Strive to Be Happy

Strive to be happy, how this simple statement has fascinated me for over twenty years. The final line of The Desiderata, these 4 simple words have made me think about my attitude to happiness more than anything else in my life. So happiness is not my birthright?  It is not something I had and lost but instead it is something I can earn, I should strive for? Strive, the hardest working verb in the English dictionary; strive is a long way from sit around and wait for it to fall into my lap, or bemoan its lack of solid presence in my life. Strive: what did that mean? And what did I mean by ‘happy’?

These few words began to worm their way into my consciousness, turning on its head my sense of adolescent depression and dissatisfaction, the sense that I didn’t have something I was entitled to, something that everyone else had. That I was somehow bereft, prone as I was to deep bouts of unhappiness. Unhappiness being a lack of happiness, a sense of being hopeless, useless, helpless and angry. Somehow that sense of hopeless anger was challenged by this word strive, enticing me to believe I could do something.  As a fighter I was no stranger to taking on Goliath like battles, but this was different.  It couldn’t be met head on.  My attempts to control my unhappiness by making big gestures didn’t work – I still felt angry and thwarted, hard done by, my experience of happiness in direct correlation to physical outcomes.

And then I began to notice how my behaviour, my response to things that happened, affected how ‘happy’ I felt. That somehow, if I let go of the outcome, I could still experience a sense of joy, of uplift, of possibility, of gratitude…of life as long as I was connected to myself with curiosity and compassion. As long as I was connected to everybody else.

Somehow instead of being a victim of circumstance, I started to realise I was able to be happy anyway, no matter what. 

This ignited a journey of profound change as I began to realise what I understood to be happiness, and accept that I was deserving of it. Instead of engaging in conflict, I decided to focus on developing a curiosity for how I felt in relation to others, in relation to what happened in my life.  I noted feelings of outrage and hurt and I rejoiced simply in my connection with my own consciousness, with me knowing me.  What happened and what others thought became increasingly important as part of my own developing relationship with myself and less and less about who I actually was.  I was increasingly proud of my courage to learn and grow, I was surprised with my willingness to hear, I laughed aloud at my second nature to reinstall the denial that sought to shield me from the nourishing truth when I thought I had thrown it out, and I dispensed with it again and again, daily clearing my side of the street. I was stubborn! I accepted with great joy my place as a grain of sand on a big wide beach, perfectly shaped to fit, and not more or less than anyone else.  I accepted HP into my life, relieved to only have to manage what I could, my own behaviour borne of my thoughts and feelings, and as truthful and respectful representation of that…what a relief.  I felt held, part of, good enough, curious and most importantly HAPPY as that gave me the faith to take the next step!

This is not a state of Nirvana, though, as I remain as affected by life as anyone else and have had my own trials, and (un)fair share of conflict, sickness and loss darkening my landscape. But within these experiences I have found that I can still connect, I can surrender to help, I can still grow and love, and despite the times of darkness, deep within I do feel happiness.

Interesting easy reading on the subject of happiness:

Illusions by Richard Bach

Hector & the Search for Happiness: Hector’s Journeys 1 by François Lelord and Lorenza Garcia


Why Our Children Are Self Harming ….

Self-harm can take many forms and can result from any number of emotional or personal situations.

For most it is a very secretive, concealed act.

The Statistics

·        Self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population. It is estimated that one in 12 young people in the UK are believed to have self-harmed at some point in their lives.

·        Many of them use self-harming as a way of communicating because they feel that no one is listening and they also believe that they have no one to turn to.

·        3 in 4 young people don’t know where to turn to talk about self-harm (

·        A third of parents would not seek professional help if their child was self-harming (Source:

·        Almost half GPs feel that they don’t understand young people who self-harm and their motivations (Source:

·        2 in 3 teachers don’t know what to say to young people who self-harm (Source:

While studies show that some chronic self-injurers tend to get better without therapy, many people really need professional help to open themselves to new ways of being in the world and with stress.(Source:Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery)

The Reasons for Self-Harming – Mind , the UK Mental Health Charity

To express something that is hard to put into words

To make experiences, thoughts or feelings that feel invisible into something visible

To change emotional pain into physical pain

To reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts

To have a sense of being in control

To escape traumatic memories

To stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated (see dissociative disorders)

To create a reason to physically care for yourself

To express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking your own life

To communicate to other people that you are experiencing severe distress


A Parent’s Viewpoint

Ten years ago, when my son was 13 years old he started cutting himself. Looking back I did not handle the situation well at all. On hearing the term “self-harm” for the first time, I remember thinking “Isn’t that what the Opus Dei monks do?”, (as in those monks who engage in self-flagellation in order to punish themselves and because pain made them feel closer to God). Of course, there was nothing remotely connected to Opus Dei or religion about what my son was doing.  Mainly I was angry with him as I could not understand what could possibly make him want to hurt himself, over and over again.

