Tag Archives: support

Can you? Would you? …. Yes / No

These questions and similar became the bane of my life in the past. I had the tendency to say Yes when I should have said No. Our family social worker when adopting over 20 years ago used to say to Anne and I, “can’t you two just be?” and often the response would be no.

Why? We had plenty on our own plate with my career’s demands and the needs of the boys and … but often we found scraps of time to support others because by working as a team we could back each other up. Eventually it started to backfire and we started to say No more often, or attend meetings and sit on our hands so we couldn’t volunteer to do more.

So when my career crumbled back in 2016 – see previous posts from November plus 2016 and April 2019 – a change of status… the answer had to be a definitive NO.

Life has changed since.

From November 2016 I joined the Swanage Depression Support Groups and then helped when the Wareham Depression Support Group started. These two groups were part of me taking control of my depression and working to improve that aspect of my life and its impact on those around me. Eventually after about 18 months to 2 years I found hearing many similar stories over and over was not helping my recovery. I still attend when my life wobbles, we have hosted the May social for the last three years and now, particularly, my free time means that if a meeting’s cancellation becomes likely I am happy to stand in and help by facilitating the meeting be it in Swanage or Wareham. I did one of these back in May for Swanage and last night I ran the Wareham meeting. Groups like ours are not run by professionals but fellow sufferers who speak from experience, we support each other and we welcome others who need friends in their time of need. Last night reminded me yet again how special that link is.

Wednesday had been due to be a quiet and restful day only through a combination of circumstances I needed up attending a meeting in the afternoon and evening too. I actually came away refreshed mentally from both of them.

So what did I do in the afternoon? The first working group meeting for Artisans on the Beach 2019. Yes meeting in June to discuss the beach hut arts and crafts event for December. An event which exists to encourage locals to develop with their hobbies.

In 2016 I sat on the seafront with new friends very fresh from my November breakdown and leaving teaching, I drew a piece of the Swanage Beach Huts – my first piece to sell in 2017. In 2017 I took part, I was almost hyper at times, energetic, enthusiastic, drawing out in the fresh air, wearing outfits that caught people’s eye and I ended the event as ‘Artisan of the Year’. In 2018 I had become one of the two Artisans on the working group and we added some changes and structures to the event which continues to grow by reputation for participants and visitors.

In 2019 that role continues – my art hobby has become “AndyKnillArt”, I do two main events a year with PAW (Purbeck Art Weeks) and Artisans on the Beach, I also exhibit and sell my work year round as a member of the Purbeck Artisan Yard, it will never be a full time job, nor will it stop me pursuing other ideas but it is a channel through which I share my creativity and I love it.


I attended two meetings …. I said yes. Does that mean I now say yes to every opportunity / query? No, I don’t. I need my free space to explore, relax, enjoy. I have earnt that right after 28 years teaching, after 20+ years of parenting and seeing both our sons live elsewhere.

Moving forwards

I am investigating more ways to use my motto “ArtForFun” where I host activities for any age to do some art for the joy of it, no judgement, mindfulness, relaxation, … whatever suits. This is also not going to turn into a ‘crusade’ that sucks me into overcommitting myself timewise and emotionally. I will do it from time to time, e.g. every time I do a duty at the artisan yard I post on the AndyKnillArt Facebook page so that passersby can drop in and have a go. When I do events like PAW and Artisans on…. then I can offer it again. I don’t want it formalised into an activity which engages all those officialdom forms and risk assessments and … been there, done that, thrown away the uniform. As the ‘tag’ suggests it is about “fun”.

Many years ago after working in outdoor pursuits prior to my pgce (teacher training) I adopted the motto “Life is not a rehearsal”, I now have time to enjoy my life, I live in a location where I can enjoy my life, I have Anne whom I enjoy life with. So sometimes I will answer yes to queries. Often I will say no because I need my enjoy life space now.

For you

Are you a yes, a no, a mixture? Volunteering makes our society work. It is the glue that supports communities. Please consider saying yes occasionally, but at a scale that you can cope with.

Thanks for reading


World Mental Health Day – Tuesday 10th October 2017

How was it for you? Many friends were in school, some probably wore yellow to show an awareness. Others’ institutions wouldn’t let it disrupt their day I am sure. Last year I wore an awkward mix of many yellows, I had talked about my mental health struggles as part of my introduction to the school in assembly-it has helped when meeting now ex pupils and parents in the months since my final breakdown as a teacher and my resignation from my vocation.

