A week with The Baton in Norfolk

Today is Memorial Day in the United States; a day to pause and remember the fallen and honour their memory. It is an occasion when the pain of the battlefield can bubble to the surface.

A week ago I took The Baton to the drop-in morning at the Britannia Centre in Norwich which is now a hub for Veterans’ Services in Norfolk. The Baton is made from the handle of a stretcher used for medical evacuations on the battlefield in Afghanistan. We continue to carry it, with care and concern, to honour the fallen and the wounded. At first the veterans at the drop-in looked nonplussed at the strange object in my hand, then I started talking about The Baton and the penny dropped. One person when I handed it to them could not hold back their tears.

The Britannia Centre at Norwich Prison brings together The Walnut Tree Trust, The Matthew Project’s Outside the Wire service and Walking with the Wounded’s Project Nova. Between them they are supporting veterans and their families with mental health support, drug and alcohol advice and counselling as well as support for those in the criminal justice system. They are working closely with many other charities. While I was there I met someone from the Warrior Programme which runs an effective education and training course. A prison officer with responsibility for mentally disordered offenders called in for coffee and a catch-up; the local community Police officer also called in to see whether there was anything that he could do to help. It was so encouraging to see genuine interagency working with the veterans’ needs paramount.

I went on from there to visit David Miller who is planning an expedition to the Arctic to raise awareness and funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund. They provided vital support for his brother who has a back injury with severe pain and PTSD. He told me about the long and frightening journey his brother has had to survive and the terrible misunderstandings that led to Police brutality when he went off the rails. It was a clear illustration of the very real need for the services of the Britannia Centre in every town and city. It was good to let David hold The Baton; as the family member of a wounded veteran he really understood what it represents.

Then on Wednesday I took The Baton to the University of East Anglia Community Engagement Event. It gave me an opportunity to talk about the good work happening in Norfolk for veterans and to share The Baton message with academics and students. I reflected at the time that it was a bit daunting to stand beside very clever scientists and professors, but The Baton gave me courage. One academic colleague from the Law School told me about her close friend whose son has severe PTSD. He’s just 21 she said, with tears in her eyes.

We must never stop reminding people that they have the freedom to research, to study, to express an opinion because of the sacrifices of our forces. Many have paid, and will continue to pay, a heavy price for those freedoms.

www.thebaton.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/walnuttreeproject/?fref=ts

http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/how-we-help/wwtw-special-projects/project-nova/

http://www.matthewproject.org/adult-team/outside-the-wire

http://www.warriorprogramme.org.uk

https://www.uea.ac.uk/community-university-engagement/awards/deborah-Harrison

 

 

 

 

Dear diary…the joys of keeping a journal

Two years ago, on the advice of good friend and colleague Dr Mick Collins, I started writing a journal every day. My thoughts often feel like a tangled ball of wool and the knots just get tighter when I try to mentally reason my way forward. A few minutes spent each day writing those thoughts down can help the wool to unravel to a point where knitting something beautiful might be possible.

My journal isn’t a work of literature though, most of the time it is totally boring drivel. As a teenager I kept a diary which mostly consisted of… ‘School was so boring today.’ The interest level hasn’t gone up much, but as I write down how stressed, tired and unhappy I am, the positives also start to emerge. If I feel that I have achieved nothing, writing down what I have done throughout the day can reframe that sense of failure completely. Then there’s the goal setting. If I write down both short and long term goals in the journal then that will help me to stay focused. The writing helps me to realise dreams that I would never have thought possible.

I write out the words of songs that I love or inspirational quotes, maybe something nice someone has said. I have done a few little drawings, but not many, it’s mainly words. Sometimes I just write words of comfort and reassurance to myself. Writing it all down makes the positives more real and can be returned to in moments of doubt. It’s a form of therapy, or maybe just giving myself a good talking to! Occasionally I need that little reminder, ‘It’ll be fine.’

Keeping a journal is a ‘thing’ these days. I followed advice in a ‘How to keep a journal’ guide in the Guardian (where else?) and bought a beautiful unlined book with thick paper and glorious coloured covers. I have filled seven of these now and it has become an addiction. I also followed advice just to write unselfconsciously and not to worry about the quality. I am writing for me, nobody else. Now looking back through the pages I can see how far I have come in 24 months. The goals I set back in 2014 are being realised, some have evolved, but I can see where I am going and I am open to new possibilities.

Here’s the guide from The Guardian; http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/22/how-to-start-journal-writing-drawing

More detailed advice here: http://www.creative-writing-now.com/writing-journal.html

 

 

A New Year’s Resolution isn’t just for Christmas…

On January 8th I blogged about my good intentions to adopt a healthier lifestyle, saying that I had no health problems and just wanted to feel fitter. Then I had a warning about my cholesterol level from my GP, at the top end of the average range it was placing me at over 10% risk of having a heart attack or stroke. I declined to take statins after talking it through with him, basing that decision on my new lifestyle changes. At that stage I was successfully being alcohol free, eating healthily and attending my twice weekly exercise class. I was feeling smug.