I was also convinced that my son was the only child on the planet engaging in this (well apart from the monks) and so for the next four years he and I battled – covertly – for his survival. My son took self-harming to beyond cutting; he would stop eating for days on end, he hung out with “friends” who bullied him, he got into alcohol, drugs and as he got older, he engaged in a string of abusive relationships.

All of this served to perpetuate his idea that he needed to feel pain (physical and emotional) in order to feel something, to have control and to release the anger that silently raged within him.

 A Child’s Viewpoint

“Cutting was a release, not of huge amounts of rage (although I’m still waiting for that to surface) but of less noticeable emotion – I did not know how I felt – I did not have the skills to verbalize my experiences and therefore felt very trapped in my body.  I often felt as if I was sitting in a wooden box, I could see out of little gaps in the wood work but people couldn’t see in.  At least when I cut myself I could see the evidence of my being alive….the rest of the time I really did not care if I lived or died.”

“The secrecy of being in a room of people and knowing that underneath your clothes there are burns from lighters, cigarettes and matches which are an aesthetic to the internal pain, trauma and shame I feel about myself.

I am like the junkie who shoots up down a dark side-alley but instead I am applying the 8th burn to my arm because I can feel the dark shadow of panic/shame overcoming me and I won’t make it home if I don’t get this hit.”


So what do you do if your child is self-harming?

Mandy Saligari, founder and director of Charter Harley Street, explains that “Self-harm is a pattern of behaviours that, like so many addictive patterns and dysfunctional coping mechanisms, can be hidden in plain view, even in those as young as 6 or 7 yrs. old. It is often the first sign of a problem which left unaddressed frequently develops into an eating disorder or drug and alcohol addiction”

Do not ignore the signs.  If you feel out of your depth and if find that you cannot deal with the way your child is behaving, Mandy Saligari strongly suggests that “you seek support from a child and adolescent psychotherapist or an EMDR therapist who specialises in working with children. Trying to deal with it yourself and failing can generate negative emotions, making the child feel even more hopeless and the parent feel useless.

Both will foster resentment, which in turn drives the urge to self-harm – a vicious circle”

Philip Andrews, (Psychotherapist – EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant) believes that, “Trauma often leaves people feeling numb and depressed. Self-harm can allow them to literally feel for a short time, so as a short term solution it becomes addictive”.


The light at the end of the tunnel…

It is important to remember that self-harm is not a phase someone is going through or a fad but rather a coping mechanismfor depression, stress and anxiety.

There is no quick fix but over time with supportive care and attention, new ways of coping can replace the need to self-harm.  



About Charter Harley Street: Discover the Power of Charter Harley Street

London’s leading private outpatient facility for Trauma, Addiction and Mental Health. www.charterharley


About Mandy Saligari: Founder and Clinical Director, Charter Harley Street

Mandy is a well-respected established expert in the field of addiction, parenting and relationships.Born from her passion for helping people overcome addictive behaviour, Mandy founded Charter Harley Street to address the market need for a common sense approach to recovery; one that delivers recovery for life and is underpinned by humility, gratitude and hope.




Depression is not about sadness

This is what Ruby Wax stated this morning on Radio 4 and it caught my attention, as I agree. Too often the word depressed is used to describe low mood of all kinds confusing its definition with experience of our humanness, so we have forgotten what depression really is.

With a 23% increase in anti depressant prescriptions between 2010-2012 it seems even the professional population may have forgotten too, as a culture of prescribed pill popping has developed in part I believe because our tolerance and understanding is not there for our own emotional processes and experience  – the fear, loss, sadness and anger.