So I know about mental health issues, I left the job that triggered many incidents for me so I must be fine now mustn’t I?

Of course not – I have struggled with these issues since a teenager back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, possibly earlier. it’s part of me. Triggers are many and varied. So Monday 9th circumstances saw me hit a rock bottom day. I knew there were positives ahead, I could mention and acknowledge them -this is new and very encouraging. But essentially there were also thoughts where I considered the whole suicidal concept -it’s not a choice I have ever attempted for real and I don’t want to but it’s an ever present escape that pops up and says hi in times of stress. So I am participating in #Inktober2017 on Facebook and Instagram, it is a daily drawing in ink project for October using a daily prompt, yesterday was #screech, today was #gigantic. I used these in my drawings to be open about my state of mind. I have blogged about it for several years now and don’t really care what response I get, it’s a topic I will continue to stick my head over the parapet to talk about  so that someone might not have to go through the same thing as me.

October 9

Today I have woken in a more positive frame of mind and taken part in the day and exercised at the rowing club this evening both on the rowing machines then out on the water and was able to show this as;

October 10

I have many supportive friends and family members who reach out. Tomorrow on the 11th I will attend one of the two Depression Support Groups I attend -we are sufferers who listen with empathy and support where we can. Sometimes when I am low I resist attending even though it’s the best time for me to go. The key thing s I can always be there to aupport others.

So my WMHD has been an exercise in recovery and reaching out to many others online. I hope your day has been a shared experience today.


I left teaching, I attended a teachmeet in Poole in February and I went to Pedagoohampshire today. So what is going on?

Well today was my third visit to an event that started in 2015. Teachers and others connected to education gather, chat, listen to talks, participate in workshop sessions, chat with new friends and old, go away and try to mplement some change based on their new learning. These events happen in people’s own personal (non work) time so that shows commitment too.

I had a great day.

I was told how much more relaxed I look. I looked ten years younger. My art is great. My experience had value as how often do you get to talk to people who have actually left… I sold some art, I designed and received a tshirt. I chatted.

I really enjoyed attending and my thanks go to many who were there today or in 2016 or 2015 and the many other events we have met at. At the end a friend said which event will I see you at next? And I had to admit I wasn’t planning to be at anymore to be honest as. Am now out of the profession. I then received invites to be at events again in the future including this one – we will see.

Finally thanks to Martyn Reah the driving force and host behind this great event.

Mum’s  funeral (segue to Tomorrow I am…)

My last post was written the night before my mother’s funeral and how I would be there as many things that were more important than me as an individual.

Well it was a success. There was an outpouring of respect for Mum’s many achievements and also for Dad who after 58 years has lost his lifetime partner. Standing in /outside the church before the morning’s service I was able to recognise some people who I shared links with. There were many people I did not recognise as Mum’s life after I left home was busy and involved many.

As a family there was great fortitude, stoicism, support and generosity. Everyone looked out for the others, whether that was backing someone up who was doing a reading, lending a tissue, a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on. We drew together but more than that we did as part of a wider “family” that Mum had embraced too.

At the crematorium the flower arrangement of a Brown Owl from the Brownies was beautiful and engaged all of us. The placing of individual roses allowed individual thoughts as we bid farewell. The departure music – a piece of Scottish dance music played at Mum and Dad’s wedding put a smile on all our faces and added a spring to our step.

It was a good day. It was Mum’s day and well deserved. 

Now our focus of support turns to Dad.

In this season where we are encouraged to consider others, please look out for each other whether it be family, neighbour, friend or even stranger. There are too many reasons given for distrust between peoples, please can we broker peace.


This is not a post about astronomy. It is about the people in my life who are my stars. I have been struggling for the last four weeks and to be honest up to 8 weeks prior to that. My anxiety and depression have led to me resigning and then being signed off from the end of a career that first started in November 1986 when I did a supply post at Pangbourne College near Reading, Berkshire.

