C.K. “A typical NEETS”

I am lazy, obese, uncooperative, irresponsible, a typical workshy NEETS (Not in Employment Education Training or Studying).  I am sure that’s what my GP thinks.  He won’t consider looking at my mental health until I comply and take medication for an underactive thyroid.   Like most adults he doesn’t listen and I don’t trust the medical profession anyway because I believe they are to blame I became orphaned at 18.

I will always remember the night before saying to her “you want me to be a girly girl like Hannah Montana but I am more a tomboy like Lily” and she smiled, she looked happy.  My mum was funny.  She smoked a fair bit but drank rarely.  She always wanted me to tickle and massage her feet.  My dad always blamed me if something went wrong and she wouldn’t argue with him, she would just calmly stick up for me. I think she had been a grave digger at one point.  She loved the Bay City Rollers and Priscilla Queen of the desert.

I woke up to the sound of my half-brother screaming my mums’ name.  She had complained to the doctors that she had pins and needles down one side and they did lots of test and scans but I don’t think they took it seriously.  She had a brain haemorrhage at 5am in the morning in the bathroom in front of the sink.  We waited for the ambulance and for dad to return from work, and we just knew that nothing was ever going to be OK.  I don’t really know what happened after that.  Mum was my safety and now it was all gone one November day.

All these people coming round saying I am so sorry, staying for a bit and then leaving again.  I was in a terrible state, everything bubbled up.   I just remember sitting there numb, staring into empty space.  I remember constantly having these vivid dreams my mum coming back to live again, then not knowing where she worry when she would die again. It’s been nearly 10 years now and not much has changed.

My dad was a lot different afterwards.  We all were. He pottered on but drank a lot more.  He already had an operation for throat cancer but then it came back with other cancers.  He died within a couple of weeks of diagnosis and I don’t know who was there when he died.  I went to see him but I couldn’t say goodbye to him.  Later I went into my bedroom and I scraped my wrist for ages, it was just a way of bringing me back to reality and help me deal with my anger and sadness. The scar reminds me that whatever I am going through now can’t possibly be as bad as then.

To me, life is an endless stream of dealing with loss.  Yes, endless: I had a 50/50 chance of surviving at birth, then my jealous half-sister put a pillow over my face when I was a few months old, my step-brother sexually molested me when I was 3 until my early teens, my mother died when I was 15 and my dad four years later but it didn’t stop there, my auntie, my cat.  I know it sounds silly but the reason why I got the cat was to help me cope, and it died too of anti-freeze poisoning.

Shortly after that I started to attend Arty-Folks with a friend.  I was living at the YMCA and I had made some good friends by then.  Since then, I think I have been doing alright-ish, considering.  I might have to get used to living with these feelings but I can’t.  I hate it.  I want it all to go back to normal.  I am still not over losing mum, let alone losing my dad.  I have tried different counselling but I struggled to find the right words.  I can’t just chat about the past, I need some direction.

Sometimes I can still have a laugh and joke but as soon as it’s gone it’s back to feeling crap, nothing stays.  I had the support from so many agencies and so many opportunities put my way but nothing seems to warm my soul, not even God.  I am trying to let him in but I also need some answers!

I always had an interest in art and I used to like watching the crafty shopping channel.  I quite like to learn how to do things.  At Arty-Folks I got so disheartened and frustrated because I just couldn’t ever finish a project.   My mentor explained to me that it’s not my lack of abilities or willpower.  I feel so low and it’s draining me.  And I am so angry with GP’s, with God, and I can’t quite accept that things just happen for no rhyme or reason.  I am scared when something good happens or when I am happy because I am convinced something bad will follow.

I don’t self-harm, I don’t take drugs, I don’t drink or get drunk very often, I am not addicted to social media, gambling, or gaming, and I am looking for a job working with animals.  That’s why my GP thinks I am fine and doesn’t take how I feel seriously.  It’s all down to my thyroid and medication will sort it out.  So I put on a fake mask and I get on with it.

N.R. “My brain felt itching”

I don’t know what happened to me, why I got so ill.  I had married the year before and I came from India to Coventry to be with my husband in September.  But by Christmas I was having panic attacks, smelling blood all the time.  I was hearing voices laughing and saying horrible things about me.  I was scared that my neighbours were part of a conspiracy against me and I used to sit alone at home too scared to even leave my room.  I was isolated with strange thoughts and feelings, and I was getting weird experiences like in horror movies. My husband couldn’t understand and he was getting frustrated.   I felt that there was another person inside of him like a ghost.

