Transcript #31 Chrissy Kelly: No One Is Broken
Chrissy Kelly is a wonderful person and she does lots of amazing work around the psychology of thinking with children in the care system and teenagers, to empower them to access their wisdom and use their own agency.
Chrissy: My name is Chrissy Kelly. I am 49, i'm coming up to being 50, so it's been a really significant life event for me. There are a lot of stories about what life is like at that and my friends and I have been trying to tip that on its head. We've just been out in Costa Rica, zip wiring, white water rafting, trekking in the jungle. While I was there I came up with the idea of '50 Fabulous Things to Do When You Are 50', to change the stories and narratives that people have around that.
Marcus: What are some of those narratives?
Chrissy: I think what happens is, to both men and women, people that have been parents and their children start to move away from home, go to university, leave and get married, and there is the idea of the empty nest. Another idea I had a few years ago that never really came to fruition because I didn't at that time feel so invested in it was to tip that round and say the 'Full Basket' programme. Rather than focus on what you had lost to look at the opportunities that are available to you when your children move on, because your children are a gift really. They are not yours to keep. You are allowing them to go off and do what they need to do and the letting go process can be difficult.
I know when my son left home I found it tough. He was probably a bit younger than some. He was 17 and he just knew that is what he wanted to do. There is an adjustment period and after that it is looking at, Okay, who am I now without those roles? The role of being a mother and provider, so there is a big expanse of space. That's how I interpreted it, and what do I want to put in that space. Because I'm still young. I was only 45 when he left home. I could live for hopefully another 50 years, so what am I going to do? What am I going to put into that space which is going to give value and meaning?
Marcus: And what is the process that you are using to work that out?
Chrissy: I think for me, my so called "career" was very important. I'd been a secondary school teacher. I love working with teenagers, I think they get a bad wrap. Teenagers are funny, thoughtful, wise. Being in the classroom, when you shut the door and it's just you and the teenagers is a great experience. Tough, but a really good experience. So I think I'd kind of become disillusioned with the education system and the messages it is sending to young people, and I'd come across some different understandings that I was really interested in. I'd always been a mentor. When I was working in schools, I'd always taken the pastoral role. I'd come across and understanding of thought and looking at negative thinking and the impact of that. My first experience of that was to work with a gentleman called Richard Wilkins, who runs the Ministry of Inspiration.
He spent his life teaching people that they are not their negative thinking. They take 'the Script', and they take you through a process of sharing your story and understanding how a lot of what you think is not actually even your thinking. Imagine this scenario. You are born and you are a beautiful baby. You are a blank canvas and you come out into the world. I was born in England, so my script and my things that have been put onto me will be different from a baby that is born in Morocco. But the beginning is exactly the same, with the innate needs. It really resonated with me.
I had a difficult upbringing. I grew up in the care system. I was in foster care as a baby. I went back to my mum who had a mental health issues. I know that because I went to look at my case files from Social Services. I found out certain things. I lived in a foster home with 20 other children, which was pretty crazy. Everything that you think goes on in a children's home that you hear in the media pretty much does happen.
I carried that. I hid it, but I carried it. I suffered. It wasn't until I had my own child really that it came to fruition. Before that I was just a party girl. I had a great time. I was naughty at school. I never told anyone I was living in a children's home. It was tough. I don't remember crying until I was 19, when I went to live in Greece. I spent about a year crying because I'd suppressed all of my emotions. Then I became a parent at 23, which is young.
I'd been a party girl on the rave scene. I'd taken loads of drugs, I loved ecstasy. I was one of the people who had that beautiful experience in the late 80s/ early 90s. We had a great time. Then when I had my son, I started to think Hang on a minute, I'm a mother. How could your mother leave you? What does that mean? Then I began to suffer. I began to experience some mental health struggles around being a parent. I found that I began to have panic attacks. When I went to take my son out I'd find that the road seemed like the longest road. It wasn't. It was just a pedestrian crossing and I couldn't get across it. I'd never experienced anything like it. I was on the tube one day and it happened again, and I had to get off and sit on the side thinking, What is this? What is going on?
