Book Review – Barking, By Lucy Sullivan
Content warning: mental illness, suicidal thoughts, hospitalisation.
Lucy Sullivan’s debut graphic novel, Barking, follows Alix Otto, a young woman haunted by the death (and possibly the ghost?) of her friend, and by a black dog that only she can see. It opens with Alix standing on a bridge over the Thames and the dog goading her to jump, when she’s picked up by the police and quickly taken to a psychiatric ward, where most of the book is set.
The black dog as a metaphor for depression dates back at least as far as Samuel Johnson but Sullivan’s version is portrayed with unusual force and malevolence, a snarling, scribbly presence, sometimes lurking in the shadows of a scene and other times bursting out from the panel borders. The dog is also the voice of Alix’s intrusive thoughts, in speech bubbles scattered across the page, disrupting and confusing the narrative as they disrupt Alix’s thought processes.
Having a second character voice the protagonist’s interior monologue reminded me strongly of Sarah Kane’s work, particularly her play 4:48 Psychosis, and as in Kane’s work the impression is of someone under intolerable pressure, caught between the relentless haranguing of her inner voice on one side and the alienating, jargon-ridden speeches of the medical professionals on the other.
The art style is loose and scribbly, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz at his scratchiest, or Dave McKean having a particularly bad day, and with a confidence and fluidity to the figure drawing that demonstrates Sullivan’s background as an animator and life-drawing tutor. The art is perfect for the book and inextricable from the story it’s telling, but is hard to decipher at times, and might prove a barrier to people who are new to reading comics.
Barking is presented as a graphic novel rather than a memoir, and while Sullivan has been very open about her own experiences with mental ill-health in interviews, she’s also been clear that this isn’t autobiography. Having said that, she clearly knows what she’s talking about. Some of the details – the evangelical nurse pushing Jesus as a miracle cure, for example, or the weird, elliptic conversations during group therapy sessions – chimed uncomfortably closely with my own experiences as a psychiatric in-patient.
The psychiatric ward as depicted here is a brutal and frightening place; definitely part of the problem rather than the solution. While this isn’t a universal experience of psychiatric hospitals, it’s common enough that it definitely should be part of the wider conversation about mental ill-health and its treatment. And the depiction isn’t entirely one-sided – Sullivan offers us a ray of hope by having one nurse, at least, show compassion towards Alix
This is a brilliant and challenging book about depression, but perhaps not one to read when you’re actually depressed. But if you’re feeling brave and you’re interested in the current state of the art of comics as an artform, I’d say it was necessary reading.
Barking, by Lucy Sullivan
Published by Unbound, 2020
128pp Hardback, £16.99
Available to buy from Lucy Sullivan’s website: https://lucysullivanuk.com/
If you’re currently affected by depression, contact your GP for an appointment, or call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you need to talk to someone immediately. HFEH Mind also has a list of other sources of support in the West London area: https://www.hfmind.org.uk/get-support/advice-and-information/
By Daniel Bristow-Bailey
Posted on: 21st September 2020
As schools begin to return, I have had some time to reflect on the last few weeks (20 to be precise!) of how our home lives entirely changed overnight. Becoming a full-time homeschooler, continuing to work full-time whilst maintaining parental boundaries has been quite the challenge to say the least. Whilst it’s been quite an insightful experience, personally for me it’s time for my child to go back to school.
It all started so well with organised timetables, scheduled breaks, exciting experiments and Spider-man lunges with Joe Wicks to start the day. We were full of enthusiasm and thought it will only be for a few weeks at the very most. After all, I would be only be homeschooling one child, how hard was this going to be? The first few weeks went well, we even made it into the school newsletter, I thought ‘we’ve got this’ apart from the odd eye roll, we were thriving.
The novelty of ‘school’s out for summer’ for a 9-year-old was about to wear off and the reality of lock-down soon began to sink in. There have been slammed doors, tantrums, refusals to do pretty much anything other than play on the Nintendo switch and far too many days in pajamas. With everything used from bribery and the dreaded phrase every child hates ‘I’m going to have to call your dad if you don’t get on with your work’ – yep that’s right I had to go there.
