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Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness Day

Coincidently, today’s activities have a direct link to Mental Health Awareness Day, so here’s what happened;

October last year I finished a dream Job with Aden Production, and with nothing lined up afterwards, I knew I had a struggle ahead. If I was physically and mentally well enough, I probably would have accepted any work at the time, but I’ve been there before, and pointless Jobs do not get you anywhere in life, unless of course, you have a strategic plan to use a Job as a stepping stone to get you where you want to be, but stable work is hard to come by and once obtained, can be tough to let go of. For many countless souls, a stable job can end up being a barrier between you and your dreams. Time is precious and nobody wants to live with regret. I’ve always taken risks with employment, putting myself totally out of my comfort zone in order to move somewhat in the right direction, but this time was different. Something in me had switched and I’m not quite sure how to turn that switch back on yet.
I turned to the government for financial help, but the system let me down. While I totally understand that many people exploit the benefits system and as a result, rules have been tightened, but I genuinely needed help at one of the lowest times in my life where my social anxiety was that bad I couldn’t even leave my own home. I did everything that was requested of me by the government, enduring cramped waiting rooms full stereotypes that I didn’t want to be around. It was deemed by a ‘health professional’ that looked younger than me, that I was ‘fit for work’ having only awarded me 12 points in their scoring system: 15 of which you needed to qualify for help. Awarding somebody points for their physical and mental illnesses, like it’s some sort of game, was probably one of the most demeaning things I’ve done. Especially when you’re told at the end that there’s nothing wrong with you and you should be working. Society facilitates this message over and over again as it’s easier to treat you all as numbers on a sheet, ready to switch out whenever convenient. The lack of humanitarianism is seriously frightening.

I wasn’t happy with this, so I appealed the decision and 7 months later, a date was set for my court case, but the appeal was postponed the day before the hearing. Of all the days, my rescheduled date ended up being today, which just so happens to be Mental Health Awareness day, which for some reason gave me a little more strength than I otherwise would have. I had help with the appeal process from Roger at the Disability Advice Project in Cwmbran. If it wasn’t for Roger, I wouldn’t have appealed at all, as the process was stressful and nowhere near as easy as it should be. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Roger couldn’t make the appeal today, so I had to go it alone, to what ended up being the most demeaning process I’ve ever been through. I don’t think I managed to string a single sentence together that made any sense to man, but in the end, I won the tribunal case. They awarded me ‘18 points’ for my mental health. I’m not sure what this means exactly yet, but they’ll likely give me the help that I should have received in the first place. If only they could wipe out all the stress and worry its caused to me and my family this year, not to mention the thousands of other people who have also been denied help, people of which have far worse cases than mine, but if there’s any message to take from this, it’s to stick up for yourself, don’t allow anybody to palm your illness off and say there is nothing wrong when you know deep down there is. Get help. Our minds are not invincible, they have a limit and they can break, just like a bone, only it takes a lot longer to heal.

He might be small, insignificant, hiding in his safe zone, but he’s processing the world as it rushes by. So long as he concentrates on himself and the things that are most important, he’ll survive the winter ready to burst into life again next spring.

Common Lizard

The Ground Moves

I’m not sure if these Fungi are just late / winter fungi or whether they’ve looked this way since the autumn, but they look in pristine condition. Photographing these late species reminds me of how little I actually know about Fungi..If anybody can recommend or even donate a good fungi ID book I’d be much appreciative as I do really enjoy them and I’m always looking to expand my nature knowledge.

It’s been mild but it only took 3 minutes for my gloveless hands to feel the numbing bite of this mornings -2c at Terpentwys Nature Reserve. I did note 6+ Crossbill calling and singing on the edge of the woodland right by the Car Park but I turned my attention to the ground, only really getting the camera out to photograph the emerging Lords & Ladies plants and the frozen rain from last night. I love the way Lords & Ladies unfolds from this spiral funnel and the photo below shows one of the leaves just about to break out of the funnel into those classic arrowhead shaped leaves. I also love the variety of leaf patterns, some showing dark spots and others completely spotless. Spring isn’t far away, but with upcoming snow forecast, I don’t think winter is quite giving up yet.

Ogmore Coastline

For some reason I always find myself needing the coastline at times when my anxiety is pretty bad. Being outdoors really helps clear my mind, and wildlife photography is a perfect way to help focus the mind on single tasks, blotting out a lot of things that I’m finding difficult at the moment. I’m currently out of work due to both physical and mental health issues. Whilst the outdoors certainly helps with my mental health, I do have to choose my destinations in accordance to public restrooms.. Not the most pleasant of things, but it’s something I’m going to have to get used to, having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I’m sure you’ll know somebody with this disease, and they’ll tell you, it’s not very pleasant. These people may also suffering with mental health issues, as it can be quite debilitating. Whilst it’s not the sole reason for my social anxiety, it certainly doesn’t help. With all that in mind, I chose to go to Ogmore this morning, as the car park has public toilets and it’s situated just meters from the coastline. High tide was at 9am, and despite the early Dog walkers creating a challenge to get close to the birds without disturbance, I did find a quiet corner where the birds felt secure, even with the Dogs on the rocks. I’ve always wanted to photograph Purple Sandpiper, having heard that they can be quite approachable, and they were! so long as they weren’t amongst other species of waders like Turnstone and Oystercatcher, as if you spook one bird, they all tend to fly away. The light was tricky to work with as it was slightly backlit from the white crashing waves. This in conjunction with 40mph winds and sharp rocks, it was quite precarious at times. A revisit in better light is a must!

