Mental and Emotional Wellbeing — 3 learnings from fragile places

Paul James Crook
9 min readOct 15, 2021

Reflect, Refract: being Transparent in your own thinking

People — We need more symbiotic relations as social animals

Travelling in the arid Horn of Africa where people have experienced life atop an edge far more difficult to balance on then the majority of us ever have to contemplate, what are the 3 main takeaways for any of us to do?

Reflect on what we have

Refract, placing ourselves in other situations to ‘see how the light of wisdom comes through’

Be Transparent in our own thinking — no excuses for why we are not doing what we want to do

Returning to Somaliland, the unrecognised state to the north and east of Ethiopia, neighbouring Djibouti, abutting the Rea Sea, is always a heart-warming experience. Seeing how the places and people have recouped from the violence of two, or even in some places, three civil wars is always stimulating in terms of knowing we, as people, do rebuild given the opportunity and right resources. Studies undertaken a decade ago showed psychosis[1]was endemic with populations in certain towns having one in every four people showing the signs of psychosis.

How do you live in an unrecognised country?

You value yourself and others as people — neighbours, friends, family, rivals maybe even enemies, but always as people.

But do we rebuild to ensure history does not see another set of such conflicts as others manipulate memory, or the lack there of, as new tensions build around fresh challenges of identity?

Identity is regularly invoked when looking at the purpose of people. But usually as a collective — I am British, I am English. I am Somali, I am a Somalilander. Rarely do we look at how we define ourselves as individuals; particularly in post-traumatic settings where open conflict has taken place. There are people wrapping themselves in flags and calling for challenges to others who, they say, are contesting their people’s liberties. Invariably it is a clarion call to the wider population as leaders use symbolism to foment biased opinion to regularly deflect from their own failings in political and economic development. Failings to recognise the stresses placed across generations forestalling people from knowing, let alone realising, their full potential. Regularly people are cast as passive beneficiaries, recipients of international largesse. The reality is Somalilanders have done for themselves — Unrecognised political but fully acknowledged as achieving for themselves; for being united in purpose. Now the questions revolve around next steps and the meaning in overcoming to achieve what as people, neighbours, family, friends and reconciled enemies.

Questions emerge for any of us:-

How do I define myself?

Name, sex, family, wider network of friends or ethnic cultural group?

Think again defining yourself by what is inside your head and body

Apparent is the manner we act and react when points of emotion are touched on. We have become emotionally detached from the consequences of social interaction in general, and conflict in particular, whilst feeling the adrenalin flow as calls to conflict are raised. This may simply be pulling on the Premier League football team shirt and shouting at the TV screen. But it is there; the need to have leadership and a sense of being social with the animosities coming with arguing which team is better.

Are you being marketed to? Is someone selling you a sense of belonging?

Be prepared to avoid sides, see competition, conflict as a globe where you can roll around and see, hear and sense all perspectives — reflect, refract and be transparent in your own thought creation.

Having a briefing on security, the conversation was diverted from the regular rehashing of ethnic groupings and politics. My ears are hearing but my mind is not listening.

Now of a mind to always ask individuals whether they would go get themselves killed simply because of their heritage? History is littered with examples of men going off to do their patriotic duty; history has also brought forward much of this patriotism as the basis of the inequity we now suffer.

When there is no mass emancipation and the capability to have Rights enshrined in respect for the rule of law, we need collective identity. But, examples abound of abhorrent behaviour being practiced because it was socially accepted. Wife beating, women as chattels, child labour all causing heads to shake but all still apparent in different societies. We have come a long way but personal identity is still not universal and individual suffering has risen during the pandemic as figures of domestic violence in virtually all countries testifies with a seeming inability to send a message in stopping this behaviour, see Huge rise in domestic abuse cases being dropped in England

Many will question: Do we have the respect for the rule of law? Do we have respect for each other?

Given events in recent time as people seem to have placed themselves above the law, the social disparities are causing angst for people as individuals across the UK, Europe and North America. Not the traumas of war less than a generation ago, but a sense of what-will-be-will-be pervades many leading to desperation among some -

Britain: deaths of despair once an American phenomenon now haunt Britain

During the briefing, we hear further mass graves have been opened around the Somaliland capital city of Hargeisa; there was an era of mass killing during an already bloody conflict see Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan’s history of the Horn.

In Somaliland, people sense there is no real follow up by international bodies charged with looking at human rights. Human Rights. No faith in things beyond themselves and their communities. It is a continuance of something seen back in 2002 where lip service was paid to (international) justice but nothing, nothing, of significance happened. Somaliland issued an invitation for the accused perpetrator of some of these crimes General Hirsi Morgan — Butcher of Hargeisa — to come and visit Hargeisa any time. He was welcome to fly in and enjoy the welcome essential for someone accused of multiple crimes.

There are a couple of poignant points made and questions asked. Rather than say something non-descript, both the other people in the room laugh. Laugh not in ‘that is a ridiculous point’ way but in the nervous chuckle of someone embarrassed we can talk about death and the lack of emotion it now seems to summon with us. Has this changed with how close so many of us come to death during the Covid-19 pandemic? Think of how the Grenfell Tower fire aftermath seems to have been consumed by political posturing far better than the flames were smothered during the fire itself.

