A ‘Newbie’s’ Perspective

Iain Mays is a 23 year old MSc Global Mental Health student who has travelled over to Sierra Leone with us to complete a qualitative research project (supervised by Prof Andrew Gumley) related to the work of commit and act in Sierra Leone. I have been acting as field supervisor for the project. I was keen for Iain to contribute to the blog. Here is his first entry that reflects on his first few days in Freetown: 

“It’s funny, after just 3 days in Freetown I found myself reflecting on the comfortable rhythm that our team has drifted into. Attending my first ever ACT workshop, ran by Beate and Ross, I immediately felt at home. I was given a nickname based on my height (‘6-by-6’) and that was it I felt a part of the class. It might be strange to say but as a student I was welcomed by accomplished professionals and allowed to connect with them to further my knowledge of ACT . During this first workshop both myself and Corinna, the ‘youngins’ of our Commit and Act family had spare time to talk with local ACT participants who happily opened up about their experiences. We were both in awe of their openness and acceptance of us into their lives. Arriving home from the day I noted how my routine would continue: I would first greet the giant spider above my door and would lie down under my jelly-fish-like mosquito net to listen to the hustle and bustle outside Fr. Konteh’s house. Dinner would follow with much discussion between Ross, Beate, Hannah, Corinna and myself; we find humour in the little things, we reflect on the inspiring moments of the day, or we sit peacefully enjoying each other’s company. For me these comfortable silences had been greatly helped by the ‘Eyes On’ exercise, which was ran by Beate in the ACT workshop. This entailed staring into the eyes of a partner allowing you to see someone else as who they really are and vice versa. The awkward Irish man inside begged me to make an excuse and exclude myself, but despite this vulnerability the exercise allowed me to develop a calming connection with my partner and with it a comforting self-awareness.

This relaxed routine I find myself in has continued as I lie in bed listening to the different sounds at night time and morning. There is the dog who loves nothing more than a ‘mid-night bark’, the bull frogs who flare up at any chance of romance, the cockerel stamping his mark on the morning and the Muslim call to prayer, which, having never heard it in person, I was fascinated by. My parents have always given out to me for playing too much music instead of being comfortable in long silences. They are right; in the past I have preferred to listen to whatever cheesy song is on the go than to listen to my own thoughts, yet here I find myself opting not to plug my earphones in when I’m alone by myself. I attribute this to the mindfulness sessions in the ACT workshop. On Tuesday Ross spoke about his own occasional difficulties in gaining self-awareness in the morning time. He called to mind the simple example of brushing his teeth in the mirror to help develop his 5 sensory experiences and enhance his self-awareness for the start of the day. Pearly whites aside, this helped sum up the ease in which we can become self-aware amongst our thoughts and emotions if we just take the necessary time! It’s an endeavour I hope to continue within this new-found routine in Sierra Leone”.

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