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The story behind Mindful Millie

Since a child I have suffered from anxiety and depression, it’s been quite severe at times and constant over the years – like a toxic friend that never leaves your side.

the story behind mindful millieIt was when I was 22, I’d finished university where I studied Education and Early Childhood studies, teaching wasn’t an option due to my anxiety. We had already been trying for a baby for a year with no luck. I used this as an excuse to cover why I couldn’t get a job – the real reason being I could barely leave the house never mind on my own. We told everyone I was renovating the house and so I had no time for a job.

After a couple of years trying for a baby, it really began to sink in that without a job and without a baby I had no purpose and I was just a burden. I spiralled. What didn’t help was everyone’s comments about how the reason I couldn’t conceive was because I needed to “relax” – the guilt just piled up and I felt more and more worthless.

I’ve always had health anxiety and been a bit of a hypochondriac, the moment someone felt ill I felt ill too. I was just going to bed when I had an extreme pain in my side and I was convinced that it was a ectopic pregnancy, I felt sick, I had a temperature and I  was shaking violently, I was sweating and my heart was going so fast. These were all symptoms of my anxiety attack. The worst part of health anxiety is that you end up giving yourself all the symptoms which just confirms to you that you are really unwell.

This panic attack lasted over a week and then I finally went to the doctors. I was put on an anti-depressant and every day I got a tiny bit better. I found a book on mindfulness and that is where my journey began.

By taking everything one second at a time and getting out of the cycle of worrying about the future and being obsessed with the past, everything became so much easier to cope with.

After a few months I decided I was stronger and I needed to find myself a purpose so I looked on the volunteering website and found a post for a receptionist at Samye Foundation Wales a centre for mindfulness and well being and I couldn’t really believe it, I thought: what a perfect place to try and build some confidence – I felt like they would be supportive and understanding.

It’s now 9 months later and I couldn’t have made a better choice. My friends can’t believe the change in me. I met my best friend from university on Friday and as she moved away we rarely see each other. She said, “I can’t believe you came into Cardiff on your own, you walked in to meet me and when we couldn’t find each other it didn’t faze you – before that would have been a meltdown; we’re sat in a restaurant surrounded by people and you are completely calm!”.

I wrote Mindful Millie at the start of this year. I learnt in university about the importance of early intervention and I asked myself – if id have learnt mindfulness as a child would I have been in the state I was? We really need to get in there early and help children learn skills so that they can build a positive mental health as they grow.

So, after commissioning a lovely artist – Rhiannon Thomas, we created a beautiful character called Millie, she is an elephant that uses mindfulness and teaches children how to use it too. Saying that, the book has been quite a hit with adults too!

One review I had was: “Mindful Millie is an amazing book that makes mindfulness easily accessible to people of all ages, regardless of any prior knowledge (or lack of!) about the technique.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book launch

The big day had finally come, the release of my first book Mindful Millie!

*Disclosure: some posts on my site contain affiliate links, this just means that if you go through to make a purchase from my link, without any extra cost to you, I will earn commission.

the book launch

I can’t really believe how well Saturday went – it went amazingly. The decorations went up without a problem, I had beautiful prints of the photos Caitlin took at the photo-shoot up on the wall (see pics here), my friend decorated the cakes for me while I prepared the rooms.

So many people turned up, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people that were there to support this venture. The lovely illustrator Rhiannon came along with her family and it was so nice to see them there, I met the gorgeous little Harry Pugford and his mum who’s writing a very exciting book too (which I cannot wait to read).

I was really nervous about the reading because I’ve never been a fan of attention or public speaking, I nearly left university because of the anxiety around presentations leaving me sleepless and without appetite for weeks before. Luckily I managed to keep the anxiety until the day of the launch by staying mindful but when it came to the moment I have to say I found it difficult. But, I DID IT! and as soon as I got in to reading the book – I was truly in the moment and the anxiety vanished.

I was so lucky to have such lovely children to read to, it was so amazing to read Mindful Millie and see the children listening and joining in with the story. Afterwards family members and friends commented that they couldn’t believe how confident I was and how much I had changed since the beginning of my Mindfulness journey.