With a severe recession affecting almost everyone in the country, job security is at a low, job prospects are bleak and unhappiness, anger, fear and disappointment thrive. People can feel too under pressure and ill equipped to deal with these kinds of feelings instead seeking advice from the GP. The GP has 10 minutes and as Ruby Wax also suggested this morning, should use that time to refer to someone who is qualified to diagnose. Because a course of anti depressants may not be the best course of treatment; it may also be a step towards learned helplessness.

I see it in my work treating addiction where people will have long histories of ‘depression’ alongside increasingly complex self destructive patterns where they have tried to manage their emotions and usually failed so that they end up in my office still looking for answers. With almost all of these people treatment or intensive counselling usually provides the compassion, stability and tools required to stop the self destructive behaviours and develop different ways of managing their humanness. It can also lead to a medication review and either appropriate ongoing medication or coming off the antidepressants entirely.

The more we can talk about depression and other mental health disorders such as addiction the more we can properly define and therefore better understand them. These are not vagaries born of a self indulgent population, these are real conditions warranting targeted treatment and well deserved successful outcomes.

With 1/5 of us struggling to cope with our feelings, and the county enjoying the biggest baby boom in 40 years,  it’s about time we made emotional intelligence a priority so that we are educating for a healthy future.

After all, we reap what we sow.

International Animal Rescue (IAR)

A few months ago I was having coffee with my great friend and colleague Caroline Curtis Dolby to discuss a client referral, and out of the blue she began talking with real passion, and compassion, about animal cruelty, about the agony of dancing bears in India.  She didn’t give me horror stories, but she sailed close enough to that wind to give me a picture.  What she focused on was the rescues. This was a story of success, of change, of going up against the system and winning.  For the rescue wasn’t only of the poor unfortunate bear, but of the family who made it dance to earn the money to survive. The rescue was of beast and man.

Then out of the blue she asked me if I would join the committee to raise funds for International Animal Rescue (IAR).

Was she crazy? I am one of the busiest people I know and my life is timetabled to a ‘t’ …where would I find the time? Yet here I was at the beginning of a long clinical day and with 2 hours of commuting already behind me, captivated. I leant forwards as she spoke, feeling drawn to this cause driven by International Animal Rescue, a charity with the simple integrity of doing exactly what it name says – it rescues animals from suffering across the globe.

Here are just three examples of where they make a difference in the words of IAR CEO and founder, Alan Knight, OBE: 

“Dancing Bears – In the past 10 years we have helped with the rescue of over 600 sloth bears that were ‘danced’ cruelly on the streets of India.  As a result International Animal Rescue (IAR) and its partners have effectively ended this activity in India and the bears now reside happily in three spacious sanctuaries.   Through our retraining programme many of those human individuals responsible for bear dancing have now been retrained and employed in different occupations.

Orangutans – Largely due to aggressive deforestation and the palm oil industry orangutans are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.  In January, this year IAR opened its brand new orangutan rescue and conservation centre in West Borneo, Indonesia to provide facilities for displaced orangutans.  IAR has so far rescued over 80 orangutans with a number being translocated to protected habitats in other parts of West Borneo.

Our aim is to ensure that (where possible) all our orangutans are able to explore and enjoy the forest and that they are not confined to cages – with many animals eventually being released back into conserved forest areas.    Despite the creation of our new centre we still need more space for the adult orangutans.   Our plan is to create ‘island’ spaces for the adults and we will be purchasing more land later this year.

Dogs and Cats – IAR not only works with wild animals but also has an extremely successful clinic (Animal Tracks) for dogs and cats in Goa which treats literally thousands of animals each year.  The focus of the project is on reducing the numbers of stray dogs and cats through a humane programme of sterilisation.  However, the clinic has become so successful it is now a major veterinary centre for all animals in the north Goa region.   In fact, IAR works with highly experienced vets on all its projects often flying in veterinary experts where necessary, from other countries, to treat specific conditions such as dentistry for bears and surgery on limbs for orangutans.

These are just some of our projects.  And yet, however accurate our name is in describing our work rescuing animals it is far from the full story.  It would be short-sighted of us to respond to cases of animals in desperate need without working to address the underlying causes.  And time and again the suffering and neglect we encounter are routed in ignorance and fear, rather than acts of deliberate cruelty.  For this reason, the educational work we carry out at home and abroad is absolutely vital if we are to bring about a lasting change in attitudes to animals and to the environment as a whole.

Our work is limited only by our resources.

