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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

Iolo's Street Life

If you missed the first episode of Iolo’s Street Life, it’s showing on BBC iPlayer for the next 24days.
Here’s the Link

The next episode is on tomorrow (Friday 27th) at 7:30pm on BBC One Wales so there’s time to get it on series link if you’re able.

For those that haven’t been following my blog over the last year, this series was my first time working on a major production, commissioned by the BBC and produced by Aden Productions. I was employed by Aden as a researcher and as a researcher, it was my job to ensure that everything on the day of filming was pre-planned to ensure we made full use of the limited days we had Iolo and the production team booked.
Not an easy task when you’re dealing with subjects as unpredictable as Wildlife and as you can imagine, to ensure things went perfectly on the day, it required many hours prior, sleeping in random hotels all over the country, staying up all hours monitoring cameras, laying camera traps, speaking with local people on the phone, at their doorstep, on the streets… Pretty much anything it took to get the knowledge we needed to film wildlife on the streets.
It was a great pleasure to work on the program and everyone at Aden was so welcoming, supportive and generally such a good bunch to work alongside. I mainly worked with Associate Producer, Osian Griffiths, who helped guide me in this new role, but I also spent some time with Kathy James who was also new to the role of Researcher but she had her own series to concentrate on called Iolo: Saving the Land of the Wild. A truly epic series that touched upon some really important topics we’re facing in this country at the moment so well worth watching if you haven’t already.


I probably should have took more behind the scene pics for my own memory sake but I didn’t want to be the one playing about with my phone on a major shoot. Below are some of my setups, some footage of which you’ve already seen of the Owls and Foxes but some that also didn’t make the cut like the Otters at Haverfordwest and Sparrowhawks in Michele Hughes Garden. For every one item you see in the program, we must of had 3 extra as reserves, backup plans, or items that simple didn’t meat the criteria in the final cut.

I must admit, the whole experience filming with Iolo and being such a critical part of the filming process, was such an honour, but I’ll be totally honest, it took a tole on my mental health, and all I’ve really concentrated on since then, was getting myself back on track, both physically and mentally. Very soon I’ll be co-launching a new community interest company called ‘In Our Nature’ with Veronika Brannovic. The company aims to improve wellbeing for people who suffer with mental illness, by utilising the power of nature and everything it has to offer. More about this on a future blog post.

For now, I hope you enjoy the program, please let me know what you think via the comments, on social media ect.


In the present, I think I just about made the most of the last bit of autumn sunshine I could get, getting some more time with the Brown Hawkers at Ebbw Vale and finding a very late Male Black-tailed Skimmer which usually peaks in June-July.

Something else I stumbled upon by accident was later identified by Steve Williams, was a possible Tufa Spring. - Read more about it here. I’ve seen this before at this exact location and I’ve mistaken it for some sort of pollution incident, almost ringing NRW to check on it too as there was a burn out car nearby and I’ve found random chemical containers up there in the past. If this is a natural Tufa Spring, it'll be worth examining the flora around the pond as there may be some rare plant life that usually associates themselves with calcium-rich waters.





Research

Steve Williams took this photo.. I’ve clearly been eating too much chocolate this easter haha.

It was great to meet up with Liam Olds, Steve Williams and Mike Kilner over easter. I aimed to show them my Violet Oil Beetle location and we weren’t disappointed with over 40+ individuals found. I’ve since found them a few miles away also on a road side verge. Proof that this valley has to be one of the largest strongholds for this species. We recorded 10 Species of Bee thanks to Liam Olds’ vast knowledge, including a Chocolate Mining Bee which was a first for me. It really is great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable naturalists, there’s so much knowledge to obtain about the natural world, I wish I could soak it all up faster! Everything I know, I’ve learned from other people, or by myself through personal discovery and research. It goes to show that if you’re passionate about something, you learn much faster. This is why most people struggle with their current Jobs as you really need passion to drive you forward. I know I’m currently struggle with Jobs, being out of work since October, but I do believe I’m heading in the right direction, to obtain a Job that will give me a sense of purpose, which is after-all what we all want in life.


Here are a few pics from easter. I’ve spent more time out with the recording gear really so haven’t got too many images but I did have some good moments - My first Wood Warbler of the year, a showy Sedge Warbler and my favourites were actually the bugs, Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle and those cute glaring eyes of the Jumping Spider (evarcha falcata). I did go down to see Blair Jones’ Red-necked Phalarope at Goldcliff which has been proving to be a great birding spot this spring, with Black Kite, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover and all the usual supporting cast. While it does tick a few boxes for me, I’m not sure ticking boxes is really my thing. I’ve never made a year list, local list or life list of any kind, I just want to experience nature and take whatever opportunity nature decides to throw at me.


Firecrest Update

If you haven’t been following, I’m studying mimicking behaviour in Firecrest this year and so far, 3 out of 3 males on territory have been able to produce a goldcrest mimic to varying degrees.
The original bird discovered is still by far the best at mimicking goldcrest which is probably why it stood out to me so well to begin with, but the others have used mimicry in a more subtle way.

