Co-Motion: Music, mental health and the song that gets me through… JP Swaine

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EXCITEMENT is building in the First Fortnight camp ahead of our really unique event – Co-Motion, a musical walking experience.

Hundreds of people are expected to gather in St Stephen’s Green on January 4th, armed with their four-song playlist of “songs that get them through”. They’ll then be paired up with another randomly selected participant.

While the idea off putting a playlist together is pretty straight forward, the idea of bringing that playlist along to a specific location, pairing up with a like-minded stranger and walking around a park with them as you play your playlist for them while they then play theirs for you, is probably something many of us have never done before.

In order to help make some sense of it all, First Fortnight co-founder JP Swaine unveils the first track on his playlist as he reveals the story behind the songs that get him through…..


#1 Hounds of Love- The Futureheads

I slam the door shut in my dirty grey, 1995 mazda 323, rustle around the dashboard for my iPod and iTrip. Fingers shaking, I turn on the engine and endure those dead air seconds before the two devices know what each other are saying and then…

 …. When I was a child, running in the night , I was afraid of what might be….

25 was a tough age for me. I had decided (for no good reason other than it seemed right at the time) that this was the end of my growing up. Statistically that was one third of my life lived and I was pretty inpatient with myself.

Dad died when I was 19 and that left just my mam and me at home because I am the youngest and all my brothers and sisters had already moved out. Moving out was made more complicated by this. I wasn’t just moving out. I was leaving my mother living alone. Alone is a state that neither she, nor I, was terribly comfortable with.

Arriving to my first social work job, in a big general hospital in a dull UK town, brought a lot of things into sharp focus. My on-off relationship was locked in the ‘off’ position. I drank alone. Walked alone. Cried alone. I had booked a series of flights home expecting to be in a long-distance relationship so I ended up flying back to Dublin every third weekend or so and this only seemed to make matters worse. Losing someone when they have died has a cold certainty to it that no matter how much I try, I know I can’t bring them back. Losing someone when there is still a chance of seeing them again, holding them again, having them again, can become a painful hope to hold for the sad and the lost. The flight over would raise this hope and then the flight back would tear it all up again leaving me going back worse off than when I had left.

The acapella shouts at the beginning would grab me, a sharp inhale would follow, my face scrunched, chin up, clenched-shut eyes pointing to the ceiling. It’s on so loud that the opening riff nearly burst the speakers…

…I found a fox caught by dogs, he lay taken in my hand, His little heart beat so fast that I was ashamed to be running away…

Stacked in a drawer beside me lay the paper work of all the people that had died before I had met them. Fred, 82, Lichfield – Renal Failure; Doris, 78, Tamworth – Colon Cancer; Ted Donnington, 61 – Respiratory Failure.

Under the Community Care Act of the UK, once a referral for a social work assessment is made the referral must be processed in all instances. The ward staff would make a referral for hospice care or palliative home care often too late and just as a means of placating distressed families who don’t want to accept that their loved one is passing on a hospital ward. Despite the referral being dead on arrival, the social worker still has to process the paper work or the department would be scored negatively in the council’s next standards inspection visit. I would input data, set up files, complete all fields and sign off at the end. On the worst of occasions I would have to ring a bereaved family member looking for details that we needed for the forms that the ward staff hadn’t included. My drawer of death would fill up each week with someone else’s dad, someone else’s lover, someone else’s confidant and I would perform the most redundant of acts for the sake of nothing before returning home to a bottle of wine or two, a take away and a fearful wondering would it be like that again the next day.

Opening my eyes I would start the car, drive out of the car park and scream the lyrics back at the top of my voice

…help me someone help me please…… Nothing real, I just can’t deal with this….I feel ashamed to be there…

It wasn’t my first time to see a therapist. I had spoken to someone in the counselling services in UCD after dad died, which was also around the time that I was struggling to come to terms with my brother’s death by suicide. The pain I was in at that time doesn’t in any way compare to how low I was now. I took each of those sessions as an effort to convince my therapist of how good I was at coping. I had a list of all the good things to say that got a good reaction.