I cannot thank Samye Foundation Wales enough for letting me use their beautiful building – it was the perfect atmosphere for my book launch. The support that everyone at Samye has shown me, especially Lorraine is incredible and I have learnt so much from them about compassion and the importance of mindfulness.

You can get your copy of Mindful Millie here

or your copy of Mili Meddwl here

Louise x

Lourdes 2017 – a transformation

Last time I went to Lourdes I really struggled with my anxiety and decided I wouldn’t go back. But being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to let my anxiety rule my future and decided that with the help of mindfulness I would be able to go this year.

Reasons to hike on your birthdaySunday

On Sunday I woke up to open birthday presents & make sure everything was packed. When I awoke I was really shocked not to be feeling really nervous – as soon as that thought popped into my head I noticed it – and reminded myself that there was no need to be nervous and that I would take everything one moment at a time. I opened every card and present with attention to every detail, every texture, every word, every smell and it is incredible the difference being all there makes to your gratitude and enjoyment of receiving gifts. It was as if every word meant more, I noticed all the little things and the thoughts behind them.

When it came to lunchtime I made my way to the airport and sat inside waiting for the coach to arrive with the others. I chose to get a lift there rather than go on the coach to try and minimise the travelling as I get claustrophobic. I sat on the bench and I started to feel feelings of anxiety so I closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I used a grounding technique to calm myself down and I focused on my breathing.

Once I was checked in I helped one of the assisted pilgrims to go and get something to eat and then helped her through security. Usually, the worst part of flying for me is going through security. I’ve always had this huge fear that someone has planted something on me and I will end up in prison, totally unrealistic although in my mind totally plausible. This time though, I did not have one feeling of anxiety. I went through security, smiled and I felt on top of the world.

Monday

In the morning we worked the early shift and got the assisted pilgrims up and ready for breakfast and the day ahead, we cleaned their rooms in the hospital and then made our way down to the Grotto for the opening Mass. It was pouring it down and I wish I had packed my umbrella. I could have been miserable but I decided to me mindful and enjoy the rain, taking each drop as the first.

In the afternoon we had a procession and it began to wear us down that we had been in the same wet clothes since 6am; it was then that things began to unravel for me because when we asked if we could just go and change clothes we were told we had to stay. Something just clicked in my brain; you are trapped – you can’t leave. Although we were in a huge church – the underground basilica it was like the walls were getting tighter and I started to panic. Although I knew I could just walk out of the door, although I knew I was a 23 year old adult who had the right to leave, the fear just consumed me, I began to shake, the cold spread through me and I felt sick.

I panicked – I thought “this is it – I knew I shouldn’t have come”.

Luckily, after we finally got to go back and change I managed to return myself to mindfulness and I didn’t dwell on how I had felt.

Tuesday

On Tuesday we took the assisted pilgrims down to the domain and did the stations of the cross and walked through the grotto. Walking through the grotto is one of my favourite parts because it is so mindful – people walk slowly through, feeling the smoothness of the cave walls and feeling the water run down. The sound of the water is beautiful. I love seeing the flowers that are left and it just feels like such a special place full of love and compassion.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we did the torchlight procession; it was not the best I’ve ever been to as it decided to rain! But it was still wonderful. I had the honour of pushing my friends grandmother in a wheelchair whilst a friend pushed her grandfather next to me. It was so wonderful, the whole way around their candles kept going out and so they spent half of the time trying to re-light each others candles – it was so wonderful how they laughed together and it was quite the challenge trying to push their wheelchairs at the same rate so that they didn’t end up setting fire to one another!

Thursday

On Thursday we had international mass and group photographs. In the morning we got a chance to lie in (until past 7am!) so we got crepes together – but of course being the one who can’t eat gluten I decided to take some time out and I sat on a bench by the river listening to my meditation CD – I did a whole 17 minutes of meditation and I felt so proud – in the middle of all the hustle and bustle I managed to stay totally mindful for 17 minutes – this may not seem like a big deal but it really is for me!

