Thursday 31 March 2016

The written pieces for SOS's finished squares Part 1

The written pieces for one of the wall hangings are here. The numbers correspond to their position on the hanging.

1.      Kath Thomas

“I had been searching for some time for a way to use my craft skills to get a meaningful message across about mental health when I came across a weblink to the Stitching out Stigma page. Perfect I thought, produce a 10 inch square cross stitch to express my thoughts about overcoming depression. Only one slight snag, I hadn’t cross stitched for years. I ordered a square of aida and dug out my old embroidery silks that had been inherited from a Great Aunt a long time ago. When faced with a completely blank canvas my first instinct is to procrastinate, something I could have had a degree in by now (if I could have been arsed to start it). So procrastinate I did. I had the seed of the idea though, this spring in the South Wales valleys we had some of the worst grass fires for a decade, acres and acres of lush green grassland was turned to charcoal. The amazing thing about these fires was even though the top sol was burnt, it didn’t stop the green shoots of the ferns poking through a few weeks later. Defiant in their vivid greenness, the ferns pushed up and soon the hills were green again despite the damage that lay below their blanket of ferns. So, you can see where I am going with this, out of the blackness comes the green shoots of recovery, but the damage still lurks below.
Next I needed some words, as when you become ill you are bombarded with words, whether you like it or not. Everyone has an opinion ranging from complete incomprehension ‘come on it can’t be that bad’ to a simple helpful ‘let’s grab a cuppa and chat’. Sadly you learn who your real friends are fast and that online, many trolls lurk amongst the web forums. I have my own strict internal filters, I know what can upset me and won’t get drawn into a debate if I can sense someone is being less than genuine. One phrase I have carried with me over the last 20 years of talking, reading and googling is the simple ‘accept, adapt and achieve’. I was at a GP appointment feeling very anxious, but he sat me down, talked to me like I was a real person and said ‘what you need is the three A’s’. He was probably the sixth GP I had seen in as many months and I had been fobbed off so many times with various scripts it was good to have someone who actually listened to me. The was no means a miracle cure but it represented a turning point for me. I began to accept who I was, my flaws and my illness, I began to make a few life changes and tried not to be so hard on myself but I did continue to challenge myself and I still do, sometimes this backfires but I had to be able to try. Something in me told me not to give up that I would improve, learn more about myself and develop coping strategies.

Anyway, this is my piece of the project, hope it makes you think.”

2. Jo Perry

"When my son had his 2 year check-up we raised our concerns about the fact he wasn’t speaking. The Health Visitor brushed these concerns aside but we insisted on a referral to a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT). Eventually we got to see one who instantly agreed with us our son was on the autistic spectrum (ASD).
She uttered the immortal words "You are going to need a folder" meaning "there will be a lot of paperwork!". What she didn't mention was the jargon and acronyms we would have to learn.
Our son is six now and attends a wonderful special school four days a week and a great mainstream school one day a week. He is happy, safe and thriving in both environments. Unlike many of his peers in mainstream education without the specialist support they desperately need.
One great source of support and advice is the National Autistic Society (NAS). For this project I asked the parents on their Facebook page for some acronyms I could use. Here are just a few of them which I stitched onto the square for the project. If I had used them all I would have been able to make an entire quilt myself!

SEN - Special Educational Needs
ADOS - Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale
BSL - British Sign Language
IEP - Individual Education Plan
NAS - National Autistic Society
CAMHS - Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
CIR - County Inclusive Resource
DLA - Disability Living Allowance
EHCP - Education, Health and Care plan
MDA - Multi - Disciplinary Assessment
ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
PECS - Picture Exchange Communication System
SLT - Speech and Language Therapist
GDD - Global Delayed Development
BID - Bilateral Integration Disorder
CAF - Common Assessment Framework
SPD - Sensory Processing Disorder
ODD - Oppositional Defiant Disorder
OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
LSA - Learning Support Assistant
MLD - Mild Learning Disability
SLD - Severe Learning Disability
PDD - NOS - Pervasive Development Disorder - not otherwise specified
ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder
SN0 - Special Needs Officer
CDC - Child Development Clinic
PDA - Pathological Demand Avoidance
My design shows the happy child at the centre of all these words, he is jumping for joy and scattering the letters as he does so. Sometimes the experts get so engrossed in the different "disorders" and "syndromes" they forget to see the child at the centre. This is a reminder. With the right support our children can be full of happiness; they can learn and take a full role in life.

