Bad Plant Mama

My colleagues got me a fancy Magma sketchbook for my birthday, and I've been filling its pages with some speed. It's a revelation to me how quick sketching is compared to the labour of love that is embroidery.

I've been feeling a little glum this past week. First and foremost, I hold the weather responsible; it has been grey and drizzly most of the time.

A symptom of depression which I didn't expect and which I didn't experience before I entered the world of work was feeling constantly tired. It is increasingly difficult to get up in the morning; the thought that gets me through the day is the possibility of sleep soon.

There are other side effects; over the last few weeks my bedroom became what I can only describe as a "depression pit". It got to the stage where I knew there were things I needed to use in there somewhere, but where they were was another question, as was summoning the energy to find out. I didn't want to see friends (especially of an evening, when doing so would take me away from the bed base camp), yet felt intensely lonely.

This was by no means a very serious depression, only impinging slightly on my life, but I thought it was best to be mindful and act. I took a duvet day on Thursday, went back to bed for an hour or so, then tackled the detritus of my room, and felt considerably better.

My plants don't seem to be enjoying the dark days either; several are rather droopy. To turn this on its head and avoid depression-exacerbated feelings of guilt and inadequacy as a #plantmama, I did a little drawing in my sketchbook.

I might do a series of related drawings; this one could be a good fit for several zines in the works. For now though, it's back to embroidery.

Self Care Series

My brother got me Posca Pens for my birthday and I got straight to work with them.

The first little sketch I completed was an idea to be embroidered and eventually wind up as a t shirt design. I may still do this, but with Valentine's Day coming up, I began to think of other ways that you can show yourself a little love (I fully intend to buy myself some roses and eat something heart-shaped on Valentine's Day, by the way).

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It's so easy to be a workaholic or put all your time, energy and love into relationships with others. It's so easy to not extend that care to yourself. This series is a little riposte to that. I might make a slightly personal collage/illustrative/stitched zine featuring the series called "Quiet Enjoyment" after a covenant of tenancy which tickled my fancy... I'm collecting unusual phrases and intriguing etymologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting In The Light

I very much wanted to write a post for International Women's Day, but was at a bit of a loss until I was mentioned in a lovely tweet by my friends over at Daily Life Ltd.
This decided it for me; my International Women's Day blog post will be dedicated to the women I share the stage with at Daily Life Ltd's light box installation in the square outside Stratford Library, Letting In The Light, which is on until the end of the month if you fancy taking it in (it's worth it; these photographs don't do the scale or the luminance anywhere near justice).

I have to start with Bobby Baker, of course. Several of her diary drawings, completed between 1997 - 2008 and began while she was a day patient at a mental health centre.

This illuminated illustration particularly spoke to me. It's called The Daily Stream of Life, and features Bobby's mind as a river through which life flows, and she in life, sometimes in a rowing boat, sometimes in a canoe, sometimes in a fancier vessel altogether.

After a brief blip in my mental health due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, I feel I am bouncing back to a place where I can leisurely row along on the river of life, enjoying taking in the scenery and getting fresh air as I go.

Liz Atkin is an artist, advocate and speaker who raises awareness of, and promotes recovery from, compulsive skin picking through her art. The work featured in Letting In The Light, Lavish, transforms an illness which dominated Liz's life for more than twenty years into something really quite beautiful.


My favourite piece in the exhibition involved one of my very favourite things; word play.

By Jane McCormick, the piece has a back story that is well worth reading.
Bats in the belfry

An honorary mention goes to male artist (gasp!) Anthony Woods who created a joyous ode to fashion icon Iris Apfel:

My piece is in great company:


I couldn't resist a quick selfie with my work. It was rather wind and rain swept as you may be able to tell; apologies for the quality of all the photos.


Letting In The Light is well worth the trip to a slightly unassuming corner of East London; brighten up your evening, and discover the truth behind Groucho Marx's quip, "Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light".


Abnormal Feeling of Wellbeing

I have a huge backlog of blog posts to get through, and so I thought I would begin with a new project I am undertaking. Abnormal Feeling of Wellbeing is a lighthearted body of work about serious mental illness. Consisting of lists and mantras, illustrated infamous quotations on and historical allusions to the mind and observations on the absurdity of everyday life, it takes its title from a listed possible side effect of the antipsychotic drug Olanzapine. Reading this, it struck me that an abnormal feeling of wellbeing was precisely what I was aiming for, giving that I had been feeling abnormally unwell for half my life by that point.
The resulting works expand the notion of side effects and are hand embroidered on to vintage linens, overbearingly florid, so lovely as to be abject, naive and intricate. They are comprised of skewed self portraits and acrobatic word play, always looking at the power implicit in language; how language signifies sickness without spelling it out and can at other times imprison, but ultimately, when put into the hands of the marginalised rather than decreed to them, liberates.  