Thursday evening was so emotional. We went down to the Grotto to light our candle – something we do every year. The candle had all of our names on. This is the time that everyone has a cry and lets out all of the emotions they’ve been holding in. Lighting a candle you pray for those who need it, for family, for those you’ve lost and it brings such strong feelings and emotions. One thing that strikes me every single time I go is how every single one of the youth supports the others, nobody is left out, everyone comforts everyone, like one big family – but a family of choice, where we all choose to love each other.

After lighting the candle, Lucy and I walked back to the hotel and on the way circled the statue of Mary three times. It is believed that doing so whilst saying the Hail Mary means that you will return to Lourdes.

Friday

Friday was a sad day -the last day! We cleaned the hospital, helped the assisted pilgrims to pack and had the closing mass. The flight was due to leave at 7pm, but got delayed until 3am – it turns out Mary wasn’t ready for us to leave!

Although I am still not recovered from the tiredness – I wouldn’t have changed getting to spend an extra 8 hours with my friends.

Until next year,

Louise x

Being a doula

One of the most intense, emotional and amazing things I have done, was being a doula.

doula              /duːlə/            noun
 – a woman who gives support, help, and advice to another woman during pregnancy and during and after the birth

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My friend was planning a home-birth and as she knew I was very interested in midwifery and knew I had a good relationship with her other children she asked me to stay with her for a few weeks in preparation for the baby and when the baby was born.
The idea being if she needed to go into hospital I would be there to look after the other children.
The most amazing part of the experience was that everyone made me feel a part of the family and I still can’t believe I held this little baby so soon after she was born. It felt like a huge privilege to be included and to get to be one of the first people to hold this beautiful baby.
The baby came in the middle of the night and as I let the midwifes do their job I sat in anticipation in the other room; as soon as I heard the baby cry I burst out in tears. It was just indescribable.
It was a bittersweet time for me, because I enjoyed so much spending time with my friend and her children and cuddling this new baby, but not being able to have my own child made it difficult at times to not feel sad for myself.
Although my anxiety was rife and I was really struggling I carried on with a smile because they were so much more important than my anxiety was. The things is, however scared of something I am, if someone needs my help I won’t let my anxiety stop me.
This experience is one I will always remember and it brings up so many emotions. I will be thankful to my friend for including me and thinking me worthy of this role.
When I tried to persuade my friend to let me do a bump cast, she went along with it and now she has two, beautifully decorated. She even read a book I bought her on hypno-birthing which meant a lot because she valued my thoughts.
I am so grateful for this experience as it may be my only experience of birth and what an incredible experience that is.
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Louise xo

Important lessons I have learnt

Life can bring with it difficult times but it also brings with them valuable life lessons.

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  1.  You don’t have a clue what is going on in other peoples lives. It is so easy, especially when you have anxiety to just presume that people don’t like you or can’t be bothered to be your friend. It is so important to stay mindful to the fact that there could  be something huge going on behind closed doors. This is a mistake I have made too many times. Thinking my friend didn’t like me anymore, when really she was battling depression of her own. Thinking someone had fallen out with me when really they were just going through hell at home after losing family.
  2. Choose kindness over bitterness. It is all too easy to choose the bitter route when you are treated badly, especially if it isn’t the first time. But in the long run, the person who suffers most is you – and you don’t deserve that. So choose kindness – choose compassion not only for them but for yourself.
  3. Your reaction IS a choice. You may not have any control over a situation, but you do have control over how you react to the situation.
  4. Your feelings and thoughts do not define you. Thoughts are like a bus – you can choose whether you get on or just let it pass. Your thoughts are not you, you have thousands and thousands a day – most of them you don’t even consciously realise – they do not define who you are. If you have a nasty thought it does not make you a nasty person – it is your choice whether you let that nasty thought pass by or whether you choose to embrace it.
  5. Fear is dependent on you for survival – you feed it. It is an internal fight. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes fear is important, we evolved to fear certain situations which was important for our survival. The only problem is is that now we have the same reaction to getting an unwelcome email as cavemen did to have to fight off a tiger – it isn’t a suitable response and it leads to a build up of stress so it is important to develop the tools to deal with these responses.
  6. The inner-terrorist can cause more damage than any other bully. The difference is this bully can be with you 24/7, talking you down and belittling you. It is important to recognise these thoughts and remind yourself what they are.
  7. Self-care and self-compassion is to me, the most important thing in mental health. It took me 12 years of depression to realise that I am worth it, I deserve to be happy, I do have a purpose. If you would be kind and compassionate to others – why do you treat yourself with contempt?
  8. Whoever someone may be, whether they be a friend or a relation, nobody has a right to abuse you. Physically, emotionally, psychologically. Although you can feel sorry for them and understand why they treat you this way, you need to step back and be compassionate to yourself too. It is not your job to save everyone, and you can’t help anyone if you don’t look after yourself first. I’m not saying you should be mean to anyone but you need to take care of yourself.
  9. Sometimes the people that seem the happiest are actually the most insecure. Don’t judge anyone as the chances are you don’t know the full story.
  10. Not everyone is going to like you. It really hurts when you find out that someone doesn’t like you – but you have to remember that there are so many different people and the likelihood is that you’re personality is going to clash with someone.
  11. Your past doesn’t define your future. I have spent many a night laid wide awake replaying silly things I have done, fall-outs I’ve had and regretting my behaviour. We all make mistakes, nobody is perfect. Don’t let it weigh you down, as long as you are sorry and you are trying your best there is no more you can do.