I met my husband through a matrimonial internet site and he seemed kind, affectionate and respectful, a modern man which made me decide to marry him.  We both felt well matched and I was then happy with my life.  I don’t know what went wrong.

The GP admitted me to the mental health hospital and I stayed over 6 months.  Even there I felt there were ghosts in me and around me everywhere.  My brain felt itching all the time with stress and my mind was crying a lot.  My Care Coordinator referred me to Arty-Folks and I felt so much better meeting other people with similar problems.   I started to relax and enjoy my artwork and my mentor helped me to start volunteering and join other groups.  After a year I was leading a busy life but still didn’t feel I was progressing.

Arty-Folks suggested changing medication as I had been on the same one for over 10 years, something I hadn’t considered.  It took a while to sort it out with mental health professionals but you wouldn’t believe the difference it made to my mind and my quality of life!  My mind belongs to me again and I live in the present.  I can hear myself think and I know what is real and what is not.  My Arty-Folks mentor told me that I used to let out a torrent of words without start or finish but I have now started to look at my story, warts and all.

I was born in India and I was very happy when we all lived with grandparents in one house.  I still don’t know why I had to go to a primary school for military personnel and move way.  I hated this school. There were 65-70 children in one class and teachers had to be very strict and punished us often.  My English was very weak and when I had low marks I was scared that everyone would make fun of me.  I was always worried they would call my parents and that I would have to repeat a year.  I had my book always with me, worried about forgetting things. I had no friends and I felt like an outcast because I didn’t come from a rich family.

12 years I was at this school and it felt like a prison.  I couldn’t wait to start secondary school and make new friends.  I wanted to help everybody.  If somebody asked me for money I would give it to them.  I would help with their studies and do their homework for them.  I just wanted to make friends, whatever they asked me to do I would do.  I would also go with them bunking class, just to go with them, to have fun.  But actually, now I realise they were not friends, they were just using me.

My parents believe I got this mental illness because I didn’t obey.  I was 20 when my mother found out I was in love with a boy I my class. My mother was shocked and she wouldn’t allow it.  At the time I was highly excitable and probably already ill.  I thought I was happy, I had friends, I was at college, and I had a teenage crush on a boy.  My parents said I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, and I was aggressive and not listening to anybody.  They took me to the hospital where many people held me down and injected me with so much medication that I slept for 2 weeks.  After that I was blank and I not able to function without meds.  When I went back to college I was afraid to talk to people and they weren’t talking to me.  I felt like a ‘mental patient’, a feeling that is still haunting me today.

In India if you have a physical illness people understand but if you are mentally unwell they keep away and consider you an outcast.  Nobody knows back home I have been ill and I have learnt to hide it from everybody.  It was my parents’ dirty secret.  I feel guilty and ashamed of the things I have said when I was ill but most of all I feel sad about my past.

I have completed a Masters in Computer Science but I don’t really understand this illness.  Arty-Folks has always encouraged me to express my thoughts and feelings in my artwork and to share my experiences with my peers.  It has taken me a long time to find the courage but they did not judge me.  I am so proud of my artwork and I am always excited when we all exhibit together.  I can show my husband how I feel and I can show him that other people have similar experiences.  It makes me feel so much more at peace knowing that I am not the only one.

My husband and I have been through a lot these past couple of years but it has brought us closer and made us stronger together.  I feel good now and I am looking forward to starting my own family.

A.C. “Being patient with myself”

I started Arty-Folks just before Christmas together with a few friends.  Perhaps not surprisingly my Arty-Folks mentor felt that I wasn’t going to last because I was in a pretty bad place.  I felt everything had gone wrong so far and I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of being an adult and looking after myself.  I was drinking, smoking, eating junk, self-harming, overdosing, and I was taken by ambulance to A&E two or three times each week.  They usually bandaged me up and sent me on my way.  Nobody ever asked me why I was doing it.  I was in such a dark place but nobody seemed to care.

All I wanted was someone to listen and to help me make sense of what I was going through.  I guess this is what kept me going to Arty-Folks and develop the dialogue with my mentor.   At first we resolved practical issues like debts and dealing with landlords, and then we discussed how I can improve the dialogue with medical staff through to good and bad coping strategies and the past experiences that are fuelling those.