I lied about going to the grave, lied about talking to my family about how I was feeling, lied about everything being ok at home. I was coping and had way too much to be doing than to spend any time “feeling” so the therapy just served to tick a box on my fantasy list of things I do really well (if I have to be double bereaved then I was going to be the best coper ever !!).  At 25 my resilience was broken. In my first session I cried uncontrollably, barely stopping for breath. My therapist didn’t let me off the hook easy. Each week that passed he would push me further – “that doesn’t seem like a fair judgement that a reasonable person would make against you, why is it reasonable for you to come to that judgment ?” was one of his more effective ways of cutting me down when I was hammering a nail into the palm of my hand for some fantastic failure or other.

Some days I would just hit the back button on my iPod and let it start again and sing back just as loud as the time before. Breath out. Park. Wipe tears. Begin again.

….The hounds of love are calling , I’ve always been a coward….

The sessions went on for five months. In truth they should have gone on longer but I was feeling better and the world started to offer better things for me to be doing than sitting around repeating myself. Time has proven the folly of that assertion many times over since then, so I won’t be too hard on myself for seeing it that way back then. When I remember the sounds, smells and sights of a particularly painful time I tend to tread softly. My worry is that to dwell in these smoky memories I may risk that today, tomorrow and the day after that might somehow pass me by while I stay in an anesthetized state. But since starting this playlist I haven’t been sad or regretful, on the contrary I have found time and again that the songs that get me through have everything to do with painful times from the past and an appreciation that these times don’t just pass by themselves but rather they are times that I have overcome.

Listening to the Hounds of Love by The Futureheads this morning, I sang back just as loud as before, but today I was rejoicing the passing of more painful times.

Art of making a difference: First Fortnight’s art therapists on mental health and the homeless community

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ANYONE who has sat down and written a song, a poem or painted a picture can probably attest to the fact that creating art can be quite therapeutic. First Fortnight’s Louise Quinn and Eithne McAdam have taken this idea further through their work with members of the homeless community who are experiencing mental ill-health, and helping them through the means of art therapy.

Having studied together in Edinburgh, they were keen to use their training in art psychotherapy to help First Fortnight. “We approached them as art therapists,” says Eithne. “Fairly quickly we got funding from Genio and the idea was to provide an art therapy service for homeless adults with severe and enduring mental health problems.”

Thanks to that Genio funding and the help of Crosscare, the First Fortnight Centre For Creative Therapies is now a reality and is providing valuable care to homeless people with mental health issues.

Art psychotherapy is an alternative to verbal expression and can be a useful way to express feelings that might not otherwise be communicated.

Using art materials as the primary method of communication, clients work through complex emotional difficulties by making art and being encouraged to think about the possible underlying meanings in the imagery. The aim of this is for the client and the therapist to gain insight into the client’s experiences that they may not have the verbal skills to articulate.

Louise sums this up as like a triangle between the client, the therapist and the art.

“All points of that triangle are interacting so you’re interacting with the artwork, in a way, with your own response and you’re interacting with them (the client). Oftentimes they mightn’t want to interact with you so you can be there holding and just witnessing as well and that can be especially useful for people who find relationships quite difficult, which is often the case,” she says.

The reason that some who avail of the art therapy service find relationships quite difficult, and the reason that Eithne and Louise decided to focus on the homeless community, is that schizophrenia is quite prevalent within the homeless community and art psychotherapy has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of treating schizophrenia.

“It’s actually one of the only things that has been recommended for schizophrenia,” explains Eithne. The centre also fits  First Fortnight’s aim of ending the stigma against mental health issues through the use of the creative arts.

Of course, there were challenges to be met in getting the service up and running. Chief among these were securing funding and finding a space to host the sessions.

Funding was secured from Genio, a non-governmental organisation that works to bring Government and philanthropic funders together to fund projects that support disadvantaged people, such as those experiencing mental health difficulties or suffering from disabilities.

Once funding had been secured, Louise and Eithne approached Crosscare, who provided them with a room in their Haven House building.

“We couldn’t really be doing it without them,” says Louise, who notes that Crosscare’s vast experience in working within the homeless community has been very beneficial. “People are used to working with this client group and there’s a lot of respect there,” she says.

The support that Crosscare has provided has been crucial as a consistent, regular space is vital when providing art therapy. Clients need the routine of the same place and the same time to build a trusting relationship with the therapist.For those who are homeless, this is especially important.

“There’s something within homelessness about being moved on or moving around, losing stuff in all these moves,” says Eithne and she believes that for “some of our clients it’s almost like a relief when they open their folder and it’s still there and they know it’s going to be until they finish up.”

