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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Mental distress is real

MENTAL DISTRESS IS REAL

With so many lone attacks being accredited to people with alleged mental health problems, I’m questioning why so many people refuse to believe it, insisting every time that such atrocities are terrorist related. Surely it’s down to mental health professionals to make a judgement about someone’s state of mind. It seems some people don’t like facts if they don’t fit in with their prejudices or what they feel they need to believe for their own safety and sanity. Unable to accept the truth, because it’s too distressing, is called denial.

I’m pondering on this today because, as someone with diagnosed post- traumatic stress disorder which throws up symptoms of anxiety and depression amongst others I don’t want to get into, I’ve had the most outrageous accusations levelled at me; ‘ Only war veterans get that, you use it as an excuse not to do something, your therapist must have been rubbish if you’re still suffering.’

One in four people at least will suffer from some kind of mental distress during their lives and this is on the increase. It is only when we have personal experience either ourselves or someone close can we begin to believe that this thing we call depression is a real illness. Imagine someone pressing their foot heavily on your head – de-pressing. That’s how it feels to me. Physical as well as mental pain. A kind of paralysis which if I don’t get moving doing something, anything, can tie me to the sofa for up to two weeks before it passes.

The thing is this: too many of my family and friends want to fix the problem. They can’t. Only I can do that. Writing, craft work and singing are my best supports at that time but to be told I need to get out more and stop the introspection isn’t helpful. It frustrates all of us. This is the time to be talking about the weather, or the price of fish… something banal. My dentist is good at this when it’s injection time or even worse, impressions. Yuk. She chats away with her dental nurse about something and nothing and it’s distracting in a good way.

My work involves helping people to handle uncomfortable emotions and anxiety but it’s a case of the cobbler’s shoes. You can do it for others but not yourself. I’m encouraged by the number of people who say they didn’t expect me to fix it or them but just to listen, validate, don’t interrupt or indicate there’s something wrong with them.  

Depression has been called the affliction of the strong. Most of us fight hard to get through those treacly days where nothing is achieved and the thought of crawling under the duvet a darkened room is the one thing to look forward to.

Unless I tell somebody I’m having a bad day, which I don’t – my excuse is I think I must be coming down with something – no-one would know because I put on a performance and hide behind the mask.

I understand the frustration of people who don’t want to hear that another lone attacker has got mental health problems because it’s not tangible enough when we are trying to find motive and meaning. But it might just be true.

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In Men Feelings Run Deep

A recent radio programme featuring the loss of the steel plants in Teeside and the resultant redundancies brought home how badly men, in particula, are affected by redundancy and the hopelessness of trying to find new work once they reach fifty plus.

A moving story from a wife whose husband fell into a deep depression, triggering an increase in drinking and smoking and a steep decline in his health, took me back to a time when my first husband lost his business. Pulling up the walls of denial, he continued to go to his empty office and sit amongst the detritus of unpaid bills, lost orders and computers thick with dust, he became a phantom figure in the block of offices.

When he came home at the end of his so-called working day, he was angry and abusive and talked about a conspiracy to destroy him. Realising that his depression had taken on a new dimension, I tried to get him to seek medical help. The problem with paranoia, once it gets a hold, is that anybody who wants to help, doctors included, become co-conspirators in the plot. This went on for years. Money was tight as the family relied on my income and secret debts were uncovered yet he continued to deny and blame and rage. I didn’t want to divorce him – who walks away from someone in desperate need? – but I had to save myself and the children.

It’s a myth to think men don’t feel the pain and grief of loss whether it’s from the death of a parent, child or employment. Women are lucky to have empathy and sympathy from a wide circle of friends and we can talk about it… endlessly if necessary. We can openly cry, scream, rage and down copious amounts of wine in the safety of our networks because maybe we don’t feel the same need to be visibly resilient.  

Men who can find a healthy release from their grief have the chance to recover more quickly and find a new path but the silent majority suffer in silence and it can kill them.

My ex-husband returned to his family who in turn turned their verbal daggers against me. ‘This wouldn’t have happened if you’d been a proper wife,’ was the regular assault in the early days yet they’d failed to tell me he’d suffered bouts of depression in the past. Sadly he didn’t pick himself up enough to create a new life. Stories of men turning their faces to the wall in shame or self-hatred after losing a job or a business are not uncommon and I’ve seen some die well before their time because of little support and limited external services to help them cope.

Not everyone can take their redundancy payoff and set up a business so they can say, ‘Redundancy was the best thing that happened to me,’ as they celebrate making their first big sale. If you only know about steel or coal mining then it’s unrealistic you can suddenly turn your hand to bar work or cake-making. Some do, of course, but on vastly reduced wages and hours and against fierce competition from younger workers.