The piece below is a playful allusion to the phrase "she wouldn't say boo to a goose". 


This piece, List of Possible Side Effects, explores the other, less discussed, unusual side effects of Olanzapine; the sensation of "Walking through treacle", "Reduced dreaming" and "Unexpectedly finding oneself near cake", rounded off with the very bizarre side effect I read on that Olanzapine pamphlet. I "cheated" somewhat with this piece, as a very talented embroiderer of yesteryear has worked some incredible stem and satin stitch on to the cotton. All that was left for me to do was embroider the text in variegated blue thread, and bullet point each side effect with red gems anchored with pink beads, to pick up the tones in the roses.





Freudian Slipstitch is the third in the series, and is currently under construction, ready for its protagonist to be placed in the scene. After that, perhaps a series of handkerchiefs. Onwards and upwards!


Pantone 4545

Apologies for the radio silence. I'm in a bit of a slump; too worn out to write. Too worn out to do much of anything; I have lots of ideas but no energy to put them into practice.

Luckily it's only thirteen days until I'm off to Scandinavia for what feels like a very necessary holiday (the number of days to count down feels most portentous!)

I have been able to do a little cutting and sticking in my visual diary, however; the cheat's route to creativity. There are some old drawings of mine (the first two pages) and some new ones by my friend Kat which she illustrated my birthday present wrappings with (the last two pages).

"Broken but happy" was the result I was given from one of those silly Facebook analyser/fortune teller apps which supposedly compromise your online security. It feels apt; I am a relentlessly optimistic depressive, at least, if an exhausted one. The Pantone postcard which is its neighbour, with its fetching shade of vomit blancmange, encapsulates depression for me; all is acrid and beige, the tumble weeds roll past your window, we're in Kansas forever more Toto, and there will never be any colour.

That being said, as an optimist, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am seeing a very kind and incisive CBT therapist and trying to get on with things as best I can. I think I need a big yet reachable goal to work towards to give me a sense of purpose/calling. My big goal for 2016 was to have a solo exhibition, but that feels almost unimaginable at present. Perhaps a few months down the line things will be looking a bit brighter. Here's hoping!





Pining Potion


I must admit, with the end of 2015 rapidly approaching, I am looking forward to having my Sundays back. Not because I have better things to do with them than create #secretsofselfpreservation potions, but because I'm itching to get started with a new project (or projects). More on that later, but in that spirit (sort of), this week's potion is named Pining Potion; that is, if you can pine for something which will occur in the future?

The diary element this week is a sprig of needles from our obliging Christmas tree which has not yet been brought in from the garden; I helped decorate Pip's yesterday whilst we listened to Carols from King's. 

Different types of strength have come up in conversation a few times this week; in the context of brains Vs brawn, stereotypical gender roles, youthful machismo Vs mature responsibility. So this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Strength and softness are not mutually exclusive." Something I think very much applies to me, and all of us.


Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.


Owning Your Okness Potion

Perhaps my biggest flaw is my lack of willingness to compromise. I like things the way I like them, and I have a tendency to be all or nothing; if things are almost perfect, but not quite, I'm prone to pack it all in. At my worst I remind myself of the titular character from Kissing Jessica Stein; so terrified of things not being Perfect that she misses out on things being Quite Good.

I have particularly been feeling this way lately, but if I think about it I must concede that things actually are Quite Good. "Perfection is unattainable", as I embroidered on to ribbon for this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion. I really want to remember that, and not judge myself so harshly, or at all, for not reaching the impossible.

As the ingredients to go alongside this mantra, I have included 25p, simply because after our date yesterday my lovely boyfriend treated me to a rabbit themed mug for that price when we wandered into the local Sally Army. I'm nuts for bunnies, my favourite mug he got me some years ago tragically broke, and it was the kind of tiny gesture which makes me very happy.

Our date was a trip to the Bob and Roberta Smith exhibition at the William Morris Gallery followed by coffee and cake. I have borrowed from Bob and Roberta's visual vocabulary, using a colour combination and font for the mantra which he frequently uses in his signs and placards.