      
Since joining a year ago I  moved into my own place, started intense DBT therapy, stopped smoking cannabis and cigarettes, was drinking in moderation and only socially, was volunteering at Arty-Folks and at my church, and I even started playing badminton.  Best of all I haven’t had a stress-induced seizure for over 6 weeks!  I have good friends and I am getting on really well again with my close family and I had a fabulous Christmas.  Seriously, I was doing amazing.

A new year has started and I am not sure what is going wrong again now.  It feels I have lost direction and I am slowly relapsing.  I started drinking and smoking again because I wanted that fuzziness and at that moment being tipsy makes me happy.  I knew things were really going wrong when I started to hoard my medication rather than taking it because it usually leads to an overdose.  Of course I know it’s not the right thing to do but I wanted this feeling of being stuck to stop.  I was scared of slipping back but at the same time also scared of going forward.

I couldn’t wait to get back to the art group and the first workshop back was great.  I loved playing with flowing colours as we were creating a ‘soup of potential’.  But at the end of the session I was still feeling really down, disappointed in me and disheartened.   I sat down with my mentor after the art class for what we call ‘mental fishing’.  It’s always a ramble at first because I can’t really understand why I am feeling this way but eventually what’s bugging me floats to the surface.  It takes time, lots of time, good quality time where my mind is allowed to bop up and down in murky waters until it hooks onto something, the thing that has been draining me in the background.  It really is a bit weird and I always feel a bit anxious at first because you just don’t know where it’s going to take you.  But after we’ve gone past the bits and pieces we can see how things link up and themes emerge that make sense to me.

I still really want to become a nurse and I realised how worried I am I might never make it.  I have failed Uni  twice because I was so desperately ill and I know I won’t get student finance again.  I know that I need to be patient and get myself well but at the same time my future career direction is weighing heavily on my mind.   I realised that I am under intense pressure because my dreams were shattered once before when I was 12.  I was air cadet then and I loved it.  We went away on week-ends, there was always something to do, always friends around me, and I was proud of being a core marksman.  I then went to military college, a boarding school where things started to go wrong.  I was harassed and bullied by prefects and when I came out as trans I was discharged on medical grounds.  My dream of serving in the military was shattered.  I started Uni and became a welfare officer but found helping others much more interesting than the engineering course.  This made me decide to change to a Nursing Degree but unfortunately I was so ill by then they threw me off the course.

Isn’t it strange that you can be so very mentally ill and you are the last person to know?  I was hearing voices and self-harming regularly but still didn’t realise how ill I was.  Other people had to tell me and only now can I can look back and see how vulnerable I was, how confused, how lost, and emotionally tormented.  Believe me, looking back at the things you have said and done is very, very hard.  I feel guilty and I feel ashamed, and I still don’t fully understand how I got to such a dark place.

My mentor is encouraging me to talk my experiences through openly without fear so I can learn to understand what motivated me and have empathy for myself.  I have to learn to be patient, to take one step at a time and to develop the confidence that each step I take will lead me to solid ground and towards my future full of potential.  I know I am now in a different place and that I have a lot of good people around me but I find it so hard to trust I won’t slip back.

B.S. “Beating Depression – It’s my life! 

I just couldn’t figure out what was holding me back.  I had found Arty-Folks on the internet and I hadn’t talked about my mental health to anyone before.  I remember my mentor saying that I didn’t seem to realise how ill I was, and no, I didn’t.  I didn’t think I was ill at all !  I thought it’s just my personality – I am a misfit, dislikeable, unacceptable, a failure, a burden on my family, too quiet and shy to make friends.

Coming from an Asian background, the expectation to be successful is embedded in me.  But I failed 6th form and I couldn’t get out of my head that I started off with four subjects, dropped Art because it was too time consuming, failed Math at the end of the first year, took Economics and Biology but I failed Biology at the end.  It was a waste of 2 years.  I went to college to do a HND in Business and topped it up to a Degree, but again it was the wrong choice.  I was accepting that I was a failure and a disappointment to my family.

One day, I was watching TV with my mum and I knew I should have walked away before she started going on about marriage, that I have only a couple of years because all the good ones go.  I said nothing, looked down on my phone and cried.  I have always walked away and I hoped they would get the hint and let off. My family see marriage as a law, it has to be done, and a good husband is the sign of success for an Asian woman.  And even though no one is saying it out loud, I feel they look at me and think that I am a failure.  They can’t break away from their old-fashioned ways, I can’t conform, and we can’t meet in the middle either.

