My work over the years has increasingly involved working with mental health challenges and issues. Right now in the UK as you are reading this, there are 10,000 children under 10 with diagnosed severe depression. Self harm has gone up by 68% in the last 10 years. (Child andAdolescent Mental Health Survey ) Half of all mental health illnesses are laid down before the age of 14, and waiting lists for CAMHS are a year to 18 months at least. PRU units are full . 60% of looked after children ( children in care ) have some form of emotional anxiety or mental health illness.
Children and young people with an existing condition or different ability such as autism or ADHD are 2-6x more likely to develop a mental health illness or issue, as I know only too well from the journey with my own son … terrifying and heartbreaking times I would not wish on anybody. Young people with PMLD are 50% more at risk of developing an additional mental health issue.
In all of this, boys are proven to suffer twice as much as girls and yet they are often too embarrassed to discuss it, let alone approach anyone for help…
So I am absolutely honoured to be approached by a very honest,courageous and wonderful man named Colin Sortwell who with the support of his incredible wife and son following a breakdown, set up a blog/website about his experiences called www.monkeyonmyback.org.uk so that he could help and inspire others. I am extremely proud to share this on my website and hope that it will help so many …..
Here is what Colin has to say :
“Hello,my name is Colin,Im a 50 something man who has at times suffered with my mental health. It seems so easy to say it now but you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to admit I had a problem and to seek help. Like a typical teenager & then man I bottled things up for years and years,always managing to get by until things got so bad that my depression and anxiety left me hospitalised for a short while. Moving forward a few years I had another bad patch that involved my career and left me with horrendous anxiety. I ended up having to resign from my position as that was clearly making me very ill indeed.
At this time I was seeing both my GP and an awesome counsellor who helped me to talk through my problems., and slowly but surely I began to make sense of it all. My counsellor and my amazing wife encouraged me to write all my issues down as a way of offloading them, and sort of draw a line under them if you will. So I decided to create a website that not only would help me offload but hopefully would help anyone else that might be feeling the same way, and that is how www.monkeyonmyback.org.uk was born. I’ve always called that voice inside my head that tells me I’m not good enough,or can’t do things, the Monkey.
Once I had started writing, it was like the floodgates had opened , so much stuff came out of me that I couldn’t believe where it had all come from. But, and here’s the important bit, the feeling of relief that I felt was absolutely overwhelming. The point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t matter whether you talk to someone about your issues or if you write them down on paper, create a blog ,write a song etc. There is ALWAYS someone who will listen without judging you and will allow you to get rid of those unwanted,negative thoughts that are causing you problems.
Please don’t suffer in silence!
C x ”
I am also thrilled to share that I have now trained Colin’s wife Sheila in Indian Head Massage for Special Needs and she has taken this therapy back to Northern Ireland. With the knowledge and techniques they now have between them, I am so happy that they will be able to touch so many lives and make a difference. Which is ultimately what we are all here to do.
In March 2020 I was absolutely blown away and in a state of the most gorgeous disbelief when I was awarded a Junior Best Practice Award by the StoryMassage Founders Mary Atkinson and Sandra Hooper.
We agreed that the certificate should be made out to Giuliana’s Rainbow Kids because they have progressed so much within this therapy and we have used it to explore and express so emotions, events and issues so successfully.
With some children I have got to the bottom of challenges,problems or traumas where there wasn’t the power of speech,the level of understanding or the vocabulary to vocalise : the power of safe and nurturing touch in a relaxed and fun environment really cannot be underestimated. I have had the most tremendous results working with children of all ages in this way. I am so thankful to have trained in such a valuable therapy.
We have all bloomed within it, me included, even down to developing and adding our own strokes ,naming them and using them in our own stories. We even made it onto the story massage website with our story massage about the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan… a real moment of value, self esteem and pure magic for “my” children.
Mary Atkinson visited my Rainbows and held a wonderful training course in Story Massage from my therapy/training chalet overlooking the sea in Summer 2019 which everyone absolutely loved followed by a children’s workshop the next morning .The Rainbows were so excited to be meeting Mary for real after hearing all about her. .. the founder of story massage AND an author coming all the way to see them! It was a gorgeous weekend remembered fondly by everyone who shared it. As Mary later wrote, “I LOVED meeting your rainbow kids.”
This Junior Best Practice Award is only the THIRD time to date that it has been awarded …. out of 3000 Story Massage Instructors !!!!!! And my Rainbow Kids are the FIRST EVER to receive this award !!!! Can you feel the cartwheels I’m just bursting to unleash as I write this ?!!