This stability has been crucial to the success of the First Fortnight Centre for Creative Therapies and has seen clients’ regular attendance hit the 70 per cent mark in the first year.

The sessions themselves last for an hour, with the client selecting what materials they wish to use and creating a piece of art from those materials. The client is free to discuss issues while they are making the art or after the art is made. Sometimes issues are raised long after the artwork is made.

“Some weeks, someone might make something, it’s put away in a folder and they look at it weeks later and think, ‘aw you know, that’s about a family member or something that was going on for me’ and while they were making it, it may not be at the front of their mind but it takes some time to process it,” says Eithne. Again, the fact that there is a regular space and the client can avail of up to 25 sessions is key to allowing the client time to deal with these issues, although there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Some clients will talk while they are making the art while others become completely immersed in the process but regardless of what way they choose to communicate, they are treated in a respectful, non-judgemental way.

Another way that art therapy can be helpful is that it allows those who do not have the words to access feelings and memories through the senses by interacting with the art materials. Just as the feel of sand could remind you of a summer holiday from your childhood, the feel and smell of art materials can remind someone of certain times in their life and can be the key to unlocking very early memories.

“Our senses did develop before our language,” explains Eithne. “ It’s a pre-verbal kind of memory that you can access through using art and these materials too so sometimes if a client is really, really involved maybe in what they’re making, they might not have any words because something really early is happening, some very early memory might be coming through.” These memories can be very helpful when treating the client.

Having made it through the pilot year and with their referrals growing, Eithne and Louise are very happy with how the project is going so far and are very grateful for the support that they have received. But they do need materials to keep the centre going and would be more than happy if any suppliers wished to come on board and provide art materials to allow them to continue their work.

With homelessness on the rise, The First Fortnight Centre for Creative Therapies is providing a vital service to those who find themselves homeless and struggling with mental health issues, providing a real alternative treatment to those most in need of it.

7 simple things you can do on a daily basis to help lift your mood

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By Fiona Smith

IF YOU’RE feeling chronically low or anxious, please bear in mind that the best thing to do is seek professional advice and treatment. But for those times when the pressure is starting to filter in at the edges or you’re just having a bad day, there are a few simple tricks you can try to help you push on through.

Strike a pose

A 2009 study by Brion, Petty & Wagner reported that sitting up straight boosts feelings of self-confidence, while slumping has the opposite effect. Research at Harvard University has also shown that holding “power postures” for 120 seconds can create a 20 per cent jump in confidence-boosting testosterone and a 25 per cent decrease in stress hormone cortisol. I’m not entirely sure what power postures are – I’m envisioning some kind of slo-mo Vogueing – but I’ll give it go. There’s an interesting TED talk on the subject here

Smile like you mean it

We’ve all heard how physically forming a smile, even when you don’t feel like it, will trick you into feeling better – it has been proven to slow the heart rate and decrease perceived levels of stress. Another odd bit of brain trickery is typing with your right hand only – even if you’re a leftie – as words made up of letters from the right side of the QWERTY keyboard are associated with positive feelings. Researchers think it’s probably due to the fact that more letters are grouped on the left of the keyboard so right- side words are easier for the hand and brain to process, making the brain happier. Perhaps not hugely practical if you’re left-handed and in a hurry to get things done, but luckily for me I do this automatically by dint of being right-handed and rubbish at typing.

Just breathe

Indulge in a bit of yoga-style breathing – inhale and hold for a count of four before letting it out slowly and pausing for a count of four at what they call the bottom of your breath. The longer the exhale the better. A deep breath, like a yawn, is thought to ‘reset’ the brain and therefore alter your mood, hopefully for the better. I’ve also come across several accounts lately of a similar method called Buteyko Breathing, making impressive claims for all sorts of health benefits, including alleviation of asthma, migraine and anxiety symptoms. There’s a quick tutorial here.

Leave right now

Sometimes it can feel like there’s a physical weight upon us, times when it’s a huge effort to move, and negative thoughts play on a paralysing loop. But it’s worth forcing yourself to get up and out. Even moving to another room, a change of scene, different colours, lighting, people and atmosphere, can help shake off the bad feeling, for a while. Ideally get outside for a walk, as fresh air and sunshine and (blah blah blah) exercise obviously tend to be of help. Exposure to the colour green has been shown to boost creativity too so get thee to the park or countryside regularly if possible.

