Talking about the elephant in the room: Mental health and learning how to share your story

There were nine of us sitting there around a big table, nervously shuffling papers and preparing to share our own stories of mental ill-health. Where were we? What were we doing? Why were we drawing on all our courage to tell others vulnerable details of our own experiences and journeys?

Well, we were at a BATYR ‘Being Herd’ workshop.
And we were prepared.

We were there because each one of us wanted to learn how to tell our story – to tell our story in a structured way that connected with others without emotionally swamping them. We had the reassuring presence of Sam & Tom, our workshop facilitators and Amy – our support person.

“Who’s ready to share next? You have 10 minutes and we’re all ready to listen.”

I took a deep breath in and out, then raised my hand. I looked at my notes, and started to speak…

From the Batyr workshop we learnt practical elements of storying telling around mental health. Things like,

  1. Begin with you – what you’re like and what you enjoy.
    Add a little background context – your family, your up-bringing.
  2. What you experienced: how did it begin? What did you notice first? What did others notice (or not notice about you?). Was it an ongoing issue? Describe how it felt – moments in time. Be careful not to generalise, use “I” and “for me”. Everyone experiences everything differently. No one experience is more “real” or more “valid”. (Depending on who you’re talking to – leave out specific methods of any kind of harm and focus instead on the feelings.)
  3. Turning points & support – there may have been one or there may have been many. How did you know you needed to reach out for support? What support did you seek out? What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you? (This is where you can go into detail).
  4. Where are you now in your journey? What is the key message you want to share with others who may be struggling? What do you do today to manage your wellbeing? (For example, being in nature)

What about for those of us who think a friend or someone we know might being going through a tough time?

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Improv. and Science. The odd couple… or a match made in heaven?

In a royally decorated room of the Science Exchange in Adelaide (complete with red carpet, wood panelling and throne-like chairs in the corner), there we awkwardly stood,  30 people in a circle, nervous and fidgeting. We were ready to brave Improv!

This winter, the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAUS) hosted an Improv night specifically geared towards helping scientists, scientists-in-the-making, and other communicators improve their communication skills by diving into a bit of Improvisation.

Dain and Jarred, from OnTheFly Improv (http://www.ontheflyimpro.com) ran the session. They cracked jokes, moved us around and generally reminded us to “keep breathing”. They were wonderful. With my heightened nervous senses, our two-hour session flew by. There were games, mind tricks, advice on stance – all things to could help us to overcome our natural reluctance to blurt out whatever comes first to mind, and instead to trust ourselves. Even in a simple word association game, it was hard not to second guess your answer!

Dain and Jarred also gave us some very practical advice for presenting

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The Potential of Posture.

I watched this TEDtalk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy a little while ago and the idea of “power posing” has definitely stuck with me.

Before meetings I find myself leaning back in my chair, propping my feet up on my desk and linking my hands behind my head. Okay truthfully I only do this when alone in my shared office – but when I do, it feels like an ultimate expression of confidence.

Before my recent Confirmation of Candidature presentation, I hid in the bathroom beforehand and held the ‘Superman pose’ – feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips, chest pushed out and head held high. This research recommends holding a “power pose” like this for two minutes for full effect. And I have to say… I felt really strong and comfortable and in-control.

So if you need a little extra confidence, watch this brilliant TEDTalk and give a “power pose” a go.