“Young People Hearing Voices; Suffering, Inspiration and the Everyday.” – Weekend in Durham

After meeting twice to create artwork in Leeds it was time to meet the project participants from other parts of the north. We gathered in Durham to finish our pieces ready for exhibition. We met in Palace Green Library near Durham Cathedral, which is where our work will be exhibited in November. As with previous workshops the space that the facilitators created felt very safe and relaxed. We had all the art supplies you could dream of, and were also able to discuss how we wished our work to be displayed in the exhibition. Quickly a lot of us became close, and we all felt the palpable sense of having shared experiences with one another. The two days flew by.

Sculptures, posters, paintings, figurines and mixed media images were made as seen below. Now we just wait for November and the exhibition opening!


Thank you so much to the Wellcome Trust and Hearing the Voice for giving time and space to simply be.

The finished pieces and more will be on exhibition from the 5th of November at Palace Green Library, Durham University.

A Creative Workshop for Young People Who Hear Voices and See Visions

I have been on a mission to find other people, particularly young people, who see visions and hear voices like I do. It was while googling for voice hearing and the arts that I came across Hearing the Voice. It just happened that in browsing the site I found that they have been running workshops in order to create an art exhibition called “Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration, and the everyday” at Durham University. They are aiming to create two cases for the exhibition- one of young people’s experiences of voice hearing and vision seeing and another of what young people would like others to know about these experiences. All of this will be portrayed through the arts.

So to Leeds I went and (joyously dodging roadworks) I arrived at Artlink. The two co-ordinators were lovely ladies; Mary Robson (a creative facilitator) and Rai Waddington (who has experience of voice hearing and provides training on the subject). There were also two other young participants and, funnily enough, one had travelled all the way from my home city! The other two girls had also been to the workshop previous but were incredibly welcoming. The group started with a discussion on what hearing voices is like and the unhelpful things people have said to us as voice hearers in the past. The notes speak for themselves.

What really stuck out to me during this discussion was how little people understand us. How we are constantly having to explain ourselves or even defend ourselves. Whether it is an underestimation of our ability, a snide comment or an off hand ‘suggestion’- people’s responses can really hurt. To talk to strangers who experience the same as me was amazing and hearing someone else say that they know what it is like for reality to not make sense at all sometimes was extremely validating. To meet complete strangers yet share such personal experiences is a very powerful thing.

I believe arts can change everything for people with mental health problems and I believe it fiercely. This belief grew when I saw the things people had produced when given the materials. Mary provided everything under the sun you could possibly need in a creative flurry- wooden boxes to decorate, tiny blank faced cloth dolls, sharpies and stencils. We were also given a brown scrapbook each. Later Mary said: “These aren’t just books, they are time and space to create and simply be”. How true that is. The fact that this lovely book had been gifted to me by these lovely people, who know and understand that I’m this misfit person that the arts can soothe, was amazing. So for the next two hours we all worked on our books, drawing and writing poetry about our experiences.

The workshop was amazing. I could have stayed there forever and I cried several times at the pure ‘wow’ of it all. There was chance to talk to the lovely Rai 1:1 and her story is living testament to the fact that people who hear voices can still fly high. I’m likely going to meet with Mary again to turn one of the ideas in my book into a physical piece of art. Everyone in the group is planning to go and see our work at the final exhibition at Durham in September. I’m so glad that I found this project, purely by chance, in time to take part. I am however intensely aware that these opportunities are few and far between and for every person who found the workshops there are many more who did not.

We need more places like this. Places where you can be with people who understand you and who share a common interest in creating. The work we did as a group had an impact on us all and I think the session was a real game changer for me. I feel stronger than ever before that having access to the arts can help people with mental health problems. I am certainly going to find a way to fight for this for everyone who needs it.

Also Published: Upside Down Chronicles

So Called Safe.

Times like this I shouldn’t be here
Its not stopping my stress it’s stemming it
I’ve been helped
alongside the girls who eat tape measures
and the boys who breathe fire.

But as I lie in bed
I’m whispering to my pillow
“The door’s locked.
The door’s locked.
The door’s locked.”
And it’s not OCD talking.

I’m scared because they’ve been kicking the doors in for hours
and we are two members of staff down
and as patients storm the siren screaming doors
the agency blokes don’t know their names
to phone for the police.

We’ve lost three members of staff 
and gained an army of impermanence.
We are 16 beds of vulnerable young people
Yet for nurses balancing the staff ratio has become a craft
The budget cuts are getting deeper
And there’s no one to stop us when we are bleeding.

But what are parents supposed to do?
When Seb is sixteen and suicidal so sent to be safe.
The psychiatrist is supposedly stalling their son’s surge for suicide.
But in a moment Finn throws a fist and Seb’s got stitches.
Seb’s mind must be bad for six stitches to be the safest.
How scary is that?

The ceiling screams when we do,
Staff scatter.
Skin splits.
And sewn on the skin of my teeth
Are slideshows of scenarios
Seen in children’s psychiatric settings.

But we’re safe here. Right?

Borderline

He looked into my eyes and saw the misconnections behind them.
I know in fifteen minutes he will make his chair do an audible creek;
My queue to leave.

I knew I wouldn’t pass this MOT
Just like at eleven I didn’t pass my cycling proficiency
Because I couldn’t see traffic on my left side and the instructor said “pretend”.
He asks me about what I see and I tell him,
I tell him with a knot in my throat about people
How my mind rotates in oxymoron around my spine and he
He
He tells me I’m crazy.
But that, it’s okay, it’s textbook.

It’s a bad sign when your psychiatrist says
“Don’t worry it’s not the one serial killers have”
It’s a bad sign when your head is hitting the wall again and again
And the fuckers put you in a CT scan to check there is still a brain there.
Of course there is.
That’s the problem.

The diagnosis is accept and live with it.
After all that’s the best prognosis anyone could hope for.
I’m living on the edge.
Borderline.

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I Am Exhaled

I started letting things inhale me;
Books, films, documentaries and albums.
They restrained me from thinking for myself.
Entrenched me in the lives of others.
Whether they were humble,
Bewitched
Or powerful.
I was inhaled.

During this time it felt like my own respiration was at a stop.
I no longer took breath as myself.
I hid beneath duvets and learned the ins and outs of fictional character’s lives.
Until I knew them more than I knew myself.
Day turning to night, it kept me safe.

I was deprived.
I needed air.
My lungs like crumpled paper bags trying to inflate.
My feet pounding the fields and my heart ricochetting in its cage,
In an effort to self-resuscitate.
And then I could feel it,
Pounding in my ears and burning through my veins.

I’m running.
It’s behind.
I’m sprinting.
To the boundaries undefined.
I fall.
My lap is un-timed.

There it sits,
Over my senses like a mask.
Forcing the air into me.
Whether I want it or not.

The colours are bright and the smell embraces,
The petals kiss my hands and the herbs rub against my fingers like affectionate kittens.
I flop back on the grass and admire the nothing above me.
And how beautiful simple nothing can be.
And how lucky I am to have found it.

I can move.
I spin and walk and make my fingers dance on the surface of the pond.
I carefully stroke the baby apple tree and I can feel it respire between my index finger and thumb.

And then I had broken free.
And I was exhaled.

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