I know that cruelty and ignorance beget cruelty, and that man can become desensitised to suffering through his own experience of trauma and neglect. But knowing this does not increase my tolerance.  I cannot abide cruelty of any kind, but cruelty inflicted on the helpless and the vulnerable is a kind of cruelty that truly raises my blood.  Some might say that I am motivated to save others as I need (or needed) to save myself. But, with the help and support of the many wonderful people whose paths have crossed mine, I have already saved myself. Now I want to make a difference because it’s the right thing to do.

Cruelty to animals and children is the worst kind of cruelty, and I personally believe they are connected.  Charities and organisations that are proactive about promoting sustainable change around cruelty of any kind desperately need and deserve our support.

So I now meet regularly with a group of inspirational and generous people on the IAR fundraising committee to organize a glittering event in early September to raise funds for this valid and worthy cause. I am hoping it will be the first of many…

I have included below their website where you can make a donation, as well as links to some powerful footage of the great work IAR does, setting animals free from cruelty and providing people the training to do something productive.

Please support them and be part of the solution. If I can afford the time, believe me, so can you!

Website for further information:

Mandy and Professor David Nutt Discuss UK Drug Policy

Good Morning Wales, with presenters Oliver Hides and Bethan Rhys Roberts have had a specialised set of programmes focusing on Drug Policy in Wales and the UK.

Friday saw the series conclude with an outside broadcast and a discussion about UK wide drug policy with Mandy Saligari and Professor David Nutt taking part.

Listen to the interview click link :  BBC Radio

Happy Birthday

Four years ago today Charter completed its first week as a daycare.  We had 10 clients in the room and the atmosphere was potent with possibility. Four years on and I find myself again looking at a room still full of brave people, struggling like Marlin on a line to gain purchase on recovery, and clinical and admin teams I am proud to be working with.  And I think to myself, isn’t it amazing what can be achieved in 4 short years? Since 2008 I have co-founded Charter working a 70 hour week got home most nights and kissed my children as they slept, launched a residential site, spent weekends on windy sidelines cheering my children on, completed 2 years of an MSc, wrote essays alongside my eldest as he revised, moved house, painted my youngest son’s bedroom red, mourned my father’s death, cleared our small woodland of laurel, gained stability around my Rheumatoid Arthritis went riding with my daughter and then last year I bought the company off Tony and watched TV in front of the fire with my husband. It has been busy…and something has had to give. While I do have a close and personal relationship with each of my children, I miss the minutiae of their days, which sometimes makes me sad. And my husband and I have almost no social life.  But it feels worth it. I feel a sense of connectedness and security that perhaps can only be achieved through loving what I do and doing what I love, ethically and in fellowship, so I accept the bill.

Then as I listen to Thought For The Day I find myself reminded that these last four years achievements are the fruit of the hard graft I have put in over the preceding 20 when the seed was first planted (be careful what you wish for!). I remember so well those early years in my 20s when I was so old yet so naïve, and everything felt so difficult, each step so precarious. I am truly grateful to all those who supported me, then and now.

And as I look around the room today and see these ‘Marlin’, biting at the hand that tries to feed them, I celebrate the human spirit whilst encouraging and challenging these ‘mighty fish’ to have the courage to accept help. For ‘you cant chew meat with one tooth’ (Desmond Tutu).

Women Of The Year Awards

I was excited and extremely privileged to attend the annual Women Of The Year Awards on Monday last week, held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane ( ).  500 women filled the room, all of whom have a story to tell and achievements to celebrate. It was an inspiring lunch, compered with wit and feeling by Sandi Toksvig, and one I will never forget. I shared a table with Claire Lomas who achieved the impossible, completing the London Marathon despite being paralysed; Sally Wilton who set up a not-for-profit organisation in London providing pop up cinemas and founded The Sustainability Institute, an eco village in the heart of Cape Towns Winelands; Camilla Batmanghelidgh of Kids Co, Ebony, a riding stables in Brixton, the Alzheimer’s Society, a recovering addict of 12 years who was a torch bearer…I looked around the room and felt overwhelmed by the number of people I would give my right arm to meet and talk to and I had an hour…not enough!!!

I felt humbled and moved by the extraordinary achievements these women have made, from our Olympians and Para Olympians, to the woman who founded Women for Women with money that was set aside for her honeymoon (a charity dedicated to women in war zones), to Doreen, Stephen Lawrence’s mother, who spoke with emotion of her fight to bring his murderers to justice, to the women who work with the elderly and the disabled to improve their quality of life.

