I love Christmas. But not everyone does. Infact, a YouGov survey in 2019 revealed that 1 in 7 people don’t like Christmas. And to be honest, I’ve probably had a love/hate relationship with it at different times in my life too.
I spent most of my life as part of the Salvation Army, including playing in the band. This of course meant copious amounts of playing of Christmas Carols on cold street corners or occasionally we got to go indoors. It was always fun at the start of the month but slowly waned as the month went on! One highlight back home in Canterbury though was the Christmas Eve Community Carol Singing in the town centre which, on a good night, would have around 5000 people in attendance. However I’d felt over the rest of the month, I always got lifted by this event. A little part of me still misses this workload – but I soon get over it!
In later life, I was running a Furniture ReUse Project linked to a Homeless Resettlement Unit. It was my privilege to give the team a couple of weeks off at Christmas. However, it became clear that whilst this seemed a great gesture, it was not well received. This project was a lifeline for my team and what I was sending them off to was usually 2 weeks of solitude. I felt bad that it never crossed my mind. So before long, I organised that if they wanted, they could go into the warehouse and do some cleaning and basic maintenance work. Christmas had become a negative time for them – reminding them often of what they had lost in their lives. They needed to keep busy and not be left to wallow in their own company.
During this time, my view of Christmas changed considerably. While understanding more about the team I was supporting, I also got married and became a dad. I had two opposite extremes of the season. Avoiding loneliness versus childhood amazement.
So, to quote from the carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, do you experience “tidings of comfort and joy” this Christmastime? Or do you take more inspiration from Charles Dickens’ creation of Ebeneezer Scrooge with a touch of Bah Humbug? Or maybe you’re just wavering somewhere in the middle. Wherever you are, it’s important to recognise that not everyone is in the same place as you.
I’ve mentioned Camerados in this blog before and for this week’s blog, I’m actually handing the rest of the space over to them. Their CEO Maff Potts, a former colleague of mine in Salvation Army homelessness work, has just written a fantastic blog entitled (in his usual mildly eccentric way) “Why we all need to be a little alien this Christmas”. Maff describes his “complicated relationship with Christmas”. He says “it’s a time of year when I remember witnessing the very best feeling of belonging – and yet all the noise, the Christmas fanfare everywhere you look, is rarely about that magic.” The blog is a fantastic read that focuses on the pressures on all our Mental Health this Christmas time and how we can get through it together by simply being more human. Please take the time to read what Maff has to say – I promise you won’t regret it. You can get to his blog by clicking on the image below.
Now that we can do more things, it seems everyone is wanting to do everything in the next few months! Patience is key especially as some of you may still be a bit wary of going out to events at this time. We too have that air of caution around our planning but still, there is a lot going on. So here’s a quick summary of events and happenings that I’m involved in or am supporting. There’s much more than is contained in this blog, and many ideas are just in the formation stages, but this will give you an idea of how things are going:
Tidy Clean Green This resident led group has officially launched, office bearers appointed, the constitution signed, and a bank account is currently being set up. They received £1,500 from the Community Choices Small Grants programme towards developing Pop Up Parks and have just received some other funding that will further raise their profile but I can’t tell you about that yet! One of their first actions of planting trees in Brown Street Park has gone well as all of them are still in the ground where they left them! There are also monthly community litter picks plus other adhoc activity. If you’re not on the mailing list for this group and would like to be kept informed, then head to our mailing subscription link, fill in your details, and select #tidycleangreen in the options (along with anything else you’d like to be kept informed about.
Canal Based Activities This is another resident led group that is developing it’s offering in the background and will be launching very soon. There are some very exciting projects forming under one banner including canoeing, and I’m pleased to be able to support them in their aims. It’s great to see other local residents already benefiting from access to specific training around some of this too. Watch this space!
Mens Shed A couple of local guys are working up plans for a multi-faceted mens shed project that is really exciting and much needed. There’s a big mental health focus within this as well as tackling some practical activities too. They’ll need a few more guys to help move this on though so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll link you up.
THRIVE to Keep Well This programme is well underway and is supporting 10 local ladies between now and the end of the year to understand themselves better, learn how to tackle what life throws at them, and move towards whatever potential looks like for them. We’re proud to be working with NHS Forth Valley, Falkirk Council Community Learning and Development, and the Health and Social Care Partnership to facilitate this pilot programme, and are grateful for the additional support of Artlink Central and Forth Environment Link. We’re having a really good time and are looking forward to everything else that this programme has to offer.
Training for you We have partnered with 4 The Benefit of All in Grangemouth, and Falkirk Council’s Employment Training Unit, to bring training to you in many areas. But rather than just put courses on randomly, we will shortly be bringing drop in information sessions to the community so you can speak with staff and find out what is out there for you. You’ll also be able to have a Better off in Work calculation carried out for you and find out about what support is there for you to get back into training, volunteering or employment.
Development Coaching I have been provided my impaCT 1to1 coaching for a few people and have got a lot of interest from others. This is where I will work with you over 6 sessions to help you find the answers to the questions you will be asking, as you move towards your potential.