What I really wanted to say was:  “Mum, I know you want me to get married and you believe that finding Mr Right would sort me out.  But I don’t.  I don’t think like you.  I don’t want to get married now and maybe not even later.  I feel I need to do something else first but I don’t know what that is yet.  Stop putting pressure on me and give me time to find out for myself what is right for me.”  Instead, I retreated into my bedroom and cut myself.  I didn’t feel like I belonged to my family more than ever before.

I have had so many part-time and temporary admin jobs since college and I tried hard to get on but they all depressed me deeply.  I couldn’t fit in, I never felt normal like everyone else.    Two years went by and some things had changed in my life but didn’t have much of an impact on how I felt.  I was still up all night locked in my bedroom and not able to face the day, hoping that tidying up my room would tidy up my head, often cutting or starving myself.  I knew what I didn’t want in life but I couldn’t map my way forward.  I began to recognise that my physical health was starting to deteriorate and I finally accepted I needed the help of anti-depressants to stabilise my mood.  In between jobs I have always come back to Arty-Folks, usually in tears.  I felt Arty-Folks was the only place I had friends and was accepted for who I am, where I felt at home.

Arty-Folks encouraged me to make a commitment to myself, to listen to myself, to follow my passion.  I began to realise that maybe, to find my own way forward, I needed to stop stressing, give myself time to work out what is right by me, and apparently the rest would follow.  Frightening!  But also exciting.  I had always found it hard to have a say, to speak up, and now I had my peers listening to me, and Arty-Folks giving me time and space to become me.

Slowly, through my artwork I began to express my frustrations and to find my voice.  So here I am now: I am following my passion and I am studying Foundation in Art and Design without worrying ahead where it would lead me.  At the start it was hard as I didn’t feel I had anything in common with others again and I struggled to deal with the harsh criticism of my tutors.  But I could always talk it through with my mentor at Arty-Folks and I am slowly learning not to care about what other people say.

September 2017, I am following my passion and I am studying Foundation in Art and Design at Coventry University without worrying ahead where it would lead me. At the start it was hard as I didn’t feel I had anything in common with others again and I struggled to deal with the harsh criticism of my tutors. But I could always talk it through with my mentor at Arty-Folks and I have slowly learnt to stand by my own views.

March 2018, I am preparing for my last assessment and I will be sad when the course
finishes because I have had a fantastic time and I have made amazing friendships for life. I had something to get up for every day and I have finally been able to turn my body clock around. Yes, I am not nocturnal anymore and I can get up in the morning and be on time! I don’t self-harm anymore and I am eating regularly. No, I don’t have a job lined up but I am not worried. I don’t think that I will fall into the same depth of depression as I have done in the past. I know now that a job is just a means to an end and not a measure of my worth. Most of all I am thrilled that I have been able to inspire some of my friends at Arty-Folks to follow in my footsteps and I will be happy to give advice and support if they need it through their Foundation year.

September 2018, I was completely upfront with my employers and colleagues about my depression and I was so surprised that they were so understanding and supportive.  I am working full-time now and I am really enjoying it.  I have not missed a day at work yet and I am always on time and I feel for the first time happy and content with my life.

S.M. “Living with Schizophrena – I am doing my best!”

Don’t you think I am trying?  You are telling me that I don’t live in the real world, that my reality does not exist.  So let me show you what my reality looks like and then you tell me how much you would like to live in it.

I am Tamil and born in Sry Lanka during the civil war.  My dad left us unprotected when I was 2 and went with my two eldest sisters to work in the UK.  My mother and her ‘cousin’ took us to India where we led a very quiet life hidden away.  I had a very kind friend, Leo who visited me every night to reassure me.  He told me how much he loves studying IT at Uni and one day I would like to do the same.  When I was 13 my mother paid a lot of money to an agent and had me smuggled into the UK.  I will never forget every word of our last conversation, how we cried and hugged, and how she promised over and over again that she would soon follow with my little sister.  I had to burn any identification so if I would get caught I wouldn’t be sent back.  Trafficked over land, I remained in hiding in various locations for 2 years until I reached the UK.  I will never forget the BP petrol station where I was finally reunited with my father.  I was 15 years old and I weighed 5stones or 35kg.  I was more dead than alive.  During all that time Leo was with me, my constant and reliable friend.