I have been offered support by many different people online, in person, on the phone and face to face. Enough about me talking about mental health. The important aspect about mental health being more openly discussed is what you can do if a relative, friend or colleague is suffering. I have often been asked how can I help others. There is no easy answer as even I who blogs openly about his issues didn’t tell people how low he was in the lead up to me resigning knowing I would be judged and so I frantically paddled away like a slightly ruffled duck on the surface of the water while generating a maelstrom underneath the surface. I kept a diary when I first moved to Dorset, rereading it for the second time today without any adverse reaction I recognised so many indicators of where I could have been more open.

So who are my stars?

I am not going to name individuals because a) some will want to remain anonymous b) I might then forget to name some and they would be insulted unintentionally.

I blog and my blog feeds to my main Twitter account and my Facebook account (also LinkedIn). This is so more might read my posts. In the last four weeks I have had support from

1) family from different generations

2) Twitter friends and colleagues, most within education but not all

3) ex pupils and ex colleagues who are more on Facebook

4) people who have seen a post and it strikes a chord with them

5) people in my new area who I have already made a link with through art and / or sea rowing

They offer memories from our time together, they justify what I have contributed for them or witnessed by them. Some have similar experiences of anxiety and /or depression or similar conditions. They remind me of support I may have offered them previously, sometimes many, many years ago. 

The key aspect for me is that they don’t have to do this. There is no financial incentive, house points or pats on the head. They share and support because they want to. They are the reason I have always come back from episodes previously. This time will be the same I will come back a stronger more positive person, I will have down times too, it’s the nature of my condition.

This is just a chance to say thank you. You know who you are and if unsure but wonder, private message me, ask me and I will say yes you are one of my stars. Thank you so much.

One step at a time

The last week, is that all it is, has been tumultuous. A series of waves of varying size crashing onto shore, I could now slip into constructive vs destructive wave theory as I would when teaching coastal processes, but I shall resist. Each day I talk / reflect with a wide variety of people online through this blog, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Yesterday was a step, a bigger one than it sounds if you say the words. School had confirmed that my employment would finish on 31 December. So I needed to complete my exit, as mental health is keeping me from returning, by going in, returning my key and some papers and texts, and taking home my property that was in my (former) classroom.

My wife went with me. We met the Site manager and Business manager at 7am, before staff arrive. They were both very supportive which I appreciated and thanked them for later. We gathered my Lego boxes, the whiteboard globe, the hug-a-planet and my older texts and map collection I had used for open evening. I had to be slowed to make sure I was taking all my things. I held a focused view on the things I wanted to take home, but it was a surface scan because it felt almost wrong to be in the building. We carried the stuff down and put it into the car boot. Now we have two cars with school related stuff in boots neither of which I am ready to remove and deal with yet. At the time the process went well. 

We headed into town and tried breakfast at the High Street Cafe recommended in the Swanage Facebook group. It was a great breakfast with reading material to peruse about the area. We had a breezy walk on the seafront noticeing the shops / galleries we have yet to visit and commenting on the next bank branch to close in the town. The reality of the closure that today’s visit showed was starting to catch up a bit. The school buildings are on the main route into town but I can manage driving past, as long as I don’t dwell on what they represent. 

The remainder of the day included lots of observing horizontal rain from indoors, commenting on the strength of wind gusts and how plants transmitted the movement of the wind through their stems,especially the stands used for the pheasants. Impact hit home more and more. I sketched a bit, even breaking out my coloured promarkers although the pen and ink drawing was better.

I read articles from local papers, I researched online about volunteer opportunities but realised and observed by my wife that I was in danger of diving in headlong and overdoing it with that too, she’s right. Some time to pause first and then one step at a time. I slept later and failed to do some ironing as I had promised but completed some tasks, like getting the last of the CDs and LPs onto the shelving.
Throughout the day we chatted and made some plans for today some of which will be completed others will be postponed as today is a slow start. I admitted I had made a pact with another male at the support group on Wednesday, that I think will become a good ongoing support, that neither of us were going to try the suicide solution to our woes. I committed this to Twitter and have had many responses.

It has made me think again about solutions, ways forward. Many of you are right I need to grieve the loss of a career which has dominated 30/52 years of my life. Around that as a family we have dealt with many difficult issues too. A marriage that has been so much about other people and now hopefully a chance to go back to being a couple.