I’ve worried relentlessly about the screen time; the school have been very organised but with all activities on Google classroom there hasn’t been much time away from the laptop. I have worried the online activities are not sinking in as much as the classroom activities would but what is the alternative? Our pre-Covid screen time rules have gone out the window, and left us negotiating time allowed for ‘free-time screen time’ versus allocated screen time for schoolwork.
During the pandemic I have learnt to pick my battles; core subjects have remained non-negotiable with others fading away. I can safely say my neighbors are pleased the French-horn was short lived. But the constant football and basketball (accidentally) being kicked over the wall into their garden I’m sure is wearing thin.
Parenting can be challenging at the best of times and the current pandemic is inevitably making parenting more stressful. Being a parent, teacher, and friend, has been incredibly difficult to maintain. I’m constantly questioning am I doing the right thing? Is my child happy? Somedays it feels like all I do is tell them to stop doing this or that or re-do their work again, whilst questioning is this what you produce at school or a special treat for me?
Balancing work and homeschooling are a challenge on their own, personally it is not something I would choose to do again. When my other half leaves for work each morning all jolly, all I can think is ‘take me with you!’ I personally do not feel qualified for this teacher role and welcome the time when I do not spend my evenings planning and researching tasks for the next day to keep my son immersed. As the weeks past trying to maintain professional at work was a thing of the past. Once your son pops into Zoom meeting to show the team his painting of a rainbow Heli-fish (Helicopter fish of course) it’s safe to say, our once bliss work-home balance has completely merged into one.
Reflecting on the last few months also gave me time to appreciate the fun memories we have made and cherish the time we have spent together. I have more appreciation for my son’s teacher’s than ever before, and I am fully prepared to apply for a place on ‘are you smarter than a 10-year-old.’
By Rachel O’Shea – Mental Health Advice Caseworker
Posted on: 8th September 2020
The Little Things Add Up
Since spending so much time at home during lockdown, I’ve realised I will do absolutely anything to put off little tasks. Whether its replying to a text; sending a parcel back at the post office; or sorting the flowers that are wilting in the kitchen; I just can’t seem to do it at the time at which it needs to be done.
Why is it so easy to look at these jobs and think, ‘I’ll sort that later’, knowing full well that it will be a long time before that happens. The list of jobs will then pile up, along with negative thoughts about myself for not being on top of things.
When I finally do these tasks, I feel a wave of relief and any anxiety I was experiencing is suddenly lessened. The more of these ‘odd jobs’ I do, the more my other worries – the ones I can’t do anything about – don’t seem as bad. Completing these tasks gives me an element of control, that during these corona times, is very hard to come by.
It’s taken me a while to realise this is the case. I don’t think I really appreciated the weight that these little ‘to-dos’ carry and the negative effect that endlessly putting them off can bring. But it makes sense, since we are so hugely influenced by our environment and it’s easy to forget that we need to look after it. Just by realising this, it doesn’t make it easy to suddenly do all of the boring chores I have waiting for me. Maybe I need to change the way I think about these tasks? Here are two suggestions that I’ve found helpful.
Firstly, I think it’s important to set aside enough time for the task. Not an abstract ‘later’, as we often do, prioritising other ‘more important’ things ahead of them. If we keep pushing them to the back of the queue, we’re not acknowledging the importance of them. Setting a specific time and completing the task can give you a sense of achievement.
It might also be useful to think of it as doing something for our ‘future self’. It can be tricky to do something nice for ourselves as we often don’t see ourselves as deserving. It’s easy to put off the things we should do to feel better. But maybe it’s useful to think about the person you will become in an hour, or a week, month or year? What if you were able to view your future self as a person who is worthy of being treated well? What if those tasks you put off, you complete as a ‘gift’ to future you. Often, it’s a lot easier to do something nice for a stranger. For example doing the washing up late at night so that future you doesn’t have to come downstairs to dirty plates first thing in the morning.
This is just a reminder to take out your recycling, book in your car for that M.O.T and send that letter. Whether you just make enough time in your day, or imagine you’re doing it for your future self, you’ll definitely feel better for it.
