Are you Thriving or Surviving ?

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Good mental health is much more than just the absence of a mental illness.
Arty-Folks members are exhibiting work exploring what helps us feel we are thriving in life.

At Coventry Central Library
Ground floor by the seating area:    ‘Twixt Nature & Nurture’, a sculpture created collaboratively by members of three Arty-Folks groups.
First floor:     Textiles and Collages exploring self-motivation

At Earlsdon Library
Progression group members: textiles exploring self-motivation
Making Way group members: ceramic portraits
Headway group members:  Stimulus and Homeostasis glass sculptures

Mental Health Awareness Week 8-14 May 2017, we invite you to look at mental health from a new angle. Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health. Many of us struggle to cope with the demands of life and  we need to take steps to look after our mental health and building resilience to thrive despite set backs.
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Artists and Academics exhibition 26th of November 2016

To celebrate Coventry’s bid for the City of Culture in 2017 the University of Warwick and Fargo village are bringing 17 artists and 17 academics together for an exhibition of local artists work that aims to bridge the art-science divide. Arty-Folks has chosen to team up with PhD student Rebecca Noble and the collaboration will lead to a piece of work that will be exhibited  for one day only on Saturday 26th of November 10am-6pm at the Fargo Village Box Gallery.

Rebecca Noble (Centre for History of Medicine, Warwick University)
My research is based on understandings of madness in eighteenth-century Mexico and how those understandings affected ideas of personal identity. I look at how the term madness was used in different areas of colonial life, such as the Inquisition, army, criminal justice system, and Christian missions. I also analyse literary texts, medical journals, and colonial bureaucratic records to develop a picture of the varied conceptions of madness in this period with an emphasis on the moral, political, and medical significance of the term. I ask questions such as ‘what worldviews shaped beliefs about madness?’, ‘who was thought to be mad and why?’ and ‘how was the idea of madness used to regulate this society?’ Through answering these questions, I intend to add to a nuanced understanding of what it meant to be human in eighteenth-century Mexico.

We often think about creativity as making something new and original, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. About 20 members of Progression and Making Way will be working together to create a sculpture entitled ‘Twixt Nature and Nurture’ influenced by her research into madness and by artists Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch. This piece of work will measure 6m long x 2m wide x 2.5-3.0m high and will be made predominantly of paper.
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Stick by Me !


Arty-Folks campaign ‘Stick by Me’ wants to reduce negative beliefs and stereotypes about depression and other mood disorders.  We want to encourage people in Coventry to become more aware and supportive of people who are going through dark times.

We have asked our members “Who has helped you through and how?”  and we are adding every day one short story here

20.9.16 “One of my colleagues at work was absolutely amazing.  She gave me time and space, and she backed me up when I couldn’t speak up for myself.  I hit such a low after my husband left and at times I just couldn’t face the day.  She would ring me up after work just to chat about what we were watching on telly and sometimes she would pop in ‘on her way home from shopping’.  She gave me time and space and we often just sat together without talking.  Her calm company eventually rubbed off on me and I could see that I still had much to live for.”

21.9.16 “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.”

22.9.16 “No, it’s not easy to support someone who is stuck in a dark place, and it’s frightening for you as well as for them.  It starts putting your own mental health at risk because you are so worried they might harm themselves.  So I would strongly recommend to ask for help for them as well as for yourself.  This can be a neighbour, a colleague, a cousin, or a friend, it doesn’t have to be a health professional.  Yes of course you have to make sure you hit sympathetic ears but these days people are much more open about mental stress because life really isn’t easy for any of us, regardless of age or social background.”

23.9.16 “To the kind soul who helped one of our members into safety last Tuesday evening 20th September we would like to express our gratitude.  We cannot thank you enough !  Whoever you are – please know that because you spotted her in a desperate attempt to escape those toxic voices and visions she has now another chance to hopefully get the help she needs.  You saved a wonderful person who is a volunteer at Arty-Folks and supports with physical disabilities to achieve their best in art, a great artist in herself who can express through a powerful visual language what it is like to live with this complex condition, and simply a wonderful mate to be around who is always there when you need her.  We simply cannot thank you enough for sticking by her !”

24.9.16 “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 would like to say to you – 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.”

25.9.16 “The person who has helped me most and stuck by me is my mum.  She is always there for me and she doesn’t judge me.  She doesn’t live here but we talk every day on the phone and when I have to go to medical reviews she travels up to support me.  To anyone supporting a loved one going through a bad time I would like to say: encourage them to talk about their illness and just listen, that’s enough.  Having somebody to talk to openly and honestly is the biggest help you can possibly get.”

5.10.16 “My awesome partner has stuck by me through thick and thin, crazy and sane, psychosis and clarity, hallucinations and delusions.  She has embraced my mental health as simply one component of what makes me me.  I constantly hear voices; so when we are alone together she knows there are always others in my head.  She has supported me through my darkest times, my happier times, the loss of my job due to my head, my worsening physical disabilities, my near-constant suicidal ideation, through my realisation that my gender is not that which I was labelled at birth – but non-binary. She accepts me for me.  I know there are times that she finds me tough company. But no matter what my head throws at us, she has always been my rock.”14568100_1152828091450885_3918664309745811137_n

Topsy Turvey – a world turned upside down

Have you ever felt so stressed out that you didn’t know whether you were coming or going?  Has your life ever turned upside down that you didn’t know what to believe in anymore?