I have to go now, apparently it’s essential that I bounce on the bed and tickle him!”

7. Charlotte Compton
“My cross-stitch piece is based on seasons, summer spring autumn and winter. Even after the harshest winter, spring will come. Nature and gardening have been a big part of my recovery, getting back to basics. The words are lyrics from a song that’s got me through hard times – “Fear” by “Blue October”. This band’s been with me through hell and back more than any would know. All their lyrics bring a peace in me.
I have what they call borderline personality disorder, although this never summed up how I felt. I’ve had depression, bulimia and addictive personality. Especially to abusive relationships. Every time I recover from one aspect, I seem to slip into another. People have judged, “Just get over it” and misunderstood. I smile even when I want to scream. I consider myself semi recovered. I notice warning signs in myself. I have a beautiful child who changed my world and gave me purpose.
Blue October taught me to see the world through child’s eyes, stand up and embrace good and bad. Crafting and art have always been therapy. When I got ill at 16 with bulimia, I lost my way, art slowly bought me back. In patient taught me crafts and how others cope. Focusing on a piece of art instead of my head helped. This project’s helped realise what can achieve again.
I think more people understand mental health than we realise. They don’t understand how it can affect every aspect of your life none stop. But to anyone who’s ill, there’s hope. It takes years to be “normal” and you’re still have bad days. But as my piece says, “I used to fall, now I get back up.””

8. Anonymous
During my second year at the University I got stuck in a severe depression with regular panic attacks. I remember lying awake in my bed at 5am in cloud sweat fearing that the world would realize how improper and imperfect I was. Most of my friends and family labelled my transformation from a cheery Christian girl to a moody dark clad creature as an belated teenage rebellion, or would just pretend that nothing happened. It was me against the whole wide world. 

As my condition grew constantly worse, I completely abandoned my studies and ended up in an year-long abusive relationship with a married man twice older than me. All these months I blamed myself for being stupid, not cheerful enough, and promiscuous.   

I never got any professional help back then, and getting back to reality was more of a miracle - somehow there was a friend that was there for me. When I got better, I erased the depression years out of my memory - completely. Even when I got premarital counselling (I feared that I’m not good enough for my fiancée) they never came up. I didn't remember that there was something like that in my life! 

It took me a decade to understand that something was wrong with me, and a couple of years more to get used to the fact that my relationship back then was hurtful and abusing. I still blame myself, but day to day I find more strength to be forgiving. And though most pains are healed, I cannot help but wonder what would happen if somebody - anybody - back then told me that I was having mental health issues and could be helped.”

9. Mary Hawkins
"The piece I have sent in captures my message and feelings about having Bipolar Disorder, as a youngster and teen I had many bouts of depression and manias. But was only ever diagnosed with depression in my teens to get worse as I went onto university. I became a secondary school English teacher but in a 12 year career I was dogged with bouts of crippling depression. Last year I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. It was a case of my lowest point had been reached and I realised teaching was no longer for me.
I taught myself cross stitch when I was in my final year of university as a way of calming myself down. That was 15 years ago. Stitching is a comfort and therapeutic as it allows me to focus on something positive. I have bad concentration due to the Bipolar but my psychiatrist said to me that it was important for me to have something like that and I should use it as part of my therapy. It does help even if it's only for 10 or 20 minutes in the day.
Bipolar has altered my life dramatically. I have given up teaching because some of the basic duties are triggers. A lot of old colleagues ad 'friends' stopped talking to me when I explained I have Bipolar. It is lonely at times and frustrating but it forced me to look at life and change. I am living life for me now - not others and am embarking on a new career path in fashion.
Mental health stigma is crippling as people assume you are crazy and insist that you need sectioning at the slightest aggravation. It’s like you are suddenly an alien with 3 heads and people avoid you or they trivialise your illness. Either way you are judged. That was the inspiration for my design. I chose the music print fabric because with mental health illness you always lose that harmony or balance in your life and it’s a struggle to get it back.
When I saw the Stitching Out Stigma project on Facebook I knew I had to contribute. It resonates so deeply with me and I can’t thank Natalie enough for allowing me a chance to express myself in a way that is so therapeutic."