My father turned out to be a violent drunk who attacked me with a knife and threatened to kill me.  I moved in with my oldest sister but she beat me and locked me up like a slave.   I moved to my other sister but she treated me like a house maid.  One day she left me with her 6 months old baby and went to Spain on a holiday with her lover, just like that, without telling anyone.  Nobody cared and nobody wanted me.  My father died when I was 19 and I lost residency.  Since then I have no right to be anywhere because I am nobody.  Legally, I don’t exist.  I have no country I can prove my own and where I have the right to feel safe.  I don’t have a home anywhere in this world and I am all on my own.  I don’t belong and nobody belongs to me.  You have no idea how frightening to be truly all alone in this world is!  I made a new friend, Rachel, who began fighting my corner.  I admire her, she is so strong!

I have tried every way to get back in touch with my mother and sister but they seem to have vanished from the face of the earth.  I feel she sold me out.  I had no money and nowhere I could stay but my sister’s jilted husband took me in, hoping that I would help him look after the two children.  Instead, my voices and visions became so powerful I became a liability and I am grateful he is looking after me.  Even Leo and Rachel struggle to protect me from the screaming people with burning faces that are attacking me day and night.  The constant noise is deafening and keeps me awake.  I live in constant panic that somebody will take me away, and most days I am unable to leave my bedroom.  I was hospitalised many times and at first I always felt safer there but staff make me so angry when they tell me that my reality isn’t real.  It is very much real to me!

My care coordinator introduced me to Arty-Folks and I was relieved that nobody there was telling me to give up the two people my life depends on.  I loved the art straight away.  It was so different from anything I knew and I loved learning new things all the time.  After a few months I started to feel more relaxed and I made new friends, real ones you will be pleased to hear.  I also started bit by bit to tell my story and Arty-Folks then helped me to work with the Refugee Centre to get at least a temporary visa.

Arty-Folks visited me when I was sectioned again and for the first time somebody showed an interest in my reality.  Nobody had ever asked me before what the voices were saying or tried to help me make sense of my experiences.  I was always told that my world is not real and to take these pills that would make it all go away.  Medication usually works for a little while and then the side effects start like cramps, shaky legs, drowsiness, nausea, it’s horrible.  Talking about my past made me realise how desperately lonely I am, how worried I am about my mother and sister.  I think of them every day and I pray they are still alive.  I worry if we would recognise each other if we met now.  I remember their promise and I just can’t understand why they have not been in touch with me.  I am so sad but I am also so angry because they have lied to me and they have abandoned me.

You can say that Rachel and Leo are imaginary but they are helping me stay alive.  The reality you say is real and you think I should live in is one where there is no one single soul I can count on to be there for me when I am desperately sad, lost, and lonely.  I prefer to live in my reality where I am hunted by pure evil but I also have two people who are always at my side fighting my corner.  I attend Arty-Folks whenever I can because it’s a safe place for me where my visions and voices get quieter and sometimes even disappear when I am doing my artwork.  But I am often not able to win over this immense fear of leaving the safety of my bedroom.

R.H. “Feeling at home again”

I first came to Arty-Folks after a prolonged period of turmoil experienced while living in the north of England. During this time I lost my career, home and contact with most of my friends and family. Eventually after spending a Christmas and New Year’s Eve living in a section of concrete drain pipe on a Blackpool car park I made my way to Coventry, my home town, more by accident than choice.

Not long after moving here I was sectioned under the mental health act, spending a month in a psychiatric ward. To be forced into such a confined, tense and controlled environment was traumatic, particularly as I did not believe I was mentally ill but just going through a rough period. After being discharged I was introduced to Arty-Folks and soon found the atmosphere to be really welcoming.  Unfortunately, the neighbours where I was living were very antisocial and threatening, and I then went through another bout of mental illness that even I could recognise as real and serious. Once again I found myself in the psychiatric hospital this time for three months. While I was in there (voluntarily this time) Arty-Folks staff visited me and made my 60th birthday which fell on a Friday 13th and a full moon!  I hadn’t celebrated my birthday in many many years and reading the card with best wishes from my friends at Arty-Folks I felt that there were people out there who genuinely cared about me.

When I left hospital Arty-Folks staff helped me move to my new home and I started to attend the art sessions again.  I found returning to the group very helpful. Members from all sorts of backgrounds suffer with a variety of conditions and have developed so many differing coping strategies which are shared when chatting while doing the artwork. No one is judgemental and no matter how mild or severe or your condition it can be discussed with the group without embarrassment or fear of ridicule.  Often someone would say something about their history, thoughts and feelings, that can give real insight into your own as seen through different eyes. The art projects that Arty-Folks artists set allow your emotions to be projected onto a variety of media and enable you to examine what, within your own mind and soul, forms, the patterns and colours of your work. I found the session at the end of each project where the group take it in turn to interpret each others work really interesting; hearing what others feel your work represents can be very informative. This, like the chat around the table, often gives insight to your own feelings and deeper thoughts that you, perhaps, had not been able to see yourself before. We also went on some very interesting trips to other art venues which also helped widen our immersion in art and our ability to interpret its meanings.