Something better beginning

Kick off the day with something that makes you feel good, be it listening to an amazing piece of music or downing a delicious fruit smoothie. Surround yourself with pleasant scents, sounds and sensations, anything with positive associations. Fostering an optimistic outlook straight away will cast the day in a better light. In fact, why not ‘treat yo’self’ (as the Parks and Recreation cast would say) – set yourself up with one lovely thing each morning for a week (or forever), such as watching a playlist of your funniest videos or taking a deep bubble bath…water meters, be damned. Or go all out and have a breakfast burrito. Whatever helps.

You live, you learn

Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement and therefore a new confidence. So get stuck into that foreign language for an hour a day or figure out how to fix your bike. There are tutorials galore on YouTube etc so your new thing doesn’t have to cost you. You could try out some make-up techniques, start painting lessons, cooking or DIY. I recently learned how to play my toddler’s favourite song on the ukulele. (Only three chords, the downside is she makes me play it about seven times an hour.) It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. Doing one new thing a day – even if it’s only taking a different route to work or sampling an exotic type of tea – can help get you out of a rut and aid in rewiring a ‘negative loop’ way of thinking.

Accept yourself

Simply acknowledge that you’re in a bad mood and allow the mood to happen, remembering that IT WILL PASS. Battling in vain to fight off or suppress these emotions (or feeling bad for feeling bad) can only make things worse.

These tips my seem sorely simplistic in the face of a depressive illness or anxiety disorder, but they are not meant as an alternative to therapy or medication, merely tricks that have worked for myself and others in the short term. Sometimes just feeling there is something, anything positive, you can do, however small it may be – and doing it – is a vital step towards feeling more in control of your wellbeing.

Also by Fiona Smith - 7 awe-inspiring individuals who also happened to be affected by mental health issues

Follow on Twitter @fifilebon

A leap of faith – First Freefall for mental health

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Chris Brady

By Cian Murray (Twitter @CianMur)

Confucius said: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Although my research is not extensive, I am pretty sure the Chinese philosopher was not referring to tandem skydives when he shared this wisdom.

Today (September 13) several volunteers will hurl themselves out of a plane in the middle of the Irish Midlands. This group aim to remove the stigma of mental health problems and help people who suffer from these issues get back on track. Or in other words, help those who have fallen rise again. A regular bunch of Confucius(es?)!

Among these philosophers is 28 year-old Chris Brady. Chris works as a content executive with an online bookmaker and this is his first skydive.

First things first Chris – Are you nervous?

I would be lying if I said I was not nervous, but I am also really excited about the prospect of the jump. It is something I have always wanted to do, but never done.

What will you be thinking as you make the ascent?

If I knew the answer to that now, I probably wouldn’t be willing to do the jump. It is the waiting I am dreading more than the actual event. It is like being on a rollercoaster that keeps going-up. We know it is going to drop, so just get to the top already!

Are you a nervous flyer?

Not remotely, but I have tended to stay inside the plane for the duration of my flights.

What attracted you to the First Fortnight charity?

My sister, Catherine, is friends with the two directors of First Fortnight, JP Swaine & Dave Keegan. She had mentioned their other activities and the great work they were doing. While she would be willing to participate in the more grounded events, she felt I was better suited to this particular activity.

Do you think mental health is stigmatised in Ireland?

From my limited experience, I do not think mental health issues are understood in the same way physical health issues are, and I would assume this is mainly due to a lack of awareness. I have friends who suffered with depression during their teen years. I believe the lack of facilities to help them cope caused them to suffer alone. I would hope charities such as First Fortnight can help people become better informed of the importance of mental health.

7 awe-inspiring individuals who also happened to be affected by mental health issues

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By Fiona Smith

It’s the 45th anniversary of the moon landing – and in his book Return to Earth the astronaut recounts the surreal experience of being among the first to walk its surface. But it also touches on a much darker place. Despite the adulation that came with the whole lunar stroll thing, Buzz entered into a deep depression and alcoholism, leading to a hospital stay. He only found his feet again through therapy and medication.

Buzz later said: “Recovery was not easy. Perhaps the most challenging turnaround was accepting the need for assistance and help. Looking back at it now – with over 22 years of sobriety – this was probably one of my greatest challenges. But it has also been one of the most satisfying because it has given me a sense of comfort and ease with where I am now.”

