Gone too Far? Or Is It Just Fiction For HORROR HALLOWEEN?

Have we not gone a bit too far today with the “outrage” against Asda and Tesco, with their Fancy Dress costumes?

Have we not lost perspective somewhat?This is a HALLOWEEN costume.

Every year we dress up in gore, blood, gruesome, horrific characters in the name of Halloween. I think we’ve gone a bit too far trying to ban any costume that includes the word psycho, mental or patient. This is HALLOWEEN!  Does censoring Halloween take things a little too far? This costume is based on a fictional character that you might find in a ghost/horror movie in an old Victorian Asylum – NOT reality. I don’t think we’re giving the general public enough credit to know that this is NOT what a person who suffers from a mental health condition actually looks like. It’s fiction. People know it’s based on horror movies, just like the Tesco version is based on a character out of a movie.  Hannibal Lector costumes – based on a film.  The  “mad Scientist” costumes are not a true representation of a scientist. The gruesome doctors don’t represent our National Health Service.  0039017025

Are we going to start banning Freddy Krueger? I can’t imagine he “represents” many burns victims any more than this costume represents people with mental health conditions.
Are we not ADDING to the stigma by our reaction to this? Not allowing fictional movie costumes for fear of offending is no better than removing the Golly-Wog doll from the jam jars.
I HAVE a mental health condition.  My journey has not been easy BUT it has made me the person I am today.  I have talked about it openly for many many years. I organised a large event in Chelmsford, Essex called “Make it Mental” in 2010, and before that there was nothing organised to celebrate World Mental Health Day in our local town. Now the NHS Mental Health Trust run something every year.
I rang in to the Dave Monk Show on BBC Essex this morning to put my point of view across; to highlight that I don’t think anyone would see this costume and think – Ah ALL people with Mental Health Conditions look like this. I think we’ve come a long way since those days. He thought it was quite a “funny costume” but that it was the name of it that was wrong. It would be no different had it been called AXE MURDER. Dave Monk pointed out to me that people are killing themselves because of the stigma of their conditions. That’s not due to this costume Or ANY of these costumes.

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That’s because we are not given enough information, starting in schools, that help us understand our mental health. That give us positive ways to look after it. We don’t have mind gyms in schools; but we do have Physical Education. People commit suicide mostly, (although not in all circumstances) because of a chemical imbalance in their brain and medical treatment that isn’t fit for purpose.   I waited 18 months for a talking treatment 11 years ago. I was given anti-depressants though – even though they could’ve made me manic. One of the most harmful side affects of anti-depressant is…suicidal tendencies!

I find people talking out on behalf of those of us who have severe mental health conditions because “they can’t stand up for themselves” does far more to enhance stereotypes of mental ill-health. There are hundreds, thousands of people living with mental health conditions every single day – and have perfectly “normal” lives. I’ve heard that been said so many times today. It isn’t necessarily stigma that stops people “coming out” about it either. Some may just not see it is anyone’s business. Just like I don’t tend to tell people I have Asthma. Or announce to the world that I had crabs when I was a teenager. Or that I maybe had food poisoning when I was in my twenties. Do we not make it more of a big deal by demanding people “come clean” about whether they have suffered from depression? Not EVERYONE who has had that experience will want to relive it. Not everyone wants to stay in that place and have found a way to move on, which is no mean feat!
I worked for a mental health organisation for 3 years and was in PR and Communication. Luckily it was a “service user” involvement network so having my particular label was relevant. I did talk about it. I organised awareness events; we had forums, campaigns, and while I still think those things are essential, I do think that we need a more balanced perspective of stigma. Moulding Futures, the organisation I set up when the company I worked for closed, initially carried on the work I’d started. What I found though was the more I focused on my own mental health condition, the more I talked about it, the more I retold my story, the more likely I was to prevent myself from moving on. Hearing others stories, and problems with the system surrounded myself in a negative environment.
When I was on the radio this morning someone called in and mentioned me and how lucky I was that I was so strong. That I was able to stay positive BUT that there were still so many who were not that strong and needed support. I haven’t always been this strong, or positive. Years ago I was homeless, then acrophonic and have been through a series of events that have created this strong woman I am today. I had support – that I sought out myself due to a failed system – from MIND, HomeStart, Families In Focus and I also had therapy. I waited – far too long for both CBT and Group therapy but I did get there in the end and I worked hard on myself. My understanding of me and how I work. I continue to work on myself, finding ways to stay positive, to find alternatives to the debilitating medication. I support any organisation that supports people and helps them to find something that makes them stronger, and gets them through the other side or finds ways to help them to manage the condition.
Moulding Futures went from mental Health Awareness events to creating the Share a Smile Campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of smiling and connecting with people every day, even just a “Hello”.  Even smiling to yourself when you don’t even feel like it has chemical benefits in your brain. This led on to the Giggle Together project after I trained as a Laughter Yoga facilitator and the huge benefits this has to everyone. Creativity, play, laughter, self- therapy. The more I focused things onto positive solutions, the less bouts of depression I had. Bipolar II is usually more depression than highs, but I started to feel so much better just by focusing on laughter, creativity, gratitude and surrounding myself with other people who were positive.I’m even training to be an NLP Coach.