The potion's title is Owning Your Okness Potion, a reference to a Simpsons episode in which Homer reads a pamphlet by that name.






 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.





O.K. O.J. Potion


I'm not very good at living in the moment. I have a very noisy and often unhelpful mind that, when I am trying to concentrate on doing the task at hand to the best of my ability, has a tendency to say "Remember when you were doing [completely unrelated thing] and failed utterly at it?" or agonise over whether I will be up to doing the task at hand next week, or fixate on the seeming improbability of ever moving out of my parents' house. Welcome, my friends, to pervasive anxiety.

So, I would like to live in the moment a little more, and in the rare instances when I am able to, it is sheer bliss. It was that way during the two sessions of paper-making I led with young people at work over the past couple of weeks. I was completely invested and engrossed in introducing the young people to a new and creative experience, and buoyed up by their enthusiasm. Fingers crossed there will be similar results next time I lead a creative activity with them!

That's why this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Be present." Not letting it all pass me by in a tangle of worry.


Some of the paper I made is included too, embedded with sequins and sparkling thread.





The potion's title is "O.K. O.J. Potion" as the bottle is a relic from the Sixties when orange drink was delivered in glass bottles direct to door alongside pints of milk. From the way it is described, I would guess this "orange drink" was full of E numbers rather than being a more wholesome orange juice, but it still has a perkiness about it that speaks of hope and fresh beginnings. The drink was marketed under the name SuKie SunKap, with a little cartoon orange lady, which is about as perky as you can get. It reminds me to savour the moment and the little things, such as simply really enjoying a glass of juice first thing in the morning.





Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Graft Draught Potion

I am beginning to feel more hopeful about my future. It seems that whenever I'm beginning to feel a lull in my freelance arts work, I get contacted about a fantastic opportunity, and that's without seeking them out myself, which I am beginning to do more of. My "night job" may not be paying the bills yet, but I feel immensely privileged to be able to earn some money doing what I love.

The lull also allowed me some time to work on personal projects, which has been great fun. However industrious the week has been, though, I always round it off with a #secretsofselfpreservation potion. Last week, prompted by fortune cookies handed out at the end of my aunt's 50th birthday celebrations on Sunday, I was reminded of my favourite cookie fortune; "The harder you work, the luckier you will get".

So Week Forty Four's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Spit, polish and elbow grease gets things done." A reminder to work hard, accompanied by a feather from my Halloween costume (I was Tippi Hedren in The Birds) as a reminder to also let my hair down from time to time.




Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Drawing Strength Potion

 This week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion follows on from thoughts last week. I am still drawing, sketching every other day, and finding I am not as hopeless at it as I thought (although perhaps still slightly hopeless... practise makes better!)

I am doubting myself ever so slightly less than I have done of late. So, the stitching this week reads "Have more faith in your abilities". This applies to every area of life; work; friendships; juggling swords. My dyspraxia aside, I feel more comfortable in my own skin, more sure of myself, and more ready to try doing the things I feel trepidatious about, but I know either must be done or I desperately want to do. The peachy pencil represents conquering my fears and proving myself to the only person I need to prove myself to; me.





Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Dumpling Days Potion

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that food looms large in my life. This time of year heralds plentiful supply of my favourite food group; stodge. Realising this always reminds me of an idyllic autumn afternoon I spent with my Mum in Epping Forest, hunting for fungus and crunching the fallen leaves. I mentioned that the change of the seasons augured the cooking of my favourite stodge, stew and dumplings (mentioned in the previous post). "Yes" my mother said; "It definitely feels like a dumpling day."




It is now that time of year once more; dumpling days are here again. Hence this week's potion is named Dumpling Days Potion; my particular brand of salad days.


This week's diaristic element is a scrap from one of Daily Life Ltd's illustrated coasters (don't worry, I have several) which succinctly expresses my views on dumplings. The embroidered words on the autumnal ribbon may seem unrelated, but as I mentioned in last week's potion post, I am feeling much brighter than I have of late over the past few weeks. So the embroidery reads "Yes you can", which is not particularly meant as an Obama reference, more a simple and impactful affirmation for me to always bear in mind, and a reminder for you, too, should you need it.


Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

World Mental Health Day: Thoughts on the Dragon Cafe and Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings

In the run up to World Mental Health Day, I have been reflecting on my visit on Monday to the most extraordinary place. The Dragon Cafe is the UK's first mental health cafe, "a relaxing cafe and imaginative space, open to all." They certainly got the relaxing part right. It immediately put me on a level playing field, where I could be open about myself without judgement, and have a laugh with the like-minded. Perhaps surprisingly to the uninitiated, the Cafe was a hive of activity; Tai-Chi, gardening, filming of conversations about "re-covered" chairs, dance, and a workshop with the wonderful Daily Life Ltd (and more) featured in the few hours I was there. The food was delicious and the volunteers big-hearted. I spent my time drawing a big bowl of stew and dumplings, to explore cultural identity and heritage through sharing an illustrated feast on a white paper tablecloth with many others at Daily Life's workshop. The conversations were as warming as the satisfying stodge I drew on the paper.



My rather paltry (and unfinished) offerings to the table, alongside more delectable dishes


I spent several blissed out hours nattering away with Daily Life, until it was time for a "one-man play" which gave voice to one of the re-upholstered chairs. Referencing everyone from Blake to Bob Marley, the wordsmith's generous spirit was infectious, and he received riotous applause and laughter.

Bobby Baker of Daily Life Ltd, who I am beginning to think of as a punk rock fairy godmother, gave an illuminating talk on the Diary Drawings she drew first daily, then weekly, whilst a patient at a mental health day hospital. 

I had more than one moment of something more than empathy whilst listening to Bobby and looking at her drawings. Recognition; realisation that I wasn't the only one, that I perhaps wasn't as singularly and hopelessly mad as I had previously thought.


Two of Bobby's Diary Drawings; one portraying her time of weeping tidal waves of tears (another thing we have in common) and another asking how many hats can one woman wear?


Two drawings in particular led to this realisation; the first a drawing of Bobby's skin lifting away from her face like a mask, to reveal a demonic skull beneath. Bobby had shown this drawing to a mental health professional to try to explain her desperation; to seek help. It had not had the expected effect. The mental health professional asked for a copy. "I know a lot of people who feel like this" he said.

The second was perhaps more distressing. A distraught Bobby wept blood from her eyes, mouth and nose. Blood was something she had hallucinated frequently during her illness, she told us.

Aside from my immediate family and medical professionals, I have never (up 'til now) told anyone that I hallucinated blood when I was ill. Buckets of the stuff. Everywhere. I won't go into particularly grisly details, but suffice to say, it was not unlike the lift scene in The Shining. For someone who faints during blood tests and once had to go and lie down in a darkened room after reading a passage in The Bell Jar about self harm, it wasn't the most pleasant experience.

Bobby may feel she had her public "outing" via her Diary Drawings thrust upon her, but she could have said no. And as her son gruffly said when she consulted him about the matter, "It's got to be done, Mum." Showing the world at large how monstrous you feel beneath your exterior, exposing that vulnerability, is an act of extreme bravery. But we are not in fact monstrous. We have had monstrous things happen to us.

That's why I wanted to write about my psychotic symptoms (the hallucinations, the delusions) today. Because, aside from the occasional slight whiff of stiff-upper-lip-pull-up-your-bootstraps-ism when I am open about anxiety and depression, I do feel that society at large is beginning to understand and accept these illnesses. But mention that you have heard or seen things that others don't, or have had, as the mental health literature politely puts it, "unusual beliefs", and be prepared to brace yourself for the reaction.

If you have these symptoms, you have crossed over from being "run-down", from "having a lot on", from being "sensitive" or "over-tired" or "angsty". Congratulations, you are 100% genuine, prime cut bonkers. Even up to the middle of the last century, schizophrenia was classed as a degenerative illness, and this stigma still looms spectrally in the background. What comes into your mind when you read the word schizophrenic or psychotic? An unkempt vagrant moving erratically and mumbling to themselves? I would hope by this point we have moved beyond the facile stereotypes of mad axe murderers, although as recently as 2013 supermarkets were peddling "mental patient Halloween costumes" at this time of year.

How about a young woman with a first class honours degree, holding down a job, taking on self employed work, in a committed relationship and surrounded by friends, family, and love? Or an artist with a thirty year career, director of an Arts Council national portfolio organisation, who tours and exhibits internationally is one of the most patient and generous souls you could ever meet, and similarly has a whole host of family and friends who cherish her?

I'll admit, as Bobby said of herself, I am incredibly, incredibly lucky. Not everyone has back-up; people who love them and will fight for them. Which is why it is so important that we all fight for them. For all of us who have been touched by mental illness. Because there is no them and us; there's only us.

