit? Would you ever take a mental health day off sick as readily as a day off for physical health?

I’m genuinely interested to know!

The Green City of Bath…

Before I set off for a half term adventure to Bath my friend lent me a little trug for tired little dachshund legs. A little beach trolley that we could pull our dog around in, should she decide to give up on walking. (Which is quite frequent.)

Let me explain, it’s not that she is ill, or arthritic …. we own a ‘cat’shund, a dog who thinks she is a cat. Unlike a normal dog that gets excited when you eagerly say ‘walkies’, our dog looks at you, rolls her eyes and raises a flippant paw, as if to say ‘no thanks, you go on dear, have a lovely time’ before readjusting her lounging position on the sofa.

So it was with trepidation that we set off on our city break, with my husband taking the gung ho attitude of ‘she’s a bloody dog! I am not pulling her round in a trolley!’.

Needless to say the last few days have been what we term ‘divide and conquer’, this used to be reserved for our two children, with a three year age gap. Now it’s teen activities / versus dog activities.

Finding dog friendly green spaces we discovered that Bath is one of the most beautiful and green cities that we have visited. Golden sandstone Georgian town houses, are gathered in terraced rows, proudly sitting against a vista of rolling hills and trees.

The streets are peppered with antique shops, bric a brac finds and quirky outlets, we are all coming home with a few vintage finds. After a ten mile walk on Tuesday, in which we strayed out of the city and found Prior Park (National Trust site), and then yesterday the Royal Victoria Park with its gorgeous botanical gardens, we thought the dog would have given up. However it turns out the sight of a squirrel can re-ignite some inner canine hunting instinct and spark a burst of energy big enough to put a race horse to shame.

She still had her moments though, which luckily for us meant a good excuse to frequent some gorgeous coffee shops and long lazy pub lunches. Her doleful eyes ensured lots of treats from cafe owners and even a carry from one of the teens. Especially after we stumbled across this smug pair:

A very dog friendly city, I highly recommend a visit. Not sure if the ‘cat’shund would agree, she is looking forward to getting back to her beloved sofa and blankets, but we will definitely be returning in the future.

Book Launch! Seeds of Promise … a new adventure…

A year and a half ago, one of my students from the Field Studies Council courses approached me to see if I was interested in making an anthology of nature writing.

We hilariously thought it would take 3 – 6 months to complete! Hats off to all the publishers and editors out there …. we finally made it a year and a half later. I am so proud of the end result, it took a lot longer than we had planned because we were fitting it in around work and other commitments. We also approached publishers but ultimately decided to publish it ourselves so that all profits can go to environmental charities.

It was a huge learning journey, one I am so glad to have made. The icing on the cake is the beautiful illustrations by talented artist and writer Sharon Williamson.

You can find Seeds of Promise on Amazon, I promise it will take you on a journey of natural world discovery and intrigue. I also hope it will be a great point of inspiration to anyone looking at getting into nature writing. I’ve included a few pages at the back of the book specifically on getting started.

I hope you enjoy!

A Place on Mars…

I’ve been very quiet on here since summer, mainly due to a hectic schedule during September and over-committing myself to too many exciting opportunities, meaning my freelance work has had to take a back seat, while I have been getting my PhD and other commitments back on track. My day job at Converge (www.yorksj.ac.uk/converge) has just come through two years of external research on our project – with hugely exciting results, so it has been all go – celebrating the outcomes and future planning for our team.

As part of my work with York St John University I had the opportunity to go to London for a few days to network with our London Campus. We stayed in Canary Wharf, which I had never visited before. It felt such an alien landscape for someone who is so deeply connected to the natural world, I found it a surreal environment, you could have dropped me on Mars for the same effect!

I was however, both surprised and delighted to hear a bird of prey from the 10th floor of the hotel. It was also encouraging to see ecological work being done around all the concrete and steel. I saw a beautiful yellow wagtail on the Lilly pads at the campus ponds.

It was a brilliant reminder of how important the natural world is to me and to experience something so hugely different to my usual lifestyle.

On another note … for anyone looking to take comfort from the natural world with winter approaching, I am running a Winter Solace Writing workshop on the 30th of Oct. Details on my Events page here.

Holiday Antics….

Meet my gorgeous Dachshund- she’s coming up nine years old later this year. She has just accompanied us on holiday to Cornwall and Devon.

Photos: Enjoying my sunnies, being miserable due to not getting to eat my pub chips, paddling at the beach and enjoying barking at every other dog within a five mile radius!! Chilling in the holiday cabin.

Happy Summer holidays!

Easter break….

A week on the Scottish Coast. Each day filled with sea air, beach combing and woodland walks. We were lucky enough to find some plant fossils in the shale rocks.

Much needed time for writing and creativity after a busy couple of months. Looking forward to delivering more nature based creative writing courses over the next few weeks including a nature writing poetry master class and a woodland inspired four week writing course which I am planning for June / July.

I always love returning to the home comforts of Base Camp and my gorgeous cats! I think they enjoyed having the house to themselves for a week, although we have been getting lots of cuddles .

Seahorse obsession…

If you haven’t already – check out the Seahorse Trust website. Recently I attended a lecture on seahorses with the Field Studies Council. I had no idea they were all around the shores of the UK.

I’ve been trying to learn about them through drawing and observation of the divers footage online. Beautiful creatures!

This has also inspired my painting buddy… she sold the blue seahorse painting to a friend to raise funds for the Seahorse Trust, after I shared it online 💙💙💙

The best and most brilliant thing about the natural world is that every day there is ALWAYS something new to discover!

The Iron Coast…

‘For when the sea is calm [says Camden], the waters at Skengrave being spread as it were into a plain, a hideous groaning is often heard in these parts, on a sudden, and then the fishermen are afraid of the sea. They believe the ocean to be a huge monster which is then hungry and eager to glut itself with the bodies of men.’

Folklore attached to Skinningrove – taken from The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam

Bright skies greeted us driving over the North York Moors to go to the coast today. I met with my best friend on the beach at Skinningrove. A little known place with a huge stretch of sand. Steeped in history Skinningrove is a Viking name – which meant Skinners grove or pit.

At one time Skinningrove was home to a large iron works which opened in 1848. Today you can find remnants of the iron industry along the coast line.

I love the raw beauty of this coastline. The Cleveland Way coastal path runs through Skinningrove which is situated between Saltburn and Staithes, the cliffs above Skinningrove are breathtaking and pass by abandoned Alum Works where huge pits of land have been carved from the cliff. Now filled with bracken and heather they are both eery and beautiful at the same time.

I would take this coastline over any other, any day. For anyone interested in the North East Coast I highly recommend The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam which captures the visceral essence and history of the area, illustrated with black and white photographs taken by Peter Burton and Harland Waltham.

Contrasts …

The crisp winter days are capturing my attention. Mid afternoon sun falling through the woodland paths where we walk our Dachshund (when she is in the mood for walking).

Long shadows fall across the paths. I’m waiting for the first signs of Spring, snowdrops and bulbs pushing through the frozen ground. The starlings are gathering in the trees at the back of our house. All the woodland paths are punctuated by a chatter of bird song.

A sense of movement and change is in the air, each day a new beginning.