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.
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.
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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D.H. “I’m in !”

A friend recommended Arty-Folks to me and I came once and I’m not sure now why I didn’t come back for about 6 months.  I was really not feeling well in myself then.  I had no confidence, no clue what to do with myself and I went through a spell of lack of direction.  I think I was just fed up enough with feeling stuck and I must have felt more ready to move on in my life when I came back.

It sure is amazing how much has happened since and in such a short space of time –       4 months!  I used to feel guilty about doing something I enjoy!  I cannot tell you now what that was about.  Perhaps I felt that I couldn’t give myself permission to have a life of my own.  I have been a single father to my two daughters for such a long time that I couldn’t remember anymore what it is to be me.  When they became teenagers and started to have a life of their own perhaps I felt a sense of loss; if I’m not needed as a father – who am I ?  Of course I realise that my role as father never ends but it’s not all I am – I can also be myself, an individual in my own right and pursue my own interests, my own passions.

I have met some very interesting people at Arty-Folks and I have learnt a lot about art so much so that I have the bug now.  With Arty-Folks I have visited museums, galleries and artists’ studios which really inspired me.  When we recently visited Coventry Arts Trail on the 9th floor of Coventry Point in the city centre I immediately signed up for a studio, my own creative space.  I am so ready now to do my own thing.

Looking back, I went through a massive journey in a very short space of time because I had already a lot sorted out.  I just needed a push forward and Arty-Folks gave me the confidence to do just that.  I am in the right head space now to start a very interesting and exciting new adventure.

For more information about Coventry Arts Trail visit http://www.artstrail.co.uk/coventry/coventry-studios/

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M.S. “I’m finally on my feet and it feels good!”

I moved around quite a bit as a youngster and I really didn’t have a good time at school. I have a very mild learning difficulty that shows in my spelling and I’m still attending English classes now with adult education which I thoroughly enjoy.  As a kid, there was no support for someone like me at school.  I was put with people with far more intense learning needs and so I got bored I guess, I felt invisible.  I couldn’t concentrate, didn’t get on with some teachers, and things just got on top of me. And when things got on top of me things got ugly!  I got angry with myself, angry with my teachers, but if I let these feelings out I got punished and so I started self-harming at 13.

I never felt I fitted in and some of the nastiness came from being isolated. That nasty side is finally going now even though I do still have arguments with my parents occasionally and I can still get frustrated.  But it’s not as bad as it was in the past and I’m not worried about drifting back to how things were.  I used to snap at people who just looked at me but now I am realising that people can like me for who I am, people do accept me so there is no need to bite.

Looking back I feel I have come a long way particularly in the last 5 years.   I don’t want to go back there ever again, I want to go forward.  I write a diary every day; what I have done, did I have a good or bad day. When I re-read my diary I feel so sad at how bad I was and I feel disappointed with the way I did act in the past.  A friend of mine introduced me to smoking dope which helped me sleep but also kept me staying up until 2 or 3 o’clock, and gave me the munchies.  I used to spend a £100 a month on dope, smoke every day, even smoked during break times at work.  I didn’t like it to start with, but as time went on I wanted more of it. Yes it helped me with my mental state and it helped get rid of the nasty voices in my head – but it also gave me asthma!  How did I stop?  Well, when we moved to Salisbury I couldn’t get hold of the stuff.  Have you ever been?  It’s in the middle of nowhere!!!

I’m not sure how other people saw me at the time but I don’t think they saw me as a nice person.  I was just angry, isolated, frustrated.  I got to such a dark point that I came close to committing suicide, and it really scared me.  That’s when I let my mum see the cuts I had done to myself.  I had never showed anybody before, kept it a secret, I cut in places people can’t see openly. As you can imagine my mum went ballistic and she forced me to see the doctors.  I started self-harming at 13 and I had kept it a secret for 22years of my life.  I couldn’t really explain why I did it.   But I am very grateful to my parents for supporting me and keeping me out of the mental hospital.

I am nearly 40 years old now and the last time I self-harmed was about 7 months ago.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have urges at times but it’s getting easier to say no and the urges are less overpowering.  I am more confident that it is manageable and I don’t even need to wear the rubber band on my wrist anymore.

