Our founder Jennifer Le Roux was very pleased to return for the second instalment of BelongCon last week, eagerly awaiting another wave of inspiration since the last event, she was not disappointed. The event was part of sharing week, which could not have been more apt as everyone in the room was completely open to sharing. A room full of honest people keeping it real who are in touch with their strengths as much as their vulnerabilities. Here is Jennifer’s take on the event:
Refreshing event with a ‘no bullshit’
Often when you go to an event like this there is a need to put on a face and professional persona and ‘network’. That is not the case with BelongCon. I am not going to lie I was having a bad hair, bad face – bad everything day and my friend coming along was also really not feeling up to it. Rather than panicking though, I knew we wouldn’t be judged. I didn’t put on a suit or dress smart with ‘networking’ in mind, I just grabbed what makes me feel comfortable, which in my case is black rock / goth attire. I also persuaded my friend to come along as I just knew these people would soon lift her mood – and I was right. Honestly, the talks are great but just being in a room with this community is enough to inspire and bring about a sense of belonging.
Honest confessions and inspirational conversations
City Girl Network’s Pippa kicked off telling her story from sisterhood to isolation and back again, sharing aloud for the first time her struggles with mental health. Proving that through community and belonging we can find strength and move forwards living with, rather than against, our imperfections and weaknesses. Dan Collier shared a story of grief and discussed breaking down the mental barriers for men, highlighting the continued perception that women are emotional and men are strong. While Brighton Digital Women’s Lana and Allegra shared their stories, encouraging others to share, accept and own their mental health. Something that I can say from firsthand experience many women in particular struggle with, especially in the workplace. Allegra reiterated the need for more awareness on political agendas when she said:
“You cannot consistently defund mental health services and waiting lists and at the same time promote mental health in politics.”
Jo Ivens from Brighton & Hove charity Impetus discussed ways we can help reduce loneliness and isolation in the community, through cancer advocacy services, befriending schemes, and helping our neighbours. Followed by Claudia Barnett who was recently featured on the documentary Mind Over Marathon. She offered some mind-bending and spine tingling insights on the way we perceive mental health and OCD in particular in the media. Never had I considered that Monica from Friends, while undoubtedly entertaining, was actually a damaging portrayal of the condition, which Claudia experienced in a very different way. As she described her experience it made me reconsider my own mental health and experiences with unwelcome thoughts. Proving the need for more awareness around the condition and acceptance of mental health as something that needs as much attention and care as our physical wellbeing. Citing Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins’ Twitter rants as proof that ignorant and bigoted views continue to fuel mental health stigma, she said:
“The notion of the stiff upper lip is damaging and destructive…we need to reassess the language we use around mental health.”
A collective sense of belonging and shared experience
All of the talks somehow led back to mental health, speaking profoundly about their experiences through grief, work and home life. Even James Dorrell whose talk was focused on stepping away from instant gratification and excess packaging on an environmental mission, eventually confessed his own struggles with mental health. And the confessions continued from the audience during the Q&A.
Overall the highlight of the whole event was that heightened sense of belonging we all felt at the end, with a collective realisation that we had all dealt with mental health struggles at some point in our life. We were not alone. That and the moment Alice asked if anyone was voting Conservative and was met with blank statued stares.
We can’t wait for the next one!
Review by Jennifer Le Roux
Photography: Mark Brocklehurst