Pregnancy and Parenting Diaries…puke, panic, perseverance and prayer.

Here is my story of my pregancy and first six months of parenting. It’s been a rollercoaster. I share this as a record for myself, to be honest about mental health illness and to shine the light on some awesome services.

So, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time. Perhaps it will be like cheese or wine, it will have matured and improved with age?

Where to begin. Perhaps just under a year ago, in April 2016. I was entering my second trimester of a much prayed for and wanted pregnancy after four years of depressive and anxious episodes (due to a hormone imbalance condition) and I had weathered a dear friend disowning me, a stalker, difficult neighbours and lastly someone smashing into our car on our drive.

Oh and I might mention, Mike, my husband, being made redundant and searching and finding a new job, and moving church after 15 years…and being sick every single day. (puke)

So yeah, April 2016. Sadly I became low and anxious again. I was then ill on and off until two weeks before my son, Isaac was born, in August. I have to say, the mix of having come off all my hormone treatment and crazy pregnancy hormones, I experienced possibly the worst episode I have ever had and some of the very worst, most scary days of my life. However, over the years I have built up resilience and was able to cope to a certain level – still saw friends, still went to church, got up and dressed every day and made all my appointments. (panic)

Panic monster is coming to get you
Panic monster is coming to get you

Some things that happened in that third trimester and after the birth that weren’t particularly helpful or good:

I was referred to the mental health team and was diagnosed but could not access any therapy (which I desperately needed). I was stuck going around and around some MC Escher endless staircase where I was lead from psychiatrists to mental health services to doctors and back again.

Going round and round the mental health system...
Going round and round the mental health system…

I had appalling administration for my prenatal care (although the midwives themselves were awesome) like not being shown through my yellow folder, not followed through with the Jade team (mental health), sent to wrong hospitals, sent wrong dates, kept waiting for hours…I have forgotten a lot of it as it was so awful (although I suspect Mike remembers only too well.)

I got wrongly diagnosed with gestational diabetes (because I was highly anxious during the test) and had to prick my fingers and monitor my levels every day…not a great combo with obsessive anxiety and panic attacks. And Mike lost hundreds of pounds of consultancy pay having to come to loads of unnecessary appointments.

After being well for two weeks before Isaac’s birth (with the most bonkers nesting thing) and a brilliant hypnobirthing birth (genuinely no pain), sadly I got Postpartum Psychosis and ended up in a mother and baby unit called Coombewood for three months, on and off.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Me and Mike are out the other side of a very difficult, challenging time having grown stronger as individuals and as a couple. We are forming a Christian ministry around mental health that would never have materialised if it wasn’t for our experiences.

I have built resilience through some very testing times. I grew reliant on watching my negative talk, daily prayer, mindful activities like jigsaws, walks, seeing friends, making things and doing things I enjoy. And actually, the most mindful thing in the world is Isaac. Even at my worst, when I was at Coombewood, the love for him shone through the black fog of mental illness and I was able to care for him, even though every action was like wading through tar. (perseverance)

Gotta hang on...
Gotta hang on…

We had the most awesome, overwhelming, love-conquering support from family and friends. I am certain there were tens of dozens of folk praying and thinking of us every day. We were given home-cooked meals after Isaac was born. Friends came over with food, took Mike out to support him, phoned, texted, visited, sent thoughtful gifts. Great queues of people came to visit me at Coombewood.

I had some amazing times of prayer and grew in my faith, having to rely on God like never before. Even Isaac’s name is a blessing and promise. ‘Isaac Caleb’ means laughter warrior, and if you’ve met Isaac, I think you would agree he’s a little bit of a joyful and happy chappie! (prayer)

My laughter warrior, Isaac
My laughter warrior, Isaac

I am loving being a mum to Isaac. He is a total delight. He sleeps so well and is such a happy, smiley, chatty little boy. I have made some wonderful new friends, learnt to be even more mindful through adapting to Isaac’s time, not squeezing him into mine. I love reading to him, staring at him, chatting to him, showing him off and going on adventures together.

And lastly, but not least – the amazing Coombewood Mother and Baby unit. Mike and I simply don’t know what we would have done without the blessing of this place and the amazing staff there. Mike would have had to defer our course to care for me and Isaac. The nurses there taught us how to look after our little boy, while they looked after me. It always felt a safe and homely place to be, full of encouragement and hope.