Love Louise x

The importance of Play

How important is play to children? Do they get anything out of it or is it a waste of time? Some believe play is crucial to development…

The importance of Play.pngI never really realised the true importance of play for children until I went to university. In first year we had a module all about how children learn from play. I’ve got to be honest, it turned me into a bit of a hippy and now I have a dream that I will teach one day or home-school my child and take them on marvellous adventures…

Reggio Emilia

This child-centred learning approach began in a city in Italy – Reggio Emilia. The whole philosophy is based upon children being able to learn through experience with control over the direction of their learning, to explore material things and relationships with others and to be able to express themselves. The natural pace of development is central to this approach as is the child’s citizenship – their rights and their right to reach their potential.

In Reggio Emilia, parents, teachers and the community all play a vital role to make this philosophy work, some parents volunteer in the school and many take home the schools principles too. This form of learning by doing is supported by Piaget who theorised that children learn best this way.

Montessori

If I were to send my child to school I know that a Montessori school would be my first choice. Montessori is again from Italy, Maria Montessori developed this philosophy emphasising the importance of holistic well-being and social, psychological and physical development.

Montessori schools often have mixed age group classrooms which I think is great – the older children can help the younger ones by scaffolding their learning (Vygotsky) and Bruner’s Spiral Curriculum theory whereby children can tackle the same topic in age appropriate ways expanding their knowledge each time.

It is also usual for children to get to choose an activity from a prescribed range so although it is more limited that Reggio they do get a choice – and I’m sure from working with children myself that children get much more from the activity if they’ve gotten to choose it.

They also follow Piaget’s constructionist theory whereby children learn from discovery and children have freedom to move around the classroom.

I think the reason I love this method so much is because it treats children like individuals and citizens in their own right where they given choice and trust which I think will really help them to develop into responsible citizens as they grow older.

Forest schools

The clues in the name really! I did a couple of lessons in our own forest at university, it was great and you can tell why children absolutely love it. It’s all about developing emotional intelligence, social skills, teamwork and informal play – another child led approach. Another reason I love it is because I really do care about nature and the environment and this instils knowledge about the environment, sustainability and global citizenship in the children.

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The main reasons I love all of the above:

  • Child centred not teacher led
  • Child enjoys learning
  • They learn how to be an active citizen rather than passive
  • Socialisation
  • Children are allowed to be unique
  • Children are taught to think for themselves

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with many amazing teachers in state schools, and they are amazing at their job and they care so much for the children – but there is only so much they can do when they are so restricted by the governments legislation which is made by people who have never been near a primary school teaching post.

When it comes down to it, teachers are expected to have evidence for everything they do, be inspected on a regular basis, force children to do standardised testing even at such a young age… all on top of teaching, listening, answering questions, caring, giving pastoral support, giving encouragement, managing behaviour, training, planning, etc. etc.  If teachers were trusted and allowed to teach, inspire and spend time with the children then the children would gain so much more, and teachers wouldn’t have to leave the job with stress! Oh and don’t get me started on the adult:child ratio!