 10. Maggie Robinson

“I am not really a stitcher and I have never tried cross-stitch until now – I bought this cloth to teach my young daughter some basic stitching! However, I have periodic poor mental health, which is only improved by decades of serious work, counselling, reading and psychotherapy to try and maintain it. Everyone has a mental health wobble at some time, but most people don’t like to think of it that way. It is so important to be open about our struggles as human beings, whether it be helping support poor mental health or learning how to develop good mental health. I have many many hobbies (mostly textile or woodwork) which are my main support in maintaining good mental health. In struggling to get started on this piece I experienced a familiar major struggle: Procrastination and my difficulty in finishing projects can look like sheer laziness to others, but stems from massive underlying self-doubt.

This is by no means ‘good’ work, but it is a reflection of my fractured interests and inner turmoil. I love nature, notice small things of great beauty (reflected in my flower border) and this together with finding the wry humour in life keeps me going.”

11. The Round Robin, part 1 by Inger Lovise Djøseland

I am Inger Lovise from Norway, 63 yrs old, married, mother of five and grandma of eight. The last 16 yrs before I retired last year I worked as a train conductor. Before that I worked as an assistant in the mental health home service for two years. In earlier days I was in hospital twice due to overdose of pills, which again was due to several things in my past and present life.

When I learned about this project on Facebook – another Norwegian woman stated that this was something she’d like to join and I decided look it up and immediately wanted to join too.
Inger's square is bottom left
I like to do several kinds of crafts, also cross stitching. I make little patterns for a group of Nepali women who make cards that are sold in Norway and wherever else they manage to sell them. J And when I had read about this project and decided to join this pattern showed up in my head while I was dividing the square, and I just had to draw it and print it out. Now I have it wrapped in an envelope and ready to go to Linn Marie Bakke who will do part two.

Although I have managed an everyday life over the years, I have fought my inner battles. I tried to open up some for my doctor, but he did not take it too seriously – I guess I was too good to hide my despair. Finally when reaching sixty I broke down and called a center for victims of abuse. I always thought that what I had experienced was such a little deal compared to what others have gone through. And at this place I found the help I needed. Things fell into place and I saw in how many ways this has held a choking grip on me all those years and how many areas of my life that had been disturbed by it.

Now I am eagerly looking forward to become no. four on another square. I do like the idea of so many different people joining each other to do this. I hope it turns out just as wonderful as it should be! Good luck on joining all the squares at the end. I hope you will send us many pictures on Facebook as the project keeps growing.”

14. Natalie McCulloch
“There are many reasons why this piece is powerful to me.
This was my final piece for SOS and so the idea of ‘letting go’ rings true there, mixed emotions definitely feature with having to ‘let go’ of SOS when I have had such a lot of positives from it... I guess, in a sense, it’s not 'letting it go' as much as moving onto a new chapter of it - it will always be a source of joy and pride for me, as I hope it will for all those who made it possible!
Recovery and indeed, mental health experiences can be about 'letting it go' sometimes, I think. Letting go of negative behaviours/thoughts, letting go of coping strategies, letting go of people, letting go of places, letting go of ideals/perfectionism... sometimes life doesn’t go well or 'to plan' and we just have to 'let it go'....
I love the film Frozen and the lyrics from 'Let It Go' (one of the famous songs from it) rang true to me, and potentially others, in relation to my mental health which is why I thought it was a good thing to bring to 'SOS'...
The text reads:-
"A kingdom of isolation, it looks like I’m the queen, the wind is howling like this swirling storm inside, couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried”
To me this represents how isolating my mental health issues can be, how stormy the journey is (and I hate storms/get battered in them and feel distressed!) and how I try to hide but I can’t... anorexia, especially, gets to a point where it's obvious to outsiders that something isn’t quite right...
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be, conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”
I feel a big part of my problem is that I was brought up always expected to be good and fit into this image of being part of a 'perfect' family/society model which I’ve carried through (or tried to) for years, despite always falling far too short of 'perfection' or 'good' by anyone's standards...
“Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore, let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door, I don’t care what they're going to say.”
This is true to me, I get to a point where I simply have 'had enough' and I shatter without a care or thought for others feelings, views or opinions of me....
“It’s funny how some distance, makes everything seem small, the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all, it’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and breakthrough, no right, no wrong, no rules for me..."
It is true how sometimes the distance (physical distance of hospital/holiday breaks or 'time in a different setting') can help to put things into perspective, for me. I would like to think that this last bit is a bit about recovery which, one day, I hope to experience...
The actual procedure of stitching also included 'letting go’ for me. Firstly, I lost the original embellishment which ironically someone else must have 'let go of' because I found it on the floor (which sound awful!) but it was a bit of a necklace I think and it said 'Let It Go'. I put it in one of the notoriously bad 'safe places' and like most of the things I put here - I can’t find it now! (When I one day work out where this safe place is, I’m in for a lot of treats I imagine! lol). I knew the necklace had come from ASDA but sadly they no longer stock them, so I found a different one, which I am quite pleased with as its actually a mirror inside, which works as a reflection of how sometimes I have to 'look and let go' in order to try and stay sane (ish)....
As for the Sisters stitched onto it - well, this is because, as awful as I am to her at times (sorry Hay) I do love her, and I know I put far too much stress onto her, but I always aspire to change and I value the bond we have, the founding 'blocks' of which we need to build upon. I couldn’t have done any of this (recovery or stitching mission) without her. She did the sister stitch on this for me and I am so grateful for it as, to me, it and her are amazing. Of course, I look at my part in it and say 'It’s rubbish' compared to her amazing part, but that’s sisters perhaps! And, what is perhaps most important to remember is this is team work and there is no 'I' or no 'bad' in team! J

 15. Annalise

“My piece for ‘Stitching Out Stigma’, I have named ‘Silenced’. It represents firstly, my life, where my mental health condition, Anorexia Nervosa, thrives in secrecy, protected by my enduring silence and preventing me from voicing my emotions, and secondly, the shame that silences me, living in fear of other’s reactions, the stigma, when they discover my ‘secret’ life. 

It is based upon an actual piece of artwork, which I created aged 17 years old, when confined to an adolescent eating disorder unit, severely ill with Anorexia, existing on forced tube-feedings. I had been wrenched suddenly from my family, to a city many miles away from my rural, home environment, as my condition became life-threatening. The trauma of this separation, for a shy, withdrawn teenager, rendered me mute.

Creativity became my solace, and this artwork reflected my first attempts to ‘speak’ through my silence, and begin to let people see my true feelings, my pain, which lay behind my silence. I was lucky, I survived my Anorexia, when my beautiful, talented friend succumbed, but Anorexia has always been the ‘wolf at my shoulder’, stalking me through life.