Mental Health

Today just so happens to be World Mental Health Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to speak about my own experiences, especially considering I’ve had to take time off work recently as a direct result of my own Mental Health. It’s all very real for me at the moment and I’ve finally got to the stage where I’ve had to ask for help.
 
Firstly, I’ve suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for as long as I can remember. This puts me in a generally low state throughout autumn / winter, and I have to try extremely hard to not fall into a trap, continually setting myself up for things to look forward to, or spending money on things that bring me pleasure in order to keep my mind occupied.

There are lots of things to look forward to in Autumn, and I am trying hard to break this cycle, but this is historical for me (and I’m sure many others), as autumn has always been a time of worry, stress, ill-health, bullying, drama, heart ache, anxiety, money problems… The list is endless  and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense why I am the way I am. Returning to school after a summer of roaming the British countryside, most of the time on my own, was always going to be hard to adjust to. Being forced to be in a room full of people, most of which are bullies, because if you don’t, you’ll fail at life. The system is a mess, with no regard to individuals.

This is where my social anxiety started and as the anxiety grew, I’ve sculptured my entirely life around it, making important life changing decisions as a direct cause of my social anxiety. I lost all my friends, not because we fell out, but because I chose to separate myself from a world I wasn’t happy with. Some deal with this reality positively and face it head on, and I’ve tried that.. I became a musician.. about the only place I was comfortable being in within any social environment, hiding behind a drum kit, watching the night go by and not really being a part of it. Just sitting there in my own world doing what I love, and doing it as best as I could, every single time. This seemed to work at the time but the reality was, it made me worse, and that is where I had my first anxiety attack. The first anxiety attack nearly put me in hospital as literally thought I was going to die, I didn’t know what it was, nor how to deal with it. That day I literally went home to my mother and cried my eyes out.. I hadn’t cried that much at my own grandparents funeral. Still don’t even know what the trigger was, other than trying to be the best I could be, the best way I knew how, and that was to get the speakers sounding perfect, the drums in tune, my hands warmed up, the car parked in a spot that wasn’t too far to carry the gear, all of which were far from perfect. The pressure to please people and myself got too much and something had to give out and the only thing I had left was my brain, which seemed at the time to have disappeared. It’s often called a panic attack, and that’s because the body has a flight or fight response to an experience that you can’t control. It happened again, at another Gig and even though it was bad, I did handle it a little better, because I knew what it was.

It’s good to know about these things, but nothing can prepare you for experiencing it yourself as it’s a silent killer. You aren’t aware its even there before it’s too late and you’re scraping yourself off the floor.

While it is tough for me, I can’t begin to think of how hard it must be for the people closest to me. My Girl friend and my Family know how hard it is to get me at family gatherings, social events, meals, weddings, shows, or just general meet ups. It affects me every day, and it’s hard to even talk about it as it just makes me ten times worse.

There’s no surprise that I’ve ended up with a passion for wildlife photography and nature conservation,. It’s because the outdoors takes me back to a world that is perfect…A world that doesn’t worry about human culture, it just carries on delivering the most memorable experiences of my life, all the while, making me a healthier person, thru sound, smell, touch and visual elements that have inspired the best creative minds in the world. Nature is incredibly powerful.

All I want from life is to be healthy, do right by my family, love my girl friend the best way I can, and share this wonderful world of nature we have on our doorstep with you. To do this, I'm going to need some help, and it starts by making everyone aware that people are suffering from their own Mental Health story, and I do take comfort knowing that I’m not alone. I just wished society would catch up faster, and start seeing us for the fragile minds we are, living each day as it comes.

I could go on but I think I’ll leave it there as I doubt I’ll sleep a wink tonight after this.
I’ll leave you with some photographs I’ve taken in the last couple of months. I haven’t managed to get out much as I’ve been flat out at work researching for a new Tv series for BBC Wales.

If all this is new to you but you feel you might be suffering from something similar, I’m happy to talk about it, but there are lots of support groups and a Doctor can offer various ways to help.

 

2017's Highlights

While photographs are a great way of showing you guys the things I see, they only show part of what it is that I experience when I'm outdoors. It's the 'being outdoors' bit that means more to me than any photograph can tell. Yes, I love taking the best images I can, but without wildlife and nature, it would mean nothing other than just clicking some buttons. I've spent little time with my sound recording gear this year but I'm hoping I find the time to change that this year. It's not just the visual elements that revitalise's us when we're exposed to nature, it's what we smell, touch and hear. I can't share smells with you, at-least not yet, maybe one day?, but I can share the sound's of our environment and bring the outdoors, in.

NatureHUB

This is the objective of my new business, and while I'm still un-decided on a name, I'm settling so far on 'NatureHUB', a place to purchase wildlife media and a place for wildlife walks, talks and training. I strongly believe that Nature is the best therapy for people experiencing stress in their busy, overcrowded, noisy lives. When was the last time you truly experienced silence? If it's been a long time, maybe that's something for the to-do list for 2018?. If I can help you experience nature and learn more about wildlife in the process, then I'd feel much more complete as a person. 

Sound Recording this year as been a poor effort but I did have this beautiful mimicking Song Thrush earlier in the year to save the day. During this song I could pick out at-least four difference species. There's probably even more than that but this was particularly special as it was mimicking a Green Woodpecker! Of all the beautiful sounding birds to mimick, why it choose the sound of a Green Woodpecker?.. I do not know.. lol. Either way, it seems to work well the way he does it. 

To wrap up this lengthy blog post, I hope you've all had a fabulous Christmas and have an even better New Year ahead of you.