I can not thank my immediate family, and friends online (many of whom I have met in the #real world ) enough for all of your support. I watched an action movie last night, it did divert my attention. At one point for a drink break I read an email back from school that triggered a flood of tears, the ones referred to above – the chronology of events are somewhat muddled. I stayed up reading online articles in magazines thanks to Readly an online and much cheaper alternative to reading a very wide range of magazines.

Today – recycling depot visit, a tea /cake shop treat, the haircut I have been talking about all week yet not got around to, moving Fern (our tree fern who moved with us) who needs repotting and moving after being blown over yesterday.  The day is starting to include sun against a darkening sky contrast.

I think that’s enough for this post. Apparently this honesty online is Inspiring to others and for me it is a release, it really doesn’t matter if no one reads it. It is a record in time of where I was at. 

This teaching thing is tiring …

Well, one week passed. I went into school twice this week. Each time I completed a half day and taught one lesson, the second visit was a bit longer as I was in school over lunchtime and stayed after school to mark the set of books from our two lessons this week.

So what did I do? Taught a lesson each time, slipping back comfortably into the role where for an hour my attention is focused on up to 30 12/13 year olds. Setting tasks, answering questions, chivvying, asking questions, pushing for accuracy in work, stopping disruptions from developing, being interested in a range of individuals with different personalities – after 10 weeks of not doing this I was tired after each visit, but I enjoyed it, back in my element. I also met other staff, answered queries about my health, where had I been … More interaction than I had become accustomed to.

So week two, the programme says two more half days. The same plan? No, I have asked to up the amount of teaching and will be delivering 4 lessons, so less meeting, talking and more teaching. I have calculated that if everything progresses steadily I want to increase the number of lessons each week so there are no jumps and my stamina builds apace.

One of the nicest and most supportive elements has been the support of pupils, staff and friends online who come from so many different avenues of my life. They have responded positively to my posts here, in staffrm, on Facebook and Twitter. Mentally I have felt strong, physically I realise is going to hit more more than I hoped but I can work at that a week at a time. The support and comments about my honesty in posts is also touching. I will continue to be honest about mental health because I want it to be a more open point of discussion. I know from my own experience that since 1999 and my first absence from it that it is less of a taboo but there is a long way to go and it takes time for people to feel more comfortable about others bringing it to the fore.

So onto week two …

Patience isn’t easy, but I’m working on it…

So Wednesday was a good day after two BD (Black Dog) days. Well, good news, the week continued positively and I had three positive days consecutively, but I was worn out on Friday. The new gym subscription saw me exercise Wednesday and do Bodybike class (all indoor cycle classes depending on trade name involve same sort of thing) on Thursday evening. I also went to the Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead Market, Essex with my wife and Mother in law, the gardens were lovely and I admit they sparked ideas for planned long term project with science department at school linked to John Muir Trust Award scheme and Greater London National Park proposal… A slip but a positive one. 

Friday saw me very weary in the morning but a visit to local nature reserve without lots of young families on the Wind in the Willows trail meant it was quieter. Identified two new unknown spottings – immature cormorants and their lighter fronts and Pintail ducks. Watched New Zealand v Tonga in the RWC and played taxi drive for youngest son.

In the evening on Twitter found myself drawn into chats about teacher workloads and new GCSE specifications – or lack of approved final specifications. So yes, work related but again one of the key pressure areas for departments this year preparing for September 2016. I had chatted with a few colleagues on Facebook on Thursday evening and it was nice to have some contact again. I feel guilty when absent – not surprising and I know, … Also completed paperwork so I can see Occupational Health and rang employee support service who I will recontact once I have had second GP review.

It’s Saturday, I woke early and watched YouTube clips which means I will have to get Cedric my cello out again soon and challenge myself to play after watching videos by the 2cellos who I was aware of already but also Emil and Dariel, two American teens who are the junior equivalent of the Croatian pair. This morning sees me doing the 9.15 Bodybike class. On Thursday after class Andy, the instructor, enquired about how my running training is going – doing a 10km on 1 November – I admitted lots of cardio but no running as I find exercising outside alone my mind wanders and I am avoiding that at present. It turns out he and I have both gone through the #mentalhealth mill and he offered support which is appreciated too. As he said even though I struggled at times on Thursday, I was in the class and I finished it – two positives.

