As a writer who spends their time looking for the good things that happen in every day life, I spend most of my days with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Usually I spot the good things by simply walking along the road or flicking through my Instagram feed, but today’s interview with Louise came about in a completely different way.
Whilst I have been travelling, my mum has suffered a mental breakdown. At times it has been incredibly hard to hear about what she is going through and being on the other side of the world and therefore able to do nothing to help her. My mum my best friend. She has been my support throughout everything in my life so hearing her in such a negative place was and still is simply heartbreaking.
One day my mum told me that her friend Julie Hammond had given her a gift, a Take Heart crochet heart with the message ‘you are not alone’ attached to it. That gesture meant more to my mum than she or I can put into words. Her friend knew it was what she needed to hear at that time and for making sure that my mum knew she was not alone at a time when she felt that more than anything is something I will never be able to thank Julie enough for.
When my mum told me about the gift she had received, I made it my mission to find the person who had started the charity. I wanted to let them know not only what they had done for my family, but let others who might be in need know more about this wonderful organisation and all that they do for making sure people never feel like they are going through something by them self. Thankfully, after a Facebook hunt, Louise agreed to being interviewed and I got to say thank you to the woman whose bright idea had made sure my mum knew she wasn’t facing her hardest battle without support. It was a pleasure to interview Louise and to find out more about Take Heart. This organisation is rooted in the purest selflessness and positivity and for that, alongside many other reasons, I cannot wait for my delivery of hearts to spread the ‘you are not alone’ message here in Australia.
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview – I can’t wait to find out more about Take Heart and the work that you do! How did the idea of Take Heart first come about?
As I approached a big birthday, I started getting more active. I joined exercise classes then took up running and as part of this I joined RED January – which is a partner charity with MIND. RED encourages people to be active or run every day in January to beat the January blues. I signed up with my running buddy not really thinking about who it was aimed at, just wanting more motivation to exercise. When I joined the Facebook group, I was blown away by the open and honest posts from people living with mental health problems and the daily impact it had on their lives. So instead of donating money, I decided to make a heart for every kilometre I ran in January and give this to the people in the group. The first year (2018) I made and sent out 150 hearts. I decided to repeat it this year and also add in the option to have a pack of 5 hearts to leave out for others to find. The response was AMAZING! Soon I was up to 1400 hearts! At this point I’d spent a small fortune on postage so some local friends got involved and helped me to set up a crowdfunding page, an instagram account and a streamlined way to request the hearts. We’re now at 3,700 hearts and growing! I don’t make all the hearts and labels myself – I have some AWESOME people who make and send me hearts and labels. I’ve never even met these ladies and yet they give their time to help me with this – it blows my mind! Plus there are even projects growing from this where people are making and sharing their own hearts.
We now have a team at “Heart HQ” that are two BEAUTIFUL ladies who help me with all of the coordinating and planning. We meet most weeks. Sometimes it involves tea and sometimes gin! They do so much – they reply to all of my crazy messages and they get up at 6am to help me leave hearts. For example, we left 150 hearts at the local Uni for “Uni mental health day” and another time we got up and left 250 hearts for a local “random acts of kindness day”. One of the ladies badgered me into putting something in the local paper (which I moaned about but did actually raise the profile for us), plus they ‘like’ all of my instagram posts – I REALLY love them.
It sounds like you are surrounded by an incredible team who make running such an incredible organisation even more fun. What is the aim of gifting or leaving the hearts?
It’s a really small token and a reminder that you are not alone. I also think having something tangible that you can hold or see can be a daily reminder even if someone else isn’t physically there to say the words to you.
Sometimes hearts are given as a gift or shared with a family member, friend or colleague. It’s not always easy to say things to someone, so a heart just lets someone know “I’ve got your back”, “you can do this” and “you are loved”. Equally, it’s amazing when the hearts are just found. In that moment it’s not about the person who left it – it’s about the person who found it or even who the heart found.
I can’t imagine the number of people your organisation has helped at a time in their lives when they have felt alone and in a place no one would wish to be. Why do you choose to spend your time spreading positivity like this?
Because there’s enough negativity in all of our lives already!! I’m really blessed with my mental health, but have experienced through a family member what it’s like when things go wrong. One member of the RED January group pointed out that mental health and mental ill health are two sides of the same coin. It’s hard to say because of the stigma attached but the truth is we ALL have mental health. Mental ILL health is what happens when our good health becomes ill health, so when the coin is flipped. Equally, we all have good and bad days. Sometimes we all just need a bit of love and a hug – and that’s ok.
You must receive so many responses from people whose lives have been touched by the hearts that your organisation makes. What has been the best thing you have been told about as a direct consequence of your Take Heart movement?
I LOVE hearing how someone has found or been given a heart. I read that one lady had a heart pressed into her hand by her colleague on a tough day and another person keeps their heart by their front door to remind them on the way out everyday that they are not alone.
We have hearts being left out on Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco which is the second most renowned suicide spot in the world. Can you imagine if just one heart found its way to someone on that bridge one day?
I really do believe that the hearts have so much power to them and that their positive influence is going to continue to spread all over the world. With that in mind, where do you see Take Heart being in the next 5 years?
Don’t tell anyone but my secret wish is to get 10,000 hearts out there. I’m not sure how long this will take, but I’m going to keep going!
10,000 hearts is a great challenge – I like your thinking! What would you say to someone who is considering gifting a heart to someone that they can see is in need?
Do it! Sometimes the biggest message can be in the smallest gesture. And it really can be for anyone, for anything – you’re just letting them know you’re thinking of them.
In today’s society, it seems that more of us are talking openly about mental health which is great, but it also seems that looking after our mental health is still something that so many of us struggle with. What kinds of things do you think stop us from taking care of ourselves and why?
I think we all automatically use the excuse of “time” but actually, when something is important to us, we make time. I think what really stops us is feeling that we shouldn’t be putting ourselves first and that it’s ‘selfish’. But the reality is that it is SO important to look after our own mental health, alongside our physical health.
What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to make changes to their life to improve their mental wellbeing?
I’m a big fan of a quote, and as Plato said “know thyself”. I think at the centre of self care is knowing, understanding and accepting who you are and what makes you tick. Some great advice I received was to think about what you need in your life to feel good and to make sure you are getting these. Mine include being a good mum, getting outside, connecting with others, being creative and being kind.
As far as a list of things to know to prioritise about yourself, that’s a great list, but one of the things that must boost your own mental health is knowing how much what you do helps others. How does it feel to know that what you do really makes a positive impact on the lives of people who need it?
Making one small change can often have a bigger impact on your own and other people’s lives, so I just feel very grateful for the opportunity to keep these hearts going out to people and hopefully reminding people that they have support and are thought of.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?
Be kind. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself.