Sadly all good things come to an end, but thankfully so do all bad things. Last post.

I very rarely think about the past, or be struck by strong memories from my childhood. I’m not sure why – I guess life tends to be fairly interesting on a daily basis without me having to go over old ground. However I do have a few vivid recollections and I would like to share one.

I’m in my teens, but I can’t remember if it is the first or the second time I had crumbled under the weight of my anxiety. My dad has taken me up north to stay with my grandad – to get a bit of space perhaps, I’m not sure because I can only remember one thing about the trip. I’m in my grandad’s spare bedroom, a place I would normally associate with being kept awake by his thunderous snoring or being awoken from my stunted slumber by his playful cat.

This time however, my dad occupies the single bed I would normally take, and I am in the one next to it. It is dark and quiet, except for my dad talking to me. Most of his words are lost to me but I can recall him telling me that I should never be afraid of talking to him. That I can tell him anything. I have my back to him and I’m hoping he can’t see me shaking as the lump in my throat swells and I’m fighting back each tear with every last bit of desperate strength I have. I know that all he wants is to hear something from me but I stay as quiet as I possibly can until we both fall asleep and I can finally let go.

I don’t remember much about my life in general, but I tend to remember the moments I regret.

I stayed silent because I didn’t know how to tell him that I’d let him down. That I was too weak. I wanted to be better but I wasn’t. I just wanted to tell him that I was sorry I wasn’t a better son but that I wanted to be. I just wanted to sob and cry and apologise that this was all I could even think to be.

I regret not letting my dad know how I felt.

Instead, all these words stayed in my mind. They have stayed and they have festered and grown over the years and it is taking me just as long to undo the insidious damage they have caused me. For too long I let that moment define me and shape how I saw myself, not only as someone not good enough but also that the worst thing I could ever do would be to admit that I wasn’t good enough and that I needed help. When things have got tough I have regularly retreated into myself, not out of a desire to be strong or sort things out on my own, but to spare those around me being infected by the constant stench of my failure.

Why on earth am I sharing this.

In 2014 I started my blog, Not for self, but for all. It was meant as a clever way of sharing my professional work with people across different communities and to promote the idea that better connected individuals and communities (in many different forms) could be more resilient to the sorts of challenges that life throws at us. It was meant to inform and inspire others – however its greatest success has been to reshape the way I view myself and how I approach my life. 

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of people keep telling me how well I look. They could just be being polite, but my hunch is that the lessons I’ve learnt from the resilience projects I’ve talked about on this blog, and from trying to put into practice the lessons I’ve drawn from the experience of others is starting to pay off.

In particular I’m conscious that 2017 was both an incredibly rough year for me, but also a year that I came away from feeling like I had won (sort of like when a football team gets battered all game but still wins 1-0). A lot of my bad decisions came to roost last year, but at the same time my new willingness to share my problems and seek help has made me realise that although bad decisions can have bad consequences, they don’t have to be the end of the world and trusting others, while difficult, has been the difference between me sinking and swimming.

Things aren’t perfect. I still have doubts and that lonely sobbing young man still lives inside of me far too often than I’d like. I’m working hard each day to undo the damaging legacy of that poor decision all those years ago. However I feel more confident than ever about the future and my place in it all.

Which is why this my last post on this blog. Quietly in the background it has accompanied me on a very personal journey of redemption, and acceptance that I don’t need to do this all on my own. It has made me more resilient and now it is time for me to reflect in a different way.

I hope everyone that has come across the blog has found it of interest and wish you all the best on your individual journeys.

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Can you have a shared society? A post about sharing to kick off 2017

It turns out that is has been 10 months since I last wrote something for this blog. I’d like to say it was simply because I’ve been busy (I have been), but truth be told the downside of making this blog a bit more personal is that I have become increasingly cagey about posting anything. I’ve blogged before about my belief that “sharing” is an inherently personal act that actually makes us quite vulnerable, and I’ve had cause to re-visit this theory recently.

In December I finished a (not quite a) year-long experiment with Facebook. This experiment was largely driven by the fact that I regret that my mum knew very little about me before she passed away, and this  I’ll admit it was fascinating and in many ways I gained from the experience. However my overriding conclusion from my experiment was that the ease in which I could share things about me meant that in reality I continued to “share” very little. I was very good at broadcasting; essentially handing out meaningless tidbits about my existence that I thought might please or entertain. Indeed I baulked at the idea of really sharing what I was feeling or thinking, and even resented those people in my network who did share quite personal insights about their life.

Why was that I wonder? Maybe in the same way that many find an overt display of wealth, say a gold-plate iphone, to be abhorrent rather than the wealth itself, maybe when we share other things of value (feelings or experience) in a disposable fashion we can’t help but respond negatively to the way something we value is cheapened.

I think that’s what I’m getting at – my experience on Facebook taught me that things that I value highly could be easily cheapened, and that this cheapening happens on a regular basis. Sadly, the result has been that rather than seeking a more rewarding experience, I have instead become hugely insular over the past 12 months or so, to the point where I can’t actually recall having a meaningful conversation with a friend where I haven’t lied a lot about how I’m actually doing. I am of course working to correct this, and this post is my first tentative step. How do I see this as any different from a Facebook post? To be honest I could be wrong, and there is no difference, but I find blogs tend to display a huge amount of investment from those who compose them which I don’t think a Facebook account commands. Also people have to seek me out and follow me – many of my friends and family will never read this, but the people who do I know will have invested time (wisely or not) in seeking out and engaging this post. Who knows – maybe I’m just splitting hairs to make myself feel better.

Anyway I had a serious point!

Today the Prime Minister has announced her ambitions for the UK to become The Shared Society. Stripping back the politics and cynicism, this sort of sounds a noble cause – to get more people to be aware of each other, to share in the risk and reward of existence, to do more for each other to ensure we all live happy fulfilled lives. It all sounds lovely!

So why don’t we do it already?

Personally I just don’t buy the idea that we’re too lazy or selfish, or that too many people have had it too easy and we’re now a society of entitlement. This just isn’t the world I see or have ever seen. The world I have seen, through the experiences of friends family and acquaintances, is one where we have all been burned by sharing. Where we have helped someone and they have not changed their ways, where a trust has been betrayed, where people stop sharing not because they are selfish, but because it has hurt one too many times.

Sharing is tough. You have to be brave. You have to be wise as well. Not everyone is ready to share – to both receive AND give, it has to be both to qualify. To do both requires a level of equality to exist. That equality doesn’t have to be total, nor does it need to be financial, but it must exist in some form for people to be able to have a reciprocal relationship and not feeling like they handing up or handing down. I’ve asked the question can you have a shared society because as things stand I don’t know. It feels like the divisions run far too deep and the getting people to share more is not the solution to bridging these divisions, something else needs to bridge these decisions in order for sharing to take place.

I’ll watch with interest at what the government proposes. How will they make people brave enough to share with someone who might not value what they are offering? How do they make people resilient enough to cope with this when it happens? How do they remind us that the occasions when we are not valued by others is the exception, not the norm, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

The next 12 months will see me trying my best to do this in my own individual way because I know I’ll benefit from it in the long run, and I’ll try and share my experience as much as possible in the hope it helps another. Maybe that’s the most we can ask of each other.



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A post on mindfulness

Normally I’d just re-blog this but for some stupid reason I can’t seem to find the button to do this…. so here is a link. A really lovely, powerful and thoughtful piece on the role of mindfulness in tackling depression and anxiety that feels right for this resilience blog.

Please feel free to share link and post comments on Sarah’s original post.

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Beyond redemption

I heard this term used recently and for some reason it has buried its way under my skin. Maybe it is because it suggests a murky side to my resilience thinking that I’ve been unwilling to explore, namely the idea that for all the strength and resilience we can draw from our networks, if those networks flat our reject you, there is very little you can do.

This feels of particular relevance to me in terms of the subject of homelessness.

Before I continue let me state up front I am not well versed on this subject and that these are just musings. I welcome all challenge on this as it’s important that I don’t accidentally self-perpetuate myths of stereotypes.

Being homeless, to my mind, is the epitome of being at one’s weakest level of resilience. I say that in full recognition that people do survive on the street and develop a certain type of resiliency to achieve this. However, if we break it down to the five themes I normally use:

  • Social – is there any more isolating place to be. Not only has one’s established friends and family network broken down, but one is dehumanised to such an extent that people often walk past without the compulsion to stop and ask if you are ok;
  • Health – lack of sustainable diet alone (never mind alcohol/drug abuse that can at times be associate with homelessness) and poor/no access to healthcare means that not only are things more likely to go wrong but if they do they’ll get worse, fast;
  • Finance – no savings, no income, no access to financial instruments that might get you back on your feet. Arguably being in extreme debt isn’t as bad.
  • Environment – while it could be argued that you need to get creative with your environment to survive, truth is that someone who is homeless is surrounded by an environment that fights against them, particularly in London where aggressive policies to discourage/move on street sleepers are often in force;
  • Skills/experience – of all the themes, this is perhaps the only one where someone may well retain strengths and assets, both from life before becoming homeless and from the experiences of survival under such trying circumstances where one has to constantly learn and adapt. I will forever big up Open Cinema for recognising and acting on this to positive effect.

So I’d argue that of all the difficulties facing those people who are homeless, the deficit in personal networks and relationships is the greatest one, because for all the help available against these themes, not only is that help extremely difficult to sustain without some form of support network, the networks most people use actively work against people who are homeless.

Which brings me back to the term “beyond redemption”, and my natural follow on question “redemption to what?”. Is it true that once you’ve been unplugged from the Matrix you can never go back, or once you’ve joined London Below you can never re-join London Above? I’m not convinced, but I do think that homelessness presents something terrifying to society. Networks reject such extreme isolation because it represents something so opposite and horrible as to be threatening to the existence of networks.

Where am I going with this? As per usual I’m not sure, but perhaps I’m struck by the idea that whenever we write someone off, we are making a declaration of weakness because we are saying that our failure to help them is more damaging to us than just pretending they didn’t want our help in the first place. Perhaps I’m saying that in the same way individual pride stops us from seeking help from others who might see us fail, collective pride oddly stops us from helping others who might see us fail.

If that makes sense any sort of sense. Which it might not do.

This blogpost is dedicated to @LucieBoyle – for no other reason than she reads my blogposts.

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Slack in the system

My very lovely and clever friend Charis Croft (@chariscroft) has been thinking a little bit about resilience and the role of redundancy in our professional and personal lives. Always a pleasure to hear her thoughts and have them enrich this blog!

This morning I read with great sadness the story of a junior doctor who has gone missing.

The news story focuses on her mention of Jeremy Hunt and the long working hours, with a throw away reference to ‘issues in her personal life’. I obviously don’t know the details at all, but I would imagine that the main cause of whatever has happened is more likely to be related to those personal tragedies. But it did make me wonder if perhaps the long working hours and the associated stress made her less able to cope with other issues.

The ability to cope with personal issues is, in some ways, the definition of resilience. And this story made me reflect that in order to cope, we need a bit of slack in the system. Taking it on a personal level, we can all work long hours for a bit, when things are ok, but when they go wrong, it leaves us without the ability to cope. Which means that even a small issue can blow up into a major stress. Let’s take a trivial example – say I have a problem with my flat and I need to be in so a plumber (or electrician or whoever) can sort it out. I need to change my working pattern to be at home (either home working or changing shifts or taking leave), which can be stressful in itself. Changing my working pattern probably means I have to change other arrangements I’ve made – to meet friends, childcare, to get something else done, whatever. And so you end up with a ripple effect of problems and logistics to be solved. And that’s just looking at the tangible impacts, the organisation. Most people only have certain mental reserves or energy to deal with problems and the more things I need to sort out the more I deplete those reserves. If work is relatively flexible and not overly full of stress (as I am lucky to enjoy currently) then this sort of situation is a fairly minor blip in life. If work is really busy and difficult and long hours, and the rest of your life is full to breaking point, then even this sort of issue can become something that feels onerous to cope with.

This effect becomes more pronounced if you extend it to a support network, whether external organisations or friends and family. If all our friends and support networks are equally stretched, they can’t help us either, even if we need it because we have no slack in our system. If my work means I can’t stay home for the plumber, then maybe I can turn to my partner, or parents. Except if they’re in the same position as I am and can’t flex. Or if they do, then something else, somewhere else, has to give. It’s no good having a comprehensive support network around you if they’re all too busy and stressed to give you their time and expertise when you need it.

People need time to resolve issues, and they need the system (by which I mean the social, economic system as a whole) to give them that. If they have support networks, the people in those need time to help others – and they need the system to give them that. If they’re working (whether paid work, childcare, essential housework, or all of the above) the whole time, there’s no way they can ever deal with an unusual circumstance or help and support others. The system of their life needs some inbuilt redundancy, some slack.

Junior doctors may be an extreme example, but I worry that we’re increasingly taking the slack out of the system across the board. You can expand the idea above from individuals to networks to whole systems and services. As budgets are squeezed tighter and tighter, processes and systems are being made more and more lean, and people are asked to do more and more. For clarity, I believe this is mostly right and proper and we should be expecting the greatest possible value for money from our services. But that has to be the best value overall. A system that is perfectly lean and efficient when everyone fits the pattern, when everyone is working well, but has no slack in it will fail when there’s something wrong or different. Much as a perfect machine can catastrophically fail when you get a bit of sand in it, a perfectly lean service can be really appalling when there’s a difficult issue to resolve – a person with higher needs than usual, or a staff member who’s off sick for example.

And when we get a really bad experience from a service we use? Well, that usually means we end up with a problem we have to solve using our personal resilience. Back to the start of the circle, but with ripples that are now growing in size and complexity.

If we truly want to design for resilience, I think we need to make sure that there’s slack in the system so that at good times it might look a bit inefficient, but so that it still works at bad times too.

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I lovely personal reflection on how something as simple as running with other people can improve one’s personal resilience. I recommend a read.

Lexie Runs (But Mostly Writes)

[Written as part of Time to Talk Day, part of the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. As part of this, England Athletics have worked on #runandtalk, which seemed apt given the content of this blog. A friend from Southwark parkrun asked if I had anything suitable to share for the occasion. “No,” I said “But I’ll write something”]

One in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. Four in four people have mental health. Just like physical health, we all vary in how “well” we are and that wellness varies dependent on more factors than I can list. Sometimes you’re the picture of health. Sometimes you feel fine but problems are lurking, the mental equivalent of bad cholesterol. Sometimes you’re aware of a niggle, the emotional version of a bad knee or a slight cold. Once in a while, the…

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Am I bothered?

“You know, when I think about all the people I know around here spending Christmas on their own, I wonder why we didn’t just get together and spend it with each other…..” So mused my GoodGym ( coach last week when I popped round to visit her, and it really struck a chord with me.

This is exactly the sort of thing I hear discussed in local government circles all the time these days – how do we help people do more for themselves – and where we spend a lot of time and attention trying to get people to do things they may well be thinking about doing already(!)

Which got me thinking that as public professionals we may well have got caught up asking the wrong the wrong question. Instead of trying to figure out how to help people to do more for themselves, perhaps we should be considering the idea that lots of people are more interested in doing more for themselves, so WHY don’t they?

The trouble with this question is that it probably leads to a multitude of answers that reflect the multitude of different situations and personalities that are out there. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that there might be a consistent theme running through all those potential answers – “I don’t want to be a bother”. Doesn’t that feel like such a uniquely and identifiably British phrase?

I didn’t call because they’re probably having dinner.

They’re probably out.

They’re probably busy.

They don’t want to hear me moan on.

So on and so forth.

I’ve heard these so many times (probably said them as well!) and it has got me thinking that instead of trying to get people to “do the right thing” or “take pride in their local area”, we simply remind them that other people aren’t that scary, or busy, or worried about being bothered. We remind them how nice it is when someone takes an interest, or calls out of the blue, or even just makes eye contact and smiles, and let them know that they have the power to make someone else feel that way too.

So if you contact me, will I be bothered? No, not in the slightest it turns out, and neither will most people.

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