I think I went down the traditional route and went to the doctor. The nurse said, Oh, that's a panic attack. I was like, What do you mean a panic attack? I'm a strong, resilient woman. She said to me, that when you are feeling more in a place of safety suddenly you can experience more of the things that are happening to you.
Marcus: In a position of safety?
Chrissy: It's like almost when you are in a place where you are able to cope with it then it comes up.
Marcus: So when you create a space where you can deal with it then it comes up. So before that you are so engrossed in the things that are happening that it doesn't give space to the things that are under the surface.
Chrissy: For me that was definitely my experience. I think it was there but I was busy doing, or busy distracting with alcohol, drugs or trying to fix other people. That was my thing, trying to make other people feel better where actually what I really needed to do was take some time to, what at the time I would have described as fix myself. But now I know that not even that is true.
Then I decided I would move to Brighton when my son was about 4 and then I had another huge breakdown, or breakthrough as I like to call it now, of what was going on. I took a year to do volunteering, and then some space and even more things came up. I remember taking myself to bed and only getting up to take him to school and to pick him up again. Being in a lot of physical pain in my body. I remember being at the sink and thinking This can't be how it should be? So I began the journey into therapy. Psychotherapy, I started with. It was quite funny, because I went with a list of everything I thought was wrong with me and showed it to her. She did really well not to crack up laughing.
Marcus: Do you remember what was on that list?
Chrissy: I don't know. I can visualise it. I think things like I need to be able to get up. I need to be able to pay my bills. I need to not feel like shit. I need to not be in pain. I need to not shout at my child. I need to be a better parent. It was all fix, fix, fix myself and why do I feel like this? That kind of list. I remember it being long and I remember her looking at me and saying, Let's just put that down for now.
I spent about a year seeing that lady. At the time it was good. It got me back out and helped me a lot. I used to find that I would find it very hard to get out the house and I would talk myself out of the house. Sometimes I'd phone people and say, I'm finding it really hard to get out. I had a friend at the time and he'd be Right, come on. Let's just talk it through. And then I'd begin to feel better. I'd have conversations in my own head. If I felt that I'd said something the day before that I thought someone might be upset about then I would replay that conversation and think about how I could have said it differently. It was actually quite tormenting when I look back at it now. I was constantly either living in the past or living in the future. The past of what had happened yesterday, and the future of I can't get out of the house today. That kind of madness, which when you are in it you think you are the only person that is like that. But then you sometimes know that you are not the only person that is like that.
Marcus: It's that paradox of feeling that at once you are the only person in the world experiencing something, but then also knowing that you are not. Which doesn't really help. That was my experience. Being crippled by that paradox. Being confused by it, and at the time when that was the most crippling was also the time when I was unable to talk about what I was experiencing. So I was trying to do that all inside my head.
Chrissy: I get that. Because I considered myself to be strong. When you come out of the care system some of the scenarios are that you will be a drug addict, you will be in prison or you will be dead. So in my head I was doing all right. I was embarrassed to tell people how much I was struggling. I wouldn't ask anyone to help me. If anyone ever asked me about my experience in a children's home I would feel anxious and not want to talk about it. That is one of the things that today my friends say to me. That they didn't really know much about me because I'd almost denied that experience.
Marcus: Do you think that is something common for a lot of people that go through the care system?
Chrissy: Now that I have done a lot of work, for example being an advisory teacher for looked after children, you often get two sets of children. You get the ones that will want to be proud and say I want to involve myself, make a stand and talk about it. And then the other ones who do not want anyone to know. And I've worked with young people recently from that spectrum. And then there are the ones in the middle. In my previous job, I used to go to schools and support young people, and talk to teachers. Sometimes the young people wouldn't even want you to come in to school. That is very much and independent, individual situation.