Things haven’t quite gone to plan. The twice weekly exercise class remained a challenge, but I kept going and achieved a little more each week. The pain and discomfort after each class however did not improve. Longstanding problems with my joints, and my back in particular, were being aggravated. After another chat with my GP, I took his advice to stop going. The exercises were too high impact, even with my adjustments. It felt like a failure to stop attending because it had been such a big deal for me to do something like that.

During this time I was teaching 1st year occupational therapy students at the University of East Anglia about the connection between well-being and occupation. Their energy and creativity was shared in my last blog. One of the lectures was about how we all need to become more physically active generally in our lives and it doesn’t need an expensive gym membership to get fit. By small changes to every day routines we can get exercise. So I had to apply those principles to my own life. I love to walk and it doesn’t cause me pain, so more walking it had to be. I enjoy my long walks with the dog at the weekend, but this needed to be more regular.

Every day I now park my car a 15 minute walk away from where I work. It avoids a 10 minute queue in traffic so also helps to reduce my carbon emissions. On cold, wet mornings I almost give in to the temptation to drive all the way to the university campus, the car is warm and Kiss on the radio is highly entertaining. Then I remember that I need the exercise; so many people face far greater challenges than me and manage to keep fit. One of my inspirations is Mark Ormrod. He was in the Royal Marines and got blown up in Afghanistan. Three of his limbs were amputated and this does not stop him from working on his fitness every day. He is such a motivator for me when my inclination is to be lazy. I’m also walking a little faster and the last stage of the journey is up a small hill (this is Norfolk we’re talking about) so I try not to slow down to a plod.

I’ve been fighting a sense of disappointment that I couldn’t do everything that I set out to do, but I have to remind myself what I have achieved. The healthy eating is going fairly well, with loads more salad, vegetables and fruit included every day. I take a salad to work instead of a doorstep cheese sandwich. I couldn’t keep off the alcohol completely, I do love a glass of red wine, but I’ve halved how much I drink. The challenge now is to keep going, but really I have no choice. There’s still so much that I want to do with my life; I need to be fit and well, not just for New Year but for always.

To find out more about the health benefits of walking follow Sarah Hanson on Twitter – @walkingresearch. Sarah is a PhD student at Norwich Medical School, UEA, researching walking groups within the natural environment to improve health.

Mark Ormrod’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/markormrodmotivationalspeaker/?fref=ts

 

 

Creative occupations and wellbeing

Over the past few weeks I have had the very great pleasure of teaching first year BSc occupational therapy students at the University of East Anglia about the power of occupation for mental health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists can engage people, families and communities in a huge variety of occupations (activities). This participation leads to healthy and fulfilled lives. I made connections with occupational science using some of my favourite concepts; occupational identity and occupational justice. Along with my lectures the students also had the opportunity to plan and run group activities for their fellow students to explore their own creativity and occupational engagement.

I’m sharing a few pictures from one of the groups who quickly ‘got it’. They facilitated their group to enjoy the amazing architectural and natural environment that we work in at UEA. Not only that, the group took photographs and shared them on social media with the hashtag #GetCreative. I’ve selected just a few of the brilliant photographs, with the permission of the students. Their energy and creativity shines through and makes me very proud of this next generation of occupational therapists.

 

Looking back to 2015 & looking forward

WordPress sent me a summary of my blog and it surprised me; I was thinking that I hadn’t written that much this year and I should have done more. Indeed the latter part of the year has been a bit quiet, but 2015 has been very busy and I didn’t always get time to write about it!

The best bits have been building connections and collaborations across the UK and the world. So many people are committed to making the lives of others better and I’ve been privileged to talk to many of them and work alongside a few, connecting like-minded folk when I can.

I approached the end of the year feeling a little disappointed that my goal of relocating to the South West nearly happened, but didn’t in the end. Looking over this blog however, and thinking back to all the amazing things and people that I’ve been involved with, I’ve realised that I am fortunate to have so many opportunities. I’m grateful for my family, my friends and my health, nothing else really matters.

My resolutions for 2016; I will learn more, connect more, travel more, stress less and continue to be creative and have fun!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 600 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 10 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Not many people know this… why supporting the Armed Forces is so important to me

I was very proud to receive my UEA community engagement award a couple of weeks ago. The pride came not because I wanted recognition for myself, but for the small charities that work tirelessly to support our Armed Forces. Getting the award has prompted colleagues to ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’

‘Why not?’ would be the flippant answer, but of course, there are reasons why I volunteer specifically with military charities. Like most people of my generation our fathers and grandfathers served. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the RAF and my father did his national service after WW2 had finished. This is nothing unusual, however, and I have hesitated to share the deeper reasons why I do this because they are very personal; but maybe my story should be told.