For me Arty-Folks was not about becoming a great artist, any level of ability can participate, It was about mending or improving myself through art.  I believe Arty-Folks approach to therapeutic art has taught me how to look into my own self and understand more of the emotions and character traits that shape my behaviour, so to better know how to bring out the best in myself. It was also great to work with a group of mutually supportive people, peers and staff, who genuinely care about each other. After four years I have reached the next stage of my recovery and will be leaving Arty-Folks but will miss it greatly.   I feel probably for the first time at home, safe and a part of the community, with friends to call on, and with interests and hobbies that make me feel my life is worth living.  I would recommend Arty-Folks to anyone who is looking for support to turn their lives around.

H.MW. “A roller coaster ride”

In my inner circle I have tried to bring together images and words that express how I feel in the here and now.  Basically, it is about accepting what I have got to accept, and accepting what is going on even though I feel lost.   I know I need to have some determination and ride the roller coaster and I also need to challenge my thoughts and take control of my feelings.  That’s me saying I need to do something about how I feel, about this gloom.  I put ‘you’re never far from a good thing’ because I know I am but it can be hard to find the right words or the right way.  So my Mandala is about change and wanting to change and take more control over what is going on in my head.

In the background I have put tranquil and relaxing scenes like the beach, the northern lights I have always wanted to see, and mountains because at times it feels like it’s a mountain to climb. The watch is to say that it feels now is the time to change, the time to try and help myself.

The outer circle is about the people around me, my two daughters, my partner, my parents and my friends who anchor me.  I have a couple of friends I communicate with through Facebook as they don’t live in Coventry.  But otherwise I have only my family and I don’t really see anybody.

The spirals are about how my mind feels sometimes a bit chaotic, a bit off and on its own tangent.  The tree is about autumn, a time for change, shedding leaves like old thought patterns and behaviours.  I am trying to develop new ones but I don’t think you can that until you get rid of the dead ones.  This is a very difficult time, like winter, where it feels nothing is happening but maybe it’s about gathering the strength to move on.  You just have to stick with it and wait for the strength to grow again.

My parents, partner and close friends do stick by me through dark times.  One of my friends speaks to me quite regularly over the phone and my other friend runs a support group over Facebook.  They are both encouraging me and they are just there for me when I need to talk.  They both understand how I feel what I am going through as they both have mental health conditions themselves.

To someone who has never experienced these depths of darkness I would like to say ‘Don’t try to understand, you can only fully understand if you have experienced it yourself but hopefully you never will.  It’s like telling someone who has lost a leg that you understand what it feels like while you are standing on both of yours.  It doesn’t work.’

Just being there for that person can be enough because that’s when you don’t feel quite so alone.  It is true, sometimes when you are sitting in your darkness you feel like you don’t want anyone there but in truth you do wish that somebody was there holding you.  I can look back and see that I have pushed people away in the past, and understandably not many did stay.

Don’t take it personally if you are pushed away.  You might not be the person to help but you can help them to find someone who does.  Let them know that you have not written them off with the occasional text, card or phone call, let them know that the door is still open when they’re ready.

A.C. “Naughty but Nice, that’s the new me”

For the inner circle of my Mandala I have chosen calm landscapes, and sparkling things like flowers, jewellery, and Christmas.  I like Christmas because it is a time for kindness, for happy times.  I have chosen words that capture how important my family is to me and how proud I am to be a new grandparent.

I have attended Arty-Folks regularly for 3 months and with my Mandala I wanted to express how good things are now.   I feel I am sparkling again, I feel stylish, I like to dress well and I enjoy the good things in life again.  I feel naughty but nice!  I am celebrating life, sympathy for family, friends and others.  I have finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel.  I am a new woman!
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Only 3 months ago I was feeling so very low but now I am feeling useful again, I am proud of my creative skills and I feel I have achieved a lot in a short space of time.  After so many years of feeling isolated in my flat I am now out and about again, and I am looking to move into a new home with my partner.  I am enjoying things like music again and there is laughter in my life.  I am so much happier with my week and I know my social confidence and feeling closeness to others has improved so much since I started Arty-Folks.  I think I just got to the stage where I needed a little bit of a toe up my bottom.