Existing Groups I’m providing a range of support to some existing groups to build their strengths as well as helping with the development of their activities or offerings. Support with funding, governance, property, business planning, marketing and more is available either through me or through our partners. There’s room in my diary for more though so if there’s anything your group needs that you don’t know how to tackle, give me a shout!
Resident Engagement John has a couple of activities happening during the October week that he’ll tell you about, but we will also be having an event in Easter Carmuirs Park on the afternoon of Sunday 24 October. All details will be confirmed very soon but save the date for now. As well as lots of fun and food at these events, you will have the chance to chat with us about local developments, make your comments/suggestions, and see how you can get involved to make a positive difference right here.
Final Words Remember, there is no pot of money or magic money tree. Whether things have been discussed before or not, there is no cash sitting waiting to be spent. But, if you, the community, can pull together properly and effectively, forming groups where necessary and coordinating ideas, skills and talents (plus taking on learning where needed with our support), then amazing things can and will happen. We can’t sit back anymore and wait for things to happen or for others to do it. We’ve got a good momentum going with the things I’ve mentioned here plus other things that John has told you about. These things have got going because people have stepped up, put their head above the parapet, and refused to accept the status quo. Now they need your help.
Have you ever had times when despite the best planning, things just don’t work out as you hope? Those days when life throws you a few curve balls?
What do you do when that happens? How do you cope? Do you plough on through, or stick your head in the sand?
For me, this week has been one of those weeks. I won’t bore you with the details but it’s mainly been things to do with family (mostly the children), injuries, Test and Protect, and various unplanned journeys. Life stuff coming thick and fast at the same time that working here as a Community Coach is getting busier! Juggling has become harder. Stress has tried to disrupt things.
Now I’m not typing this to get sympathy (unless you want to!). I’m mentioning it to try to be of help!
I have the privilege of being one of the facilitators for the NHS THRIVE to Keep Well Programme being run for the first time in Falkirk. Colleagues from Community Learning and Development are joining me, plus support and input will come from Artlink Central, Forth Environment Link and others. The programme supports local adults who are experiencing mild to moderate mental health and wellbeing challenges. It was developed to assist individuals to rebuild their lives by increasing their skills, knowledge and awareness of their own personal health and wellbeing and aims to support participants to feel more integrated into their community by helping build positive social networks, improve personal development, and support participants to develop their own social and economic lives.
Through this programme, amongst other things, we introduce relaxation and try to understand what triggers stress within each individual. We will help each individual to move towards whatever a positive destination looks like for them.
So far, having had the intro and first full session, stuff has happened outside of the group to try to throw stress at us. In part it’s worked in distracting one or other of the facilitators. But overall, with the strength the group has found already, it has not brought us down! Bizarrely, Session 2 has sessions on the causes and triggers of stress! It will be good to have some practical examples to deliver to the group!
So what do we do? How do we get through this? Honestly, I don’t know! But this blog is meant to be of help so let me try. In reality, the answer is going to be different for each individual but let me throw out one solution. This might seem a little simplistic, but I believe this is a destination to work towards for all of us. Here goes…
Have you watched The Lion King? I love it and we’ve been lucky enough to see it at the theatre too where it takes on a whole new perspective. But I want to pull out one song from the show. It is sung to us by Timon and Pumbaa who befriended Simba when he ran away from his family. They taught him to enjoy life no matter how tough it gets. And so they sung “Hakuna Matata” – a phrase that means “no worries”. Through this light hearted song, they encourage us to discover ourselves freely and to not worry about the past, as dwelling over the past can easily ruin the present and future. It is a philosophy that can really transform your life.
I’m told that Hakuna Matata is basically a combination of Swahili words which means “there are no troubles” (Hakuna means “there is not here” and Matata means “problems or troubles”). Or we can also say that everything is okay, all is well.
Now I know that this is so much easier to say than to do. But I’m going to try to do this more. Will you join me? Here’s the song to help us out!
Last weekend, another young life was ended too soon. What makes it worse, is that this local young person chose to end their life. No-one should feel so much without hope that they feel this is their only option. So what can we do about it for ourselves and for our community?
Firstly, let me remind you that it is okay not to feel okay. And as Vasundhara Sawhney, quoting Dr Jaime Zuckerman, says, “Not only is it okay to not feel ‘okay,’ it is essential. An abnormal emotional response to an abnormal situation IS normal. We cannot simply pick the emotions we want to have. It just does not work that way,” Dr. Zuckerman said. So feeling sad and scared about my parents after they contracted Covid was normal. Crying after you get into a fight with your partner is also normal, as is feeling anxious and scared about an uncertain future. When we think we might lose something we care about, that’s sad. When we don’t know what to expect next, that’s scary. We should let ourselves, and other people in our lives, feel these things as they come up — which may be more than usual right now.”
Secondly, (and I know this is easy for me to type here but not so easy in reality), there is no need to suffer in silence or alone. Whatever you are feeling – whatever has happened – no one will think so badly of you that they would leave you on your own to deal with suicidal feelings. Find a trusted friend to talk to. This would be better in person but if a text/messenger exchange would help you get started then go for that. But do something. If you’d prefer to talk with someone you don’t know who maybe won’t be connected with your situation, then link up with a local organisation or national service that is there for you no matter what. Contact details for some of these are further down this blog.