We need to increase the mental health support for anyone who finds themselves unemployed and that should include help for their desperate families. Depression can manifest in abuse and who knows how far that can go?

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Crisis can bring us together

I hear people asking the big question: ‘When will the craziness end?’  I assume they mean the murder, mayhem and extremist behaviour we’ve been witnessing for the past year and more.  It’s interesting though how a few of these conversations seem to be within the context of self. Here’s what I mean.

I’ve cancelled my holiday to Turkey this year (and it’s all their fault!).  I wonder if my grandparents said, ‘we planned to visit Auntie Flo but her house has been bombed and it’s not fair.

My understanding is that the war and subsequent major conflicts have brought people and communities together, sharing  what they had, comforting those in despair and working in a spirit of love, hope and co-operation.

There will always be a selfishness and a survival of the fittest when disaster strikes but in my experience it’s rivalled by the kindness of strangers. People check on their neighbours and help the physically less able with shopping or cooking and provide a supporting shoulder for the vulnerable. I remember when it was commonplace to take hot meals round to the recently bereaved as a way of showing empathy. Food is a uniting factor when times are tough.

New bonds are forged in times of crisis. People talk to each other face to face to share their fears and feel a sense of solidarity that’s not there when all is right with the world.  Yes, there will be people who take advantage of such situations by escalating criminal activity and trying to capitalise on the misfortune of others but watching how individuals have risked their lives to help survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and war should give us hope that the intrinsic nature of people is altruistic and not selfish. 

We don’t have to look overseas to ceaseless acts of kindness when disaster strikes. The floods in Cumbria in late 2015 brought out helpers from all over northern England whatever their nationality or religion. Even if we can’t physically clear homes of filthy water and damaged possessions, we can offer a cup of tea or even a few moments of comfort.

Working with the homeless has shown me that it’s sharing our time and showing our care that has more impact than throwing a few coins into a plastic cup. Creating a bond even for a short time is about making a human to human connection, something most of us need when the world feels like a frightening place as it does right now.

We look on helplessly as more people around the world are murdered by whatever means at their disposal and belief systems however twisted and we wonder what we can do. We light candles, create hashtags, lay flowers in the hope it might help. Even though this small act of solidarity has been criticised by mean spirited commentators, it shows that in our helplessness, we are joining together against acts of evil, there’s nothing we can do to stem the tide of hatred and terror.

But there is something we can do. We can stop the keyboard warrior behaviour which doesn’t help heal the hatred and divisions we see in society. If we want real change then we need to be part of the solution and not add to the problem.

 Let’s show a bit of blitz spirit and help just one person in need of company, conversation and comfort. It might make us feel a little bit more in control in these extraordinary times.

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Making Sense Of Your Life

“As we struggle to make sense of things, life looks on in repose.” Anon.

Cycles are a part of the human experience and a natural part of aging. Seasons change, flowers transform from seed to bloom and so do we but it is not always smooth. Think back to times in your life in your early twenties and that driving need to pull up roots and break away from family in search of a personal identity. Was that a painful, difficult experience? How well did you handle the transition into young adulthood having to rely solely on yourself?


Maybe you had a family that held onto your ankles and involved themselves in every aspect of your life to such an extent you had to kick back hard to find release. Depending on your age now, think about what you would tell your younger self.

Much has been written about the midlife crisis. Some researchers have dismissed it as a myth. Others, especially those who have experienced it around their early forties confirm that it is real and their lives were shaken with the force of a mild earthquake and permanently changed by it, not always for good.

Transition or transformation can be a painful experience, felt internally but expressed externally. It can lead to confusion and in some cases crisis but ultimately growth. Much depends on our personality makeup, past experiences and mind set.

This one day programme examines 3 major life transitions:-

· Around 30 - Now I am grown.
· Around 40 - Midlife and mortality
· Around 60 - Something bigger than me.

How you will benefit:-

· Gain a deep understanding of these transitions through theory and shared experiences.
· Develop skills to navigate through life’s roughest passages.
· Understanding how others have grown and become more fulfilled as a result.

Be able to help others through their transitions with wisdom and empathy.

Cost per delegate: £ 40.00 (not including lunch) Min 4 Max 12 people

Corporate rate £ 350.00 per day plus travel costs (max 12 people)

Skype coaching £ 35.00 per 45 mins.

Venues for open courses: Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol.
Corporate programmes on site or as agreed.

Look out for forthcoming dates.

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