Rethink referred me to Arty-Folks and first I came with my support worker.  It started off with discussions with what I wanted to do with my life and I liked art and I wanted to explore it more.  Rethink helped me to write a plan on the computer for day-to-day activities and also referred me to Sorted for a cooking class which I really enjoyed.  I can now stick to a daily routine and even though I still struggle at times some tasks have become natural and I feel I am on the right track.

I have been living in Coventry for 10years but only when I started meeting people who struggle similarly to me have I been able to feel more connected, and as a result I have started to feel stronger and more positive.  I have started Arty-Folks about 4 months ago and it has helped me to unlock a whole new confidence and I’m really enjoying my life now.  At my first session we painted landscapes with acrylics and it looked really good.  Everyone in the group gave me such positive feedback and for the first time I felt confidence in my skills. I have attended every week ever since.  In fact, I only missed one session because I was on holiday.

I also attended lots of Arty-Folks social events and I visited places I had never been before and that I would never have gone to on my own.  So, I have been to Fargo Village, the Herbert Art Gallery, the Cathedral, the Transport Museum, Coventry&Warwickshire BBC, and my landscape was exhibited at Coventry Library.  I also went with Arty-Folks to Heritage week-end and the 75th Blitz Anniversary which was very moving.  Apart from the weekly art class, Arty-Folks also invites people to try a new group or activity in the community and I went along to try gentle exercising at Warwick Road Church, Mindfulness with the Flame, watercolours at the Jesus Centre, knitting and crochet at the Central Library, and my week is now busy in a brilliant way.  I love train spotting and I have just visited the Model Railway Club at the Canal Basin ON MY OWN!  And if I ever get stuck with ideas what to do I know I can always browse the directories of things to do on the Arty-Folks website.
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My journey with Arty-Folks has been really good.  It helped me try new things and I feel more comfortable in the Coventry City Centre.  I know a lot more about it now, where to go and what to see, and it’s amazing how many different groups and activities there are to try out.  It really has helped me to feel more confident in myself and I like to share time with people.  I feel much more open minded and more confident in my life now than ever before.  I can understand now how my lack of confidence led to anxiety, to isolation, to frustration and then of course self-harming.  But that’s in the past.  I am in a good place now.  I am meeting new people and I actually get on with everybody.
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Y.K. “Definitely the right one!”

I started attending Arty-Folks not quite three years ago but I didn’t attend regularly probably for the first two years. At the time, I had dropped out of Uni as it was the wrong course for me and I was in a toxic relationship that drained my energies. I was looking for art therapy to help me through a very dark period and I stumbled upon Arty-Folks as the next best thing.

The very first session I broke down with a panic attack and I fell asleep exhausted at the table. The next few workshops were not much better either and I feel so sad now looking back how incredibly low and beaten I was. I cried a lot, I worried a lot, I felt overwhelmed and isolated all the time, abandoned, rejected, unloved, lost, and I didn’t have the energy to create something and I couldn’t connect to others in the group. I had no self-belief and I was completely dependent, and when the relationship came to an end I feel apart. It is still very painful to remember how I felt, and to be honest, some of that still lingers on, and perhaps it always will.

I attended maybe 2-3 weeks, then lost energy and motivation, and Arty-Folks would ring me and encourage me to try again, and again, and again. Eventually I began accepting that the relationship had ended and I started to explore new directions through volunteering, then part-time work, a new home, travelling abroad, as well as attending Arty-Folks more regularly and moving through the groups. None of it came to much for a long time but eventually, out of all that soul searching emerged a new passion to be useful to others and support people creatively.

I have met so many supportive people at Arty-Folks and I enjoyed our passionate discussions about important things in life like how to be a good person and value yourself as well as others, how to develop the courage to explore yourself through art and the confidence to communicate this to others openly and honestly, how to be vulnerable and still protect yourself, how to trust yourself, others, and life knowing that you will get hurt again, and how to remain calm and in the moment when a challenge is thrown at you.