Please allow me, if it won't ring the alarm bells that I'm having one of my "funny turns", the liberty to see into the future. I can see a day, and it's not too far off, when the stigma is gone. When we have killed the most insidious and inextricably woven in part of mental illness; stigma, the real monster.

Agency Potion


For the first time in over a month, I'm feeling (somewhat) in control of my life and (somewhat) positive about the future. I am moving towards accepting that I am an artist and a millenial and that consequently it's never going to be easy.

This meant that last week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion was a no-brainer. A tutor of mine once described me as being "a bit of a free spirit", which, as a person for whom the phrase "highly strung" would be a polite way of putting it, I found hilarious. But I must concede that going with the flow a bit more would be good for me, and so last week's potion reads "Being mistress of your own destiny is nothing to fear."



Inside the potion bottle is a smaller potion bottle filled with coffee, for reasons best left to myself and my future therapist.

The potion's name, Agency Potion (as in self-determination) is written on the back of my business card, which I like to think of as a metaphorical passport to my future.





 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Fortitude Potion

One of my favourite young artists, Caitlin Hazell, once scribbled an illustration which read "I'm sad because I'm not Kate Bush". I'm sad at the moment, but I thought that Kate Bush might help rather than making me sadder still.

Therefore, this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion borrows (or do "great" artists steal?) a line from one of her most beautiful songs, This Woman's Work; "I know you've got a lot of strength left." Because I do, despite what even I may believe. I have been in this place before, and I have come out the other side. I will be happy and healthy again, and I will work at it until I am.

Accompanying the words is a tiny LED light, which I thought made a good metaphor for a kernel of hope. It was gifted to me by a lovely lady at a workshop I was involved in at the weekend. More on that later, possibly. 

The concoction is named Fortitude Potion. Fortitude, I am told, is defined as strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage. It might seem a little contradictory to be talking about strength of mind when in fact my mind is so vulnerable. But buried deep inside me is a stubbornness that won't let me give in. That wills me to keep going, like Sylvia Plath's "I am, I am, I am." A little lightbulb, if you will.








 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.





I Get By Potion

I've been struggling lately. And what is the most important thing to do when you're struggling (other than admit it)? Ask for help. Call in the cavalry, get all the help you can get to get back on the ball.

That is what I have been trying to do, and that is why last week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "It's ok to ask for help."

I didn't want to include any of the help-getting paperwork in the bottle as I'm feeling so wobbly, so, as last week was eating-out heavy, I included the business card for a lovely local restaurant, Orford Saloon.

"I Get By" is a Beatles reference of course, but also an allusion to the fact that sometimes simply getting by is the best we can hope for.










Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Give It A Whirl Potion

It may surprise some people who know me well, but I would primarily consider myself an optimist. An optimist who more often than not takes bad news very badly, but a hopeful person who tends to bounce back in the end nonetheless.

Lately I have been coming to the conclusion that I need to take the matter of my future into my hands; really give it some welly to make good things happen. Prestigious residency? Apply for it! A gallery starts favouriting your tweets? Get in touch about an exhibition!


I will be knocked back, but I have been before, and I have bounced back in the end. So, this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "But you must try, try and try, try and try"; a reminder that good things won't just fall into my lap; I have to work for them.



These are also lyrics pinched from Jimmy Cliff's song You Can Get It If You Really Want, a little cheery tune about persevering and succeeding "at last".


Back in April I spent an enjoyable day at Steakhouse live art festival. Amongst many hilarious and poignant works, the culminating performance by Marcia Farquhar really stood out. Marcia gave us her autobiography, illustrated (or soundtracked) with records. She finished up playing You Can Get It If You Really Want and The Rolling Stones's You Can't Always Get What You Want back to back, and those two contradictory songs seemed to sum up something of what it means to be human. Life never turns out how you think it will, but that's no reason to give up on it. Since the performance, I often find the songs playing in my head.


Yesterday, too, was a very musical day; I was at Visions Festival with my boyfriend, and we sang along to Jens Lekman and twirled to Camera Obscura. Thus, it seems apt that the name of this potion is Give It A Whirl Potion (though Pip lamented that he did not, in fact, whirl me around enough last night). I have included my wristband from the festival in the potion bottle as a memento of a week of letting my hair down (if indeed I had enough hair to let down!); fine dining and cocktails in the sunshine aplenty! I guess I'm gearing up for mine and Pip's holiday in Glasgow at the end of the week.


