"Two years ago I became unable to continue working as a teacher in the public secondary sector due to poor mental health. This was caused entirely by the management style of my workplace: bureaucratic, hierarchical, control-ridden and results-driven. There was no meaningful support offered to staff, other than to see a member of the senior team who would facilitate a meeting. Therefore I absorbed as much as I possibly could but, when holidays failed to refresh me, when I was up in the night every night and when I was in tears too often over dinner, I made one of the bravest (and eventually best) decisions of my life and resigned."
It was two weeks before Christmas and my intention was to work through the remainder of the academic year, but my mind clearly had other ideas. By the middle of March I was seeing my doctor; I didn't return to my job and a 33 year teaching career came to an end on a very discordant note.
The source of my poor mental health had been removed but in terms of recovery and rehabilitation, I was adrift. Reading and research have always come naturally to me, so every morning I would read articles or a book - and search endlessly for more - in the quest to try to make sense of how I was feeling. I was desperate for knowledge and for guidance and especially to feel less less of a failure. I discovered Action for Happiness at this time and the resources on the website became a real life-line every day.
My research also led to the discovery of articles, books and talks by the likes of Matthieu Ricard, David Steindl-Rast, Shawn Achor, Sir Anthony Seldon and Rachel Kelly. I was simply amazed by the depth of wisdom and generosity of spirit of these people in contrast to the mediocrity I had endured in management at work for so long.
These inspiring and positive people gave me what I wanted to hear: that life could still be full of possibility, of learning new things, of recovery, of renewal and of hope. My thoughts started to turn away from painful memories of constraint and conformity at work towards how I could act upon a new and emerging energy. Action for Happiness provided the answer again.
One of the actions in a long list of suggestions to improve overall happiness and wellbeing on the Action for Happiness website is to create a local Happy Cafe. I'd had a glimmer of an idea that this was what I wanted to do but first I contacted Stan Rosenthal, the national co-ordinator of the Happy Cafe network, to chat through the implications and practicalities of doing this.
A theoretical idea soon became an active drive to launch the first Happy Cafe in Cambridgeshire, to enable other people to benefit from the messages and resources provided by this wonderful organisation.Four months later and with the help and support of some amazing local people, Happy Cafe Ely launched on July 10th 2017 with a presentation given by one of my favourite authors and inspirational people, Rachel Kelly, followed by our first successful Happy Cafe meet up two days later.
The message of hope I found in Rachel's book 'Black Rainbow' - that you can, and do, recover from mental ill-health - has proved to be true and it remains a powerful and positive message for me. Equally important is the realisation that taking action to improve your own happiness is central to making progress with your mental well-being. Most encouraging of all are the lessons I've learned from so many people who have been willing to offer their experience, their knowledge and their story: wonderful people who want to share what they have learned to enable others to thrive.
I feel I'm back on track now. I'm back doing what I was restrained from doing for too long; connecting with like-minded people, enabling others, having a shared vision for the future and continuing to learn myself. I'm grateful, and therefore happy, every day.
Find out more about Happy Cafe Ely...
Facebook - @HappyCafeEly
Twitter - @happycafeely