Easter 2019. It's been quite a week. I have been developing the next steps for my NHS supported Digital Pioneer process from a location in the heart of the Scottish borders where my family have been helping out with the annual lambing adventures.
There have been early morning starts, blustery and sunny hillsides, large amounts of food for the working team and lots of good conversations, In between times I have been researching digital options and wrestling with high tech decisions about the software requirements of the next step stages for the I Matter Project within the Kendal Integrated Care Community and wider Morecambe Bay CCG area where we are looking forward to sharing I Matter thinking with the Mental Health Champions networks.
So much is possible with digital technology and yet after 20 years in this field of trying to connect digital opportunities with clinical needs and realities I know just how sensitive and complex the process of delivering real results for those who are most vulnerable and marginalised can really be. The details really matter and clarity about exactly what you want to achieve is key. I gave myself Easter as a period to research carefully and make some key decisions about next steps. The world I am in is full of fast changing solutions and yet individual systems all have their own quirks and challenges and this is why large amounts of funds can sometimes disappear into what can seem like black holes.
Astonishingly in this process I have had wonderful, humorous and helpful exchanges with technical support staff in Bangladesh, Delhi, Gloucester, Lancaster and California. Though the signal was occasionally a little hit and miss, the conversations I have had with Hafsa and Ami and Darshan and Steve and Madison, were as if I were just down the road, not on my blowy hillside.
Each of these helpful people has in different ways gone out of their way to help when they saw what the I Matter Project was all about. All of them seemed to connect with the need for us to find ways to do a better job at caring for our children and families. And that has been really heart warming.
However the moment that stood out for me this week was the David Attenborough film in which he and others spoke passionately about the need for us to take action NOW mindful of the individual impact of small and large choices on the planet as a whole. I was taken by the image of Greta Thunberg, sitting on her own outside parliament explaining that if no-one else was going to take action on these important issues, she would have to do what she could. It is impossible not to feel inspired.
So, this week I have come to a clearer understanding of how these discussions about climate change are all connected with the I Matter message and the importance of the health of our adult-child relationships and the importance of carefully nurturing healthy development in children. The current paradox is clearly however that some of the actions that we have taken as a global community have made possible these incredible opportunties for globally connected relationship but they are those that also have within them the seeds of alarming potential threats.
Now it is my view that if we want to learn to live together on this planet, a key quality that we need to cultivate in our children and in ourselves is AWARENESS - this involves consciousness of self, and of other and of community and of the similarities that bind us as we search for a way forward in our lives.
So in my Easter global and local reflections I have concluded that the digital solutions that are most helpful are those that embrace complexity and support flexiblity and engagement and meaningful - global and local - relationship building over time. The digital has to support a learning journey for individuals in which things - both digital and personal and professional -are often imperfect but perfectly good enough for now!
So as we get started with the new term, the I Matter digital offer still has many things that could be improved but the core structures and relationships are now in place on which to build and with lots of intent to keep learning, I am looking forward to the next steps!
I hope you will share information about our work and courses and encourage people to sign up for our I Matter news
The sun is streaming in and I have been sitting here thinking back to the time when I first got to know you.
That was such a difficult time for you wasn't it and yet you had been actively looking for help for so long. You had read and rread. You had taken your child to so many appointments but as the years had gone past your child had got bigger and the meltdowns had got more and more intense and actually it was becoming quite frightening.
All those appointments and yet you still didn't understand what was happening and how to help. It was particularly hard because you were an experienced professional and it felt to you as if you should know what to do - it felt to you as if others were looking on and judging. And indeed perhaps some of them were.
The thing was your child could be so delightful and gorgeous - interested and interesting - you felt so much love - but the line was so fine and the unpredictably so intense. You had developed a way of treading on eggshells - hoping hoping to not say or do the wrong thing that would trigger an explosion off.
No wonder you were exhausted - you cared so much and were so competent elsewhere but at home things were different - and often felt very out of control.
However what to do and where to go? Your sleep was affected - in fact no one was sleeping well in your family and certainly not your child
Your appetite was affected and you had all gone to your GP several times hoping for some medication solutions that could help make a difference to how awful you were feeling. Living in dread and living with a sense of despair and constant worry about what might happen next.
Various professionals had suggested various diagnoses and you had read as much as you could about each one but somehow none of them took you much further
Just that FOG, that dread - those intense moments when the meltdowns happened again and you saw your child doing frightening things and then sometimes found yourself doing and saying things that were not like you - in fact not like you at all - yet in the moment it could all happen so fast.
You just wanted things to be 'normal' - just to have a few ordinary days that didn't feel like a battle
Yet - there would have been many people who would not have seen this side of you - as to many others you were a confident kind skilled and self-composed person.
So there was something about this relationship with your child that was really challenging and really hard to describe.