By Emily Muntz
Posted on: 31st July 2020
What Is Hate Crime?
The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) define hate crime as any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim, or anyone else, as being motivated by “hostility or prejudice” based on one or more of the following personal characteristics:
- Race or ethnicity
- Religion or beliefs
- Sexual orientation
- Transgender identity
Hate incidents and hate crimes can take many forms including:
- Physical attacks – including physical assault, damage to property, offensive graffiti, neighbour disputes and arson
- Threat of attack – including offensive letters, abusive or obscene phone calls, intimidation, and unfounded, malicious complaints
- Verbal abuse or insults – including offensive leaflets and posters, abusive gestures, dumping of rubbish outside homes or through letterboxes and bullying at school or in the workplace.
- Threats, harassment, and bullying
- Online abuse
There is no place for hate crime, it can have a significant impact on victims as it targets a fundamental part of their identity. We know from research that victims of hate crime are more likely to suffer repeat victimisation and serious psychological impact. Hate crime is also a damaging social problem that harms entire families and communities, as well as individual victims. Failure to recognise and effectively target hate crime and hate incidents can lead to victimisation of individuals and vulnerable groups, as well as the destabilisation of entire communities.
If you think you have been a victim of a hate crime or incident contact the police, victim support, your GP, a parent, safeguarding lead, tutor, teacher, counsellor, support worker, friend or colleague. It is important to report all Hate Crime.
Change takes courage.
By Carmen Coke-Alphonse – Mind HFEH Safeguarding Lead
Posted on: 17th July 2020
Mood on shuffle: how does music affect how we feel?
Music plays a central role in our lives, whether we realise it or not. It is frequently used to entertain and amuse us, as well as being a very powerful means of influence. Music is in everything around us; films and television, advertisements and even shops and restaurants have music playing in the background! But music goes beyond this, and it can be a powerful tool in allowing us to connect more with our emotions and get through challenging times.
Our brains are incredible. They absorb information and enable us to learn patterns that we hear and their associations with different contexts. You only have to think of a scary film you’ve seen to remember that visceral reaction you felt throughout your body when the villain jumped out in front of the ‘good guy’ in a dark alleyway… Do you remember what music was playing in that scene? No? Well we can assume it probably wasn’t a jolly sounding folk tune as it’s unlikely that this would give you the same feeling of fear – we’re just too used to hearing this sort of music in a happy context such as Heidi to believe that a scare is coming…
But the amazing thing is, most of this happens without us even realising and there is so much more that music does behind the scenes. One study looked at the brains of people whilst they listened to music and saw an increase in activity and when people were playing instruments, they saw the whole brain light up. It also activates areas in the brain that can distract you from pain – that’s why music can really help if you’re exercising or getting a painful tooth filling.
Music genre is also important – when we listen to music we like, our brains release dopamine causing us to experience feelings of pleasure and it can also reduce our levels of stress hormone (cortisol) causing us to feel calmer. You might wonder then, why do we sometimes actively listen to sad music? One argument for this is that it makes us feel understood by the musician and therefore less alone. Certain music has also been found to help us use energy more efficiently and even improve our memory and learning ability. The benefits are endless!
Here are some ways you can use music to support your mood
Find out how music affects you by asking yourself these questions:
- Does it make you feel better or worse? Does it make your body feel a certain way?
- Can it change your mood?
- Are there any particular genres/artists/lyrics that you find helpful or unhelpful to listen to?
Create playlists for different moods and times of day
Or if you can’t be bothered to make your own, most music streaming sites have ready-made playlists. When I hit a block writing this I searched for ‘music to help you concentrate’, clicked play and sure enough, managed to get some more sentences down!
Don’t listen to songs associated with bad memories
Music is powerful in evoking memory which is great sometimes but less good when those memories are unpleasant. If it brings up bad memories, skip the song!
How often do you listen properly to the lyrics in a song? Try really noticing the lyrics in songs you like and think about what they mean to you.
For musicians – try writing a piece of music yourself
It can be a great way of expressing your emotions and connecting with others (if you choose to share it!)