I’m not always strong. I’m not always positive – I still have a condition after all. But I smile, laugh and have great pleasure in helping others to do the same. I help others find their own spinach! I even started stand up comedy! This gave me bounds of confidence and that has now led me into Performance Poetry. Filling my spare time with creativity through art, poetry and helping others, but my main job is caring for my son who has Autism.

Our problem isn’t fictional, over exaggerated Halloween Costumes – it’s that we pigeon-hole people into “normal” and “not normal”. That people are not seen as individuals – more of their label and the generalisation of that label. But that is JUST an image. If you don’t buy into it then don’t. Employers need to change their attitude to Mental Health and see people as individuals and can tap into someone’s talents but they need to be flexible.  SOME people are survivors of mental ill-health, SOME people don’t feel the need to talk about it – anymore than the time they broke their leg. Those that want to, do. More and more people DO talk about it, which is great, But not everyone should feel pressured into doing so, and that if they don’t they are hiding it. It’s a choice. And If someone were to call me a nutter – I’d probably agree, laugh and see the funny side because people who know me call me that. It’s endearing.  I am “quirky”. I’m UNIQUE. An extrovert, and I make things happen because of it. And I really LOVE who I am, finally at this stage in my life. But I LOVE me because I think my experiences have made me who I am today – that I was always meant to go along THIS road. I happen to have a mental health condition – or even just a hormonal imbalance. That’s not ALL of who I am though.
I’ve seen so many people who DO have mental health conditions, some who have been sectioned, comment that this whole thing has done nothing more than make them laugh, and laughter is great!  Americans are so much more positive than us. They tend not to take themselves too seriously and I think we could learn a lot from them. No doubt the sales of straight Jacketed costumes will rocket to the sky this Halloween. Ironically, no doubt, worn by some of the people who have a mental health condition who find the whole thing ridiculous. Laugh more, smile more, play more. Try not to worry about what others think – the only person you need to impress is yourself. And we need to change MENTAL EDUCATION to give the next generation a fighting chance.
One in FOUR people will be affected by a mental health condition – and I’ve never seen anyone looking like that costume wandering around.  It’s NOT reality – It’s extreme – just as Halloween has always been; tapping into people’s fears on one night of the year. I wonder where it leaves us now with other costumes? Where will it leave Halloween? Risk assessments? Trigger warnings? No blood, no spiders for those with a phobia? It’s supposed to be a bit of FUN! People getting stressed about this probably caused more harm than laughing about the far fetched nature of it all. This costume wasn’t in the shops to mock people with mental ill-health – just for laughs. It’s a horrific costume for Halloween and there is a HUGE difference.

