Illustration: Eleanor Szydlowska / @zofskas

With lockdown restrictions taking an increasing toll on everyone’s mental health, Anouska Liat, along with musician Ollie Cash, enters the Open Door Centre’s Bazaar – a Marketplace for the Mind. Over the course of the eight-week programme, the duo confront their own battles for mental wellbeing and bring to bear some useful strategies for keeping the isolation blues at bay.

It is said that, of the 50,000 thoughts we have a day, 98 per cent are the exact same as yesterday’s. Not only that, but 75 per cent of them are also negative. With this in mind, it’s understandable why we can easily fall into a similar warped headspace. In turn, we can subsequently repeat detrimental processes that could have a serious effect on our wellbeing.
Due to our evolutionary biological roots, we are predisposed to focus on negative information, constantly on the lookout for threat. What’s more, as a result of the recent bouts of isolation, many of us are sailing into dangerous waters to experience intense loneliness, heightened anxiety and debilitating depression. Therefore, it is paramount to begin 2021 exploring ways in which we can tame and manage these patterns. The goal to reach a more fulfilling existence and have more control of our own mental reins. Enter: Bazaar.

The Open Door Charity, Birkenhead, is a charity by young people, for young people. Embodying an aura of security and guidance for those aged between 15-30, they delve into their members’ thought processes in order to discover alternative methods to tackle stresses and anxieties. The charity was established in 2011 and has gone on to blaze a trail in mental health therapies through creative means, picking up a raft of awards and industry plaudits along the way.

More recently ODC have developed Bazaar, a free eight-week CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) programme delivered in an informal, conversational manner. Here they discuss how thought patterns affect our behaviour. They offer exercises to explore these, guided by a new booklet each session, plus videos providing additional information to aid further understanding.

Having completed the mental health obstacle course that was 2020, such a programme provides a timely check-up. With this in mind, Ollie Cash (DJ alias Sound Of Drowning, fka Cosmic Shepherd) and I volunteer to take part in the eight-week Bazaar programme.
As a musician, Ollie bore the brunt of many of last year’s challenges. I myself am someone with a keen interest in the complexities of the mind. We are looking to explore our wellbeing journeys thus far; our difficulties both before the madness of Covid-19 and as a result of it, and discuss the techniques we both have learned and found success in.

"Mental health is a constant conversation with yourself.”

Growing up in Aigburth, Ollie spends his time producing electronic music. “I’ve been mucking up all sorts of 140-170 bpm dancey tunes: techno, electro, jungle, breaks, dubstep – all the madness mashed together,” he tells me in the first of our exchanges when setting up our expedition. As the weeks progressed, this expedition of ‘self-discovery’ developed into somewhat of a wider dialogue on the mental health system, and our place within it. After completion of the programme, it was clear to Ollie and I that opportunities such as the one Bazaar provides an even higher value than first perceived.

The initial dialogue establishes a rapport that soon gives way to deeper conversations about what the last nine months have meant to our wellbeing. “When lockdown kicked in, I had lots of time to reflect,” he begins, “with this, I was able to acknowledge myself in relation to society and I realised how disillusioned I felt with it. General angst made me point the finger outwards rather than within, and although my pain has been caused by a multitude of factors, it’s my pain to heal.”

With the additionally heavy age-old existential prompt of our purpose, this state of mind was destined to have a knock on effect to the young conscience. “Growing up trying to grapple with society, it’s faults and how we’re a byproduct of that was difficult” Ollie describes, “Dismantling ourselves in relation, and showing compassion towards the fact we’re all mucked up helped me somewhat.”

I ask Ollie about his expectations before we begin our participation in the programme, “Therapy, self-led therapy is the way forward,” he tells me, “I believe it’s just one sentence that someone says to you that makes you realise something about the way that your brain works that will send you down a path of enlightenment. You could have this said to you at this programme or any programme, but it’s not just gonna happen like that [snaps fingers]. Mental health is a constant conversation with yourself.”

Now more than ever the NHS is under a crushing weight of high demand due to the our virulent villain Covid-19 stretching resources and time to its ultimate limits, and pushing mental health support to the back of the queue. I have been unfortunate enough to witness first hand how loneliness can drive a person to breaking point, believing there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

BAZAAR THOUGHTS Image 2

Thankfully these negative thoughts did not deliver their desired outcome but an outcome did not bring resolution. Being sent to hospital with, needless to say, highly charged emotions, sitting alone thanks to social distancing, and a consultation with a triage nurse left them with a sheet of self-help websites but without a cure for what ails.

Whether it be with doctors, therapists, family or friends, it is without doubt important to talk. What can be taken from my experience is that people are more vulnerable now than ever to damaging thoughts and that can cause devastating results, especially if the NHS continues to be overburdened and simultaneously neglected. Therefore programmes like Bazaar are welcome with open arms, if a little skepticism, for the many people like Ollie and I who have suffered a spike in anxiety during the pandemic.

At Bazaar sessions members are invited to try out an array of strategies proffered by mentors. And while it is wise to note that these effective coping mechanisms – suggestions on how to disrupt the harmful thought patterns – are unlikely to uncover the elixir to cure depression, what they will surely equip you with is a tool belt of knowledge, calming tactics, and an overall sense of acceptance for your human beliefs however.