If you’d like to learn more about music and the brain click here.
By Molly Phillips
Posted on: 3rd July 2020
The Attitude of Gratitude: giving thanks is good for us
At HFEH Mind we do something called Wellbeing Wednesday tips. Every week, we ask someone different across our teams to reflect on what keeps them happy and well. This is then shared across the whole organisation for some mid-week inspiration.
After hitting a wall when it came to writing a blog post, I realised that there’s value in sharing what works for me. So today I’m talking about gratitude – something that I practice regularly and especially during stressful and difficult times, as a way to support my mental health.
You may think of gratitude as one of those ‘fluffy’ buzzwords. It links with wider self-care activities – another buzzword many people view simply as a hashtag on Instagram not to be taken seriously. However, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And in that sense, it’s incredibly important and plays a huge part in enhancing our resilience.
It’s safe to say that most people, if not all, are on that pursuit of happiness. Job satisfaction, a loving family, healthy and productive relationships, inner peace, freedom and adventure – whatever happiness looks like to you. However, in this indefinite pursuit of happiness, how often do we spare a minute to be genuinely thankful for what we already have?
In its simplest form, gratitude refers to a ‘state of thankfulness’ or a ‘state of being grateful’. In positive psychology, gratitude is a way of acknowledging the good things of life. Thanking others, thanking ourselves, Mother Nature, or indeed a much higher force – gratitude can enlighten the mind.
Appreciating what you have can have a healing effect, and can allow you to experience less frustration, envy, and regret. Personally, I’m somebody who experiences frequent imposter-syndrome. Not feeling quite good enough is something I have to manage daily. However, my gratitude practice helps. It forces me to reflect upon my mood, my relationships, my accomplishments – and clarify my priorities. What have I achieved so far that allows me to feel good right now? What am I thankful to have experienced? What everyday things do I have access to that I shouldn’t take for granted?
There’s no denying that gratitude in all forms is associated with happiness. Whether we say ‘thank you’ to someone or receive the same from others, we feel satisfied. Neural mechanisms that are responsible for feelings of gratitude have grabbed attention of researchers for years. Some studies have shown that when we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin – two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can strengthen these neural pathways until it becomes a more natural state of being.
Now there’s also research that suggests gratitude can counteract depression, as well as support your physical health. The jury is still out on those studies – please do take them with a pinch of salt – practicing gratitude is certainly not the be all and end all of life satisfaction. However, I’ve found that it’s one method that allows me to appreciate life as I know it – and has been especially valuable to me at the moment. I’ve outlined some quick tips below for developing your own practice:
Invest in a journal
Disclaimer: I’ve always been a big fan of the journal and getting my thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto paper. Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive – it just has to be yours. You’ll invest more of your time and energy into something when you feel a connection to it.
Find the right notepad or book that compels you to use it every day, and then keep it somewhere you typically frequent – perhaps on your nightstand so you’ll see it before you go to sleep or when you wake up each morning.
Set a realistic goal
Be realistic about how many things you’re thankful for – this will likely change with your mood that day. Try starting with five things and building from there. Sometimes you’ll approach your list feeling rubbish, and the idea of being thankful will seem ridiculous. When this has happened to me, I’ve written down that I’m grateful to actually be making the time.
Write it by hand (if you can!)
Try and keep things old school with your gratitude journal. I’ve found that there’s something about the kinetic process of writing it down by hand that allows me to be a bit more aware and thoughtful. However, a gratitude list should be something you want to do, not a chore. So if typing up 5 things on your computer helps you maintain the practice then do it! Don’t give up all together if you feel your habit slipping – switch your approach.
By Amy Woodward
Posted on: 18th June 2020
Me And My Best Self In Lockdown
“If time was your issue before then you have no excuses now, otherwise you are just failing.”
I’m sure many of you have read statements like the one above during this time.
It’s almost like someone is personally attacking you and your way of life.
When I first read this statement I remember feeling guilty. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more, especially because I had more time on my hands.
