Here at SAS we understand the connection between the environment and our mental health and wellbeing. How being in the ocean can give us a boost after a tough day; how walking along the sand and feeling it between our toes can lift some of life’s stresses; how joining a community clean feels like giving something back to the environment, our solace. The 9th – 15th May marks Mental Health Awareness Week and we want to celebrate this connection with you.
At the first Million Mile May clean on Perranporth Beach, we caught up with Michele from Quiet Connections to get her take on the connection between environment and human health.
Hi, I’m Michele from Quiet Connections, and today, I support people who see themselves as quieter, more sensitive or socially anxious, through creating a community of connection and understanding, and safe spaces to gently connect and perhaps practice using your social abilities, at your own pace. But it wasn’t always this way for me.
Social anxiety and depression seemed to walk hand in hand for me from a young age. I remember the feeling of worthlessness, and not caring what happened to me. At school, I noticed that I often felt anxious in class, getting hot and flushed with a dry throat, then inevitably a tickly cough, which got worse with the thought of having to put my hand up, until I had no choice but to ask in front of the whole class, if I could get a drink. Once out of the room, I would feel relief, and find it extremely difficult to go back in, worried about disturbing the class again. I would quite often take myself off for a walk in the woods next to the school, just to avoid being looked at.
I preferred my own company to others and would rather do cross country solo, avoiding team sports like netball, because if I didn’t have to talk to anyone, I wouldn’t get flustered and make a fool of myself. When I struggled to understand what the teachers were saying in class, I couldn’t ask them to repeat themselves as I didn’t want to look stupid and highlight that I didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing.
So, eventually I started truanting from school. I would just walk around the fields. Sometimes I’d meet up with other people off from school. The more I did it, the easier it became. I felt free, no more feeling anxious, out of place and stupid. I began to go out drinking and to night clubs. I had no regard for myself or my safety and would drink in excess to feel more confident. But in the morning, I’d be mortified and would want to hide away from the world.
I met my now-husband when I was 14. He is the love of my life and my saviour. He has listened to my negative thoughts and held me when I feel down. Aged 18, I became pregnant, and we married 6 months later. I truly believe that this turned my life around, and if I hadn’t got pregnant, I may not be here today. Four children and 30 years later, I still experience feelings of social anxiety occasionally, with moments of believing that I am worthless, and my family would be better off without me. It might start with obsessively questioning everything I do, think and feel, wondering if I have said the wrong thing; worrying whether someone doesn’t like me, or if they can see straight through me, or think that I’m faking. It could easily spiral, and at times, I have wondered why I feel depressed and anxious as I have a good life and a healthy family, telling myself I should be able to cope better.
Yet, with my husband in the military, we have moved around the country a lot, and I have grown to love meeting new people and taking on new roles. With my husband’s support, I was able to go back into education and get an Honours Degree in counselling studies, enabling me to recognise the signs of suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression and provide support to others who are struggling like I have.
I now work with Quiet Connections as a Community Coordinator, establishing weekly groups and organising meet ups around Cornwall, bringing people with similar stories together in a safe, supportive space where it’s okay to talk and it’s okay to be quiet too -a place where they can gently connect with others or simply ‘be’ in good company. I’m loving running the regular groups in Helston and Falmouth, and I’m excited to have groups in Redruth and St Austell starting soon too. But what we’re really proud of, is our efforts to increase a sense of connection between our Quieteers and nature. We have several Blue Health Coaches on the team who partner with nature in their one-to-one coaching sessions along the Cornish coast, and we often offer meet ups in blue and green spaces too, harnessing the power of nature for boosting wellbeing, and seeing ourselves as inter-connected and part of something bigger. Nature has a wondrous way of gently shifting perspectives.
I’ve found that, since the Covid pandemic, many people are feeling isolated and disconnected, and finding it more difficult to move outside the comfort of their own homes and participate with the world. We all want to feel a sense of belonging in the world, and feeling socially anxious by its nature makes us feel separate to others, but the pandemic has made belongingness more difficult to achieve than ever. That’s where our Quiet Meet Ups come in…
Recently, we attended the SAS Million Mile Beach Clean at Perranporth and Penhale. This was particularly good for us as a mental health focused organisation, as we work towards the 5 ways of wellbeing and this captured all of them in one gathering:
- Taking notice: We certainly took notice of the environment around us! From feeling the wonderful Cornish mizzle on our skin while searching for bits of plastic and fishing debris, to tuning into the sound of the waves on the shore, and we couldn’t help but notice the colourful flowers in the dunes, the feel of the rocks, sand and shells underfoot and the dogs playfully barking around us. Beach cleaning is so effective for bringing us into the present moment and helping us to paying attention to the now, I find it exceptionally invigorating.
- Learning: We all know that learning boosts self-confidence and can offer a sense of purpose, and there was a lot of learning at the beach clean! Starting with the amount of rubbish that had been collected last year by SAS beach cleaners and what they were looking to achieve this year. And it was shocking to learn how many tiny pieces of plastic we could find in a very small area! Our group of Quieteers were clearly inspired and it was lovely to see them sharing their own knowledge too; we heard insights from a 24-hour beach clean, and the enthusiasm of a wise young child sharing his reasons why protecting the planet is so important!
- Being Active: We were constantly moving as one big team; travelling the length of the beach, wading through the rockpools, climbing the dunes, cutting ghost net from rocks. Some of us even joined Strava to help record the distance travelled for the Million Mile Beach clean goals. Exercise is recognised for raising self-esteem, and simply moving in ways that feel good is so beneficial for people who experience social anxiety.
- Connecting: It was joyful to see our team of beach cleaning Quieteers gently connecting with many new people and dogs; chatting with others cleaning the beach, and simply being comfortable together in purposeful quietude, helping to build their sense of belonging and self-worth whilst getting soaked through from the rain. I personally made new connections with the SAS team too, which is how I came to share my story with you!
- Giving: Quiet Connections has attended the SAS Beach Clean in Perranporth for a number of years, and we are so proud of the time, effort and commitment given from everyone volunteering. We know that we have a fantastic community of people who want to have a positive impact on the planet, and sometimes, just need a little extra support to join in, so we’re grateful that, as an organisation, we can bring people together and make it easy to get involved with important events like this. Every year, come rain or shine, we are inspired to continue contributing to the solution, and our intention is to organise regular beach cleans, inviting more and more Quieteers to get involved as we continue to grow our Quiet Community.
If you want to get involved in the Million Mile Clean for your mind, body and soul head to our website today and join us!