You were very stressed weren't you. And though it was hard to see it at the time, so was your child.
This was the FOG.
In I Matter we describe the fog as being that state where it is very difficult to think and where there are intense interpersonal red route loops going on.
It starts to become very interesting when you can step back and get a distance but the FOG does not feel nice at all
What a relief that those dark hopeless days are now past.
What a relief that you can now see more clearly.
You hung in there Uma because you were determined to find a way through and it has been my privilege to be part of the process of helping you find a way out of the FOG.
And you did find a way through and now you are out there enjoying your relationship with your child and sharing your learning with others
Helping make a difference one relationship at a time
Imagine what a different place the world could be if we could help more people find their way out of the relationship fog
Lets keep thinking about how to do that
Have a good weekend!
It has undoutedly taken me longer to get to know youa as in this wider world of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and families there is still such an overdominance of women . I know I don't need to tell YOU that! Yet over the years of my practice I have seen that when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of children men have an absolutely key role to play but they are too often undrerrepresented in the discussions.
So one of the reasons I love working with you Stan is that you are a really committed hard working and caring man who has been clear enough and strong enough to insist that you do want to be actively involved with your child and with children in spite of the fact that finding other men who are active in that caring world can be more challenging. You are someone who knows that relationships are important. Being involved can present some challenges for you but you have hung in there undaunted by all those female companions and I for one really appreciate that you have.
Relationships are pretty complicated though aren't they! They are not something we learn much about until we are right in the middle of them wondering what exactly is happening. It is surprising really that there isn't more around to help us understand what makes good relationships work. Relationship education seems to be reduced to those rather uncomfortable school conversations about sex or we can find ourselves turning to the internet and what we learn there or from soaps and crime thrillers about relationships can sometimes all add up to a pretty sad picture.
Perhaps one of the truths about good relationships is that they take up quite a lot of time - learning to trust another person depends on learning to trust ourselves and so navigating those moments when things don't appear to be working well at all is all part of it. So when I first got to know you it was clear that there were also some challenges in her relationship with your partner. You were a bit cautious about this I Matter stuff but I sensed you were ready to contribute if it wasn't too weird and didn't take up TOO much time.
I am so glad that you did decide to take part (as not all partners do take part) yet as several years later it has been great to see how working together to help your child has really deepened your relationship. In fact it is one of the great privileges of my work that I get to see the impact of I Matter Framework Training not just on the health of adult-child relationships, but also on adult-self relationships and on adult-adult relationships. How good it is to see you now on that more hopeful path too as I know full well how tough it was for you too at times.
As we go forward I am keen to find a way to make I Matter accessible to more men Nonetheless II did laugh the other day when at our first focus group meeting of the I Matter community wheel you explained to me that really what you wanted from a social group of other men was acceptance and just hanging out at the bar and talking about sh+++e,
With thanks for your commitment!
I know that your time is precious, and that the world you live in is busy. It’s busy for so many of us. So I want to start this letter first of all by saying thank you for agreeing to me to being here in your inbox and thank you for taking the time to read what I want to share and for allowing us to be connected, using the modern wonders of email. I have mixed feelings about technology and its place in our modern world, especially when it comes to our children, but nonetheless it is a wonderful way to bring together information, people and make things happen.
This is a letter to celebrate and appreciate you and your importance in the world of our children's mental health and wellbeing. I have decided that I am going to write a good old fashioned letter, every week for 52 weeks, to help us grow as a community and to allow ideas and actions to converge.
I concocted this idea because I was challenged during a recent I Matter board meeting with the question “How are we consistently sharing our message and news with our community?” My instant response was “I don’t want to bother people. People are very busy.” The response back to me - from the I Matter team was one of shock. They reminded me that people who are signed up to receive updates from I Matter WANT to hear about what we are doing, want to receive refreshed information and want to continue their own learning journey. I guess I had not remembered that!
So Debbie, you are an “avatar” for our perfect I Matter ambassador.
The word “avatar” is used in the digital world to describe a person who is the 'ideal client' for that business or charity or venture. Seven years ago I hadn't heard that term and I didn't know what it was but slowly I have been learning how important it is and in the process I have been getting to know you intimately - and me. Because of course, I am also an avatar for I Matter.
I have travelled a long journey that has produced the I Matter Framework and I Matter Training because back when I started I wanted the tools and the processes and the support to do my job better and to parent better and to be a wiser human being. Back then and at points on the way, I quite often felt rather lost. However in this unfolding process, the better I have come to know you - and hence me too - the more privileged I have felt to be sharing this I Matter Journey with you.
I know that you care deeply about children’s mental health and wellbeing. You’re passionate about what you do, and, sometimes against the odds, you continue to believe that we can change the situations we find ourselves in and make a positive difference in a world that can feel full of so much injustice and unhappiness.