There is a lady who I love working with who does a lot of work around trauma and attachment, called Lisa Cherry. She runs a foundation called No More Labels, basically looking at how it is very easy to put a label on, not just a looked after child, but anyone in general. Well, they've been like that so that is the label, way of looking at things. Some people find labels useful. Especially in the mental health system, once you get a diagnosis it can be helpful, as long as you understand that that is a diagnosis and not who you are.
Marcus: I think that that is an important distinction that can be hard to realise. I've come across a lot of people who I feel have defined themselves through something like depression or anxiety. I've definitely at times slipped into that my self. But it's important to realise that that isn't you entire self.
Chrissy: I think it was probably with Rich Wilkinson and Liz Ivory who run that programme around coming into the idea that you are not your thoughts, that a great way of rephrasing that is I am doing depression. Or I am doing anxiety. Not I am ... Because those are two of the most powerful words. To say I am, that is your identity. Say you look at something like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which work on the level of behavior, when someone is saying I am anxious, they are going to do anxious behaviour. Whereas if we can go above the level of behaviour and change the way someone fundamentally believes about themselves... their identity. That is really powerful.
I went out a few weeks ago and a guy said to me Who are you and what are you doing? And I said, Well, just I am. I have different roles, but the fundamental essence of me is the fundamental essence of everyone, I think. I'd say recovery from depression and anxiety is possible in that old paradigm, but if you look at a new way of thinking about it, that it is a normal human emotion to be anxious or depressed sometimes, because without that we don't have the contrast of happy, or excitement.
A practitioner I've been working with recently told me a story that a man had recently come to him with depression and he'd said, How is that presenting itself? And he'd said, I'm anxious. I have sweaty palms. My heart is racing. I feel edgy. My mouth is dry. So he said to the man, So, tell me something that you love to do when you feel like when you are at peace, or excited. And he said, Well, I love going on a roller coaster. And he literally said I feel anxious. I have sweaty palms. My heart races. My mouth goes dry. So he pointed him to the direction of looking at that, and the guy didn't need to come back for anymore coaching around it. I thought, it's just changing the narrative and pointing the way to the fact that it is a human experience. I've been lucky enough to come to that understanding by understanding something called The 3 Principles, which is a movement that started about 30-40 years ago by a guy called Sydney Banks. What it is is actually old innate wisdom that we all have. It is to allow your thoughts to pass and not to take any action based upon a negative thought. I have found that has brought me to a place of peace. Now we are teaching that to young people, or anyone that will listen. We have a bit of a movement called No One is Broken. The government is not going to solve this problem, if we look it as a problem, or help us to get to the solution to move back to what is right with everybody. With letting go of everything that has happened to me has helped me see that I didn't need fixing. I had innate wisdom when I was a teenager. I knew. Teenagers know that. A young man said to us that learning this understanding has helped him. He had had thoughts of wanting to kill himself.
It's important for me to talk about my own experience not from a place of horror story, but from the place that you can come to a place of peace whatever your circumstances. Whether you have been sexually abused, if you're in an abusive relationship now, if you have an eating disorder, or you self harm. It's just a thought.
I saw on Youtube someone talking about anger, saying that if you can wait 90 seconds the outcome will be very different. It doesn;t take more that 90 seconds to go out on the street and stab someone.
I was a Dalston Junction tube station and two young guys looked at another young guys girlfriend. The guy that she was with got really upset. He said, You're dissing me. Don't be saying that to my girl. They start having an argument. The guy goes and pulls his belt out, a big leather belt and he goes to start whacking the other boy with it. Something inside of me knew. I got in the middle and said, Listen. One thought is going to change your life right now. CCTV is everywhere. The outcome of this, the thought and the action will be very different for you. He heard something in that moment. He didn't want to come down, because of the pride, but I looked in his eyes and I knew that he heard something. It's really powerful.
