We had decided we were not going to attend. We’d had the dates set aside in our calendars for months. The difficulty was that we could get little to no information on where the event was to be held, what the programme was, or the timing around the event.
It was odd because people from all over the world were due to land in the Mother City (that much we knew) to meet over two days at the end of June (another thing we knew). Flights and accommodation had to be arranged around very scanty information. No. Nope. We were not going to attend.
A week before the Global Mental Health Action Network Annual Meeting Matthew had a conversation with a valued connection in Nigeria.
“I’ll see you in Cape Town next week,” the Nigerian mental health advocate said, “I’m looking forward to meeting you in person.”
“Oh I’m not going,” said Matthew, “I just can't get enough information on what is happening and where.”
This would not do. The Nigeria connection sent a few emails and suddenly there was a plethora of information.
“You have to go,” announced Chantal, “You have to do what you do best. Go forth and make friends.”
With an invitation to present as part of the communications panel and fifty business cards in his pocket, Matthew set off.
The need for open conversations about mental health
Matthew’s presentation advocated for open conversations about mental health, underscoring the need for transparency in expressing emotions, especially among mental health proponents. He introduced the Vibarealm, 5th Place’s supportive offering for children and youth to build emotional fitness and mental wellbeing. It was well received.
Two days later, more than 50 business cards lighter and with a pad full of scribbled contact details, he arrived back. He was full of praise for the event and brimming with possibilities.
An event of connecting, possibility and hope.
A tapestry of colours
Matthew was left with the impression that in a world where no-one wants to talk about mental health, especially on the African continent, these people from 46 countries around the world gave up their time to meet at the tip of Africa to consider ways to make the world a better place.
Amongst the many bright lights and stories shared a few stand outs included the brave soul who has purposefully and with solid determination campaigned for the repeal of the law that criminalises suicide, a law put in place way before he was born. Or the man who has survived being shackled to a log and beaten and starved at a church-run healing centre, by people who believed he was possessed by evil spirits.
There were so many more highlights, too many to recount here. Matthew described it as a tapestry of colours woven through with a thread of gold. The light that everyone brought with them and that, made brighter by their connections, they all took back to their countries.
A rich and beautiful tapestry of connection, shared wisdom, and the pursuit of mental health advocacy worldwide.
After the ups, the downs
In the euphoric energy brought back from Cape Town we went off to collect a dear possession of Matthews. A stained glass mirror that had been damaged and was now made whole. After much oohing and aahing at the transformation of the piece, it was carefully covered in bubble wrap. As Matthew reached to pick it up everyone had an opinion on how it should be carried, seeing that it was not a rugged piece of work with elements that stuck out beckoning to be knocked or hooked.
We had parked further away than we could have, and Matthew walked carefully on the pavement. As he stepped down to where the car was parked, his vision obscured by the mirror, his foot fell into a small uneven hollow worn by rain and time. As his ankle gave way and he lost balance he had only one thought: save the mirror. Matthew twisted around and rammed his shoulder and back into the car next to ours. It caught his fall. The mirror stayed safe. His foot and shoulder not so much.
Wendell the Wise, repaired and resplendent
To earth with a bump
Brought back to earth with a thump, it was clear that it’s not only after pride that the fall comes. There was some bruising, some swelling and a lot of discomfort. It could have been a great deal worse.
The tender ligaments and inability to move as easily as before resulted in a review of how we do things and who does what. Chantal, the foot healing police, sent dagger glares Matthew’s way each time he walked too far or too much.
“Where are you going? What are you doing? It’s time to sit. Put your foot up. I’ll take that. Don’t move.” Chantal is more matron than nurse. Stern, no nonsense, determined to enforce healing.
Matthew, however, is an adult and his healing will happen when and if he allows it. It is not up to Chantal to get him better although it is useful to have her around to gate-keep and support. “It starts with me”, as our 5th Place principle says.
Could this be the most beautiful city in the world?
To earth with a bump
This incident has made us realise that we take our health and wellbeing for granted. We do not realise how lucky we are to be able, mobile beings. We are impatient when we get injured or ill and push our limits when we should really take a load off - like that foot.
Resistance arose as thoughts of “it can’t be that bad” and “I’m sure it will be fine in the morning” floated through our skulls. The pain and visible swelling, however, said, “Sorry slow down, it’s going to take a while.” And this was for a physical injury. It is much, much worse for mental and emotional hurts.
Be it trauma, loss, or despair, people want it gone. Quickly. But it doesn’t listen to what we want. Society scorns what it views as weakness. And wants it gone. Quickly. It’s all very well to get a physician’s diagnosis scribbled on a suitably headed notepaper determining the time and pace of the patient. It is another to wade through the endless time of black murkiness, or the constant electric whir of always-on anxiety and not to acknowledge the pain or need to heal.
How to do it differently
We really do not do hurt, pain or illness well. The conference was an opportunity to reflect on how to do it differently. From decriminalising suicide, to giving youth the tools to emotional stability and building a society that prevents as well as treats mental health. For although mental health is hidden, it impacts us all.
The conference was a small but powerful voice to call to attention a world that only wants perfection and productivity, the reality that there is an invisible pain that links us all. This and the move to healing is to be acknowledged, affirmed and supported. For at our core we are perfect and we all want to be productive members of society with a purpose, maybe, to make the world a better place.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
We offer Emotional Fitness Classes and courses that help individuals, from children to adults, build emotional resilience and well-being. For our younger audience, we've created the Vibarealm, a vibrant universe that encourages a healthier interaction with emotions.
Join us on this journey to emotional fitness and let's make the world a better place together.