 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.



Roving Diagnostic Unit

A few weekends ago I was asked by Daily Life Ltd to be an "expert" part of their Roving Diagnostic Unit at Shuffle festival. The plan was simple, though baffling to a number of people I explained it to before and after the event; use the language of the DSMIV to diagnose selected elements of the cemetery park where the festival is held.

The DSMIV, or Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders 5, is a means of categorising the mentally ill. 

The DSMIV encompasses everything from "schizotypal personality disorder", (which I was once told by a medical professional I "probably had") characterised by eccentric dress and behaviour (otherwise known as being an interesting person), to the recently adopted "emotionally unstable personality disorder", which I consider one of the most abhorrent labels you can give a distressed human being. 

In earlier incarnations, the DSMI categorised homosexuality as not only "deviance" but mental illness, and made a distinction between psychosis and neurosis and never the twain shall meet (I am living proof that the two are inextricably interwoven).

As we began to diagnose the bins, benches and ponds of the cemetery park, the biased, arbitrary, reductive nature of the DSMIV became more and more apparent. How can an effective diagnosis be made after spending only a few minutes with a patient? What are the ethical implications of standing around talking about a subject who cannot talk back? Bobby Baker, leader of our troupe of "experts", related this to her own experiences of being on a ward round, unable to speak for herself as twenty medical professionals "observed" her. I was reminded of my own experience of being incredibly distressed, half dressed in my untidy bedroom, whilst medical professionals invaded this most personal of spaces "for my own good".

The tours of the cemetery park our merry band made revealed further categorisations which had little to do with the DSMIV; the bench and bin, man-made objects, were broadly categorised as deeply troubled, whereas the pond, though overgrown and unkempt, was diagnosed as working its way through its troubles, and the tree, splitting off in many directions (dissociative identity disorder?), was generally felt to be coping and developing its personality normally.

This speaks of a tendency to idolise that which is "natural" over that which is "artifical", which is seen in everything from the #eatclean Instagram craze to unfortunate conversations I have had where I have been asked if I am "dependent" on the psychiatric medication which, you know, keeps me alive (I wonder if the people who asked would ask the same of a diabetic who takes insulin?) This in turn reminds me of the hysterics I was in when I read in the leaflet that comes with my anti-psychotic medication that it may lead to an "abnormal feeling of wellbeing"; an abnormal feeling of wellbeing was kind of what I was going for, given that my "natural" state leaves me feeling like I can't go on.

It is always so refreshing being with Daily Life and the people they bring together; knowing you can give an honest answer to the question "How are you?" Knowing you are amongst people who have had the same experiences and won't treat you with kid gloves or from a safe distance "for detonation".

I eagerly anticipate the development of this project; Viva La Roving Diagnostic Unit!










Stigma Smashing Potion

Earlier this week I was talking to some people I think of as fairly broad minded. I mentioned a mental health issue because it was relevant to the conversation, and something remarkable happened; there was a sharp intake of breath. It shocked me. Safely ensconced in the bubble of my network of likeminded (in oh so many more ways than one!) people, I forgot the "us and them" mentality of the man or woman on the street; the dichotomy of "we are well, happy and safe - they are mentally ill and dangerous" which fab mental health awareness campaign Only Us wants to dismantle.

There is also something of a hierarchy of mental illness, with depression and anxiety the "acceptable" bottom (the common cold of mental illness, I like to call them) and hearing voices and unusual thoughts and beliefs at the "unacceptable, dangerous" top.

As someone who has rather run the gauntlet of mental health and come out both stronger and more cynical about society's opinions on the matter, I stitched the phrase "Being your authentic self is a revolutionary act" for this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion. But it's not just about blowing my own trumpet; I really believe that anyone being their authentic self is revolutionary. How often in our day to day lives, when asked how we are by a colleague or acquaintance, respond "Fine, thanks", when we are anything but? Or indeed, when we are brimming over with joy.

It's almost as if emotion itself is to be policed, and if it tips too far over into negative or positive, it too is "unacceptable".

I had a conversation with a friend the other week in which we both agreed that learning to accept the fact that we were emotional people was probably a good thing. Better to be emotional and irrational than a scary robot!

This fear of emotion is of course also sexist; the centuries-old binary of man/woman = rational/emotional. This leads to internalised misogyny which I know I myself am guilty of.