You might be surprised to learn that my commitment to those who have served goes back to the Vietnam War. ‘Surely you’re too young to remember that,’ I hear you cry. Well, not really. At the tender age of 19 I married a Staff Sargent in the United States Air Force and for 10 years I was a military wife. I know what it’s like to be a small cog in a mighty machine. I relocated my career on the basis of where we were posted and lived in a variety of homes (some pretty grim while waiting for a house on the base). I know what it’s like to be separated for long periods, alone to sort everything with the other half away on deployment and to have the anxious times not knowing where they are or what’s going on.

I never met my ex-husband’s oldest brother, he was killed after stepping on a mine in Vietnam. It was right at the end of the war and he was 19. I saw the lasting impact of that loss on his family and it would be fair to say that they never got over it. I became interested in that war and the ongoing struggles for those who fought in it, serving their nation. Public opinion turned against the U.S. involvement and that meant returning veterans were not treated with the care and respect they deserved. This has been echoed in UK conflicts. The poor health experienced by Vietnam veterans is staggering:

“According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.” (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history accessed 30.07.15

                                                       vietnam-memorial1

The Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC; on my bucket list

When I was working as an occupational therapist with NHS mental health teams in Cambridgeshire I was fortunate to be trained by RAF community mental health nurses to recognise and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m by no means an expert, but I have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that this can have on people’s lives. I also know how transformative it can be to find an occupation or activity that is meaningful and engaging. That eventually led me to the voluntary work with charities, helping them and the people they support to reach their goals. So now I am working with veterans recovering from combat-injury involved in motorsport and surfing, bringing this blog right back to what I’m doing today. It is also why I am so passionate about The Baton charity which exists to ensure that we never forget the sacrifices that our Armed Forces make for our freedom. 

Baton blog

Charity links:

The Baton; www.thebaton.co.uk; Team Off-Road-It: www.offroadit.co.uk Surf Action: www.surfaction.co.uk

 

Community engagement; from motorsport to surfing

It’s been four years, almost to the day, that I offered to help a team of combat-injured guys with their Facebook page ahead of BBC 2 Top Gear featuring a film about them. Tony Harris and Tom Neathway with Andrew Taylor were putting together an off-road team with the ridiculous goal of entering the Dakar Rally in 2013. Richard Hammond thought that there was a real possibility that the guys could make it. Most people thought they were deluded. The rest, as they say, is history.

To read about Race2Recovery and their success in the Dakar Rally 2013 see this blog from Colene Evens-Allen: http://inspirationatspeed.blogspot.ca/p/race2recovery.html

                   MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1MOTORSPORT -  DAKAR 2013 - PART 1

Last night I was proud to receive a UEA Engagement Award for outstanding achievement in public and community engagement. I had no idea in the summer of 2011 that this would be a part of my journey. There have been times when work and family quite rightly demanded my time and I wondered why I was making these commitments, adding extra stress to my life. Then just this week I saw statistics published on the number of ex-military suicides. The harsh realities of life for some people who have served in the Armed Forces keep me going.

UEA Community Engagement Award

I now work as a volunteer with two charities; The Baton and Surf Action. The Baton has the primary mission to raise and maintain awareness within the British public and our Allies about the reality of life for Armed Services personnel and their families. It exists to ensure that they are given the level of support that they are rightfully due.

www.thebaton.co.uk

                                                          BLOG JOSH 1 1407410130241_wps_1_Joshua_Ploetz_a_Marine_wh

Surf Action provide evidence-based ocean therapy or ‘blue gym’ for veterans with PTSD and to promote health and well-being for Armed Forces families.

http://www.surfaction.co.uk

                             Surf Action 1Surf Action 2                               

I haven’t left the world of off-road rallying completely; I’m supporting two former Race2Recovery team members, Alec Savery and Tom Neathway, who are promoting The Baton with their motorsport. Moving on from ‘recovery’ and ‘disability sport’ they are just two ex-military blokes with the primary aim of having a good time. They are planning on racing in Bulgaria in September and possibly Morocco in March 2016.

www.offroadit.co.uk

                     ALEC TOM BATON NEWBURY IMG_1419Tom Dakar 2013

As my connections grow across the social media virtual world I’m finding more people who are working successfully to support veterans and they are often veterans themselves. The best ones are providing small, active projects to help people in recovery from the trauma of war, physical and psychological. I was pleased recently to facilitate volunteering for occupational therapy and physiotherapy students from the University of East Anglia with the Re-Org Trust and Walking with the Wounded. I was deeply moved by Jonathan Weaver, representing the Re-Org Trust, when he spoke at the student seminar ‘Actively Supporting Veterans’. He bravely shared his story and reminded our healthcare students that they have precious skills, pleading with them not to forget our veterans.

http://thereorgtrust.org http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk

I’ve written before, in my September 26th blog, about the ups and downs of volunteering. It still holds true that the friendships I made along the way are so precious. I also said, but it is worth repeating, that one person can’t change the world, but small acts of kindness can make a difference and even more so if we work together.