All posts by Frances Coleman-Williams

Question mark

4 essential questions that could literally change your life

No matter where you are in the world, we’ve all been through some sort of lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and these measures are now being lifted. Are you someone who’s desperate to “get back to normal” or did you appreciate lockdown more than you expected?

There’s no doubt about it (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist) we needed the lockdown measures to keep us physically safe from the virus spreading through the population. Some people found the extended period of rest had a positive impact on their mental health while others struggled with loneliness, isolation and increased anxiety.

Everyone had a unique experience – it’s important to remember that and value it. Whether you found it easy or hard, you can’t compare your experience to the next person’s because their set of experiences, no matter how similar they appeared from the outside, were unique.

My lockdown involved experiencing discrimination at work despite me (unusually) finding my voice to explain what I needed. But because of this, I had to look for the positives! Of course I missed my family and friends but I’m an introvert so I loved having some space to do my own thing and I’ve even developed some new skills!

So this brings me to the 4 important questions:

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to keep?

Woman in yoga pose with candles

I’m not talking about any material thing, it’s more likely to be something you spent time doing. What did you allow yourself to do that you didn’t previously? I started practicing yoga regularly and I couldn’t believe how much it benefitted my mental and physical health.

Strangers were more considerate, communities worked together, our church had to start doing a lot of things differently – this wasn’t such a bad thing! We learnt a lot! We started to appreciate the little things in life – we can’t hold onto some of this…

It would be all too easy to “go back to normal” and lose the good that lockdown brought us. Think about the positives that it brought and try to incorporate them into a new normal.

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to lose?

There may be all sorts of things that unexpectedly occurred that we’re hoping to discard now, this may be easier said than done. Some may have had to work from home and want to return to the office (we may not have a say) or home schooled children may be busting to get back to the classroom!

Young woman in glasses, greyscale photograph

There may be more subtle changes that crept in, that you might not have even noticed at the time. With a lack of fresh air, exercise and variety many struggled with unwelcome insomnia. Perhaps anxiety, low mood or other difficult feelings have been problematic. We all have a preferred coping mechanism when things get tough such as eating more, drinking more or have you found yourself surfing unsavoury websites? Some coping mechanisms may be more accepted by society but that doesn’t mean they’re ok – only you can decide if your behaviour is something you want to change.

What did we lose during lockdown that we want back?

Young child being hugged

Obviously we all lost our freedom and we’re getting this back but what else did you struggle without? Most people will want to hug their friends and family as soon as it’s permitted.

Isn’t it amazing how much more we value something once it’s taken away?! If there’s something you now appreciate more than you did before, make sure you don’t take it for granted again!

What did we lose during lockdown that we don’t want back?

Lockdown was imposed on us but there’s no reason why we can’t take advantage of a bad situation! Something I was very glad to lose was the crowded supermarket! I was very happy to queue outside for a short time if it meant the atmosphere inside was quieter and calmer. (Unfortunately, I have no say over this now and the consideration I used to see has all but disappeared.)

Crowded train station

The planet certainly breathed a sigh of relief as we travelled less, any driving I did as a keyworker was easier with fewer idiot drivers on the road – wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn from this and continue in this vein?!

Perhaps homing working has helped you realise that you hated commuting? Or did our I forced shut-down show you that you were doing too much and you need to cut back on your commitments? Do you need to put yourself first a bit more?

Perhaps lockdown has taken its toll on your mental health, as it has done for 80% of the population. If you need help coming to terms with anything that’s happened, help is available – it’s really important to talk. Some people find talking to friends or family really helpful while others need to talk to a professional.

Rememeber, you are not alone, there’s aways someone who can help.

Reaching my audience, owning my responsibilities and asking a favour

This blog has been on my mind for a while as I struggle to reach my intended audience; I have to consider what to write for the audience I want to reach as well as the needs of audience I actually reach.

You may, or may not know, my main aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues. Ideally, I would reach an audience totally unaware of mental illness. But of course, this is very difficult! Writing blogs and sending them off into the ether, the people who read them are, of course, people who are already interested in mental health related issues.

Sometimes I write about other things on my mind, with the hope these blogs will reach people not specifically interested in mental health and they may, then, have a little look around my site! Other than this, the only thing I can do is share my mental health blogs as far and wide as possible!