When I left I felt deeply motivated in my commitment to maintain an ethical stance as a priority when working in my small corner of this world where I am dedicated to inspiring addiction recovery, and to challenging the stigma that enables this destructive illness to flourish behind closed doors, and in all postcodes.

Child+ Computer Games = Aggression


This study suggests there is a proven link between games console use and heightened aggression in youngsters, and I wholeheartedly agree.

I have borne witness to countless examples of increased aggression in all 3 of my children after even brief periods of playing these games – it’s the same with most of their friends and with our friends’ children too. I have seen a 5 yr old excitedly jump up and down playing Wii, only to fall to the ground sobbing, beside himself,  when he loses; I have seen a usually modest and discreet mother wrestle her 11 yr old to the floor in an attempt to retrieve the PS3 control, and a father in a shouting match with his son during a game they were playing together as fun, and a war breakout between friends over who has which controller!  Without a doubt these games increase levels of aggression.

To me it is quite simple – what you feed the brain becomes part of its shape. And when you understand that the brain is not fully developed until the early 20s, and the cognitive ability develops at around 7yrs old, you begin to realise how sensitive it must be at 11,12, 13yrs old especially to such a stimulating influence as the charged atmosphere of a computer generated mission. During these games, this developing brain is over stimulated into a heightened and excited pace, yet the body is by contrast, relatively still.  Thus the person is going to be at the very least out of sync.

The mission in these games is almost always a fight for your life. Whether that’s in the fantasy playground of Wii or the simulated war scenes of Call of Duty, with violent graphics and emotive language that desensitise a person to killing and bloodbaths, the result is the same – raised levels of adrenalin, the fuel of aggression. When the games ends, the person is left ‘high’. Not unlike the chemical alterations caused by alcohol or stimulants, the brain is charged for action, and the body, loyal as ever, responds.

I encourage my children to go for a run or to play football after playing games for any period (ie 30 mins +) to help bring them back into sync and earth themselves. When it is exam period we remove the consoles completely as too many arguments happen around it, and the whole atmosphere at home is easier.

But this is a temporary intervention, as perhaps surprisingly I do not believe that banning the console is the answer. This is not down to the usual arguments about prohibition raising interest in the banned substance, but because of the fundamental need for an individual to learn how to self-regulate. Especially in a world where addiction is on the up, self-regulation and self-esteem are our greatest preventative tools. Unless someone can identify when they are getting aggressive/drunk/stoned/out of hand, recognize and care about the impact their behaviour has on others as well as themselves, they cannot – and will not – intervene on their own behaviour.

So surely home is the learning ground for this process? Surely, despite being exhausted by punishing work schedules, it is our duty as parents to establish and maintain boundaries in the face of childhood insistence and dispute to help our children learn to manage their own emotional processes and behaviour in these early stages before eg drugs or alcohol even enter the equation?

On holiday this year we took no mobiles or computers…nothing of that kind, Instead we played Backgammon, ball, we swam and read and talked – it was an absolute joy to spend quality time with my family, and to bear witness to their creativity and imaginations (once we had got over the mutiny that tried to force our hands and allow screens  ‘just for a minute’).  It felt wonderful to know a little more about each of their lives and how they are getting on.

So my advice is this:

–          Manage the time your child spends on their games console – set a time and stick to it

–          Try to follow the age appropriate guides on the games – they are there for a reason

–          If like mine they want to play a game older than they are as their peers are doing it, speak to their friends parents and come to an agreement to confront peer pressure

–          Make them aware of their behaviour around the games

–          Try not to shame them, but to help them to see what they are doing in relation to how they feel

–          Follow through on consequences – ie if they don’t come off when they are supposed to they lose the next day’s allowance

–          Stay calm – don’t let their over stimulated rage ignite yours so you lose respect

–          Encourage them to do something physical immediately afterwards

–          Spend time with your children without screens and play!



How Could They Kill Their Children?

When I hear stories about a father, or mother, who kills their children in a rage during a process of separation or divorce, I feel deeply sad. Of course it hurts but did they have to go that far? I feel angry that the possibility of this violence of emotion could be so overlooked or so under supported? How on earth does it happen that someone goes that far, and are there warning signs?


Read more here