I was afforded a professional opportunity to be my authentic self last week, and I was a little shocked when good came from it. But thinking about it, people warm to people who are palpably human; who have perceived "flaws" and are honest about who they are.

To accompany the stitched words, inside the potion bottle I added cut up phrases from the "Wellness and Recovery Plan" I was given by a mental health practitioner when recovering from a period of serious illness. This plan was never mentioned again, and reading it back, the idea that a bubble bath can stop you sliding into paranoia and psychosis is slightly laughable. But the intentions are good, and so I picked a few phrases which seemed pertinent to include; "Ambitions and dreams", "When things are breaking down", and "What I am like when I am well".

The potion is entitled "Stigma Smashing Potion", which is just what I intend to do.







Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Basket Unweaving



I've had what could best be described as "a funny old week". My Twitter, if it didn't blow up, certainly had a very tiny controlled explosion, resulting in being approached for commissions and sales, which is always lovely. I haven't made the best use of Twitter in the past, but I'm certainly making up for that now, and all in all I think I've had a bit of a social media overload. Pip was away, and on Thursday, when I had the polling station, a double bill of performance curated by Daily Life Ltd, and First Aid Training to get to, I, rather embarrassingly, became the practical demonstration at said training. I'm not even good with descriptions of blood, and felt so fragile and rotten that I didn't make it to the performances that evening. Just before I went to bed the possibility of a Tory majority government was beginning to look likely, and I had a terrible tension headache from my visceral reaction to mentions of blood.

On Friday morning I felt hungover and funereal with the election result. I think I'm not the only one who's still in a certain amount of shock. 

Thank goodness, then, that I had a second Daily Life Ltd ticket for their cabaret evening on Friday. I was late and flustered to the event, but within two minutes of walking through the door, I felt better.

Poets associated with F.E.E.L. (Friends of East End Loonies) performed a rollicking variety of texts, from the elegiac to the ethereal to the positively zinging with all the "madness" of life. Listening to them made me want to get up in front of a microphone again, which I haven't done since I was fourteen.

Dylan Tighe performed wondrously crafted songs interwoven with looped 80s keyboards, with words both poetic and realist.

But the two highlights for me were Simon Raven's "basket unweaving", a witty riposte to the busymaking distractions of  mental hospital mandated "art therapy", and Bobby Baker's Ballistic Buns

Bobby told us the story of her grandfather and grandmother, extraordinary individuals who met in the early twentieth century. Her grandfather, a "senior angler" or Oxbridge mathematics superboffin to you and I, was tasked with creating the British answer to "Big Bertha", an enormous mortar gun used by German forces in World War One. He never forgave himself for the devastation his engineering engendered. Her grandmother was from a wealthy background, hardly ate a thing, but, much like Bobby, loved feeding people.

One of Bobby's abiding memories of her grandmother was of sitting at the dinner table, when her granny would suddenly shriek, "Catch!" and pelt rock hard home baked buns at Bobby and her siblings.

As Bobby was a tomboy (believe it or not, so was I at the age of ten), her favourite film of the time was Dam Busters.

Thus, in homage to both her grandparents, whilst footage from Dam Busters scored by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played, Bobby pelted her captive audience with (mercifully soft) Madagascan vanilla buns. And, as Bobby demonstrated her pitcher's arm in a curiously balletic style, all the tension which had been building up in me over the course of the week bubbled up and overflowed into uncontrollable belly laughs. The laughter, as Alice of Daily Life put it, of jouissance. Just what the doctor ordered.

It made me think, as I have often privately thought before, that it's ok to be a bit mad. But here was collective, joyous, jouissance madness.

I felt buoyed up, and all these thoughts have led to the embroidered words of this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion; "Raise each other up."

I refuse to despair in the face of another five years of Austerity Britain. I refuse to silently seethe, to grow complacent or apathetic. I won't stop working, however much arts funding is squeezed, however much the rug is pulled out from under vulnerable people. I will do my bit.

I wasn't quite sure what diaristic elements to include alongside the words, so Pip had the excellent idea including collage elements of the stack of Labour party literature he'd accumulated. I simply cut out the words and phrases which seemed most pertinent.







Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Expert Advisory Day

Today I had arranged to go to Chinatown with some friends, but they cancelled (due to perfectly valid reasons). However, nothing can come between me and dim sum, so I went by myself. It may not seem like much, but I felt like it was an important step, and demonstrates just how comfortable in my own company nowadays; there have been times in my life when I haven't been able to go out at all. There have been other times when I have gone to a restaurant and embarrassed my significant other by wolfing down my food and hightailing out of there, so convinced in my paranoia that other diners and staff were watching and talking about me, and could somehow tell there was something wrong with me just by looking.