Florence became a popular heroine tending wounded soldiers in the Crimean war in the 1850s, and what she learned there informed her groundbreaking nursing techniques. In addition to a cracking bedside manner, the Lady of the Lamp was something of a pie chart pioneer, inventing a new diagram system to depict mortality rates.

She was able to present complex data to the British parliament in a way that made sense to them and sparked vital reform. Florence founded the first official secular nurse training scheme and her students went on to run successful hospitals and schools across the world.

But from 1857 on, Nightingale suffered from debilitating depression, likely brought on by a bacterial infection contracted in the field. Despite being intermittently bedridden, she remained amazingly productive in social reform and hospital planning and her prolific writings have been influential on a global scale ever since.

Britain’s cigar-chomping wartime Prime Minister, famed for his V for victory two-fingered salute and rousing speeches, was plagued by what he termed the “Black Dog” of depression. With both his father and daughter affected by mental health issues, it appears to have run in the family.

While his stirring oration strengthened Allied resistance and buoyed the wartime population, he often sank to the depths of despair. Friend Lord Beaverbrook described him as “always at the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of intense depression”. But psychiatrist Anthony Storr reckons Churchill used his experiences to inform his political character, saying: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940”.

There is some speculation Churchill may have lived with bipolar disorder – in addition to serving as Prime Minister for decades, he wrote 43 books as well as a huge volume of correspondence.

You’ve probably seen dramatic images of the inventor in his lab with his Weird Science-style contraptions, bolts of ‘lightning’ at his fingertips. But despite cutting a dashing figure, the Serbian-American scientist avoided close human relationships all his life, working in intense solitude in his efforts to create more efficient energy systems.

He had symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and a stark aversion to germs. While Tesla’s endless innovations eventually improved the lives of billions, his employers and investors often failed to appreciate his genius and left him penniless and no longer in control of many of his patents. Tesla happily went to work digging ditches in his downtime from the technological industry. In later years, overcoming his germ phobia, he cared for wild birds in his New York apartment and could be seen standing in the park with pigeons perched on his outstretched arms.

While I’d personally take issue with her most famous one-liner ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses’, the legendary wit was the breakout star of the Algonquin Vicious Circle, a coterie of wordsmiths and wisecrackers who met at the New York hotel in the Twenties. A reviewer for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, she also had a well-paid residency as a Hollywood screenwriter, penning the Oscar-nominated A Star Is Born.

Along with her dazzling bon mots and a reputation as a social sharpshooter, she was also open about her hard drinking and depression. It was often the subject of her poetry – her most celebrated work is a list of the downsides of various unsatisfactory suicidal methods, resolving in ‘You might as well live’. And she sure did. Parker was a passionate advocate for civil rights, a fearless reporter on the Spanish Civil War, chairing the Anti-Fascist Rescue Committee and co-founding the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936.

The most famous composer of all time suffered the cruellest blow imaginable, when his hearing began to deteriorate age 28 and he became totally deaf by age 44. It is believed he had Paget’s disease, which caused the cranial bones to enlarge and destroy auditory nerves, also resulting in an ever-expanding forehead, jaw and feet. However

Beethoven continued to compose symphonies and concertos, which he would never fully hear, sometimes resorting to conducting them with a crude ‘hearing trumpet’ taped to his head. He descended into alcoholism and opium-use however and may have also had bipolar disorder, being prone to bouts of mania – he was said to have composed several works at once, including several of his most magnificent pieces.

The legendary jazz singer suffered with mental health issues throughout her life. Simone’s childhood obsession to succeed as a classical pianist was the seed of discontent that drove her to later unhappiness, according to biographer Nadine Cohodas. A rejection of her application to study music at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, which she believed was down to racial discrimination, was devastating for her.

Moving on to nightclub performing, her shows tended to be volatile. Nina would berate or stare down the crowd if there was too much noise, stating: “I expect and deserve respect.” Later financial disputes with record companies and the taxman fostered her sense of paranoia. While her career flourished, her illness grew steadily worse. Finally diagnosed with schizophrenia, she continued to perform regularly due to mounting debts. Despite late starts and shouting matches with the crowd, her concerts usually ended in a standing ovation due to her phenomenal talent.

Follow Fiona Smith on Twitter @fifilebon

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