The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit
The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit

I am aiming to crowdfund £500 (an amazing £220 raised so far) to help Coombewood to fit out their breastfeeding room. Well, it was the milk room and is now the place where mums breastfeed, but it has odd chairs, bleak walls and isn’t exactly made for relaxing breastfeeding at the moment. I want to give them money to kit out the room.

So…if you’ve been moved, or can identify with this story, or are grateful for the care Coombewood gave Isaac and me, then please do donate anything you can to help hit the target. After all, mental health illness affects one in four people (one in three women) so it’s likely you or someone you know has, is or will be affected.

If you want to, then go here. Thank you.

 

 

 

A Christian walked into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Was challenged, not offended…

Oh yay, the missionaries have landed in the Book of Mormon.
A Christian walked into the ‘Book of Mormon.’ Was challenged, not offended.

What did I, a Christian of 15 years, think about ‘The Book of Mormon‘? Should I have been there in the first place? Am I going to burn in hell? *wink*

Not offended, but challenged.

A few years ago a colleague at the marketing organisation I worked at *helpfully* warned me to never go and see ‘The Book of Mormon‘. He thought I would be way too offended as a “religious person”. For one, I hate the term “religious” (mmm, maybe for another post?) And two, I don’t like people presuming things about me based on an assumption. I swore one day I would go and see it and decide for myself.

Yesterday, thanks to some theatre ticket funds from my lovely ma-in-law, I got to go.

I’ve seen and love ‘Team America‘ so I was ready to laugh a lot (a friend even said go to the loo first!)…but I was not expecting to be choked to tears.

Disclaimer…A few show spoilers follow and some working musings in how I can be a better real-er Christian, read on or not…your choice.

Too good to be true?

In the show, Mormon Elders Kevin and Arnold get sent on mission to Uganda. They have been set targets to baptise souls but they find a community disillusioned with God because of Aids and poverty; they even sing them a *lovely* song about it. Their village is terrorised by a war lord who is threatening to circumcise the women. They don’t see what God can do for them.

Kevin and Arnold greenly tell the villagers the story of their Mormon faith and the promised land of Saltlake City (in the form of song…of course.)

As they finish, the War Lord turns up and shoots someone dead as a warning. I jumped out of my seat. I was not expecting that. Next, the scene that got me. A lady from the village sits alone and sings about Saltlake City, a place she hopes the villagers could go to to escape their living hell.  She swears to listen to the Mormons to find out how she could go to this place.

Unexpected tears.

Why? Well, she’d bought into a promise that the Mormons themselves weren’t even sure about. She heard a promise of a real place where they could escape. What hit me between the eyes is what good is sharing my faith unless it is backed up by action? These young Mormons are not paying for a plane ticket for the whole community to America, are they?

What good is my story of my belief in Jesus unless it makes a difference? I am here, as a Christian, to be God’s hands and feet, to do what Jesus did – champion underdogs, fight for justice, heal people in His name, overturn the corruption of the rich and heartless and be servant-hearted. Not, be like Kevin, proudly singing of “doing something incredible”,  marking up baptisms on a chart and receiving medals!

Bad Sales

The villagers go on to be baptised, believing this is their ticket out of Uganda and to a better life. They’ve been sold a pack of lies, made up by Elder Arnold. The Mormons sing triumphantly that the villagers may be African, but they are Africa. Just like a creepy sales person who gets overly hyped up over a sale and then their aftercare is atrocious.

Can bad and pushy evangelism be like bad sales?
Can bad and pushy evangelism be like bad sales?

Then when everything unravels and the truth comes out, the villagers realise there is no ticket to Saltlake City. The senior Mormons order all the missionaries to leave and declare the mission a failure, despite the requests of Kevin and Arnold to stay and help the villagers rebuild their lives. What the hell does that say to the villagers about God? How often can Christians treat people they meet as projects until it gets real and real work and sacrifice is required? I’m not going to try to answer the huge “Why does God allow suffering” question as I don’t want to give some trite answer here but I will say Christians are meant to be here to put right what is wrong in the world and certainly in this story context to help those in dire need caused by war or climate change.

The challenge…why should anyone believe me?

The show ends drawing the conclusion that religion is insincere, full of convenient lies, hypocritical and irrelevant. In my work, I tell my clients to try and think of their target market’s objections and barriers. Here are some right here to faith. How do I live out my faith and show God’s love without people dismissing me the same way? It has to be about what I do. It doesn’t matter what people say but their actions.