So, for those of you reading my posts and commenting on here or via Twitter (@aknill) thank you for your continued support it really is valued.

Thank you

In the last 24 hours I wrote two posts about a dip that started yesterday afternoon and was still affecting me deeply this morning. One of my ways of fighting such dips is to post about my mood. For many with Mental Heath issues (there I said it) that is not practicable, for me it stops the process of letting the metaphorical grip go (English teachers if that’s wrong I apologise).

Am I in the same state 24 hours later? No and one of the main reasons for that is that while my family slept it was online colleagues and friends who reached out and offered support. That support is highly valued and its something that I try to do as well when my friends dip as many of us are prone to from time to time.

Consider when colleagues are distracted, downcast that they may find it difficult to admit how they’re doing – just keep an eye and ear open, be there in case it is helpful.

Thank you to my supportive network who have been there for me today.

Life posts …again

In my last post on June 9 the hope was there that things would resolve peaceably and somehow we would live on, a struggle yes, but maintain some normality. Yep, high hopes dashed again. Friday 14/6, he that posts refer to was seen by his keyworker and was ok but increased drinking and use of recreational substances and tobacco meant that he had outstayed his welcome with his latest sofa stay. Also prescribed meds had been replaced with the above combination in his perceived wisdom as they were not working for him. Admission of psychosis issues seen last year were back.

We texted him on the Saturday- would he meet for lunch in a neutral place and could we bring any things for him. He agreed and luckily warned us that he had made that long promised hirsute decision to shave his head. We met and for the first time, yes really, came across him puffing away on a cigarette, we chatted and were told how he had refused alcohol or drugs that morning as he was meeting us (some decisions just amaze). He had nowhere to sleep for that evening and this was one area of discussion. Our young man was getting more and more ill physically and mentally. It was hard to see but at the same time so glad we had offered to meet and actually still have some sort of connection.

While we ate one of the support team rang him as promised and also spoke to us. We were all (adults) concerned about the lack of a place to stay in his current state. A crisis admission was set up for the nearest adolescent unit. He agreed to it and we transported him there quite calmly. After meetings we sat with him while ward admissions went on. Signs of agitation showed quickly but here was a chance to be assessed without being sectioned, a topic that we as parents have become far too familiar with. We left him to settle having actually spent 6 hours together the longest in ages.

Later I rang to see had he settled? No issues and aggression had led to a need to section. He was transferred late that night to another unit to be held there until a secure adolescent bed hopefully closer than Woking could be found. By Monday work was not going to see me I had exceeded my limits and my stable base of antidepressants had finally capitulated. Self promises about returning became Tuesday, then Wednesday as a suitable bed could not be secured. We heard of offers for Manchester. This pressure was too much. Yes now, Friday 21/6 he is in a secure unit in a better travelling distance. I went to the GP on Tuesday and admitted no I could not cope to keep up this “well” pretence.

I am now signed off work and yesterday had to face the lowest I have been in many years it was scary. Fortunately the one thing I am not is suicidal and that is a place
that I do not want to go- I like life generally and I have much, more to do / achieve.

So, why am I laying my life open like this? because it is a topic that I have raised in previous schools. I have a history of mental health (depression) through a variety of causes. I take my meds, I have received counselling, the best therapy was CBT several years ago. I keep our staff well being and line managers informed when I am struggling. They have always been supportive these last few years as I have rebuilt a good attendance rate. I have a range of friends on Twitter and other social networks who support each other. We are not in competition over this very important issue we collaborate, we share, we support, we coax, coach each other and it sure helps.

Mental health is still a major cause of stigma – let’s stand up and be counted. We want to do our job as well as anyone else and as has been seen in lots of press articles over the years we are depicted as a weakness. Why? I am a human with a complex life like many of my pupils and I have to learn to manage the different aspects of my life. Sometimes I can not do that but for the vast majority of the time I am striving to do the best I can and I believe I do so.

Support mental health, understand it and develop an aware workforce and student population who are prepared for such eventualities that may happen to them in their futures.

If you have read all of this, thank you. If you are at TMEast on Saturday this is why I can not be with you but as co-presenter James said there are more Teachmeets. I have been the lucky recipient of many messages of goodwill this week and they are helping me to work towards a return to work and relative stability.