While I’d like to write hard hitting mental health blogs with the intent to shock and wake people out of their ignorant stupor, I have to consider my sensitive audience, that is, the people who are already very aware of the disturbing truths and don’t need rousing into action.

For example, I may want to get through to the MPs who aren't giving mental health services enough funding and give them graphic detail about my hospital stays that haven't gone well because there haven't been enough staff to support me to keep safe, but the people who'll actually read that will be my fellow in-patients who had equally rough stays and, may benefit to hear that they weren't alone, or relatives of fellow inpatients who may be interested in what it was like but equally may be upset by such gory details.

Of course I have a basic responsibility to keep things factually accurate. A blog about mental health often shares opinions and experiences where it’s a fine balancing act between saying “this is how it is” and “this is how I experience it”. I’m always clear to state when writing about an experience; the feedback I’ve had is that a factual blog (drawn from my professional background) peppered with experiences, is most readable.

"It felt as though the psychiatrist was deliberately provoking me to self harm" is a valid experience - it's how I felt at the time, when I was feeling paranoid; how, it's important to state that it's an experience because if people think there are psychiatrists out there who do actually deliberately provoke patients, this will prevent them from seeking support when they need it. It's important to be aware, while my experience was fact, I may not be stating the situation factually.

If I’m writing about another individual who could be identified, I always check that they’re prepared for this information to be public. A popular blog was an interview with my husband, on my to-do list is another interview, watch this space!

I also have a responsibility to myself. As someone recovering from severe mental illness, currently in therapy, I never publish something unless I’m feeling in a robust enough position to deal with any fallout. No matter how small the topic, this rule remains the same. I’ve published articles on all sorts of revealing topics in national newspapers and spoken on national TV about topics that left me feeling quite exposed. No one’s guided me through this. No one else will know when I’m ready. It’s been tough but incredibly rewarding.

Your responsibility

While I’m taking my responsibilities seriously, could I ask you to do the same? If you’re reading my blogs, am I right to assume you’re interested in mental health and therefore have an interest in reducing stigma and discrimination etc? So, what do you do with what you read? I’m incredibly grateful when I get feedback from people saying that I’ve helped them feel less alone or enabled them to understand what it’s like for their friend or relative. If you find it interesting, someone else might too.

80% people during lockdown, said their mental health deteriorated. That means 80% of the UK population could personally benefit from reading something of what I’ve written and the other 20% will know someone from the 80% therefore they could read what I’ve written and support someone who’s struggling.

Great things are happening – I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people who share my blogs. There are too many people in this world completely lacking in knowledge about mental health and I’m just trying to do my little bit towards educating them. Building this platform has led to all sorts of interviews and other work, I just hope this continues.

But if no one new shares my blogs, I'll continue writing into an echo chamber where everyone agrees, I've had some difficult experiences and I'm making some good points about things that need to change. Each year Mental Health Awareness Week comes around and the same people are aware of the same issues and nothing changes.

Analytics enable me to see a fair amount about my audience, this helps me see who is reading what and for how long but I don’t necessarily know why…?! I don’t know if people are liking it or not liking it! I get some comments – I approve all comments (except the obvious) so I’m happy if you disagree with what I’ve written or want to query something, I welcome respectful differences of opinion.

I’ll admit I make mistakes, not every blog is spot on and I struggle to produce regular content, I live with chronic illness, it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. But I’d really love it if I kept up my side of the bargain, I’ll produce responsible content:

If you don’t like it, please comment – tell me why

If you do like it, (you can comment if you like but) please share it – I’d love it if you shared the link on social media but even if you just sent the link to one person in a text or an email, you never know what a difference this could make to them and this would seriously make my day!

Reflection: Called to be humble

Being humble isn’t about thinking less of yourself, it’s about thinking of yourself less.

Being humble is not about being right but being concerned with what is right.

Being humble is about appreciating team attributes, recognising contribution or promoting others rather than promoting self and wanting recognition.

Of course, most people can recognise humbleness is an admirable quality but we can all be a bit introspective, push our personal ideals and want to be recognised at times, we’re only human; anyone who denies struggling with humbleness is only deceiving themselves!