When you are supporting someone with mental ill health it can feel like no matter what you say or do they are never going to move on from their hurts. I understand how disheartening that can be for family or close friends. I was one of them.  I guess I was lucky someone gave me the push to join Arty-Folks.  It was not easy, not at all !  The first couple of sessions I was so defensive, I didn’t like not being able to do my own thing.  But now I can clearly see how important it is to be in a group of like-minded people.

So, to anyone supporting a loved one who is struggling with mental ill health I would like to say “stay, hold on, because eventually there will be a spark and from there something new can grow. But this spark will probably not come from you because you are too close.  It will come from peers who are travelling along a similar road.”  The bunch of people I have met at Arty-Folks has carried me well and I was able to support them too which in turn has helped my self-esteem.  The group has given me time and space to grow and I have found my feet again, or rather, I am faster in my wheelchair.

Oh I know it’s not easy to convince someone to leave the safety of their four walls, believe me I know!  It took me about 4 years to be truthful to get to Arty-Folks.  So be gentle, be kind, but persist and tell your loved one to try a group like Arty-Folks even if you don’t think you’re an arty person, because feeling alone is the worst feeling in the world !

Say to them “let’s just try it together and if you don’t like it we can come back, but at least we tried it.”  I did and it worked for me.  As hard as it was, I realised it was worth that effort and stress, it was worth getting up for to realise I wasn’t the only one feeling like this.  The spark I needed to help me see things differently didn’t come from one single individual, it came from the collective, the ‘humanness’ of people, without getting too poncy.  Encourage them, stand by them, help them at least one session into that new world and out of isolation.

Lots of things have helped me with my mental health but being at Arty-Folks just made me realise that I can be out there.   I am not a loner, I enjoy the company of others and that has been the biggest support.  Arty-Folks made me realise that if I came in one week and I wasn’t very happy that no-one criticised me for it.  I was near to tears one week and I think I did cry.  I felt that everyone did care but they didn’t make me feel it is wrong to cry, it’s okay, not a problem that needs sorting.  Everyone was relaxed with it and understanding because we are all in the same place, and we all give and take a little bit.  We all have our problems.

Without going into details I have been put down a lot, fat, ugly, stupid, you are this and that…  Not many people have said positive things about me to me.  I have always been battling for space, I have always expected people not to like me but at Arty-Folks I felt that it is alright for me to be here, just as I am, and I realised:  I am doing.  I am achieving.  And I am just taking the next step.

S.B. “Always just an odd ball”

I have been with Arty-Folks for exactly 2 years and my mental health hasn’t increased much.  Yep, that’s me all over.  I don’t fit neatly into any medical diagnosis and so I can’t get the right medication or the right treatment for me.  Every three months we complete a well-being questionnaire at Arty-Folks and every time mine showed pretty much the same.  No surprises there.
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I have always felt an odd ball.  I have always felt something was wrong with me because of the way my parents treated me.  I have been for years in intense therapy for personality disorders but I didn’t fit in because I was also diagnosed with Aspergers amongst others.  I picked up a leaflet about Arty-Folks there and from then on I attended every week unless I was in hospital.

I had so many conversations at Arty-Folks about my different diagnosis.  I still feel that they are helpful as it gives you an opportunity to understand your behaviour and how it fits in with the rest of the world. I think it a positive thing not a negative thing at all.  But, we did a number of art projects that challenged my self-beliefs and the group questioned whether believing in Aspergers is just a way of shutting people out.  In the group we discussed role of a medical diagnosis, that it is a snapshot in time based on changing symptoms, and is necessary to determine the right medication and treatment. Everyone said that it is important not to lose sight of yourself, not to let the diagnosis define you.  Maybe I just feel broken and I don’t believe I can get fixed.

I believe that Aspergers explains why I misunderstand people’s emotions and why I miss these queues.   My friends at Arty-Folks disagree with that, they say that they found me very perceptive, rational and logical, that I respond with empathy to other people’s emotions, that I understand and relate to other people’s emotions very well but that by trying to avoid making mistakes and worrying about my learnt behaviours keeps my barriers up and doesn’t allow me to connect.