I have lived a ‘half-life’, confined by the ‘rules’ and ‘routines’ of my Anorexia, struggling with its companions of depression, low self-esteem and low self-confidence, significantly impacting upon all areas of my life. At times over all these years, the ‘wolf’ has been very close, and I have felt its breath on my throat, as I fought so very hard to save my ‘half-life’ from total destruction. I am always alone … Anorexia ensuring it remains at the centre of my life …with the prospects of further education, a career, friendships, relationships, children, all being sacrificed in the relentless ‘need’ to satisfy its dominance …

… and so my secrets remain behind my smile, as I find myself fighting so hard once more, hoping that I can remain strong enough so that the ‘wolf’ of my Anorexia does not consume me entirely …

… one day, I hope I can speak, my silence will be broken, and my smile will be true …”

18. Samantha McCaughan

My personal experience of Mental Health Issues
“I feel that my experience off Anxiety issues started several years ago when I was suffering from a condition called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome where I was virtually house bound as I was so ill I didn’t have the energy to get dressed it completely wiped me out.
I had other associated problems that CF brings and it just wasn’t the chronic Fatigue I had associated chronic pain and a long term Bowel problem as well. The anxiety issues gradually came on de to me being anxious regarding my Bowel problem at the time I didn’t realize that this was controlling me so much that I was so worried that if something happened when I left the house how could I cope and it was easier to stay indoors that go out.
I got to breaking point and went to see my GP who had always been so supportive and helpful and he realized that I was in a bad way and recommended that I had some support from the CFS clinic and to address my Bowel problem again he also approached taking anti-depressants which I was reluctant to have really so I was prescribed a tablet called Citalopram 10mg a very low dosage I was on the around 6 months and noticed I was more anxious that before and I can only explain that my head seemed more funny than normal I couldn’t think straight and felt numb I was crying at the slightest thing. so I went back to my GP and asked if I could reduce and come off the tablet and he was so supportive and I was seeing an occupational therapist who specialized in chronic illnesses and how to manage your condition this helped me so much and we would talk through  how I was feeling and we started a plan of action to help me get out just to the local shop collect my paper which was across the road and I started doing this and keeping a diary off everything I did and score 1-10 on pain levels and fatigue and I found this so helpful I was then able to increase going to the shop just for my paper but to browse the shop so I was out an extra 5 mins which some people who have never suffered a mental health issues wouldn’t understand that this can be so hard to do. I got to know the staff and they were so supportive and I felt safe now doing this activity. from having this help and support from my GP and OT I was able to come off the medication and this changed my life I was able to manage my conditions better and the key thing that was pointed out to me was that my energy levels are like a battery and it was running on empty.
I started taking up cross stitch which I found helped me considerably and become my real sole mate through my illness and that would calm me down and kept my fingers and hands supple and moving. All I can say is there is a light at the end of the tunnel and Cross stitch kept me sane.
I was thrilled to see the article in cross stitch collection on stitching out stigma and to take part in making a square for this fantastic cause and highlighting mental illness and how crafting can help through difficult times."
19. Helen Skinner
“After hearing about the campaign from Sew magazine I decided to get started directly.
I have found needlework to be a constant help to me over the years. I have suffered from PND and GAD in the past and have had successful CBT therapy.
The quote is from ‘The Little Book of Mindfulness’ which I carry with me always.”