Thirdly, we all need to better understand who we are and help our minds focus on that. Now I know that’s a big statement to make, but I want to emphasise that speaking with others is an essential part of that. Not pretending to be someone we’re not. Not trying to be like someone else. But being our awesome potential-filled selves.
Matt Meher says “we live in a day and age where we are very distracted. There’s a million places to be in our minds and our hearts – anywhere except here, now, in the present moment. And usually when we’re in the present moment, a lot of us avoid it because what’s waiting there is sometimes grief, fear, anxiety, or suffering. In fact we kind of live in a day and age where we’re more and more tempted to escape suffering instead of embracing it. We need to be willing to embrace the reality of the human condition, and the reality of this life, even to the point that it moves us to tears, because you can cry from grief and you can also cry from laughter – both require a heart that is so present to the moment that it is willing to be moved to that place. If you’re not present and you’re not free, you can’t get moved. Not only that but fear and anxiety can actually choke off our emotions and so crying is actually a natural involuntary response of our body, our subconscious. We’re getting stuff off our mind, off our chest in a way. And if we’re willing to do that, it creates an environment where we’re more in touch with who we are, and more in touch with the reality our circumstances. When we do that we tend to be more likely to find and experience peace.”
You may have heard about the swan syndrome. This is where everyone looking at you will think you’re all calm, sorted, and just gliding gracefully through life! And yet, just like the swan who’s wee legs will be flapping away to keep it going, under the surface of your outer appearance, things are going absolutely crazy. Your mind is a blur of different things and really you’re just going through the motions. You might be involved in so many things but never really settling. You might be so busy that you’re not sleeping because you’re not having time to wind down. You might be drinking so many energy drinks that you just can’t switch off. This list could go on and on. Things need to change and you need to take time to assess what is most important in your life. Now that might mean some tough choices. I’ve had to make some choices over the last year and have given up some things that I really enjoyed. It was tough. I miss the things I was doing and the people involved in them. But to be honest, I don’t know how I had the time to do them before. Not because I’ve replaced with them other stuff, but because I’ve spent time for me and with my family and friends. Yes, I was happy doing the things I’ve given up, but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy now I’m not doing them!
Dan Gilbert says “Happiness is not a final destination – it is just somewhere you visit on the path of life.”
What that quote is saying is that sometimes you’ll be happy and sometimes you won’t. And as we started this blog, THAT’S OKAY! It’s sad to say that happiness may not last forever in your current setting, but it needs to be acknowledged. That doesn’t mean you should be expecting things to go pear shaped at any minute and so you stop enjoying where you’re at. Please enjoy the moment for what it is. What it does mean is that if that joyous situation does come to an end, you’re ready for it and can pick yourself up with the help of trusted friends, and move forwards.
What I want to do just now is give some key contacts for local and national organisations, but first, here are some key statements from two local organisations that we would recommend:
Falkirk’s Mental Health Association (FDAMH) say “You may feel that there is no hope, but our experience shows us there is. All lives are precious. Don’t feel alone with your thoughts or feel ashamed of struggling, we can all struggle at different times. We are here to listen, without judgement, and to help find a positive solution to what might seem an impossible situation. We offer a range of services that can and do help.”
Quiet Waters Listening and Counselling say: “Do you feel anxious, depressed, angry, sad, hurt, or any of the many difficult emotions that are part of the human experience? Emotions are not good or bad, but they are trying to tell us something. Do you have difficult thoughts whirling around in your head? Is life a struggle? Do you want an opportunity to explore your thoughts and feelings in confidence? We are here if you want to talk through your situation.”
Here are some recommended contact details for you to have for yourself or to pass on to someone who you know that is struggling right now.
FDAMH: 01324 671 600 (Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm, Friday 10am to 3pm) Quiet Waters: 01324 630643 The Spark Counselling Falkirk: 0808 802 2088 (Monday to Thursday 9am to 9pm, Friday 9am to 4pm) Wellbeing Matters: 01324 630 100 Breathing Space: 0800 83 85 87 Samaritans: 116 123 The Campaign Against Living Miserably (support for men): 0800 58 58 58 Childline 0800 1111 Young Minds: text YM to 85258 NHS 24: 111 Emergency Ambulance 999
There is lots of help out there and they are ready and waiting to support you and those you love. Please, let’s ensure no one suffers in silence to the point of complete despair. As our friends at Camerados say, “The answer to our problems is each other”. We have an amazing community spirit across Camelon and Tamfourhill. Let’s continue to build on that and be there for each other.
To finish this week, I encourage you to watch the video below from the World Health Organisation. It’s well worth the 4 minutes it lasts. This was shown to me when I undertook Mental Health First Aid Training a couple of years ago, and I have used it many times since. If you’re struggling with your mental health just now, this may help you understand what is going on in your head. I’ll leave you with the best 5 words I could ever say or have said to me: “I’m here if you need”.