I take the signal and, as the person doing the presentation seeks to move on I ask myself a couple of follow up questions — Why laugh? To cover embarrassment? As a reaction to the inability to think more deeply about the emotional capital invested in being murdered just because you were of this or that ethnic group? Dying because you were to be taken advantage of by landlords turning a profit and government not insisting on exacting standards for the health, safety and wellbeing of people?

The emotional cost of this example is multiplied a million-fold when including all the other ethnic cleansing of Africa’s Great Lakes, former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and now Afghanistan again alongside continuing conflict in Syria and Libya. Talk to the Black Lives Matter movement to show it is not only the classic armed forces but also how we live and act together. Or not together because of segregation in my mind and physically.

More insidious actions are apparent, the seemingly regular school killings of the USA where internal angst, inability to be able vent, leads to explosion of violence — Why?

Because we have not built the collective beyond it being a means to exercise power taking away from people; taking away life itself and traumatising many more in numerous examples.

Gone in so many cases are the positives of collective reciprocity building support and offering opportunity, collectively, to grant individuals the capability to be an individual and define their self within their everyday life while seeking deeper meaning for themselves and the next generation.

When, building links around a room full of some 60 people, as someone complains on being asked to work on a public holiday, the embarrassment in the room, across cultural divides, was palpable. Interesting to see the divides in the reactions by age, by geography. A story is related of how we used vast amounts of cloth making shrouds as we buried hundreds of people dying from neglect as famine gripped southern Somalia just 25 years ago.

The seniors in the room made eye contact, the nods of affirmation were there, we cast our eyes downward and shoulders slumped in quiet recognition of the loses of life surpassing any public holiday. Younger people were wondering what burying hundreds was like, a glaze across their faces not knowing what emotion to show and difficult to get to grips with loss on such a scale. What it means to make the sacrifice of a day toward greater community wellbeing. Even in a place, a culture, where death is not so sanitised as UK, wider Europe, people did not know how to react when bringing up death and how we not just coped but worked with it. Reflected and re-engaged within ourselves to sense and see what others were experiencing.

Perhaps we have sanitised the cycle of life far too much in Europe and North America?

Yes, plenty of exceptions as cultural practices are found celebrating the cycle of life but, in the main, we have become displaced from death. Even the slaughter of the animals becoming the meat on our plates is removed. A survey showed how people could not tell cuts of meat and even some mixed the animal source of some pieces of meat.

The sanitisation of life has led to an inability to appreciate our inner self and how we feel toward life of ourselves, those around us be they people or animals; domesticated or wild.

We are removed from nature.

In a meeting later, we talked again on death and commitment to being purposeful to fulfil meaning in what we do. Again, the embarrassed (or was it nervous?) laughter appeared as we steered away from conversations where we started to look and listen in on the fundamentals of what drives us. It set the thoughts rolling and comes back to points where some have challenged our own cultural upbringing as we are put in extremely stressful situations causing us to confront how situations impact our own personal wellbeing. This will involve both mental and physical health as we can resort to hiding from situations rather than getting past the nervous/embarrassed laughter stage. Talking about how we are because of who we are as individuals. Looking at our mental, emotional and spiritual energy sources and how these are shaped so much by the superficiality of environments we now tend to occupy. Environments possibly dominated by short termism, the here and now over the longer-term building of strong networks, deeper beliefs in what brings meaning to our lives and livelihoods.

The superficiality of social media setting a consciousness driven by mass marketing and selling over relationships of substance?

Are we conditioned by culture and social norms?

Norms constantly being manipulated as our insecurity requires a sense of belonging?

How about trying this process:-

Be alone.

Reflect — Look inside and write down about, or draw pictures or mind maps of, your self — Not yourself but Your Self

Refract — How the inside projects outward to others

Transparency — How the outer influences impact the inner self.

Put it away and return to it at time intervals — a month, every season as trees shed their leaves and the blue in the sky changes to grey. Then again when white fluffy clouds float by and new shoots appear.


Challenge yourself to not be left to right, linear in thinking and expression — Draw, write backwards, start at the bottom and build upward to a goal — A purpose and a meaning.


Change the perspective and sense your wellbeing and how it is changing, being changed, by what factors and how? Listen to others. Watch and sense how others are acting and reacting — with and without their knowledge of your interaction with them.


See through situations, listen, and watch and feel how your conditioning causes you to act and react.

Be open to express yourself on situations where words may fail you but your body language will cause messages to be sent.

Through the physics of light: reflect, refract and transparency, you will experience the capability to transition between states and material situations. Changing, challenging, the inner self, being open inside yourself and opening to a close circle of real friends. Challenging yourself in how you perceive others around you and how we are preconditioning toward wellbeing and mental health.

[1]NHS mental health/psychosis

Psychosis is a mental health problem causing people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.



Paul James Crook

Possibilities in mind, body & spirit opened by being in Fragile States: countries & inside my own head. Exploring one’s self & community Challenging boundaries