Today I spilt half a cup of tea on the tablecloth, mopped it up with a napkin, and thought no more of it. And yes, that does feel like an important step.

I have been thinking a lot about mental health this week, as well as food. On Monday I went to an "expert advisory day" organised by the delectable Daily Life Ltd. Daily Life is an arts and mental health organisation collaborating with, and co-producing the work of, individuals and artists with experience of mental distress. Daily Life is headed by Bobby Baker, an artist about whom Nigel Slater said "I would go without food for a week just to get a ticket for her next show". I'm inclined to agree with him. I have been lucky enough to have been invited along to a couple of Daily Life events since first seeing Bobby and Co. present Mad Gyms and Kitchens back in 2012. I have written about the Experts By Experience workshop, run in collaboration with Jake Spicer of Draw Brighton here, and the resulting exhibition, The Expert View (in which a teeny weepy drawing by yours truly featured), here.

The purpose of the expert advisory day was for Daily Life to bring us up to speed on their activities and ambitions, to discuss language and the media around mental health, strategies around being a mentally ill artist and getting work out there, quality control in disability arts, and finally to share our work with likeminded (obviously in more ways than one!) peers.

It didn't take long for my blood to boil. This was brought on by our discussion around representation in the media. I was glad to hear that Bobby, as well as many of the other artists and activists present, feel a sense of disparity between all that we can offer as people with varied and unique life experiences (which often lead to us having a greater sense of empathy and social justice, as well as providing a rich seam of strikingly original ideas and creativity), and media and political portrayals of "the mentally ill" as "burdens", or, as I put it, "the great unwashed".

I doubt many people, on first meeting me, would be able to tell I have a mental illness (well, if they didn't take the bright clothes and pom pom earrings at face value, anyhow!) I'm bubbly, upbeat, friendly, and at first glance, confident. Not society's view of people who have had some of the life experiences I have; I rather suspect the tabloid press would instead expect me to be blithering in a corner.

It's almost as if the attitude to disabled people in general is that we are a problem to be solved, and, in extreme cases, that we originated the source of that problem ourselves. This is the medical model of disability. The social model is that society should accommodate the so-called "disabled", and give them every opportunity to not be a burden and instead make the most of their abilities; to contribute.

I mentioned sitcoms such as the pervasive Big Bang Theory, in which characters fairly regularly "accuse" each other of "acting totally psychotic". So often I have wished I could tell the writers of these shows that the word they are searching for is "psychopathic", and that they probably don't mean that their characters are being talked at by the washing machine (true story).



Misuse of language is not restricted to low-brow entertainment, either; in academic texts, slippery and changeable literature is sometimes referred to as "schizophrenic". The words these writers are searching for are "dissociative identity disorder". They are rather making the same mistake as Celtic fans did when they learned one of the team's players was schizophrenic and began chanting "Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams" at matches.

Luckily, despite our ranting and the odd #crazypersonproblems joke, we were there to talk about the work. Bobby shared with us the history of her career, struggles and triumphs as an artist, with her trademark warmth and generosity. Aidan Moseby presented his linguistic and empathetic ingenuity. It was fabulous to meet Jacqui Dillon, chair of the Hearing Voices Network, to know that there are so many people out there like me, we're not completely abnormal, and there is peer support for us. James, aka thevaccuumcleaner, talked about his deceptively simple utopic asylum project Mad Love, and his upcoming performance of his one-man show, Mental, in Sigmund Freud's bedroom, which I am so excited about.

Next week, on Thursday the 7th (election day!) and Friday 8th May, Daily Life Ltd are presenting their first micro festival. The Expert View brings together the work of Bobby and Daily Life and a whole host of artists, organisations and activists. These include Selina Thompson, who makes big-hearted, challenging, participatory performance art I could watch again and again, Jacqui of the Hearing Voices Network talking about her work in more detail (which unfortunately I won't be around for, but you should hear Jacqui speak if you can), and oh so many more. I'm gutted I can't get around to see it all, it's such an exciting prospect. Perhaps converse to your expectation of an arts and mental health festival, I guarantee that you will leave feeling elated. I always do when I spend time in the presence of these wonderful people. They are the future, and I am more than up for the ride there.