When you know it is your thinking that is creating your experience, that doesn't take away from the experience. We never say to someone that if they have experienced trauma then they haven't had that trauma. Or trauma as a child. People get upset when something has happened to a child and you are saying that it is an inside out experience. But what we are saying is, that you can support even that child in the now. When they are feeling a certain way. Show them that it is the adult has got the wrong thinking or the wrong actions, but they are innately wise and whole and don't need to be fixed.
Marcus: If everyone has innate wisdom inside of their self, what do you stops people being able to access that?
Chrissy: I think as a society we are very conditioned to move away from it. Some of our values are not necessarily pointing to that. So we grow up to achieve. There is such a massive thing about achievement. To get the house. To get the car. To get the beautiful partner. To be in the system. If we all know that we are innately wise and we don't buy into that, then the constructs of society and the system that we are living in will fall away. So there is a massive investment in that.
I really do think that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And that is what we have all been doing for quite a while now.
Marcus: So to believe in yourself is very counter-cultural.
Chrissy: You hear a lot of people dissing people when they say something like I'm fantastic. I was watching a child on Youtube this morning, and she was out at the front dancing and singing. She was just out there, because she hadn't allowed the script to attack her yet and say I can't do this. Some of the comments on social media were so fascinating. They said things like, Oh look at her, who does she think she is? She's going to grow up to be precocious. There were lots of positive comments as well but it was so interesting. Some of that language. The idea is to shrink us all. To shrink us back down.
Innately we all have that wisdom. We are here to be wise. We are here to have that human experience. I believe now that we have just forgotten, because when you come to that understanding, you hear people say things like what I heard this 15 year old say recently: I know it anyway Miss. I know that, I just forgot. We forget because we are layered up with I've got to get a job. I've got to get enough money to pay some ridiculous extortionate rent. I've got to achieve. I have to have this big car. But when we come to this innate wisdom and live the life that we want to live, whatever that looks like. That's whatever it looks like to you.
For me right now, I want to go travelling again or I want to go and do 50 Fabulous Things, but you might want to stay in the same place. There is nothing wrong or right with what you want to do as long as you are choosing it from a place of your own wisdom. I think the more we can show the next generation, and our own, and they can bring up their children in that understanding, how different would that be?
Someone said It only takes 15% of the population to make a tip towards the other way. Saying to someone that they are not broken, that they are resilient, look at what humans can overcome. It's just incredible really isn't it.
Marcus: Yep. That is one of the big things I've learned on this journey through speaking to all of these people, is the fact that people go through so much stuff. So much shit in their lives. But people come through it and they come out stronger and more beautiful people, just because of the way they have managed to navigate all this stuff. The amount of stuff that people can hold within them is just amazing to me. It really affects my whole day everyday now. I walk down the street and I see all these people and I just think Wow. I wonder what stories they are holding. What has happened in their life, and their ability to smile or just do stuff is amazing. It has come up quite a lot in the conversations I've had, that if you look at the world it sometimes seems amazing that everybody in the world isn't just completely and utterly depressed about everything. There is so much there, if you listen to everything you are told, if you listen to everything that you see in the news, if you listen to society around you, there can be so much to weigh you down. But actually, if you can tap into something inside yourself, you can tap into this wisdom that the world is a beautiful place. You just sometimes have to look hard before you can realise that.
Chrissy: The place that I've really come to understand is the contrast. The contrast of life. I read the other day, Darkness is not the opposite of light, it's the absence of light. I think that was from Marianne Williamson. Don't get me wrong. I have days when I don't feel okay. Even on Sunday, I'd come back from Costa Rica and I could feel my mind set going Urgh. Rain. England. I feel depressed. But I noticed the thought then I thought about the thinking and I allowed myself to be in that. It still happened but instead of it having a huge meaning but I didn't give it all of that meaning. When you are in depression it can be very dark and you don't think you are ever going to come out of that.
That's what I love now is knowing that nothing is a permanent state of being.