As someone who has frequent brushes with depression, my self-esteem is pretty poor at the best of times, that is – I think very little of myself. I sometimes find myself looking to others for approval or gratification because I struggle to know if what I’m doing is good enough or if who I am is acceptable but I know, through years of therapy, that seeking this from outside is unhelpful and generally, unfruitful. With a low self esteem, I’ve also unfortunately neglected my needs because I think I’m not worthy of care etc. But therapy has taught me it’s in these times when self care is most important. Self compassion and self care isn’t, as one fears, self indulgence, but in fact a vital part of keeping oneself healthy.

I have a quiet unassuming character and time after time what I do goes unnoticed, what I say gets forgotten or attributed to others, the polite requests I make are unfulfilled, for hours at a time even my existence is ignored even if there have been opportunities to notice me. At times my needs have been neglected (even if I’ve had the rare confidence to state them) to such an extent that I don’t know if it’s reasonable to ask for my needs to be met anymore. I have a strange belief about myself that to take up space or to be seen is improper so maybe I bring this treatment on myself? But, to be continuously treated like this, is it any surprise I think nothing of myself?

I frequently have the experience of someone asking a group of people a question, I answer the question but they continue repeating the question; it seems as though they’re more concerned with listening to themselves asking the question than they are the answer! Once someone (else) has managed to get them to listen to the answer, it’s rarely recognised that I answered the question the first time. I feel frustrated that I had the rare confidence to open my mouth and I needn’t have bothered; but if I was humble this wouldn’t matter.

People are so used to me blending into the background and going unnoticed, I was assertive a couple of times a few months ago in a environment where I’m not usually and this was so shocking to the people involved I’m still feeling the unpleasant after-quakes today!

Of course, this is not my only experience, there are plenty of people in this world who care about me and notice me – by default – if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably someone who cares, so I’ll use this opportunity to say thank you! This blog isn’t about having a go at the people who forget about me because, obviously they won’t be reading this! Most of them won’t even know I can write, let alone have a fairly successful blog; most of them, if they know my name, they won’t have a clue how important it is to me to spell my name correctly – to those who do, thank you!

Being humble is easier if your self-esteem is intact. I’ve been reflecting on humbleness and wondering where it fits in with my low self esteem. If I think so little of myself, how do I also think of myself less? How do I balance the self care and compassion that’s necessary to ensure I don’t neglect myself but then make sure I think of myself less?! I think the optimum word here is balance.

Being humble is also easier if other people notice you! But we can’t confuse humbleness with false modesty. Bringing up your contributions and achievements, so that you can be modest and humble about them is not the way to go! My naturally quiet character means other people won’t have a clue I’m being humble, but that’s not what being humble is about.

If I’ve managed to balance my self esteem issues, somehow and I’m now considering how being humble fits with other people – if I’m feeling forgotten and trodden on, if others are promoting themselves over and above me, as they do (because they’re more confident or down right arrogant) do I add to this and show appreciation for their attributes? Another one to ponder! Maybe it’s not about comparisons but simply about appreciating what is right.

So, while writing this, it happened again, I felt forgotten; in this moment I considered pointing out the work I’d done but it only took me a second to stop myself and realise I was looking for recognition from other people. I took a breath and realised, as a Christian, I’m called to be humble, it’s not just a nice-to-have. But, even when it’s hard, what helped me in that moment was that I remembered that God knows every action and every inaction of everyone on Earth. He knows how hard I work, he loves me just the way I am; he knows I wasn’t being humble in that second but he also knew I stopped myself and realised that humbleness was more important than recognition.

I’d worked incredibly hard and had been forgotten again. Recognition would be nice, yes, I felt hurt, I felt crushed, I felt let down, but in this moment, I chose to be humble and by turning to God in my pain, I’m choosing to deepen my relationship with him.

God made me, just the way I am, I’m a grafter, not many people know what I do or how hard I work and I certainly don’t get the gratitude most people would expect. But what makes it all worth it is that, I can turn to God and he knows exactly what I’m going through. Being a Christian isn’t about having an easy life, it’s about having a human life, serving the will of God in relationship with Jesus Christ.