Oh dear, doing this blog is really making me want to go back to university! I had better stop now. Thanks for reading 🙂

Louise x

The trick with bricks

I use this technique I learnt in CBT and it really seems to help.

the trick With bricksI thought I would show you how to use this CBT Visualisation Technique.

  1. Draw a picture of yourself and imagine that the there are bricks on your shoulder weighing you down.
  2. Then fill in the bricks with different things you are worried about – you can go into as much depth as you would like – obviously I’ve kept mine quite general and non-specific as I am putting it online.
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  3. Now you have done this, take each brick at a time and break it down into smaller pieces
  4. Look at each piece and try to see if there is a way you can work through this, if there is anything that can help to take the weight of this brick off your shoulders. e.g: I chose America as one of my biggest sources of anxiety, for my husbands career it makes sense to move there for a few years so we are trying to address some of those fears.IMG_1232I hope this helps!

Louise x

p.s Massive thank you to Lucy who helped me out with some of these solutions!

Time to talk with Miss Campbell

This is my best friend Amelia!

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L: Hi Amelia! How are you today?

A: I’m good thank you, having a nice relaxing Saturday.

L: That’s great, what do you normally enjoy to do on weekends?

A: I like to spend time in my favourite cafes or sit by the harbour with a good book. I also like to spend time with friends. Sometimes I end up working because there aren’t enough hours in the week.

L: What job do you do?

A: My main role is working in the NHS supporting service improvements but I also work for a charity which ensures mental health services users and carers are involved in treatment design, implementation and monitoring.

L: Wow that’s amazing. Why do yo do what you do?

A: I’ve seen so many people struggle to get access to adequate mental health services so this is doing my bit to try and help. It is also something I’m really passionate about, and one day I would like to see parity of esteem between physical and mental health become a reality.

L: That is the dream for me too! Why don’t you tell everyone a bit about how we met!

A: We met in Lourdes didn’t we? We met whilst volunteering with the sick in France as part of the Welsh National Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Louise was in my team, her brother Chris was our leader! That was 6 years ago!

L: I can’t believe it has been 6 years. What is your favourite animal?

A: I can’t pick one, can I give you a list?

L: Go on then!

A: Dogs, cats, elephants, baby seals and Pygmy goats.. actually just goats in general.

L: I’m not surprised dogs are at the start of the list when Harvey and Junior are cwtched up asleep in front of you!

A: They are far too cute for their own good!

L: I know! What is your favourite quote?

A: “Stop seeking approval for what you have built, from those who didn’t help you build it” – so say as a team you worked on something, as long as the team is happy and it works for people, there is no need to seek approval from other people.

L: I love that quote, you are so right. I know like me, you are a big fan of self-care in improving mental health, what is your favourite thing to do to self soothe?

A: Make a pillow fort and watch Netflix with a cup of tea and some of my favourite snacks, or go for a walk.

L: Both sound lovely, I can tell why you choose them as your favourites. How excited are you to see the finished Mindful Millie?!

A: So excited!!!! As soon as Louise told me about it, I was so excited, I think it is such a lovely idea, and something that is much needed.

L: Thanks Amelia! It’s been great to chat.

A: Anytime!

 

 

 

25 things to do as self-care

Self care is so important. Here are 25 ideas of what you can do.

25 ideas for self careSometimes it’s hard to even get out of bed. Self-soothing or self-care can really help to make you feel better. Give yourself some TLC. Some will work for one person and not another – do what you enjoy and what makes you feel good.

  1. have a bath
  2. brush your hair
  3. get dressed
  4. read a good book
  5. paint your nails
  6. use a face mask
  7. do some colouring in
  8. write a diary
  9. write yourself a kind letter
  10. try out some hair tutorials
  11. pluck your eyebrows
  12. watch your favourite tv programme
  13. message a friend
  14. cuddle a hot water bottle
  15. have a nap
  16. go for a coffee
  17. hide your phone for a few hours
  18. have a day free from social media
  19. go for a short walk
  20. write a list of what makes you happy
  21. moisturise
  22. paint
  23. have a spring clean
  24. do some gardening
  25. do some exercise

louise xx