Matthew Johnstone (2015) The Little Book of Resilience. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd


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Matthew Johnstone author and illustrator of bestselling books including “I Had a Black Dog” describes himself as a passionate mental health and wellbeing advocate and has a website I was very excited when his latest offering “The Little Book of  Resilience – How to bounce back from adversity and lead a fulfilling life” dropped through the letterbox.

This beautifully illustrated book suggests that our ideal life is one where the sun always shines, we are happy, healthy and fulfilled… We spend energy protecting ourselves from the realities of life but life doesn’t play fair. We put a lot of effort into regretting our past, maintaining the face we show the world, wanting things we don’t have… Life for most of us will have joys and sorrows and resilience is about how we respond to adversity.

Johnstone offers helpful perspectives such as “Thoughts are not facts”. Importantly he does not suggest that the advice offered is easy to put into practice, for example, “A vitally important virtue is patience. In this world of everything being instant, we expect the same when it comes to our difficulties.”

In Part II Johnstone identifies a number of important areas that need to be attended to if we want to build our resilience which include but are not limited to:

  • physical activity,
  • taking part,
  • helping others,
  • keep learning
  • taking notice

Incidentally these are the 5 ways to well-being promoted by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) see

This is followed by a list of websites for potentially relevant organisations offering information and support.

Finally there are a few empty pages for your own notes.



Mindfulness based stress reduction wk 4 – the physical barometer

Refllecting on the halfway point in our course:

The physical barometer. This grows out of noticing where sensations are experienced in the body during unpleasant experiences. I’ve mapped mine out above. If you want to tune in to your own physical barometer, the abdomen can be a helpful place to start, investigating whether sensations in the abdomen change during challenging events.

Still struggling with the breathing spaces / responsive pauses. I get swept along by the moment and only afterwards think ahh a responsive pause would have been helpful there.

I am learning to love the bodyscan – who would have guessed. You spend the first two weeks of the course thinking this is boring / dull / irritating then when you move on you find yourself missing it.

Adherence to home practice can be too tight, as well as too loose. Humm! That was me I wanted so much to engage with the course I was pushing too hard.

My ability to find pleasure in day to day life has definitely increased.

Susie had to have the last word and says after her initial view that mindfulness sucks (as it involved turfing her off the duvet) she is also learning to love the bodyscan 🐾 💤

An object with special meaning for me

The pen

My object from home is one of my free hotel pens designed to advertise a local four star hotel as a conference venue.  It represents a new stage in my life and the start of the path to a new career. I had recently been made redundant after more than 20 years as a scientist, home life was pretty tumultuous and I trained as a volunteer lay tutor working with people with long-term health conditions and then specifically people living with depression. That was such a great course offering people a safe space to learn more about depression, to learn from each other and to regain control over their lives.

It also represents my slight obsession with stationery. I wouldn’t admit to hoarding stationery exactly (and I have less than my husband) but there will be plenty to leave to the children.

I like the see through mechanism and the neon orange. I don’t usually like orange but I like this.

It is something to fiddle with, it’s tactile and reassuring.

The line it produces is a permanent fine black line, compared with the easily changed writing with a pencil. At school graduating from a pencil to a pen was a landmark in the development of your handwriting.

My kids think I grew up with slate and chalk, apologies to anyone who did, but I am the “pen and paper” generation. Even my University project was hand written and subsequently typed by a typist and this was how we produced reports for several years after I started work. Even this piece of text is produced from my handwritten notes and only then so I can blog it. It also reminds me of how much I enjoy learning and as I get older how I need to write things down to remember them.

A more recent use of my pen has been when working as an auxiliary. As an auxiliary you are pretty much sunk without a black pen and I would always take one to work to make sure I could recognise it if I was forced to lend it out – if you lend your pen to a patient with the best will in the world you might not get it back and never lend your pen to a doctor, you’ll never get it back.

I can hear you wondering “How many of these pens do you have?” A few :D, the day when I’m down to my last one I might just have to keep it to look at.

A contrasting object chosen from the museum collection, a gravestone sculpture

Gravestone sculpture

 This came from St. Lawrence church in Exeter and dates from 1600-1700.

  Instantly recognizable, the skull is the work of a skilled craftsman, an expression of his creativity. Watching over the dead, the stone has weathered and blended into its environment. The empty eye sockets draw us in, contrasting the impermanence of our lives with this rough stone.

The interpretation reads “During a troubled period [the skull and winged cherub] reminded people of their mortality and hopeful flight to heaven.”

My response to my pen

I’m imagining my orange pen is my boat, sailing on an ocean of ink. The contrast between the man-made neon hull and the changing colours of the sea and sky. The ocean stretches out ahead, in which if I let them, thoughts like waves ebb and flow. The waves break against the sleek smooth exterior of that boat, I can observe them through the transparent walls but I steer my own course. In any moment there is always the potential for creativity to arise and be caught in the net of my attention.



  • Both have a distinct historical context, objects popular in their own time period
  • Say something about impermanence – the skull reminds us that this is what we come to when our life runs out and the pen is not refillable and therefore to be disposed of when the ink runs out.
  • Democratic – we all have a skull inside us. The pen is in theory accessible to all of us having been mass produced cheaply to be distributed to promote the hotel.
  •  Drawn to both
  • Tactile
  • Instantly recognisable
  • Potential revealed by the light
  • Created

Gravestone sculptureSomething of mine


  • Old New
  • Decorative Functional
  • Natural materials Man-made materials
  • Solid Transparent
  • Natural colour to blend with environment Neon to stand out and catch our attention
  • Ugly Beautiful
  • Unique Mass produced
  • Fixed Portable
  • Valuable Negligible value
  • Marks an ending Represents potential to create
  • Crafted Mass produced
  • The sculpture is an expression of someone’s vision. The pen is an object which allows for creative expression.
  • In 2015 we recognise both the sculpture and the pen but in the 17th century the pen did not exist and would have been unrecognisable.

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Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course wk 3

This is the first week I have really struggled with the homework. It isn’t called homework- we are “invited” to do home practice. This week it is three breathing spaces each day and one longer practice, alternating between the body scan and mindful movement. It is the breathing spaces  I find hard, my mind is still flitting about when I am trying to bring it back to focusing on my breathing. We are also keeping an unpleasant events diary, helping to understand the mind-body connection.

How do other people find mindful movement? I find it is easier to stay present than during the body scan where my mind skips off somewhere after the legs and rejoins the party here and there after I retrieve it from rehashing and rehearsing…

Our teacher has created a safe space and the group is lovely but still a little quiet. The venue is really unusual, it was a wool drying shed from when the city’s wealth owed much to the wool trade.

My mission is to build my resilience ready for my return to adult nurse training. I’m determined to throw myself into this course having attended a mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) course in 2011. I found that helpful and working on the principle of revisiting what has worked before, here I am.

One of my favourite places to take the dog

Wow! Suddenly Devon has gone green. I find walking through the woods next to the river feeds my soul. 

Slightly marred by Charlie, who doesn’t believe swimming is a proper activity for dogs, dropping his ball into a deep part of the river. This brought my practice of mindful breathing to an end. We follow the progress of the ball until it was lost to sight : ( 

Home now and Charlie is snoring contentedly on the sofa!