This then led me down a path of not feeling good about myself. Was I a failure for not being the most productive person I could be? Am I lazy because I’m not my best self all the time? What even is my best self? Is everyone else feeling this way?
All of these questions came to mind and then came the onslaught of social media posts. People doing home workouts, people organising their entire houses, people baking, cooking, learning a new language, drawing, painting, and the list goes on.
And then I realised, these are just small glimpses into their lives, this can’t be what they are doing 24/7 during lockdown. Also, why do I keep comparing myself to these individuals online whose lives I know very little about. There must be more to the picture than the one I’m seeing.
I then started to reflect on our current situation. We as a nation are going through a collective traumatic experience. Let that sink in.
We are having to stay at home for the majority of our time, if not all for some. We are having to work from home, have Zoom meetings (which are in themselves very draining) look after our kids, clean and cook a lot more …and we are in the midst of a pandemic.
Then it hit me. Our lives right now are far from what we are used to and what we are going through isn’t normal. So if I didn’t feel like organising my entire house and making banana bread that day then it was okay. It was okay for me to slow down, in fact it was okay for me to do nothing.
But, this doesn’t always work for everyone. Some people need to keep busy because that’s how they cope when life gets difficult. I know I prefer to keep busy and I like sticking to a schedule, whereas many people I know prefer to take it easy and not have that pressure of a schedule.
We will all experience this pandemic in different ways and we must understand each other’s own individual needs.
I also thought about life before and after this pandemic. Life was very “go go go”, it was as if I had my foot on the accelerator and couldn’t slow down. I ended up missing the little things in life, like noticing the leaves turn brown in autumn, the time for a tub bath or a chance to read a book. This made me realise that I wanted more of a balance, so I have now made a promise to myself that these will be things I do even after lockdown because it feels good and it will positively impact my mental health. And who knows, this might be what is my best self.
By Asha Sian.
Posted on: 5th June 2020
Last Week I Had A Fight With My Brother: A Lockdown Story
Last week I had a fight with my brother. We haven’t fought in years and generally get along well enough considering we live in close quarters at home anyway, so it came as kind of a surprise. I say ‘kind of’ as two and a half months of being in lockdown in a very small house I knew could start to take a toll – and sure enough it came to a head last week. It was completely ridiculous, he was cleaning up the kitchen, I was trying to watch a film, and for some reason the sound of him putting the plates away was especially jarring that day. In my head I was sure he was banging them just a bit too hard either deliberately or just inconsiderately (I mean I was doing something extremely important; the film wouldn’t watch itself!). So in my astute wisdom I decided it would be a good idea to say, “Do you want to make a bit more noise there mate?!” At which point he flipped, came marching into the living room and we almost came to blows. Luckily, both of us had capacity to go into separate rooms to cool off and apologising after we had calmed down.
When I was thinking about what to write about in this week’s blog post I thought that this experience is one that many of us have probably shared; falling out with those we are living with and care about, having shorter fuses than usual and dealing with situations in unhelpful ways. Amid a global pandemic, lockdown, uncertainty about the future and worries about infection, many of us will be stressed. From my own personal experience, being stressed and stuck in the house for far longer and in closer proximity to those that I live with than I am used to, plus a dash of miscommunication led to acting in not the most adult way. I am thankful however that my brother and myself have a good enough relationship to be able to apologise to each other and make up afterwards. I found that both of us sharing and acknowledging how we were feeling was very useful. We were able to understand how the other felt and that actually; it was more to do with everything going on right now than noisy plates.
As I said this was uncharacteristic for us and it got me thinking, how have we managed to live together peacefully and enjoying each other’s company (for the most part) for so long? Here are the four main things that I think are important in any relationship when you are living in close quarters:
Specifically giving each other space. This is a hard one, especially if you are stuck in a tiny flat, but it is more than just a physical thing. You could be sitting on the same couch just doing your own thing like reading a book or checking your phone and letting those you live with do the same. As with all things there is a balance to this, I am not advising ignoring those you live with, but checking in to see how they are doing and knowing when they would like to be left alone for a bit is important. What is equally important though is sharing with those you live with how you are doing, and when you need space – and this can often make us feel better in itself.