My Nan turns 100 next month and the most valuable thing that she taught me, and probably why she is still here today, was don’t take life too seriously; if you have laughter and love then everything else falls into place.


Reading My Poems

So recently I took a course run by the fabulous SUNDOWN ARTS in Southend, on Performance Poetry. I absolutely loved it! I think the year or so I have been doing stand-up comedy has really helped give me the confidence to get up on stage and perform. It was the suggestion of my partner, Chris, to start adding in my humorous verses into my comedy routine, but I do think they deserve a place of their own. So I’m starting another journey. I really enjoy sharing my poems. And I love that people get to hear them how I want them to be heard in this way.

I am rehearsing for an open mic spot I have next week and so have been recording myself so that I can learn them, work on the actual performance of the poem etc. It’s very different though. I find myself far more self conscious than I would be on stage in front of an audience. It is a great way to learn and improve though.

This one is not one that I’ll be performing BUT I do want to share. It’s by no means how it will end up. When I performed it at the workshop it was far better but this is a recording – you get the general idea, but, like I said, it’s much better live.  This poem came about when someone saw me and Jamie out and about while he was having a meltdown. I give you Autism Mum:

Wordless Wednesday


Shhh….It’s a secret! Hiding behind the curtain….

Okay so this isn’t really new news – I have Bipolar II (and I think people have a better idea of what that is thesedays but if not – we get really manic which is often beneficial, sometimes scary but never to the point of psychosis. Then we get very very low. Low periods last longer and are more severe, in many cases).
I’m never shy in telling people I have Bipolar II – not really… not when I am positive and can say “this is me and it doesn’t get the better of me!!” But I think it’s more for shock value when I tell people. How can SHE be depressed??? She’s so positive and full of life….? Well that’s bipolar II really. SOME of the time… (And SOME of the time people are actually not shocked at all and probably think “no shit Sherlock!”. :D)
When I’m not well… mostly I don’t even see the signs, I don’t realise I’ve been ill until important parts of my life have been wrecked and people are slamming out of the door, screaming that they can’t do it anymore. That is when I start to wonder where I went… when did that awesome, bubbly, funny, zainy girl go??
Why did no one tell me she had even left the building? Why did I not notice she had left the building??? HOW could I not have noticed? I did think I might not be very well over Christmas but for some reason convinced myself that I was being paranoid… Oh the irony… 😀
People don’t notice because they don’t realise that SHE – that obnoxious, condesending, arguementative, angry, selfish, BITCH (Shirty Gerty we used to call her) isn’t actually me… That I absolutely hate her and that, had I known all I had to do was be aware, take some tablets and find my Traciness again. It actually hurts that people think that I am really like that. That she isn’t Bipolar II but infact my PERSONALITY. It’s not hard though – I turn into my Mum. All of that learned behaviour that I have been fighting comes out. If I met that version when I was actually me I think I would probably slap her round the face really.
So I have been unwell.. it’s winter so it was bound to happen as I get worse in the winter. I’m aware now – so I am doing things to get myself back. 5-HTP suppliments, Vitamin D, Omega 3… laughter exercises… getting back into what I love doing with the Giggle Workshops but also keep at my artwork.
People tell me I need balance – REALLY? HA! Again… oh the irony…
I feel like I’ve been absent now. It’s so strange… I feel like I’ve not been here. Not sure where I’ve been but somehow I’ve been asleep for a while and now I have to deal with all the mess she has left behind! AGAIN!!!
I don’t blog about it. It felt like this wasn’t the place.. that the Mental Health stuff should be kept for the organisation I run Moulding Futures. That I can keep it all boxed into compartments. That people out here in “the real world” won’t be interested, will judge, will have little understanding of what Bipolar II is and will think I’m not able to do things.. When I’m in the local press it gets mentioned – every time.. like it qualifies me or something… but so many people will see that as a bad thing…
So in my art life – in here.. I’ve kept it low key.. the odd poem here and there shouting at depression but mostly it’s my secret. Writing “I have Biploar II” isn’t quite the same as writing what that MEANS… How that FEELS… and I don’t want to hear tiny violins. I don’t want people to think that I want sympathy.. What I’d like is awareness. So that one day it doesn’t have to be a secret. That people will KNOW – just KNOW that “shirty Girty” isn’t the real me.. That someone will hug me and ask if I am REALLY OKAY at the moment… But it is part of my life – and today I FEEL like writing about it so here it is!
For now I can repair some damage… but I’ve lost so many friends in the past….
So just as a reminder to myself: I AM AWESOME, I am selfless, caring, funny, giving and creative. I am sensitive, bubbly and yeah I might be crazy but as Comedian Terry Alderton said, “You’re lovely, scatty crazy – not crazy crazy” (that made me chuckle…).
So I AM BACK – TRACINESS is back and I think I hid the other part quite well – apart from to those closest to me that is. I stopped doing stand – up because of family stuff which really didn’t help, got the flu, Jamie got the flu, then he was home all over Christmas…we don’t go out… blah blah..