Marcus: One of the things that really helped me was to reframe life from a linear trajectory towards a more circular thing. Sometimes I feel depressed, sometimes I don't. The more I can understand that the shorter the times when I feel depressed last, because even in the midst of it, when I feel as shit as it is possible to feel, I have this knowledge that I didn't used to have. That maybe tomorrow, or maybe next week I won't feel like this. But also realising that when I feel in a really content place, that also probably won't last forever. That stops me from trying to cling onto that so much. The act of clinging on to 'happiness' is the thing that tips you back the other way. The cycle of craving. Just changing out of a linear idea of feeling like I need to constantly be working on trying to feel happier, that that idea isn't real, or realistic, then paradoxically that really helps me to feel more content and happy.
Chrissy: I really get that. When we work with teenagers in school we have a metaphor of the sun and the clouds. Ultimately your innate wisdom is the sunshine, and the thought processes are like the clouds. They are temporary and they come and they go. Sometimes there is a storm. Sometimes they pass quickly. Sometimes they are there for a long time. Happiness is an emotional state. The sunshine is your innate wellbeing. The innate wellness is a feeling, an essence, a state and the other things are all emotions on top of that.
You can imaging working with a bunch of teenagers that they can have 50 states in one day. Up, down, cry, tears, anger. If you look at a toddler that is what they do too. As we grow older we have learned not to express that in such a way as a teenager or a toddler. What is great about it all is just being able to be grateful for all the experiences I've had in my life. I really am grateful.
I feel like some of them I wouldn't wish on anyone but I am grateful for them now. I'm grateful for the depression, because I now can see that that was an experience that I had, and it is important that I talk about it, that we all talk about it and I'm honoured to talk about it with you.
I think the conversation that you are going around having is important.
My own brother believed his thoughts and he took his own life, when he was 24. Everyday I think on some level, about that. I was only young at the time. I was 16, but that has a huge impact. There are so many families in suffering for that. If we could just show people that your thoughts are temporary and not to take an action.
Prisons are full up of people that took an action based on a thought that wasn't true, necessarily, by something that they had been showed by society or that they think there is no other solution.
When I saw your instagram and podcast I thought that it was a great thing you were doing. For men to step forward into that is so powerful. The biggest killer of young men, is not stabbing or drugs, it is suicide. Which is their thinking.
Marcus: Yes, I was at a workshop run by Mental Health First Aid the other day, and the statistic that stuck with me was that just under 6000 people a year take their life, and about 1500 people a year die in a traffic accident. That figure stuck with me, because I think I would have been more worried about being in a car than, especially being prone to depression, more likely to take my own life. There is a lot of action about road safety in schools, about wearing seatbelts, about looking both ways when you cross the road, and a lot of money put into making cars safer. Maybe if you could have that level of dedication to the thing which is killing thousands and thousands each year. I know that it isn't just men, but I think the figures show that 12 men take their life everyday.
Chrissy: And Project 84 has shown that 84 men kill themselves a week. It is from your thinking. Yes, your external circumstances may be impacting on that but often live life from an outside in perspective. When I get that I might feel better about myself. I did that for years. If I just get there, if I just get a degree then I will feel better about myself. If I just get a partner then I will feel better about myself. If I just buy a nice car I'll feel better about myself. What a load of bullcrap that all was, because the inside feeling was available to me at any time. Now I don't have a big, nice car, a partner or a big house, but this is the happiest and at peace I have been because I understand that it is an inside out experience.
You can go out and the bus driver is grumpy and he looks at you and you might be like Oh, poor him. He looks like he is having a bad day. Another day you might think, What's wrong with your attitude, man? But it's the same situation, the same bus driver having a bad day. It's not saying you;ll always feel like that. Someone pushed me on the tube the other day and I was like Don't F-ing push me, because came out of my wellbeing for an instant. Then I sort of laughed and went I'm really sorry, because I knew really. It's just coming back to that place.