While there are a number of roads a person can trek down to find an accommodation for negative thoughts, be it falling into a vicious cycle of depression, something more constructive such as therapy, or self-medicating with a concoction of drugs and bad mistakes, Ollie opted for self-help via music. “Music is an extension of how we feel and connecting to that allowed me to find tranquillity among the chaos,” he says. “Expressing myself through the creation of sound is divine, manipulating sound is powerful and I love it.”

The Bazaar sessions take place on a weekly basis. Ollie and I are both pleasantly surprised at the conversational tone of the mentors who ultimately take on the role as more of a friend. For me, this was Rachel. “My mentor Lloyd is a babe,” Ollie laughs. “The first session was an hour and a half and the second was only 40 minutes. Sessions just take as long as they take,” he outlines. This refreshing approach alleviates the stress of a potential rigid or clinical experience.

“It’s a beautiful way to help track your mind, checking in on myself nightly and emptying my mind."

Usually offering the course in person, Bazaar has changed with the times and moved to the familiar format of a Zoom call. However, Ollie has the chance to experience one in-person meeting on his first session, taking place at ODC’s base in Birkenhead’s Bloom Building. “It’s comfortable and really easy going. There’s loads of pretty colours on the walls; it’s no clinical box lacking warmth.”

Comfort is a state of mind that many may only experience in particular scenarios. As previously mentioned, the mind has a habit of fixating on threats to our projected prosperity; finances, job security and relationships to name a few. Be that as it may, these ‘threats’ are not hunting us down for the rest of our lives. As clichéd as we all know it is, the bad times will pass. It’s near impossible for something as trivial as losing a job to bulldoze its way through our entire time on earth, despite how crushing it may be for your near future. You master control of this belief; you master your mind’s ability to generate longer and more frequent moments of comfort.

Like any form of control, one must first practise. One effective way to try this is through the use of a mood diary, a utensil promoted in Bazaar’s sessions at the back of each weekly booklet. The content of the diary entry is pretty much down to its user; bullet point your day’s activities, write down what made you anxious, or simply the first word that comes to your head as you go to write. Whatever you write, the aim is to pinpoint potential patterns or triggers that you may have previously turned a blind eye to. As Ollie describes, “It’s a beautiful way to help track your mind, checking in on myself nightly and emptying my mind so I can sleep peacefully.”

“I’ve realised this is the most important thing, keeping in check with yourself,” Ollie tells me following one Bazaar session. “It’s helped me ground myself daily and led me on a path of healing through unpicking my mind.” I agree that to keep in check with yourself is the fundamental aim when mastering one’s own emotions. Although someone can most likely decipher the way they feel, it is a different ball game to entirely understand why they feel this way. This is a problem that may stem from schooling.

In another open and honest dispatch Ollie tells me how he “went to an all-boys secondary”, adding how “single-gender schools are such a toxic environment for developing minds, they create a deluded view of the world”. The regular usage of a mood diary, then, can help us stop to identify and magnify these potential deluded thought patterns, shepherding us to a more positive reaction in the mind.

As the eight weeks conclude, Ollie and I come together for a final time to discuss the experience as a whole. Both of our experiences are resoundingly positive. “I’m so thankful for having taken part. I’ve learnt how I can understand and offer compassion to my mind, and in doing so offer more love and compassion to the world,” he smiles. “I’d recommend this to everyone. It’s a nice way to evaluate where you’re at in life, take a step back, pick up some knowledge on how to care for yourself, and then work it into your life.”

Where previous ailments of doubt and caution plagued the mind, new enlightenment has generated a healthier outlook. “I started to let go of things that didn’t serve me and it allowed me to see myself clearer. Once I’d started healing those wounds, I found how I could connect to society with love instead of hate.”

Although recognising and accepting when you’re having a bad day can come easily, having the mindset of ‘just getting on with it’ can be a double-edged sword. While such an attitude may afford temporary relief, a more long-term solution could be much more beneficial, an area the Bazaar sessions were keen to tackle. “The sessions revealed all this anxiety I didn’t know I was living in, deluded thoughts that were controlling how I perceived the world. Breaking out of all that, I’ve been able to express myself more honestly and feel more me,” Ollie says. “Acknowledging twisted thinking and then balancing those thoughts out with loving thoughts helped me see the world with clarity. Rather than being weighed down and spiralling into delusion, I would think about the twisted thinking objectively and detach myself.”

As we tip-toe into the new year, 2021 may bring with it a uniting sense of optimism. A new year of hope, of rebuilding, and fresh opportunities as Ollie gladly agrees with. “I’ve just put two tunes out on Limbs which is an open platform based in South East London, but I’ve also got two more coming out on the Reptilian Establishment label based in South West London,” he beams. “Me and my mates run Keep It Cryptic [secret events collective] and we’ve just launched our record label with a various artists compilation coming out very soon.”

Personally, I have not only taken away the experience of Bazaar’s constructive and supportive programme, but also the opportunity to meet a likeminded, free-spirited person like Ollie, who beautifully rounds off the experience. “Everyone has something to gain from the therapy offered here, and The Open Door Centre are angels for doing it. That being said, they need to get the word out more, and that’s what this article is about. So you, you lovely person reading this, go and get involved!”

In February Bazaar Solus was launched, a new self-directed version of the programme. Anyone feeling low, anxious, or stressed can sign up for free by visiting opendoorcharity.com/ contact-us/


opendoorcharity.com

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