Live out faith with acts, not words.
Live out faith with acts, not words.

In the Bible, James, Jesus’ brother, says and I paraphrase, “When people ask you why you’re joyful, tell them why”. To put it another way, in the context of this story,  “When you come to Uganda and build new schools, and people ask you why, tell them”. Not swan in like superstars, say some stuff, then leave.

I guess what I’m saying is that I can only share my faith with people I’ve lived alongside, heard their needs and tried to help. My business mission statement is, “Carry on being a game changer…changing people’s minds one person at a time.” People have their free choice and all I can do is *be* a witness, the best I can, where I am.

Well, that’s where I’ve got on this. Hope I haven’t offended anyone; these are purely my musings about what I can do. Please do comment below etc.

What happens when you become a business mentor? Good things.

Houses of Lords Reception with Mentoring Harrow friends.
Houses of Lords Reception with Mentoring Harrow friends.

Why did I, and maybe could you, think about becoming a business mentor? What good things could happen? Well, let me tell you about my story so far with Mentoring Harrow.

Last year I attended the launch of the Mentoring Harrow scheme, part of the London Business Partnership, which has been funded by the Mayor of London (thanks to the fundraising of ever clever, helpful and inventive Mark Billington from Harrow Council)

Shout out to Harrow Business Development genie, Mark Billington.
Shout out to Harrow Business Development genie, Mark Billington.

But before I even signed up that evening, the afore-mentioned Mark Billington, who I’d been chatting to a few moments earlier, signalled me to stand up during his presentation and said, “We have great people in the room, including this lady…'”*points at a startled me* “Who could mentor you on branding.” I was surrounded by people at the end of the talk, interested in my business, including the Gayton Hotel.

I signed up and attended a fantastic networking evening for Harrow mentors and mentees at the end of 2015, where I made more helpful connections and met my new client, Amina Sadiq, a fellow mentor and life coach. Also there was interest in me running some WordPress training for members.

I was also introduced to the ‘Start Here’ project through this network, which is a business incubation project with two pop-up shop spaces and a work space in Rayners Lane and Wealdstone, where I met another great connection, Natasha Hayles, who hopes to work with me in launching her services and website.

A few weeks ago I had a *milestone moment* of meeting my own mentee, Charlene Grandison, who designs and makes stunning quality leather handbags with an ethnic theme. She chose me (me!) as a mentor to help her come up with a Kickass marketing campaign to launch her handbag range. I really was moved to meet her and see her enthusiasm to work with me and it gave me a moment to reflect on how far I’ve come.

I’m really looking forward to inspiring and empowering this creative, sparky woman and getting her beautiful bags selling.

Here’s Charlene when she was working with the Princes Trust:

Charlene Grandison, my lovely mentee.
Charlene Grandison, my lovely mentee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s one of her bags from the upcoming collection:

Charlene's bags
Grandison Handbag.

And lastly…Mentoring Harrow were given a wonderful invitation to attend a West London business event at the Houses of Parliament a few weeks ago, which they kindly extended to the mentors. This was truly a wonderful evening where we were given a guide around the House of Commons and the House of Lords by an MP, heard an inspiring talk by Lord Bilimoria (who created Cobra beer) and I made some great new business connections, including a website company in Harrow, who I might be able to work for.

Here are some piccies from the eve.

Houses of Lords Reception with Mentoring Harrow friends.
Houses of Lords Reception with Mentoring Harrow friends.
Me having made it past security at the Houses of Parliament.
Me having made it past security at the Houses of Parliament.
Entering Westminster Hall.
Entering Westminster Hall.
Lord Bilimoria speaks at the reception.
Lord Bilimoria speaks at the reception.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So…believe it or not, I am not being paid by them, but I really encourage you to get in touch if you’re interested in being a mentor or a mentee. You can find out more here.

I look forward to many more unexpected and wonderful business adventures ahead being a mentor!

Two awesome friends’ perspective on ‘invisible illness’.

Gaaaah...invisible illness.
Gaaaah…invisible illness.

I was very moved by the blog posts of two dear friends recently. They both blogged on the subject of ‘invisible illnesses’.

The first comes from my friend Shoba Chacksfield, who I volunteer with at Mind Charity Shop in Harrow. She is amazing at opening up her walk (and battle) with Anorexia (her invisible illness) and bravely blogs extremely truthfully about her condition.