I was at a Resilient Young Minds conference last week, where the message was saying is that no one is broken. We are teaching this idea of thought to young entrepreneurs, because how do you have an entrepreneurial mindset? You have it when you think that anything is possible. We can teach you to write a CV, teach you to apply for a job, interview skills, how to pass an exam. I can teach you that, but unless you believe innately that you are well and anything is possible for you, whether you feel okay or don't feel okay, then all of the rest of it is pointless.
But if we add on this understanding to anything you do then anything is possible. The young people say this to us. They say things like I knew it really. Now I can decide whether I want a career or not. They will say about how they can live in a family that all shout at each other and they can still feel at peace. They feel more inclined to understand the constraint of school.
The education system in England hasn't changed in over 100 years. Look at the rest of technology and everything else in life and how much that had changed. Education is connected to politics, to the political process, it shouldn't happen like that. Teachers never know where they are at. Every 4 years they have to listen to some other theory from someone who has never sat in a school. Or have been in a private school probably. They haven't been in that school system.
If we keep people anxious then they can never settle down. They can never settle into their wisdom. So let's change the curriculum. Let's make rents high. We are all in a state of anxiety and never able to settle down. We can say that we blame the government, but the government is only made up of people like you and me. So we all have the power to change whatever the government are doing. So education in my view, as a former secondary school teacher, I believe that education should be left to the teachers and if necessary the unions, because they are the ones that know.
If we can bring into that some holistic thought understanding, just imagine. The people who are doing that, the helpers, they are probably the most unwill out of everybody, because they are never given the time or space. We are all focusing on the child and the mental health of young people, but all the people trying to take care of them are probably pretty unwell themselves.
Marcus: If you are trying to pass on wisdom about wellbeing to someone from a place where you are not fostering good mental health in yourself, whatever your intentions are, then you are essentially passing on the idea that self care isn't okay. You can't tell someone to look after themselves and then not look after yourself, because then there are no role models. But that isn't to criticise the people that are helping. I think the system is set up to make it incredibly difficult for people in caring and helping roles.
Chrissy: Anyone that works in that area has come there because that is what they really want to do. The sad thing about it is that they are not supported and it is not seen as important to take care of the people who are taking care of our young people. That is a massive thing to be doing.
This training in the 3 Principles is that you find the understanding and the wellbeing for yourself and then you are able to go out and train and teach and have conversations about wellbeing. Because most of us just need a space for someone to listen to us and then allow our own answers and out own insights to come up into that. I think if we get into a place of criticising, particularly social workers who do get criticised a lot... well, it's not just the social worker's responsibility, it's everyone's responsibility as a member of society to take care of each other. We can't just keep pointing the finger and blaming. We have to take extreme ownership of our society. Let's stop looking at what is broken and look at what is working. The things that work are the things when we all know that we are innately well.
A lady that I work with, Elizabeth, said at our training yesterday, Hurt people hurt people. If I'm in a place of pain and anxiety I can't see the wellness in you. I'll pass that on to you. If I don't heal how I'm presenting in the world, I'll pass it on as a parent. I hold my hands up, I passed some of my depression and anxiety onto my son. That was one of the scripts that I gave to him. We talk about it now, but all of us can only do the best with what we know at any given moment. It's very easy to disregard and say Oh, I don't agree with that anymore, but if I hadn't have done NLP, CBT, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - all of those things led me to where I am today.
When we started working with a 15 year old recently she said, What makes you think you are qualified to teach us about life? How do you answer a teenager about that. The only way to show people and give your own insight is to tell stories. Stories are so powerful and stories heal people, because if I can relate to something that you say to me and then I recognise that in myself. Just being real with the teenagers and not coming from a hierarchical position, we don't say that we are here as a professional and better than you, - we say that we are teaching you and you are teaching us, but we are just showing you 30 years later what has worked for us. I'm not saying you are never going to have suffering, because suffering is part of life. What I'm saying is if I can ease it and show you how to come back to your innate wisdom quicker, and not spend 30 years in anxiety, depression and self harm then that's a powerful message.