I need space

I have spent the last week building up supplies of yellow; yellow balloons, yellow ribbons, yellow posters.  With colleagues, I intend to turn the school yellow by Thursday in time for World Mental Health Day. Ironically, this wave of activity – hot on the  heels of my sister’s Thanksgiving service – has made me go slightly bananas.  When I do sleep, I am starting to dream in yellow.

In the middle of one sleepless night I google why yellow is associated with mental health.  Apparently it is the brightest colour of the visible spectrum and is the most notable of all colours by the human eye and is associated with happiness and optimism. The colour yellow is described as cheery and warm.  I still can’t sleep (move the phone away from your bedside Mama J) so I continue my research.

I knew it; yellow is also associated with frustration.  Yellow can create feelings of frustration and anger (told you) and people are more likely to lose their tempers in yellow rooms.  Babies tend to cry more in yellow rooms.

I lie awake feeling frustrated. I could certainly cry.  What am I going to do with the job lot of yellow balloons I have just ordered?  The last thing we want is a school full of students venting their angst on the same co-ordinated and sunny Mental Health Day.  Looking on the bright side (hard not to in such a sea of sunshine) at least all the frustration will be congregated in identified Mental Health areas.  I wonder if we can get boxing gloves in yellow and put up a golden punch bag under some of the balloon arches?

Back at the rock face (the dark rings under my eyes are definitely looking more grey than yellow in daylight, although I am detecting an encouraging jaundice colour spreading across my face; get in!), I get into a heated discussion with one of my Mental Health prefects who is cynical about just one day of activity focusing on Mental Health. I show him the calendar of activity that is running across the whole school year as our commitment to removing the stigma associated with mental health. I reassure him that Mental Health is for life, not just for WMHD.  He begrudgingly agrees to man one of the ‘Talking Points’ but says yellow is just ‘not his colour’.  He argues convincingly that some students may feel more like talking to another student who is NOT dressed in the same colour as a sunflower.  Grey may be the way to go, he argues.

By the time the weekend arrives I realise that I am distinctly frayed around the edges.  I am feeling more amber than golden. While school has been a relentless distraction since last weekend’s Thanksgiving for Sis, I can tell there are now plenty of tears brewing with no space to fall.  Bereaved we may be, but it is clear that the world is going to press on regardless. I think the Victorians may have known a thing or two about a realistic mourning period.  If I ever get some space, I will research this and get back to you.

I work in a goldfish bowl of an office with two doors and nowhere to hide. When out of the office I am either in the classroom – with an even broader set of lovely distractions – or trying to hold back the tide of hunger that calls itself the lunch queue. I have a feeling that my urge to be a cheery sunshine yellow is just not going to cut the mustard in this context.

I calm myself by teaching two yoga classes and sitting in on a third at the back of the class.  I know that just lying on my yoga mat and breathing deeply will be good for my mental health but I find myself irritated by someone snoring during the relaxation session at the end.  I realise it is me.

Waking with leaky eyes on Saturday morning, I remember that I have already filled in my yellow paper speech bubble at school to share with other students and staff : It reads,  ‘I manage my wellbeing by getting outside and going for a run’.  I mention this to FM (Favourite or Fortunate Man depending on the circumstance) and he suggests that it may be a good thing to put my strategy into practice, STRAIGHT AWAY.  I think the urgency of his suggestion may have something to do with the timing of England starting their quarter final campaign in the Rugby World Cup (FM manages his mental health by watching TV sport. Fair play).  I follow his advice.  He is often annoyingly right.

Three miles into the run I can sense some knots in my head starting to ease themselves into a smooth stream of stories shared by my sister’s many friends last week.  I find I can finally start to process some of these.  Some make my eyes leak a little, some make me chuckle and some just make me very proud.  I realise I just needed a little bit of time and space to unpack this information.  I realise that Sis would have handled this in the same way – perhaps she wouldn’t have run, but she would have got herself outside in the fresh air.  She was always outside. She was always walking. I might fill in a yellow speech bubble for her. We could do with her wisdom.

Ten miles in and I am feeling like a nicer person.  I am in a steady rhythm now which is the best thing about running.  I am glad my mental health reminded me it needed attention and I acknowledge that it is going to need a lot of TLC over the coming months.  In auto pilot now, I find myself drawn to all things yellow: a yellow dustbin, a pot of sunflowers (surely a sunflower is everybody’s friend) and a yellow For Sale sign.  Best of all I see a middle aged lady with pink hair (she didn’t get the memo) walking a dog wearing a yellow vest (he did) which reads:  ‘I need space’.

I should certainly have slept last night after all that running, but instead I found myself wanting to research these dog vests.  Genius idea (the vests, not the decision to overrule  sleep).  Turns out that these tabards  come in a huge range of warnings:  ‘Hold back, I am shy’, ‘Give me space I am scared; or best still, ‘I bite’.  Surely we would all be more mindful if we just knew what head space to give those around us.

Naturally I will be gathering our school Mental Health team together first thing tomorrow morning to tell them about my discovery.  I think we have got just enough time to run up some of these vests in adult and student sizes before Thursday (World Mental Health Day). I will speak to the Textiles department, they are bound to want to join in and they may have a cunning idea for attaching all those yellow balloons and ribbons on to the vests.  Pimping our vests may even be good for our wellbeing.

I have mocked up a Mama J proto-type to use as a template.  I am experimenting with different shades of yellow and have pinched a shade card from Homebase to get just the right pantone colour.  I am chuffed to discover yellow shades with promising names such as ‘Energy Yellow’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Goldenrod’ (I make an executive decision to bin ‘Marzipan’ and ‘Cat Litter’).

Naturally my vest reads: ‘I need space’ and I will be putting it to the reality test in my hamster wheel office tomorrow.  I will keep you updated. Happy WMHD.

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