Kind, committed, honest, funny, passionate and downright inspiring, Christina creates spaces in which people can be themselves in their most truest forms and generates an energy between people that is a force to be reckoned with.
In our work we come into contact with lots of people who have struggled with poor mental health. They include many people without a formal diagnosis but who are anxious, lonely, socially isolated or grief stricken. Our numbers also include people who are currently receiving services or support from Mental Health providers and have direct personal experience of receiving care from Psychiatrists and other health and voluntary sector providers as well as those in recovery. What becomes clear from all of this is how debilitating mental illness can be in particular how a psychotic episode can leave people completely adrift from the social and economic life they may have enjoyed before ‘it’ happened. How they struggle with the impact of medication on their confidence in movement, memory, self expression and quality of experience. It is also obvious to see the pain of the disjuncture, the rent, the break from the life they thought they would live as if the person they were before the episode is lost to them. How such experiences have negatively impacted on their families, their friends, their work colleagues and their employers. How many of the people they knew or relied on before are no longer in contact, no longer around. Once here how easy it becomes, and how natural, to just learn to live with ‘it’ as if it the core of your identity and always will be. To be ill in a way which suits the people who are taking care of you and what the state needs you to be to continue to provide housing and financial support. Once here the road back to independence, autonomy in the world, a person that can do and make thing seems very, very long indeed.
The Walkers: Lankelly 2
This group was established by Helen Smith. Her role is to provide psychological support to people with spinal injuries and their families. The impetus for developing the group was a response to the needs of patients. For someone working in a medical setting Helen takes an unusual approach in as much as she refuses to categorise patients, taking a very person centered approach to the support she offers. Having worked in the Unit for nearly 20 years her experience is that the outcomes for people are as diverse as the people, and their circumstances, and cannot be predicted in a simple way. The recovery trajectory for individuals seems to be as influenced by their attitude to the injury and their own recovery as by the nature of the injury itself. Therefore her approach is to take each patient on their own terms and enable them to determine what is helpful, or not. That is not to say that she does not challenge, but just that her approach is one in which she seeks to liberate their own capacity rather than impose preconceived solutions of her own. The Walkers Group comes out of this philosophy. Helen having noticed that those who recovered sufficiently to be able to walk, had a particular set of experiences and needs that was not being adequately met by the unit. She further observed, that for this group, often the best source of support was not from the professional team but from other people experiencing the same conditions. From those observations the Walkers Group was born.
When we were first offered support from Lankelly Chase so that we could learn from the practice of others we were, quite frankly, peeved. We wanted them to help us by supporting what we already were already doing and knew. What we had developed informed by our knowledge of the worst and best practice in over 20 cities and 100 neighborhoods up and down the country. We thought we had already done our research and already knew what it was we were doing and why. In many ways we were right.
Just recently I wrote the following email to everyone on our mailing explaining that I was going to be resigning from the role I have taken on over the last 3 years or so. It is a role one asked me to take on and I haven’t been paid for it so it might seem an little odd to resign. But I know that things are not going to get done that were being done, or at least not in the same way, and I wanted to explain, in advance, why that would be. I also wanted to explain a little about the hopes I had in terms of building on what we had learnt and why I thought that something worth doing. I was not saying that it is all over just that it will have to change as the current state of affairs was no longer sustainable for me. No one can keep going without being resourced and something was going to give. It was very nearly me and it would not serve anyone or anything for me to have sacrificed myself.
They are all in. Out there in the park the trees are rooting. I do not know the science of it but I imagine that even in their dormant state they are beginning to feel themselves connected to the earth. And what kind of place have we brought them to? The chances are that some of them will be damaged by people and by dogs. They will be particularly vulnerable in their early years. Out of the 32 trees we planted last year only 17 survive in tact. So why keep planting you might ask. There are only two ways of responding to what is going on around us in the world. We can accept it. We can think that whatever we think about our world that there is nothing we, the small people, can really do about it. Or we can think that everyone has some power to change the world around them and that it is by choosing to use that power, no matter how trivial and small it might be we need to raise our puny our fists against the current flow of the world.
When I was a child my mum was very ill. The house, which I imagine before had been a place of safety became, instead, a place where strange things happened, where a person who used to be very close seemed to disappear to become small and far in the distance. A place where strangers appeared to be led to rooms far away where they spoke in hushed voices about a life grown somehow small and dim. In our garden there were these huge trees which reached sky wards. They had, it seemed to me, to have been there since time began. Their roots I imagined grew so deep that whatever happened in the boisterous world they would still be there deeply connected to the ground. Whenever I had the chance I used to climb up into their branches. Up, up to the highest point I could reach and then allow myself, with my eyes closed to let them hold me. To allow the wind and the leaves to sing to me a lullaby to soothe me a song which connected me to the earth. Which is perhaps why I feel so connected to trees, so impressed by them, so awed by their strength and grace. Why I feel so motivated to plant them and so hurt when they are damaged in a thoughtless way. So deeply affected by the careless way in which we treat them as if they are not living. And yet given the chance they will outlive us and during their lives give shade, food, joy, and comfort. Their branches cathedrals in open spaces and their changing colours signifying the passage of the seasons and in a world where many things can be manufactured they remind us that the most precious things can only be planted, nurtured and grown.
The quote on our poster for the tree planting on 6th December is attributed to the ancient greeks it is that “a society grows great when humans help to plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit”. They were the first people that we know of in the history of Western Civilisation to have enough time – after the effort of getting and eating and sleeping was done – to really think about what it is to be fully human. They laid the basis of our current understanding of how we might best govern, rule, think, paint, and build. They were interested in how suffering could be lessened and how, through argument and reasoning, we could become our better wiser selves. Part of this is the capacity to do so is a willingness to step out of the here and now and to see things from a much longer perspective. To think not just about what I might want or need in the here and now but how if I looked back over my whole life the story I would like to tell of it and the impact that it has made. As Socrates famously said “an unexamined life is a life not lived”. Planting trees teaches you similar philosophical lessons. It is an activity which challenges you to think long term. When you plant one year old trees and realise that they will be here, hopefully, in 60.70,80 or 100 years and look over a world we can’t yet imagine it helps you to get things into perspective. You also fully respect the fact that things take time to come into their own and that a small apparently insignificant whip of thing can, if given time, protection and love become a towering thing of wonder.
I have to confess that I am someone who has spent a lot of time thinking. Unless I feel really safe and amongst people I know I do not like to just act on my feelings I like to think, I like to deliberate before choosing and I like to understand the world I am in and how I might best use the limited time I have here to cultivate the possibility of love, meaning, connection, joy, and reduce the possibility of unnecessary suffering. Therein lies the paradox. Whilst thinking is good it can also be a tyranny, Your mind can be your best friend intervening to stop you acting in a way which you might subsequently regret and be a tyrant by, you guessed it, intervening to stop you acting in a way which you might subsequently realise was the beginning of a path to someone new.