Not only was the original Firecrest better at the mimic, but it also used it way more often. This could be because there aren’t any other Firecrests in its territory, so why waste time singing Firecrest? Note in the spectagram that it’s producing 3 notes per peak and with the iconic ‘trill’ at the end. Over-all producing 29 notes including trill.

Firecrest No.1 Mimic


Firecrest No.2 only used the odd mimic within a single song and while it still produced 3 notes per beat, the end ‘trill’ is reduced to only 2 notes, notes of which are more typically expected at the end of the Firecrest song. On average the bird produced 16 notes including the trill at the end. It’s worth saying that the amount of beats doesn’t matter too much as even a real goldcrest song this can vary, however so far the birds who sing less notes and also singing a less perfect rendition of the goldcrest song which is why I’m documenting them.

Firecrest No.2

Firecrest No.3 is by far the most interesting bird, largely because of the circumstances in which it used the mimic, doing so directly after hearing a distant goldcrest singing inside its territory, this can be picked up on during the recording. It only lets out one burst of mimic, which is so simplified it hardly meets the requirements of mimicking but it does have the overall structure. Rather than 3 beats, it has just 2 and this bird neglected the trill at the end entirely. Again, this isn’t going to be a completely controlled study as even goldcrest vary, but it’s interesting to hear these mimics used naturally at a time of year where territories are being established and a birds song is never more imperative than in early spring.

Firecrest No.3

It’s worth noting also that the tempo for each bird also varies;

  1. 154bpm (Sang 12 or more times)

  2. 182bpm (Sang 2 times)

  3. 184bpm (Sang 1 time)

This could be nothing but the bird with the most accurate mimic does sing the phrase the slowest and the bird with the less accurate depiction sings the phrases the fastest. More recordings over the breeding season should reveal whether any of these observations are a coincidence or not but it’s all being documented included frequency of notes.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’d like to know just how accurate these mimics are and I’ll compare all my recordings this year side by side with real Goldcrest songs so that by the end of the study, we’ll hopefully be able to trust our ears again when listening out for Firecrest in the field.

So far I’m noticing that the Goldcrests sound is a little ‘thinner’ with less overall weight to it but that might not be enough to go by, on its own.

Back to the Basics

I don’t mean to use this blog as some kind of depressing therapeutic journal..but I’m not going to pretend that everything’s great for me right now. Times are tough at the moment and I hope that in writing this down it will not just give me a little relief but it might even be relatable to others, and therefor mutually encouraging.

In October last year I wrote my first blog about my own Mental Health issues. It was a massive leap for me to admit that I’m suffering and to ask my Doctor for help. The first lot of tablets didn’t agree with me so counselling seemed to be my only option. I’m now into my second session, and i’m realising now just how deep this issue goes. I’ll talk in more detail about this once my counselling has finished. Hopefully by then I’ll be in a better place to talk about it.

Social Anxiety has always been a massive barrier, Preventing me from reaching simple daily objectives, and recently preventing me from turning up to a public enquiry to save my local Canyon. It was extremely important to me to help save the Canyon and if it wasn’t for the knowledge that it’s being fought by equally passionate people, I’d feel pretty devastated about missing it. The Canyon is a place that I regularly turn to if I need a place to be alone, surrounded by pure serenity and beautiful scenery / wildlife. I hope that the enquiry is going well and wish everyone the best of luck. I have my fingers crossed that the right decision is made.


I haven’t ventured that far just yet but the woodland opposite my house has some great fungi opportunities with Winter Polypore, Jelly Ear, Scarlet Elf-Cups and with the warm temperatures, a 7-spot Ladybird emerged too. That is due to change for a short period with a slight sprinkling of snow today and plummeting temps. Ice can present some nice macro opportunities though so I’ll keep an eye out for that. I just need to get out of the house more.

On the Job front though, I’m still out of work and struggling to find something that isn’t going to make my health worse. I know many people stuck in Jobs that are quite frankly.. shortening their lives. Everyone has had to do a Job that they aren’t comfortable with or don’t like, but my health problems are no longer going to be pushed aside. Concentrating on my health though is coming at a financial cost so I can only hope that things pick up quickly or that I can find a way of selling my photographs.

Being self employed has never been more appealing to me than now. The value of being able to choose your own working hours, working around health and to not have the social pressure and stress that comes from Bosses & Colleagues.. this seems to be the logical step forward but it’s also the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. My self confidence has been knocked quite a bit, with a damaged wrist from working at Llandegfedd, which took away any chance of me falling back on my music career and also any chance of continuing my career in physical conservation work. Just when I seemed to find something that suited me well, in a production company, the social anxiety came back to haunt me. So I’m here now, stripping everything back to the basics, taking pictures that I enjoy and staying well away from people looking to use me to bump themselves up the ladder. It’s time to get myself there instead. There’s no room for selfish, unappreciative people in my life. Oosh that was a rant and a half. Please don’t feel too depressed after reading all that.. Here’s some pictures to make this look like a positive blog.

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.