Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig – A book review by AVP Scotland Volunteer, Mary Kennedy
I picked up this book recently from a charity shop. It caught my eye with its title and came with plenty of recommendations including, on it’s back cover Jo Brand’s ‘A really good read and essential to our collective well-being’.
I agree with Jo Brand and the others.
For me this was an easy read. I am a survivor of mental illness and identified with so much of Matt’s journey. I found it inspiring, I enjoyed his sense of humour, and often found it reassuring. I am finding this and other survivors stories helpful in my own work with AVP around mental illness. I will be drawing from his book on the Scottish Mental Health First Aid courses I lead and in the AVP workshops I facilitate!
I certainly identified with Matt’s stories of his dark struggles with depression and anxiety and with the long and up and down recovery aided hugely by his amazingly insightful, supportive and loving partner. In my darkest days my husband knew me well enough to nudge me, often against my own tide of incoming terror to get on and go for the uncomfortable rather than the alternative options.
The first chapter, where Matt describes one of his worst days which could so easily have been his last, caught me and held my attention. After this I found the book hard to put down and for a few days it was my companion. I put it down briefly to eat, walk the dog and sleep basically….!
What is clear to me now is the vital need to establish and then to maintain control of your life again once the dangerous phase of the illness has passed. In the dangerous days there can be a necessary surrender to external control for example hospitalisation and medical treatment. Later getting control back can be a struggle especially through the treacle of exhaustion.
I expect some of you may already have read this book ….if not and you are in recovery from mental illness yourself or know someone else who is and are looking for some insight I recommend this book.
Following a very comprehensive application process, including interviews with a number of AVP volunteers, we were delighted to be given the Investing in Volunteers award by the UK Volunteering Forum.
Volunteers aren’t just important to AVP Scotland – they are the very lifeblood of our organisation. This award recognises how much we value our volunteers – from clear and simple policies, to the range of training and development opportunities available to them, and is a testament to the hard work of both the current volunteers and all those who have gone before them.
Maji Peterx is offering a series of three Trauma Consciousness and Resilience workshops, open to AVP facilitators, lay counsellors, people working with traumatized people and anyone interested in Trauma literacy. Like other AVP workshops, each one will last about two and a third days. These workshops should enable participants to become more conscious of their own trauma and how to deal with it, build resilience and understanding of self-care, to become lay counsellors and TCR facilitators. The workshops need to be taken in the order given below, but it is possible to take only one or two workshops.
First Level/Basic Workshop: The first level workshop introduces participants to Trauma, understanding trauma, types of trauma, ways we can be traumatized etc. and possible personal traumas that participants can have (known or unknown to themselves), with the aim of guiding them to safety and allowing them to be able to ‘remember without reliving’. Date: March 25th – 26th 2017
Forgiveness and Reconciliation: This level was designed for communities that have witnessed mass atrocities and who are holding onto grudge and malice as this can keep us in the space that triggers our experience of hurt but it has been very helpful too as a step to the advanced trauma workshop (?) as it helps participants deal with personal pains, hurt and anger. Date: April 1st – 2nd 2017
November 30th saw three volunteer facilitators from AVP Scotland lead a short taster workshop at Well Cafe in Motherwell Baptist Church. Participants gave them a spontaneous round of applause to thank them.
The next taster workshops is on Wednesday December 14th in the run up to the next level one workshop in Motherwell in January. Full details of workshops can be found here
In this video, Pat Hardy, an AVP facilitator in California, speaks about how AVP gives people tools they can use to change themselves and our violent society. An excellent introduction to AVP – and also a great way to revisit some of the key AVP concepts.
Hi my name is Mary Kennedy, and I’m a volunteer facilitator at AVP.
I heard the ‘Violence’ word and thought it was a self-defence course.
I hadn’t been listening when I heard about the charity which helped me get my life straightened out, because when I turned up for the workshop it wasn’t what I had expected.
I’d missed the bit about it being 16 hours long and the cost. Fifteen years ago it cost £50 now £95… but only if you can afford it. AVP doesn’t turn people away because they can’t afford to pay!
I had been frightened of other people’s violence and thought it might help me depend myself.
At the workshop I met a lassie about my own age. We shared our personal stories and she told me she was a Big Issue vendor. We came from very different backgrounds. We both had histories of abuse and mental illness. Both of us were in recovery and learning how to handle conflict. Other people in the workshop shared their stories too. Some had convictions for violent offences. Sixteen hours suddenly seemed far too short. I was getting so much from being around other people who understood about the effects of violence and learnt with them to use new tools to handle conflicts better.
Over the next few years I went to workshops as often as I could. I found that I needed to look at and change my own behaviour, the workshops helped me do that.
The workshops are as much for people who have been violent as for those who have been victims of violence.
Sometimes people ask me if they are ‘violent’ enough or ‘too violent’ to come. I always say ‘come along and find out for yourself’. People who have behaved violently come to workshops because they want to change. People affected by violence come because they want to change too. Most people have been at both ends of violence. Everyone comes as a volunteer, including the facilitators.
My full time work in the NHS brought me into daily contact with families stressed by mental and physical illness, poverty, domestic violence, addictions and homelessness. My own family life brought its own difficulties too and I needed the safe community of AVP people to help me find healing, new perspectives and tools to carry on.
For a long time I was happy to be a participant. But I knew that sooner or later I would be ready to give something back for all the help I had had over the years, so just before I retired from work I trained as a facilitator.
Within a couple of years of retirement I experienced a serious health setback. A year later, after two ops I was in recovery again. Partially hearing, with balance problems and learning to live with uncertainty. The skills I had learnt from the workshops and the friends I had made in AVP helped me through it all and with a huge amount of support from family and friends I got back on my feet.
It took time to get my confidence back, but I’m happy to say I’m now back to work at AVP!
The biggest milestone in my recovery was when I began to help with the workshops in HMP Addiewell again, learning again and using my experiences and training to help other people on their journey to non-violence.