We received a beautiful and specially designed certificate in the post which I will frame and put up in the therapy chalet once I have thrown a special awards ceremony ( with photos of course !!!) I also had the loveliest email saying it was “so well deserved” and that they hoped that this incredible award made me happy. Well when I tell the children at our “awards ceremony ” I think ALL our yells of happiness will be heard !! I am SO happy there just aren’t enough words … even for me !
The certificate came with a treasured card which gave me such a lump of pride and emotion for all the children who pass through my hands …. it said ” Congratulations on winning this very special award. We know how much you love story massage and have been so impressed by your stories. Brilliant !”
I AM SO PROUD OF ALL MY RAINBOWS WHO HAVE HELPED MAKE THIS HAPPEN !!!!! WELL DONE MY DARLINGS !!
Autism’s Got Talent, Ruislip 2019 …. a night I will never forget and will carry with me to my last breath.
Watching my son, who by this time next year will be more qualified than the head of English teacher and her team who categorically told me that Ollie “would never achieve more than two GCSE’s “due to his autism (and who removed English literature from him as well as the higher GCSE paper in English) , reading out his poetry to an audience of hundreds where you could have literally heard a pin drop, really brought home our journey.
Each of the three poems Ollie read were met with thunderous applause that felt like it would lift off the very roof. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears. As I peeked out through the wings on stage I could see people wiping their tears. People back stage were crying and I was crying too because I cannot believe all my son has achieved through so much, both at home and school, to become the gentle, kind, incredibly talented , giant of a man he is today.
I don’t think my heart will ever return to its normal size after this.
Ollie read some poetry from his first anthology “Lungs” about some of the horrific domestic abuse he both saw and then later experienced directly, prompting our departure from such a toxic atmosphere. He also read a poem from his second anthology “Wings” which is “a collection where Ollie reflects on the domestic abuse of his mother and the family , becoming a space where vulnerabilities and hope are explored in the butterfly transformations of his mother. ” The anthology is dedicated to me and simply says “For my Mum,who always taught me to find my song”.
Anna Kennedy OBE kindly invited Ollie to sell his books on the evening. It all felt so surreal seeing my son who I have advocated for all his life, now advocating for others by taking part in such a impactful event.
Each act, each unique , strong, beautiful human being ,was so powerful and gifted that Ollie said to me during rehearsals that he didn’t feel adequate by comparison. My heart went out to him as this message is one he has had for so long from so many. The chilling fact is that each of these kids’ stories could have been so entirely different if they hadn’t had someone believing in them. And half of them,including Ollie, almost ended up not being here at all after being driven to suicidal thoughts and attempts when their gifts went unheard along with their voices.
After the show Ollie pulled me to one side away from the crowds, and very quietly said “Mum, for the first time in my life I feel a tiny bit proud.”
Yes – I did cry again …buckets,! It had taken Ollie 22 years , a Degree and participating in Autism’s Got Talent to at last feel of worth.
I feel even more strongly than ever that Autism’s Got Talent should be on mainstream TV, played at school assemblies and absolutely incorporated into teacher training. If only they could be made aware of how when you tap into that special ability and find what I call their super power …. these kids FLY ! Thank you to Anna Kennedy OBE ,Phil Barnett, Steven Smith,Dawn Avery Lisa Robins and all of Anna’s hard working team and ambassadors for getting all our special children heard.
Following the inundation of emails and messages I received after the show, here are copies of the three poems which Ollie read out. The actual footage of him reading them out at the show can be found on my Therapies For Special Needs FB business page, YouTube and Anna Kennedy Online.
Straight Jacket Of Flies
You feel them tug free sometimes: horseflies,
botflies,craneflies,fruit flies,picture-winged flies –
the ensemble is fear.It must feel horrible,
knowing that wherever you go,they will
surely follow.This is how we felt father
when you bugged us, to the point where my chest
would tighten if the phone rang – you’d
be in the background listening to every word.
You set up this landscape of fear for me:
now you’re living it.Every waking moment you tremor
at the nail varnish colours of their thoraxes.
Their stirring reminds you too much of the new baby you left
that night to take a flight to Indonesia.
It’s crying out for a father went unheard,
Mother slept with it that night ,crying over it’s head.
The flies keep you busy, falsifying albums
of our so-called ‘privileged life’ as evidence
for Crown Court.The botflies remember;
looping their milky eggs in your scalp.Mother had
a flower pot business and taught French as a private tutor
to keep her family from going homeless.
Now, horseflies crowd in around your eyes,
turning the eye sockets inside-out.You had money
that you spent at hotels with mystery women
you were having affairs with.
You have nothing now.
The flies know.
Under The Wheels
The night you left The White Horse pub
with father,he pushed you through
the car door. Heft up inches
from the asphalt and the road
darting away like a massive
tarmac arrow.You were flightless
as you scooped your knees
and laddered your tights on the road.