The lovely Shoba and me at the Mind Christmas Party. The lovely Shoba and me at the Mind Christmas Party.

In this post she writes about the constant inner-monologue of Anorexia. The voice in her head and her own voice – the positive and negative sides.

I found this so helpful in being a better friend to this brave young woman I admire when I so often forget she might be struggling as she seems to be so together and pro-active. But every time I might give her a harmless compliment or someone offers her food, she has the exhaustion of battling with the voices in her head.

Read her post here.

The second comes from my friend, Natalia Lester-Bush and she writes about the invisible illness of chronic pain. Natalia is very open about her daily walk with her excruciating back condition, but I so often forget, as she is so up-beat (and completely detests pity! 😉 )

The lovely Natalia. The lovely Natalia.

Here she writes about a day last week where she couldn’t complete her work study in Gender Studies because of an unpredictable day of such pain, just putting her socks on was too much. Yet she writes about how the reminder of pain on such days serves as a reminder of how much she has to be thankful for. I love the fact she gives witness of the Joy she has in Christ in spite of the pain she feels daily and she pokes fun at her illness in a way that frees you up to talk about it.

You can read about socks and chronic pain here.

As some readers of my blog will know, I have come out of three years of clinical depression and anxiety on and off (also invisible) caused by a hormone imbalance. If not, you can scroll back through my blog and read ‘The worst day of my life’ and others. I think I was pretty vocal about my struggles and difficulties, but this is quite possibly because naturally I am an extroavert. These two blogs remind me that friends may appear to be doing well on any given day, but like all of us, there is much going on below the surface. It serves me well to reflect on this before I see people and certainly within conversation (and silences).

Thank you Shoba and Natalia for being so honest and educating the networks in your lives of what it is like for you to live with an invisible illness.

Please do feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

 

Lovely ‘Paintings from my Suitcase’ write up from Harrow Times

Many thanks to Vickiie Oliphant and Pete Beal from Harrow Times who came round to the ‘Joy Factory’ (well, mine and Mike’s home and where I work) to see me at work and ask me about my show, ‘Paintings from my Suitcase’, next week on the 21st and 22nd November.

I don’t know what I can say about a story about me, but if you’re interested have a look (and the eagle-eyed will see some finished pieces!) and please do come and see my work next weekend, where you can buy originals, prints, calendars and cards.

Here’s the link:

http://www.harrowtimes.co.uk/news/14027898._If_I_can_make_it_stick_to_the_art_I___ll_use_it____Artist_prepares_her_home_for_big_exhibition_on_her_travels/

And a lovely picture:

Katie preparing for 'Paintings from my Suitcase' Art Show. Credit: Peter Beal
Katie preparing for ‘Paintings from my Suitcase’ Art Show. Credit: Peter Beal

Watch the ‘Paintings from my Suitcase, Art by Katie Moritz’ Trailer

I’ve been working hard (and having fun!) on creating new artwork for my next exhibition, ‘Paintings from my Suitcase‘ later this month. My husband Mike, has made a little trailer of my preparations, inspiration for paintings and a few sneak peaks of finished works. Have a look:

Come and see the paintings yourself on the 21st and 22nd November, from 12 to 5pm, at 44a Dudley Court, Lower Road, Harrow, HA2 ODG. The warm holiday colours will remind you of summer and you can buy cards, calendars, limited prints as well as art work (could make a great Christmas gift for that special person)

I am wading through and creating with cardboard, paintbrushes, flotsam and jetsum and whatever I can stick on a flat surface to create some joyful artwork for you to see! If you’d like an invite to the private view, please leave me a comment.

Katie-Signature

Three different ways to be mindful

What does the National Gallery, Thorpe Park and the sea have in common? Answer? Ways I’ve found to manage my hormone imbalance by being mindful, and fully in the moment I’m in. Did you know that we only spend *six days!* of our life in the present…the rest are scarily spent in the past or in the future. But…it is possible to see your whole life in HD after having a crappy TV, so to speak. This has been my experience.

I’ve  been studying and practicing mindfulness for over a year now. To my amazement, I have found it to be a really effective method to ward off depression when my hormone condition makes days a bit ‘wobbly’.

