Time to listen and learn compassion

Tod Sullivan is the new mental health ambassador for Lowestoft.Picture: Nick Butcher

Tod Sullivan is the new mental health ambassador for Lowestoft.Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

It's not entirely unusual for me to talk to people who have known me for some time and for them to say 'dude, what is it that you do now?'.

Ivan Humble and Tod Sullivan at The Lowestoft Conference. Photo: Mick Howes.

Ivan Humble and Tod Sullivan at The Lowestoft Conference. Photo: Mick Howes. - Credit: Archant

It's a reasonable question, Ambassador is a swanky name to attach to yourself – even without the Ferrero Rocher to spoil you with.

I hope some of my personal story will help describe what I am trying to do, it's a strange quirk that my first column here is during #coaweek, which recognises the children of alcoholics.

The significance to me is that recognising the impact of my father's alcoholism on me was a life changing experience.

I met people via NACOA who had a familiar experience to mine and it immediately began to help me understand some of my choices, feelings, and experiences – and I stopped feeling ashamed of them.


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Over time I had developed an extremely effective antenna for sensing disapproval in others (not always helpful when you fear shame and feel 'not good enough'!), but now I found this same antenna meant that I could sense vulnerability and fear in other people – more powerfully I realised that my previous approach of ignoring difficult feelings was less helpful than simply acknowledging them, I didn't need to make everything okay, I only needed to make it OK to feel that way with me.

The great privilege is now I am able to share difficult moments with people, it isn't always easy but every time someone feels safe enough to show their adversity or vulnerability with me it's a gift that I treasure – even when my old urge to 'fix it' has to be replaced with 'feel it'.

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And so that is why I am so passionate about the power of 'lived experience voice', hearing from people who have faced some kind of adversity (and please don't judge yours to be too small to count) and supporting them to share it with others. I am living proof that this can be life changing, and perhaps even life saving.

That is what my role as Mental Health Ambassador is about, it is what The Lowestoft Conference was about, it is what will change our town if we listen to each other and learn compassion and understanding – mixed with a few practical approaches too.

Oh, and I'm running the London Marathon to raise money for mental health causes locally, and we will be holding more events, and if you have a story to tell or want to help run activities and events I want to hear from you – but perhaps more about all of that next time!

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