He dangles you by a string of air.
He says, “You’re having an affair with John”. The recoiling ferns and gridded
oaks’ boughs at at he wayside put
their ears to your complaints; ‘Let me go,
let me go’. Then a tough wind blew
up a sail of your dress and you could
feel the cold in your bones.
You tried to kiss the unbearable gravel
like it was holy soil. Father rose over you
with gritted teeth ,roaring at you,
ravined V-lines veins set the tension
in his forehead as he bent
his face to yours. You will never
forget that night or that look
in his eyes.
My father stepped on my back so hard,why so hard?
A loveless chain of thorns he strung on each of our necks.
The false purples cancelling out the crimean flush in our chests,
like the love that was traded in, for the malice he wreaked.
Its vine decaying the good ores of virtue I have in my flesh vessel
Your vessel no more.
“Dad,why are you waiting on the stairs at night?
What is that black box you clutch to your chest
like an unseasoned Pandora’s box? Small,
ticking silently in its mechanical heart.
A past fever pumped in my veins like a concealed guilt.
I knew, you knew, of the lies you’d built inside.
The treacherous glee you hide but show in your cold blue eyes.
A hoar frost dissolving on the tongue of an adder
tasted with self-glorifying ill-will.
When a boy of 17 tells his father to stop lying,
his father’s eyes crinkle as small as sunflower seeds,
as though he’d got a sour taste of lie in his mouth.
He told me these words, opening his jack-knife smile,
“I could never lie to you, I wouldn’t hurt you like that ” he’d say anxiously.
Never is a hyperbolic word.
I let out an inward gasp; the sound a balloon makes
when popped by a needle.
Or the balloon that my border terrier burst through
to bite with salivating maul the soft skin of my shoulder.
No,no,no, this object: spike, steak, spear
has pricked me in solitude ,when I should be
waiting in the corridors of my house,
listening for pretend coughing, the kitchen tap running,
the slow breathing on the walls, is this all inside my head ?
You tell me if you are talking to someone behind a closed door
and someone is listening outside :
does something feel funny about the air ?
how it lies thick, pregnant and obscure in your oesophagus.
My father will talk of how he met (trapped) my mother;
red peacock butterflies in a jam jar,
leaving her in the enclosure of cling film and glass.
In these transparencies of space
the butterfly could only glimpse the wasting powders on her wings.
A lidded sky,housetop,every morning and night is shut,
the edges of a face looms in the sky,
says come out, spread your wings.
Is it the Joker or the moon, that this seems to sing ?
I am SO proud !! My son,Ollie, who happens to have autism amongst his many other gifts, abilities and characteristics, the boy who was literally written off by his mainstream school when he was just 13 years old, has just completed his second year at his first choice university with a resounding FIRST for much of his creative writing and publishing degree. He has also finished his first anthology of poems, aptly named “Lungs”. The front cover has been designed by his older brother,James.
I never stopped believing in my boy’s voice and his gifts and now he is truly singing his song. All those authors to whom I sent Ollie’s work in desperation when he was so broken at 13 were right : that Ollie was indeed already a writer and to never let others define him.
Here is a poem Ollie wrote at 13, the year he was removed with no warning from top set English and told he would never be allowed to sit the higher paper . It was set as a Valentine’s Day challenge to write a love poem to a fly. It was also the year I was told that Ollie would ” never achieve “, whatever funding I managed to fight for.
I am the fume that lives in your clothes
I am an irritation of love beneath your skin
I come in swarms like a flock of birds
A mist to your eyes you see a plague of love in me
I am a grain of the dark skies scattered on the stars
Within you is the fly.
Now that very boy is a young man living his dream and touching a very real future where he can sing his song and touch the world, contribute to that world and achieve his full potential. He once thought his future had been removed when his dreams of reading English at university were removed when he was not allowed access to the higher English GCSE paper . Now that future is blooming and his chosen degree is more perfect than we could have ever guessed during those dark years of complete heartbreak.
Ollie has made lifelong friends at university during the past two years and plans to do a Masters once he has completed his degree after the third year !
He has learned how to live independently, in a shared flat in the city, manage his own bills and bank account, cook and do all his own shopping . He catches trains and public transport , can plan journeys and cope with changes of station if necessary. It has been a challenging year in some respects and a huge learning curve …. but also a MASSIVE triumph !!! Ollie has thrived to such a degree that he has put forward his name again to be a ” peer mentor ” to help new first year students with different abilities to find their feet and have someone to turn to . He said he knows how the new students will be feeling and would love to help . ( and yet people with autism aren’t meant to have empathy ! )
NEVER STOP BELIEVING !! My ribcage actually hurts with the volume of pride I feel !