What I particularly love about working with you Debbie is that you are a person who combines many talents. You move seamlessly between being so skilled in your work role with all its formal responsibilities - and its contrasts - to the somewhat fraught and messy realities of everyday family life. You are a deeply loving person who also somehow manages to extract more hours from the day than really exist. You work so hard and help so many people and you give your all, as much as you can, to help those people feel cared for.
Yet when I first met you you were on the search for something robust but also practical that could help you straddle both your professional and your parenting role. You wanted that because at that time you were feeling overwhelmed, confused, very frazzled and weary. Do you remember the confusion and the Fog of those times? - How very thick it was back then? It is great to see you so much happier and more confident as in I Matter Speak that is what 'the Direction of Travel' is all about.
And this is why I’ve decided to write a letter to you more regularly, to help us keep travelling on together, navigating this rocky road, adjusting our backpacks as we go, weathering the inevitable storms. We have now shared so much together that I feel it could be really exciting - a way to get clearer on the impact and contribution that we make, individually and collectively. We can talk about what we have learned together and what we continue to learn on the way towards brighter clearer skies.
I hope you’ll stay on this journey with me.and thank you for your belief that we can work together to make a difference and thank you for being here on the I Matter map.
I Matter Training was set up as a company because once the I Matter Framework had came into birth in 2011 there was a need for a supportive structure to take the training out to people who need it. Long text books didn't seem to fit the bill as the audience we wanted to address was families and the very busy professionals who support them. Online learning seemed an obvious way forward but in the absence of a obvious structure to support that we had to create something. Our goal is to get these ideas out to the children's workforce in a digestible format. We have to find a way to finance this work but our goal is not profit,
Leicester to Northampton via Market Harborough
The rain had stopped and the clothes mostly dried out as we prepared to leave Leicester.
The gradients had also flattened and this was to be a days riding along long straight paths with some unexpectedly challlenging off roading across fields of ripening wheat and down paths that were probably not intended for cyclicsts.
So what exactly do you call an old railway line that is now being used as a cycle path? Surely there should be some sort of collective name for them. We have ridden a lot of them
- railway cuttings (describes past use only)
- ex railway cuttings (describes past but doesn't tell us about current)
- sustrans routes (true but too general - doesn't tell us about the history)
- cycleways (true but miisses the details about the ex railway use)
All of these labels miss out the luxuriant trees on either side and the quality of the surface and the details of the bikes that are being used and the nature of the group travelling the route and why they are travelling.
So all of these terms tell us something but not key things about the experience of the riding we are having and so it is with the use of labels in the care of vulnerable children and young people and adults where lots of labels are being used these days to describe behaviour and to group children and adults together
All of these labels take us a small step towards defining something but they miss out on a lot of key detail that can be very important. Most importantly they can be very misleading. Diagnosis often implies to the general public that an individual has 'got' a 'thing'. However this is not what diagnosis is. Diagnosis simply describes a cluster of symptoms like 'ex railway route'.
If we are going to get better at Caring for the Common Good we need to be able to understand and accept complexity and resist the temptation to simplify down to labels.
So remember when you hear a label there may be a lot of key information missing.
Derby to Leicester via Loughborough
Today it rained - a lot - with a lot of wind - and so we set off in rain gear and travelled by Route 6 cycle way but we arrived in Loughborough VERY soggy. We ate a lovely lunch with Loughborough Friends with the room strewn around with drying raincoats and wet puddles gathered under our chairs as shoes and socks continued to drain out. After lunch there was a bit of a break in the rain and most of us were starting to feel much drier until about 40 mins before the end of the ride where we received a deluge!
It was good to arrive in Leicester - very familiar places for me as this is where I grew up and lots of familiar friendly faces. The building itself is full of memories for me of things that have happened there at different stages of my life - the art room where we did lots of creative things for many years. The library where we used to meet for Family meetings and the main meeting room where so much had happened - weddings - including my own - dancing - plays - celebrations of the life of Friends who had died and the wonderful garden.
In one room I found a picture painted by a member of the meeting Anne Gregson. It showed the garden and two elderly Friends Gwen and Vera sitting on a corner bench under the trees. These two woman - now long died - were - amongst others - such key characters in my experience of the Meeting. I did not know them well but they were a part of this very welcoming steady 'attachment community'. They were part of the continuity that I went away from and came back to over and over even after I had long moved on from Leicester as my regular home.
Having such stability and continuity somewhere is an enormous help as one steps out into the world and I see the fragmentation of this continuity as one of the key contributors to the difficulties faced by many vulnerable children and adults. Stability enables the process of thinking back and thinking forward. It helps the organising of self in space as the predictability creates order and pattern.