My study began with reading Ruby Wax’s book, ‘Sane New World’, where she shows and explains how mindfulness works for her, in the brain and how to do it. From there, I had some sessions with mindfulness coach, Shaun Lambert. He showed me how to ‘notice’ thoughts and realise they are not events. To take a step back, to consider, before leaping in.

From there, I read his 40-day study book, ‘Book of Sparks’, which really cemented this new way of thinking. I then attended MCBT (Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a wonderful lady, Georgina, at my local hospital. This required an hour’s study every day.

If you’ve tried this stuff and it didn’t work, this is the key – the practice. I have found that this new way of being is so firmly rooted that I don’t have to think about it.

When wobbly days have come, instead of going, ‘Oh no, I’m going to be ill for three months…there goes the summer’, it’s more like, ‘Mm, that’s interesting. Ok. I’m feeling a little nervous but that’s ok. How about I take some breaths, go and see someone, do something I enjoy or do a mindfulness sitting?’

And to my amazement, over six seperate days in the last few months, the first whispers of ‘black dog’, had gone by the following morning.

So, back to my opener. Three things I have done recently where I have been fully present, all five senses taken up by the thing I was experiencing.

The first was Thorpe Park. I had a somewhat stressful day there recently for various reasons but I could forget all that the moment I strapped in to Stealth, took my hands off the restraints and spent thirteen seconds of bliss racing, my stomach lifting, wind in my hair, amazing view then jolting to a halt. I felt refreshed, and able to carry on with the day. Here’s some brave soul who filmed it (I wouldn’t do that!)

 

The second, was going to ‘Soundscapes’, the fantastic exhibition at the National Gallery. Six sound artists chose paintings in the collection, including Holbein and Cezanne, and through study and meditation, created sound art to accompany the piece. The poster read, ‘Hear the painting, see the sound’. The result was me seeing things in paintings and techniques I’d never noticed before.

'Coastal Scene' by Theo van Rysselberghe, soundscape, 'Ultramarine', by Jamie xx, at the National Gallery
‘Coastal Scene’ by Theo van Rysselberghe, soundscape, ‘Ultramarine’, by Jamie xx, at the National Gallery

My favourite piece by a mile was the painting, ‘Coastal Scene‘, by Theo van Rysselberghe and the soundscape, ‘Ultramarine’, by Jamie XX. The sound artist echoed the technique of pointilism by creating music that kind of turned to dots and marks, too, as you approached the painting. It was truely mesmorising and I could have been there all day. I wish I could have this piece in my house!

The third…was jumping in the sea with all my clothes on. Mindfulness means being fully present, not thinking about the future or the past. I went to visit my lovely friend Natalie in Brighton last Saturday, when it was so very hot. We finally reached the glimmering, sparkly sea and got that gust of salt air in our lungs. Neither of us had swimming costumes on, but we kind of looked at eachother and said, ‘Shall we?’ We egged each other on and waded into the water and finally made the leap, it was so refreshing and wonderful to just be floating, supported and looking up at the blue sky and listening to the sound of pebbles being washed up and down the slope by the waves. Here is a little video my hubby, Mike made of the moment.

 

I cannot recommend mindfulness highly enough. It has changed my life. I am calmer, more measured, more focused, assertive and more present. It has warded off the black dog! Here are some other activities I’ve found helpful to be mindful:

  • baking
  • volunteering
  • jigsaws
  • Heat Magazine and chocolate (insert your ‘guilty’ pleasure in here!’
  • doing my nails
  • talking to a dear friend
  • gardening
  • walking
  • flower arranging
  • being creative
  • eating
  • sorting
  • making mint tea from scratch
  • just. being. silent. (very hard for me, that one!)
  • writing this blog post (mmm, isn’t that inception, or something??)

So, there’s my two pence worth. I am most happy to talk to you more about mindfulness if this has piqued your interest. I hope I am a good advert, for those who have known me a while! Please do let me know your thoughts, tips and tricks in the comments.

Katie.

 

Nearly-new Wedding Dresses for sale at Harrow Mind Charity Shop (while stocks last)

24th August – Update

The dresses are now an amazing, bargain-ous £50 each. There aren’t many left now and will be taken off the shop floor soon so make sure you have a look before they’re gone.

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10th June – Update

An amazing lady has come in and bought ten, yes ten dresses! And the story is all over the Harrow Times…

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20th May – Update.

Two dresses have now been sold; so curious to who, and for what kind of wedding!