I really enjoyed my journey with Arty-Folks; the support of the team has been invaluable to me and I have learnt so much about myself, about art and the creative process, and about life through our little community. I have now started a new University course and this is definitely the right one!

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J.C. “Sometimes dreams come true”

I still remember what things were like when I first started coming to Arty-Folks. I wasn’t going out much, I was still struggling, and I think about that time I started to realise how bad the stress had been.

Work had become too much. I was being micromanaged to the point of not being productive, with a new team leader I couldn’t talk to, who twisted my words. I kept working to the point I couldn’t cope anymore, and I couldn’t do my best anymore, I used to thrive on the high pressure and fast pace but after all the redundancies the team was shrinking and I had to shoulder their workload. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to about my struggles with ill health, and it felt like the team leader was trying to find a reason to make me redundant.

I booked a holiday but the work load I was leaving behind was huge and then on the way to my holiday I couldn’t breathe. I realised I couldn’t face going back to deal with that kind of stress and the pressure, but at the same time I don’t think I did realise how bad it was and how much it was all affecting me. It was probably a good 6 months afterwards, I hadn’t been eating properly for a long time. I was struggling to cook because I didn’t have the energy or motivation, I couldn’t do it even though cooking is one of my passions. I was eating junk food, struggling to sleep, going to bed between 3 and 5o’clock in the morning, everything was out of sync. I just didn’t feel myself anymore.

I think I realised I needed to do something. I tried to focus on one problem at a time, like getting out and socialising at Arty-Folks. I came across the Artspace website looking for a pottery class, saw Arty-Folks and that it was there to help people recovering from mental ill health and I thought it would be a really good thing for me to do. I’ve always been open to the fact that mental ill health is something that we deal with, and then I realised that if more people would speak out about it there wouldn’t be a stigma attached to it. I’ve always said that if I can help someone else by talking about my experiences then I would do, and I thought that would really help by coming here.

I remember my first day, you were just finishing your Mandala project with glass paint. It was so nice! I have never stopped being creative but I was used to doing my own projects and choosing what I did and staying in my comfort zone. At Arty-Folks I had nothing prepared, nothing to copy and I had to just let go and step outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and that was actually quite an interesting experience for me. I’ve always been quite controlled, but having that control taken away from me freed me up which was really nice for me. I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone was, and there was no pressure to chat to people if I didn’t want to.



I remember at the beginning I found it hard to say a full sentence, I kept interrupting myself. My nerves were in such a bad way as I kept on questioning every word before I even said it. I know I can over analyse sometimes and I can get into a state of censoring every word I say almost. I just started to question everything I say and do after being bullied as a kid and my dad would get angry sometimes, after a while I couldn’t communicate and get my thoughts across. That’s when I started writing so I had my own voice back.

I learnt about assertiveness last year and it has really helped me a lot. I know that being passive means trying to always appease people and putting myself last, and I know that being assertive doesn’t mean trampling on people. It means saying what I need. But how do you know if you’re being greedy or selfish? I’m still struggling with lots of negative feelings, I recognise I have a long way to go, but I’m much better than I was.

I was thinking of going back to work and starting off just with a half day and then gradually increasing it so I can build my strengths and cope with the workload. Unfortunately my employers were pressurising me to jump straight back in where I had left off – and I said NO. I am applying for new jobs now and I’m sure something will come up that suits me. I’m not work shy. My health is important as without my health I’m no good to anyone.

I’ve taken up archery once a week in the evening which I really enjoy and I’m really hoping to get into pottery full time, I want to do that professionally. I am feeling myself again and I’m trying to see how I can move round a problem rather than giving up, which is what I’ve always done.



On 9th July 2015 J.C. sent Arty-Folks the following text:
“I just wanted to say thanks for everything you’ve done for me over the last year. As you know Arty-Folks has inspired me to follow my passion for pottery, and today I’ve had work accepted by the Alverton Gallery in Penzance. I would never have had the courage to do it if it hadn’t been for everyone at Arty-Folks.”