So if someone’s behaviour changes – Don’t blame the person – blame the illness and show support and understanding.. if you can. 😀

Unveiling a new badge: Tracy Shave

Courageous Confessionals


Tracy Shave, the powerhouse behind Giggle Together and author of the blog, Traciness – In all it’s glory, recently contacted me on my Facebook page and informed me she had accepted my challenge and created this wonderful badge.


I think it is beautiful, cute, and creative. It perfectly embodies the beauty that rises from the ashes of destruction and the strength that comes from moving through painful and challenging things in our lives.

I think it only fitting that Tracy herself be the first recipient of this new badge as a recipient of the Courageous Confessional Blog Award. In her own words:

I am Tracy Shave. “Traciness” is a term that has been used in different organisations as they hand work for me to do. It is a technical term commonly used to express a need for something to be brighter, more creative and “in…

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UBC Day 5 – “Depression Friendly” Greeting cards.

Next week – the 10th of October – is WORLD Mental Health day and I usually do some kind of event to celebrate! Instead of putting myself through all the stress and getting ill myself as a result – last year I decided that enough was now being done in the area so I didn’t organise anything, and now that Moulding Futures is quite a different organisation – (starting as an awareness organisation which evolved into delivering life-changing positive, fun and healthy workshops, programmes and sessions) – I’m not doing an event this year either. There is no need. One of the reasons I organised Make It Mental in 2009 was because there was nothing like it in the town. I went into the shopping centre and there was no mention of this WORLD celebration. Make it Mental soon changed that – it ran for two years and the third year we launched the Share A Smile campaign glad that the North Essex Mental Health Foundation Partnership Trust (NEMHFPT as it’s a bit of a mouthful) had followed suit, upped its game and had started to make a big thing of the day at last!

THIS year – I want to do SOMETHING though. I’m already organising a fundraiser for our Giggle 4 Gold project in November, Taking part in the Rochford Art trail and delivering Giggle Workshops… I can’t really do an event for this too.

BUT what I will do is promote the “Depression Friendly” Greeting cards that I made a couple of years ago… while also raising money for our dementia project.

These cards were designed because research showed that people were less likely to send someone with depression a card during their illness.

I wrote several verses that I thought were appropriate for these times and designed some images too.

One card reads:

“I don’t know what you’re going through,

But one thing’s for sure; I care about you,

And when you’re ready and need an ear,

Or maybe a shoulder to shed a tear,

I’ll be here to help you through

The Kettles on Standby ready for a brew.

There are four different designs all containing different verse along the same lines. You can see images of them all at the Etsy shop where they can be ordered. All monies from these will go to our Giggle 4 Gold project – using laughter, creativity and play to benefit people living with dementia.

Zinc – My Saving Grace

Here is a link to a piece I wrote about the wonderful Zinc Arts on Dancing Giraffe.