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Calling all bargain-hunting brides – how does a display model wedding dress worth £700 for £100 sound to you? Interesting? All you need to do is get to Mind Charity Shop in Harrow and your purchase will help a third of the female population, too.

A generous lady from the London Bridal Boutique, ‘Pearl Bridal’, has donated thirty wedding dresses to Mind Charity Shop in Harrow. They are from her display range and are just over a year old.

So…you can get a nearly-new wedding dress and give a substantial sum to Mind, who help people in the UK with mental health problems; one in three women you know will suffer. Why not give something back on your big day?

If you are interested in the dresses for yourself or someone else, here is some useful information:

  • The dresses have labels still attached.
  • Sizes range from 6 to 20
  • Prices start at £100 and maximum price is £200. The original dresses were sold for around £700 to £800.
  • There are also some brand-new dresses that are wrapped in plastic
  • The only thing is that they may need a dry-clean before use.

You can also find shoes, jewellery, outfits for the Mother-of-the-Bride and outfits for wedding guests.

Below are some basic pictures of some of the dresses on display, in size 10 and 12 (a bride to be asked for these!). If you are interested in a particular dress, then please contact the Mind Charity Shop in Harrow, on 020 3759 8303.

You are most welcome to come into the store and try them on. It’s easy to get to Harrow, just hop on the Metropolitan line, get out at Harrow on the Hill and the Mind Charity Shop is on College Road, just next to the Post Office.

For folk who follow my blog (and general movements!) you may or may not know that I am very proud to volunteer with Mind and hope to use my skills in any way to help them raise crucial funds for mental health work (which includes writing this post and hoping my lovely supporters will share it to help Mind – we could raise well over £3,000 if we sell all these dresses!)

Size 10 Wedding Dress in Dusky Pink at Mind Charity Shop in Harrow
Size 10 Wedding Dress in Dusky Pink at Mind Charity Shop in Harrow
Size 10 Halterneck Wedding Dress at Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 10 Halterneck Wedding Dress at Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 Wedding Dress with Embellishments from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 Wedding Dress with Embellishments from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 Dramatic Wedding Dress from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 Dramatic Wedding Dress from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 10 Strapless Wedding Dress with Lace Detail from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 10 Strapless Wedding Dress with Lace Detail from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 vintage-esque Wedding Dress with Collar Detail from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 12 vintage-esque Wedding Dress with Collar Detail from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 10 Strapless Wedding Dress with Layered Lace Detail, from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.
Size 10 Strapless Wedding Dress with Layered Lace Detail, from Mind Charity Shop in Harrow.

There are many other styles and sizes, in a range of styles. Please come and have a look and grab yourself a bargain.

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Lots of dresses with different styles and finishes are available

Reflections from Ffald y Brenin, 2015.

Something New
Something New

Much like a good wine or cheese I’ve been ‘letting my thoughts mature’ before posting about my wonderful retreat at Ffald y Brenin in Wales last week.

(N.B. Disclosure…there’s ‘God chat’ in this post as it’s kinda my diary/ milestone recording too, please feel free not to read if this would upset you 🙂 )

The main message I feel I received was about liberty and freedom. I expected the time away to be quite intense and tearful, but in fact it was anything but.

I found myself led by people I met (and was meant to meet), the landscape, passionate and inspiring chats with Mike over lamb shanks and picking up flotsam and jetsam on a sandy beach with whirls of changing, golden sand.

Footsteps in the Sand
Footsteps in the Sand

We’d spent a day at the prayer retreat in the chapel and heard a fantastic message on freedom and how some people can try to trap us with burdens but in fact we are not beholden to any human. I found myself studying Isaiah 43, which talks about leaving the past behind and looking towards the future. (Sounds rather a lot like mindfulness to me!)

Roy, the pastor, told a story of a gate at Ffald y Brenin, which was between the path from the house to the cross on the hill. It had fallen down and Roy felt that it meant the path is open. There’s no gate! No barrier.

The Gate is Open
The Gate is Open

So, after a great day, rather than staying, and feeling like I needed to pull a ‘holy face’ and stay there all day, I wanted to walk along the beach and talk to ‘him upstairs’ there. I really enjoyed padding over the sand and picking up rope and wood for some future art piece. I didn’t have to stay in the chapel and read fifty Psalms!