Thinking back and thinking forwards is a developmental skill that many of our most challenging children and adults have not yet comfortably acquired. When faced with apparently illogical destructive behaviour it can be difficult to appreciate that a child or adult has not been able to consider the potential consequences of their actions. However if you do not yet have a sense of self in time and space such thinking is remarkably difficult.
So one of the features of a caring community - one that can care for its members and for the strangers that arrive or pass through - is the ability to create stability and continuity through the repetition of daily familiar actions - such foundations create a solid platform on which other actions become possible.
Stability and continuity are to be preciously valued contributors to well-being and so to create a community that can Care for All they need to be part of what we want to create as we think forward.
Bakewell to Derby
What a beautiful day's cycling - wonderful canal paths, lanes and railway cuttings.
Our morning meeting was very quiet - there is a lovely coming together of the group of riders with the local support - this time of Bakewell Quakers - Friends that we have never met any may never meet again yet they have organised themselves to support us?
How is that some human beings want to care for those who they have never met?
Usually it seems to depend on their ability to recognise that there is something that we hold in common and their ability to feel that they can share what they have without losing out. The sharing of food seems to form a natural way of both giving and receiving and of letting each other know that we come in peace - that we do not intend to hurt or harm.
Many of the meetings that we are visiting are involved in the Sanctuary Movement assisting refugees who are arriving in the country after long and difficult journeys. Sanctuary offers the kindness of strangers who want to show what they have with those who have struggled with so much.
However there is a definite sense that we are moving into worlds that feel more challenged. Friends in Bakewell had shared an article about a man who had travelled to the UK from Afghanistan only to find it so difficult that he had chosen voluntarily to leave. Here in Derby the meeting clearly feels surrounded by an environment that feels more hostile and more vulnerable to intruders and we were cautioned to be careful out and about in town and invited to keep windows and doors locked
It begs the question, if human beings can show such care and kindness, what is happening - when human beings start to be dangerous to each other? What needs have not been met?
Sheffield to Bakewell
Today was pitched as a gentle day - just 20 miles but we are in the middle of a heat wave and so the temperatures remain high long into the evening when we generally expect cooler times.
However there is something very wonderful about zipping up and down hills with such views all around - it feels a tremendous privilege and opportunity to see the country at a different pace and from a different perspective.
Robert our intrepid 79 year old who managed the hills comfortably along with our four teens is not with us today but we have Judith and Anne and Perry in their 70's.
This evening we were invited to share the reasons for the ride with Quakers from Bakewell and they in turn shared some stories of the people they were supporting in local foodbanks.
One elderly Quaker shared that a woman in the foodbank had been brought to tears to learn that someone had picked up the concern for people like herself. Another, an asylum seeker who had had no money at all for over 12 weeks was too frightened to put his name on the card. Another a lady caring for her disabled husband had spoken of his having had his benefits cut and that they now had just £2 in the bank even though she was working as a care support assistant herself. She had no idea how the billls would be paid
The cards are increasing and we are thinking together about how to make sure these often invisible stories are best shared as we go forward.
It is interesting to me that one key human need that must be addressed to feel a sense of wellbeing is that of contributing to the care of others. Contributing to the care of others is a need but being successful at caring for others is also a skill set. It involves many small details - notably that of understanding what others might like and enjoy, that of being able to problem solve in groups to make things happen and to overcome obstacles. These are all skills that many of our most vulnerable children fail to acquire - because the need to be cared for first is overlooked - yet when these needs are overlooked, they also become those adults who are most challenging and expensive to care for.
Huddersfield to Sheffield with an early stop off in Wooldale.
We are being greeted with wonderful spreads in each place and any ideas that we had of perhaps losing weight on this ride to London are being quickly dispelled in the face of such welcomes and generosity. We are also seeing buildings that have been carefully cared for in order to preserve spaces that groups can come together to wait and reflect and consider what actions are needed or are possible
Wooldale was a small historic meeting perched on top of a hill. Sheffield is a thriving modern meeting with a bustling sense of activity.
In each meeting there are conversations - exchanges with people we have never met about their concerns and our own. Everywhere we go we are hearing people speak about the growth in food banks in their areas and the cuts to charities that were doing good work to serve vulnerable people.
We are gathering stories on postcards and carrying these with us carefully as these are the stories of people who often struggle to get heard. Today, I spoke with a woman I had never met and she spoke of a charity that had been supporting several people with severe mental illness in her area. it had just had to close due to lack of funds.
There is a truth to the fact that when communities need to work together they can work together. In the face of such frequent stories that seem to represent such backward steps, the challenge is to not succumb to feeling overwhelmed and to believing that nothing can be done or that someone else should be doing it. The challenge seems to involve finding small steps, some positive way of engaging with others on actions that seem important.
And all of that determination to take action depends on individuals (children who become adults) having a sense of feeling empowered, having had enough experiences that their efforts lead to results that matter, or that in the face of set backs they can bounce back.