I loved Arty-Folks even though some of the projects and conversations were very challenging for me.  I felt relaxed with everyone and I shall miss them.  The art work was most challenging because there is so much thought behind it.  I loved the ‘soup of potential’ project because it pushed me to be free and spontaneous, something I have never allowed myself to be before.  I hated the ‘curve of change’ because of course I don’t think that I am able to. I really valued these thinking projects even though they can be stressful because you have to process rather than just produce.

Maybe thinking about the curve of change did help me to understand that people are always changing, that there is always a potential for development in any direction, despite limiting conditions such as Aspergers.  I am moving away from Coventry now into a small village closer to my children and my aim is never to go back to hospital for my mental health.   I’m under no illusion, it won’t be all singing and all dancing, and I will miss Arty-Folks a lot.

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B.H. “I will just ride it out!

I was referred to Arty-Folks by the crisis team because they saw one of the paintings I had done at home.   I was in a very difficult headspace then.  I was 17, ill since I was 12, and confused about a lot of things.  I was feeling so hurt and rejected because people I wanted to love me couldn’t understand me.  They didn’t understand my self-harming, they couldn’t understand my mental turmoil and I felt even more that they didn’t care about me.  Cutting myself helped to release some of that pain, I didn’t know how to do it any other way.  I tried to hold it all in and when it got too much I would overdose.  I didn’t really want to die but I just had enough, the battle seemed so endless and pointless.

That’s less than a year ago now.  Now I have a full-time job in a nursery and I absolutely love it!  I work 40hours per week and it really doesn’t phase me at all.  I am not worried when the scars on my arms show.  It’s part of my past and I will not deny it.  One of the toddlers at the nursery asked me what they were and I just said that I was once very poorly.  And that was that.  When adults see my scars they just look and then look away like they hadn’t noticed.  And that’s that.

Less than a year ago there was no joy in my life, everything felt pointless, grey.  Apparently, I actually looked colourless and my face showed no emotion my friends at Arty-Folks told me later.  That often I would just sit and not join in, look bored even though I wasn’t.  I went every week because it was the only thing that could get me out of the house and the art made me gain confidence in myself and being with people.  At Arty-Folks nobody batted an eyelid if I my arms showed fresh cuts but they didn’t look away either.  I am not saying that cutting is ok or acceptable, I just wanted people to accept that I am doing my best with the means I’ve got.
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I had come to Coventry to be with my boyfriend.  We met online and I know what you think now! But you are wrong.  We trust each other, we can talk to each other about anything.  He knows all about my mental ill health and he still stands by my side.  We had a long distance relationship for 2years seeing each other every 2 weeks so it wasn’t a rash decision.

I didn’t get on well with my mother so it was easy to leave home where I felt so unwanted, unacceptable.  I came to Cov to be with my partner but then I began missing my little brothers and sisters.  I thought it would be much easier to meet new people.  I felt homesick but didn’t want to go home, stuck between places, and I didn’t know how to resolve this dilemma.  And I felt very isolated because I didn’t know anyone in Coventry.  I felt so utterly lonely.

It was very odd how things changed for me.  I went home for a couple of weeks and I had a great time with family and friends.   So I can’t tell you why I felt good about coming back to Coventry.  I think I just needed a refill of my family and once I had been there for a while I felt topped out and I could come back.  I guess I felt that having some distance is actually quite good for us all.  In fact, they miss me now and they make more of an effort when I am there.  I don’t have to deal with them on a regular basis and I can leave things in the past now.

I feel settled here, I can be myself in Coventry, and I haven’t self-harmed in months.  There’s no need.  Arty-Folks has been good fun.  I have really enjoyed talking to people of all ages who can relate to me and I learnt a lot listening to people older than me.  I don’t think that people can really appreciate how good it is to be able to talk about mental health to people who know what you are going through.  Everyone is in the same boat and that’s really liberating.  If you would ask me what Arty-Folks can do for you I would say it really helps to express yourself through your artwork because otherwise it just stays inside and festers.

I know at the beginning I didn’t get it.  Why talk about it, why show how you feel inside to others? What’s the point?  How’s that going to change anything?  Arty-Folks had to push me to open up, and they didn’t give up!  And you know, after a while I realised I am not ‘a problem’ or ‘an illness’, I was just struggling to understand how to deal with life’s difficulties.  So the problem isn’t ‘me’.  The problem is ‘life’ and I needed to become more confident standing on my own ground.  I needed time to learn about myself and I needed people around me who could understand.

I know I won’t always feel on top of the world but I can look back and stand by my experiences rather than hide.  I know the signs now.  And if the urge pops up again I will just ride it out.

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