Listen to Brody Swain, presenter at BBC Coventry&Warwickshire, interviewing Ron from Arty-Folks about his experience.  It will open your eyes to the reality of living with a serious mental health condition. Click on the bar below to access the file

Members of Arty-Folks are exhibiting masks at Coventry Central Library as part of Positive Images Festival from 15th to 26th of June

Hopefully you are lucky and you have supportive family and friends around you who will help you to keep a grip on reality.

But if you are not so lucky; PSYCHOSIS is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external and objective reality.  It is often caused by major life events that put the person under prolonged and intense stress such as family breakups, bereavement, loss of employment, violence and abuse, etc.

While we were making these masks we talked openly and honestly about how it feels when boundaries between realities blur. Here are some extracts:

“The cards I was dealt left me with so many unanswered questions.  Is the joke on me or am I the joker?  Does the joker play tricks or is he a joke himself?  Is it just all by chance or a grotesque distortion?”

“I was so stressed out and I wasn’t able to sleep properly anymore. My life became a 24hour nightmare where reality and dreaming blurred into one.  And none of it was good!”

“I couldn’t get out of the situation.  I was stuck in a nightmare that just wouldn’t stop.  Everything became unreal and I started seeing things. Or did I?  How can you tell what’s real and what isn’t?”

“I was on edge, on the brink, on the line between daytime horror and dark nightmares.  How can you tell when you leave this reality and slip headlong into another nightmare? It doesn’t feel that much different.”

“I was so tense and stressed.  I started to have visions and they seemed as real as you and me.  I didn’t know and there was no way for me to know what was real and what wasn’t.  But did it matter?  There was no escape from either realities.”

“Crossing the line just happens and I’m not sure how I find my way back.  Actually, the other reality can sometimes be nice: sparkling lights, iridescent bubbles, beautiful dragons, loved ones are alive again, pretty colourful things…”

Seeing a giant headless Santa Claus may seem quite funny in hindsight but psychotic episodes are mostly extremely frightening.

“I was so stressed after a very messy divorce I was seeing things but I thought that they were real.   I was seeing dead people and I thought I could talk to ghosts.  I thought I had a connection with the spirit world, that I was psychic.”

“I can see faces of people who have done horrible things to others, I become a part of this horror film.  People wear masks to hide behind, anything could be behind there.  ‘It’ could suck you in or ‘it’ could come at you.  The eyes will give it away.”

At Arty-Folks we are a community who trust each other to talk openly about our feelings and experiences which can prevent stress from building up to such extremes. Talking about how we feel can literally make the difference between life or death: While struggling with their first psychotic episode 18.4% attempt to end their lives.

“It can last for days.  It can last just hours.  I don’t know how, where and when it will happen.  Friends and family help me through this nightmare. They distract me. They give me time and space to fight my way out of it. They help me with ‘reality checking’ and help me put my fragmented life back together.”

If you think you might be struggling with a sense of reality go and see your GP first. Then come to Arty-Folks and we will support you in any way we can.

Plain To See – Members Exhibition for Positive Images Festival

@Artspace Studios, 16 Lower Holyhead Road, Coventry, CV1 3AU
11am-7pm Saturday June 20th
2pm-5pm Sunday June 21st

January to March 2015 members of Arty-Folks worked with local artist Trudy Rees-Marklew to create sculptures inspired by Grayson Perry. The exhibition aims to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes that we may have about people suffering with mental ill health.Plain to See Exhibition Poster A4 copy

The World Health Organisation describes good mental health as being “A state of well-being in which the person realizes and uses his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to contribute to his or her community”.

Our exhibition aims to
• break down barriers between people and demonstrate that mental ill health is an ordinary occurrence that could affect anyone at some point in their life.
• challenge the viewers’ first impression of people’s artwork in a way that will enable them to connect to the person who created it,
• highlight the rich and diverse community of people who are fighting their conditions through their creativity

The effects of mental ill health on a person’s life can be devastating, often resulting in social isolation, physical ill health, unemployment and discrimination. A medical diagnosis can offer relief by naming the problem but on the other hand can disempower by labelling the person.

We all need to support each other through difficult times which can hit us all when we least expect it. Just when you think you are juggling well, one more (even minor) thing can tip the balance and what can prevent a breakdown from happening is having supportive people around!

We are exhibiting sculptures by 17 members that will support visitors to recalibrate their perceptions of people with mental ill health; that a person cannot be explained through a diagnosis of their deficits and disorders. We are also showing an uplifting and inspiring documentary about Arty-Folks our members created with the support of Frances Porter of Eyefull Productions.

Refreshments will be provided. We would much appreciate it if you could help raise awareness of this exhibition and of our service through your social media contacts.

We are looking forward to welcoming you. Please feel free to bring friends and family. The exhibition is suitable for children and is wheel-chair accessible.

The Positive Images festival – which started as the Multicultural Book Fair – is in its 21st year celebrating Coventry’s diversity and rich culture. This year the festival will be running from June 13th to 30th with a massive array of events and activities taking place throughout the city, from historical walks to musical fairs.  Visit <a href=””>website</a>


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