2. Communication and respect
This should probably be number one to be honest but here we are. Lack of communication and miscommunication are probably the biggest reasons for arguments. Lets look at my fight with my brother; I was feeling stressed and irritable because of lockdown, I had just put on a movie to try and relax, at that moment he starts making a load of noise, I get angry and make a sarcastic comment, meanwhile he is feeling the same way and that comment was just too much to deal with, especially coming from a sibling. At no point did we communicate how we were feeling, what we were trying to do or how we were affecting each other, if we had (as we have been able to do in the past) we would not have blown up as we did. Following from this is where respect is so important. If you communicate how you are feeling to those you live with, you hope that they will acknowledge that and respect how you are feeling and not dismiss you. Letting them know that and having the same respect for them is the first step.
Someone (I forget who) said that the British are optimistic pessimists and you can tell by their humour and I think they might have had something there. Making jokes and making each other laugh in less than ideal situations is a way we can cope. It can distract us from everything that might be going on, bring us closer to one and other and give us some perspective. It can also be a way for us to acknowledge how strange the situation is now and laugh at it – a helpful respite from just all doom and gloom.
Probably the second most important of these four and a way we can communicate without words. This could be giving your time, giving someone help with something, giving something nice (food, cups of tea and biscuits are usually a winner in my house), giving your attention. It is a way we can show that we care for another, value them and want to do something nice for them. Giving has also been proven to be beneficial for our own wellbeing and mental health, so it’s a win-win!
Thanks for reading if you have made it this far and I hope that some of the things I have noticed and found useful could be useful for you too! It is mental health week this week and the theme is kindness so please be kind to yourself and the ones around you. Go well!
By Blake Fontaine.
Posted on: 22nd May 2020
Mental Health Awareness Week – What Is Kindness?
Posted on: 21st May 2020
Embrace your boredom and get creative
At a time when we are isolating to stay safe, we are having to adapt and explore new ways to pass the time. For most of us, we are having to completely change the way we work as well as how we look after ourselves and this can be a real challenge.
Understandably, the situation that we’re in is surfacing many feelings: frustration, sadness, anger, stress, anxiety, boredom, worry, discomfort, confusion. As always, it’s important that we can express these feelings in one way or another. How we do this is a personal choice. For some this is through talking and connecting with people, for others through journaling, cooking, writing poetry or creating music or art.
I recently discovered that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is made up of two words in English, one meaning danger and the other meaning chance or opportunity. Of course, in the current crisis we are in, we don’t have as many opportunities as we perhaps had before. But I am finding it interesting to reflect on – what opportunities do I currently have that I didn’t before?
Having more time on our hands is something that most of us will be experiencing right now; this inevitably does lead to more boredom than usual. But what if this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing? Sandi Mann, a Senior Psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire has researched how boredom can actually spark creativity. When we are bored, Mann says “There’s no other way of getting that stimulation, so you have to go into your head”. If we can learn to sit with our thoughts a bit more, who knows what kind of new and exciting ideas might spring to mind?
So, next time you’re bored, rather than turning to your phone for a scroll, why not let your mind wander and see what happens? Perhaps now is the time to try your hand at a new skill and explore the creativity within you? Perhaps you will surprise yourself with what you create whilst also finding a new way to express what’s going on for you right now.
If you’re interested in getting creative, try some (or all!) of the following:
· Sign up free with Create to Connect to take part in a month of daily creative challenges this May
· Get crafty using the contents of your cupboards: make prints using fruits and vegetables or shaving foam and food colouring, paint using tea or coffee, make sculptures out of recycling or by mixing newspaper with flour and water.
· Visit Firstsite to get inspired with their free artist packs
· Visit The March Network to see an extensive list of organisations hosting online performances, classes, workshops and challenges you can get involved with.
It’s Ok to express yourself privately, but sometimes we just need to talk to someone. Here are some places you can find support if you need it:
By Molly Phillips
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing & Hounslow Mind
Sources: Sandi Mann – The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good
Icons from Freepik.com
Author: Molly Phillips
Posted on: 7th May 2020