20. Natalie McCulloch
“I decided to ‘practice what I preach’ by doing this square. It is being done as a ‘tool of therapy’ in a time where I definitely need it. I am, in all sense, lapsing into my eating disorder and depression, this time it’s different too as an admission isn’t on the cards and I have one session once a week with (an albeit very good) member of local ‘SHED’ team.   So it’s really mainly down to me to bite more than the bullet (!) and put up with the ripple effect on my urges/emotions. So basically this square is hopefully going to help that, the reasons are listed below.
Cross stitch is a ‘tool’, for me. It relaxes me, distracts me from my thoughts and has to be done mindfully and with concentration. It is helping me ‘sit down and rest’ in the evenings, usually with a film or episode of a show. It’s distracting my thoughts away from the emotions of the day and its giving me something to ‘do’ which isn’t anorexia led/energetic and also it’s quite nice to feel productive at what I’m producing!
The second benefit is that it’s making me mindful of all the things I have to be grateful of, as the quote I used said
"Every day may not be good, but there will be something good in every day."
 It reminds me of an activity I was introduced to in the adolescent unit I attended and later I was told about in adult treatment. This activity is naming 3 positives every day with the hope that, in time, the brain will get used to doing so without necessarily having to ‘write it all down’ and thus a more positive mind frame will be created. Sounds good! I do it occasionally and always find it helpful – but, as with a lot of things with me, I have good intentions of doing it daily without fail, but I give up or forget shortly into the ‘fresh start’...
A few ideas of what’s on the square:-
Birds – I love the sounds of birds singing
Yoga - I found this really helpful and owe thanks to a wonderful lady/teacher Sian!
Knitting - a craft I enjoy and the focus of my volunteer role with 'Volunteering matters'
Sunshine – speaks for itself – instant happiness from above
Shoes - buying new shoes, seeing new shoes, wearing nice shoes...happy!
Flowers – I love all sorts of flowers, walking through the park and seeing all the spring flowers, or having a bouquet never fails to make me feel a bit brighter.
Letters/post – I love, am lucky to get, post from my amazing friends and family. I also enjoy writing to them, it’s a source of support, but also a lovely way to keep in touch. It can make a day so much brighter.
Camera - I love taking photos, looking at old photos (some cant fail to raise a smile - esp. when they're over 20 years old and my dad is still wearing same outfit! lol), I just struggle at times to be in photos!
Guinea pig - I love this little furry creatures and in the ward I worked on, in Whitchurch hospital, they actually had 'resident guinea pigs' as therapeutic tools.
Tortoise - My flatmates had a lovely tortoise called 'flash', meeting him made me smile!
Nail polish – it’s nice to do something for myself (although hard at times to feel I deserve it)
Hugs - I love a good hug (or cwtch if you are welsh!)
Empathy - it’s lovely when someone, albeit might not understand, shows empathy towards your situation
Feeling good - speaks for itself
Gardening - I have found this to be very helpful, I love connecting with nature and seeing how things grow
Fish and Chips, ice cream - my favourite foods!
Fresh linen - you can’t beat that feeling of getting into fresh bedding, I think.
Everyone’s square would be different if they did their own 'positives' and people well may look at mine and wonder why I’ve put certain things on it, but its meaningful to me and, I think that’s what is important!
Doing the square is hard as I am not confident that a lot of the images look like they are supposed to, plus its very much 'unplanned' so I am hoping it won’t look too messy at the end. But it’s enjoyable to have a project to 'do a bit of' each day as opposed to have to 'strive to finish'.”

 21. Nicola Davis

“My piece is about my experience with anorexia, depression and suicidal thoughts.
I think that the fact that ‘I’m alive’ is something to be proud of.
The rain represents all the bad things in life, and the rainbow and sun show how I have overcome them and focused on the happier things.
The sparkly clouds add life to the piece and show that they are stronger and better than the raindrops.
I think this project is a really good idea and I can’t wait to see all of the squares together.”

22. Ashleigh Meikle

“I came up with this design because there is a stigma with any illness of disability that is invisible, such as mental illness and some physical disabilities like epilepsy and Neurofibromatosis types one and two. 

People see someone who looks healthy on the outside and assume we must be inside. That we are making excuses or pretending or that we “chose to have it”. A disability of any kind that is obvious from the outside gets more understanding, but an invisible one is misunderstood and can often be seen as “worst case scenario” for =, in my case, epilepsy, which makes people put us all in one basket and can affect employment and day to day living. I wanted to highlight the issue that having an invisible condition doesn’t mean we aren’t affected or that we are making it up. It’s real and we deal with it everyday.”

24. Orla Olivieri

The Cloud

“Anxiety and depression can feel like a dark cloud weighing on one’s shoulders. That is what it feels like for me.
The cloud represents a description of what life is like for me when I am suffering.
GAD = Generalized Anxiety Disorder
PND = Post-Natal Depression

These are two of the labels I have been given.
The rainbow represents the hope that I have on my good days. The coloured writing is what helps me overcome the black cloud.

I’d like to say that I see a whiter cloud in my future.

My mental illness has made me a deeper, understanding person. I am grateful for that. It would make my life a LOT easier if I didn’t have to carry it around.”