I have had a very busy few weeks, it feels like life is sorta rushing past me as I try and keep up. So far, I’m doing a good enough job of running alongside it I think, and I’ve got more good things on the horizon. Earlier in the week, Husband pouted because he hadn’t really seen me recently and said, “I don’t like this whole ‘you having a life’ thing, you’re never home!” OBVIOUSLY he is joking, although once upon a time I did used to get very upset at being house-bound with no future prospects at that moment.
Now? I get upset at the fact I don’t have enough arms to write all the things I want/need to. Also, smartphones are both amazing and terrible devices for keeping you in touch with your work 24/7.
Anyway, onto this post. I was lucky enough to get a place on a Mental Health First Aid training course here in Birmingham, the only thing holding me back previously being potential cost – I’m freelance and my only current income is my monthly PIP and Patreon donations – so when I heard that this course was going to be free, I signed right up! The location for the training was based in Sparkbrook, which is a fair distance away from where I live but definitely not impossible to get to via public transport. I got there in time on Wednesday morning, where I met the other course attendees and the trainers Lakhvir and Dupé. We all made our introductions, where I learned that my fellow first-aiders were all women and the majority were Muslim. It turns out that this particular branch of the course is taught in partnership with a local mental health clinic, the Zinnia Centre in Sparkhill, so many of the women were local to the area and knew the centre. I learned a great deal about mental health in Muslim communities, and how it is treated with regards to Islam and families.
So, our first day was based on two parts of the course focusing on depression and suicide. We were given our MHFA manuals and workbooks to use through the course and beyond, and both Lakhvir and Dupé presented slides on facts, statistics and case studies based within the taught topics. We also got the chance to learn more about them both, with Dupé giving us an incredible account of her life and the ordeals she had faced. I have never met such an awe-inspiring human being, she is so bubbly and kind even though life could’ve made her cold and hateful. I was at ease with the work and exercises, as I have already worked a lot on helping those who are feeling suicidal. Despite the familiarity though, it was a really great day packed with loads of information and guidance in helping others. I think the main thing I took from it was, “LISTEN FOR FUCKS SAKE.” Listen more, speak less, be ready to support someone if they want you to.
The second day was a little more intense for myself and the other first-aiders, as we learned about anxiety and psychosis. I think everyone in the room had some experience with suffering anxiety, and we learned about disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias too. We also learned a great technique for helping someone when they’re having a panic attack – I was glad to hear the old ‘breathe into a paper bag’ thing has since been thrown out, because it was my mom’s go-to trick and it never worked for me! The ‘one-armed seagull’ however, is far more effective as it helps to control the person’s breathing and focus.
We also spoke about self-harm, and I showed everyone my scars and spoke about my own reasons for the behaviour, before stepping into an improvised Q&A about it. After lunch, we moved onto psychosis… which was harder than I thought it was going to be. I learned that a lot of my own little quirks are related to psychosis (including my ultra vivid dreams, and of course the voice in my head) and then we did an exercise which would give the experience of having a voice disrupt the ability to concentrate on the other person. I pulled out of that one, saying “I have enough experience with the current tenant in my head,” so I went outside and enjoyed the sunshine. We were also taught very sensitive ways to deal with someone going through a psychotic episode, something that was interesting to learn from the outside of an episode for sure.
Despite being a room full of strangers, we all became very comfortable in sharing past traumas openly. I spoke about the abuse I suffered as a child and how that played into the development of my BPD. I won’t share what was said by the others, but they are all incredible women for going through their own nightmares and being there in that room. I grew quite close to these women quite quickly, and as the day drew to a close we exchanged numbers and vowed to keep in touch. I also hope to work with Lakhvir again with regards to mental health, hopefully pick up some more training and opportunities to learn all I can about it.
I cannot recommend this course enough to everyone out there. Whether you suffer from a mental illness currently or have done in the past, or if you care for someone with an illness, or even if you just want to be able to help out in a crisis, then please consider taking the course for yourself. It is so valuable and I have no doubt that it will come in handy at some point in your life. A massive thank you to Lakhvir and Dupé for their time, and to the ladies I spent two awesome days with – you’re all so wonderful and I hope we can catch up soon!
When I found myself struggling with my mental illness back in 2012, I was so afraid of it ruling my life. Now? Throw it all at me. I want to learn and know as much as I can, and shout from the rooftops until people understand and show some compassion for those who are doing their best to survive what their mind throws at them. Hopefully, being an expert by experience will take me a long way in my life.
To register on a Standard MHFA course, click here. There are also courses in Youth and Armed Forces MHFA, as well as for schools.