Here’s some pictures of the chapel at Ffald y Brenin and the beautiful countryside around it:

Snowy road to Ffald y Brenin
Snowy road to Ffald y Brenin
Ffald y Brenin Chapel
Ffald y Brenin Chapel
Stunning Newport Estuarty
Stunning Newport Estuary
Walking along Newport Beach
Walking along Newport Beach

The next day, I wasn’t sure what to expect, going to Ffald y Brenin with no agenda. I needn’t have worried. After starting the day with a delicious fry up in our B&B I settled down in the common room and started a jigsaw.

Breakfast
Breakfast
Jigsaw and a View
Jigsaw and a View

I met just the people I was meant to meet. A lady who was going through similar things to me around wanting kids (and she worked in media!) and a lovely, lovely lady called Rebecca, who we shared our lunch with and we chatted about mindfulness (after folk gave us their lunch yesterday.)

Mike met someone he was meant to meet, too.

After lunch, I wondered if I *should* go for a walk. I thought it through and decided I *did* want to go. As I wandered up to the fields I passed this pond, which I noticed was half-frozen.

Half Frozen Pond
Half Frozen Pond

I walked on past a wooden fort, that looked like a prison to me. (Sorry, no photo). Then up the hill, through the mud, into a stunning, open field, that looked out over the valley and to the cross on the hill. I felt like this was a metaphor: the half-thawed pond was like me, a work in progress, but having been freed from things here. The fort represented the things and people that had trapped me. The field represented a ‘huge, open space’, which I was now free to run around, explore and enjoy.

An Open Space
An Open Space

I left feeling, well, kind of like, ‘I’m not quite sure what’s happened, but *something* has!’, if that makes any sense? I feel empowered, free to keep on working with the causes I’m passionate about and fighting for justice, even if there’s a cost.

I brought home with me the daily prayer book, which has a morning, midday and evening prayer. I plan to carry this on, s-l-o-w-l-y, at home.

Ffald y Brenin Daily Prayer Book
Ffald y Brenin Daily Prayer Book

I want to come back here every year.

Time to Talk Coffee and Pamper morning: it’s time to end mental health discrimination.

Michelle ready to receive guests.
Michelle ready to receive guests.

On the 5th February, myself and my friend Michelle Kay (a stress management coach) hosted a ‘Coffee and Pamper’ morning, as part of the national ‘Time to Talk’ day. This is an initiative from Time to Change, whose aim is to end mental health discrimination, through giving people a chance to be educated about  mental health by learning from folk with ‘lived experience’.

I am extremely proud to be a Time to Change champion, which means I talk at events and stand at stalls to answer any question about mental health.

So, I hosted this event in my home to a) educate those who might not know about mental health illness and b) to pamper those who are having a tough time with it.

I was delighted to welcome folk to enjoy tea, cake, warmth (!) and some gentle prompts to talk about mental health illness. Time to Talk have fantastic resources, including this thingy we used to play with at school. Can’t remember the name!

Gill holds up her 'conversation starter'.
Gill holds up her ‘conversation starter’.

Michelle gave a fantastic talk about stress, it’s causes and how to reduce it. She led a relaxation time that was so relaxing, Barry and Marcia fell asleep!

We all had some good chats about different aspects of mental health, such as insomnia, being a carer, mindfulness, managing anxiety and relaxing.

I was really happy to do Gill and Marcia’s nails, to give them a taster of how it can be a relaxing experience.

Gill is pleased with her sparkly nails!
Gill is pleased with her sparkly nails!
Marcia is also pleased with her nails...and manicure.
Marcia is also pleased with her nails…and manicure.
John and Barry enjoy a Hot Cross Bun.
John and Barry enjoy a Hot Cross Bun.
Martin is the newest Time to Change advocate.
Martin is the newest Time to Change advocate.
Jason enjoys the cake.
Jason enjoys the cake.
Reece talks about his experiences.
Reece talks about his experiences.
David enjoys a sit down, cuppa and cake.
David enjoys a sit down, cuppa and cake.

Michelle was on hand next door to give folk relaxing chair massages. Reports were they were super relaxing. I can vouch for that!

Ahhh...Katie enjoys Michelle's relaxing chair massage.
Ahhh…Katie enjoys Michelle’s relaxing chair massage.

So in conclusion, a great day was had by all. People said they’d love events like this more often. If you’d like to find out more about Time to Talk and Time to Change, go to their website, here.