Visit www.facebook.com/jlcskullpottery
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A.S. “I am a bubbly person”

I used to go to the doctors all the time, for anything, I think at that point I was looking for someone to recognise that I wasn’t feeling great. It came to a point, I was sitting in the toilets at work, crying, and I didn’t know why. So I went to the doctor’s and she asked what was wrong and I just sat there crying. I couldn’t say it at first, I just said that I don’t think I can do it anymore, and that I was struggling, not even what I was struggling with, I just didn’t even know. She asked a bit of back ground, if it was just work or whatever else, the doctor spent a long time, almost 1/2 hour, and she gave me a small dose of medication and asked me to come back. Later she upped the dose and got me counselling and support and she was really great.

At the time, I couldn’t even talk to my partner. I couldn’t talk about what I was going through, I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I find it easier now talking about things, and I think it just takes practice. But it came a point in our relationship where I knew my mood was affecting us, and I needed to get him to have some understanding; he’s never really had anything to get him down. He has a really good family background, so it was really hard for him to understand where I was coming from.

When I went to those 20 counselling sessions I talked about art, and my counsellor noticed how passionate I was about it, that I had ‘almost woken up’. I did art at college but the pressure from tutors really knocked my confidence, and I didn’t think I ever wanted to do it again. My counsellor told me to go home and just paint, go with the feeling, no theme, just do it. One piece was so angry, and the other was a dark night sky. I talked the paintings through with my counsellor who then referred me to Arty-Folks. I knew I was still too ill and that 20 sessions with her weren’t going to be enough to make a dent.

I remember on my way to Arty-Folks feeling petrified. It had taken me 2 months to prepare for it and still I got lost on the way. I remember walking in and feeling like a deer in the headlights. I ignored everyone, I didn’t speak. I remember how I used to be in the group, and looking back I can’t believe I used to be so antisocial! I remember thinking that I didn’t need friends, when really that’s all I needed – some friends and some support. The things that had happened in my life made me closed off because I didn’t want to get hurt anymore. I remember this as a very long phase but it actually took only 4 weeks for me to relax. I think the painting inspired by Aboriginal artwork is the first truthful piece that I did.

There are certain projects that do stick out because they were hard – admitting to yourself that you’re feeling like that, almost as though you’re ashamed of yourself for feeling that way, for feeling so sorry for yourself or down about yourself. In society it’s not accepted to feel sorry for yourself, people just tell you to get over it. You feel bottom of the food chain and you don’t feel important, feel over whelmed and powerless. it’s not socially acceptable to feel like that. I felt downtrodden and people just made me feel worse. Even now I tell very few people what happened to me because they look at you differently and treat you like you’re weaker. These projects were hard but they were helpful to understand myself better and to discover more about yourself. For example, the mask project made me realise just how painful things had been for me. One side talks about the things hurt me, and the other side is talking hope, that I can look to the future and change things, be a different person to the one I thought I had to be.

Coming to Arty-Folks has helped me grow as a person. I think it’s really helpful getting other people’s perspective on things, and hearing other people are going through similar problems is comforting as well. Sometimes people challenged me as well to see things differently, to see it through their eyes. It’s not always been easy, people have said things to me and at first it felt horrible. But then I’ve mulled it over and come to my own conclusion, realised there’s some truth in it and it’s not nice but I have to change it and do something about it. I remember at one point feeling very angry. Everyone was telling me to change but I wasn’t quite ready. It felt like to change I would have to give up hope that my mum would sort herself out and I just couldn’t accept that. Eventually I decided to distance myself from all of that and a weight fell of my shoulders which was noticeable to other people. I have much more clarity on it now. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt but I can accept it how it is. I can focus on my own life. I don’t let it upset me, and I don’t engage with her trying to fight with me. I feel like moving on now, I have a lot more to offer.



I have enjoyed other classes but at Arty-Folks the level of understanding is different. You can be yourself, and open, there’s no fallout, or judgement, it makes you feel normal. You can have an off day and you can let it out and people won’t stay angry. I know that I would never have gotten where I am now as fast or as easily as I would have without the people at Arty-Folks. It wasn’t easy but it would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have this group. It’s been my best medicine.

My creativity was put in a box by many people, and I had to make things and draw things in a very rigid way. When I was first given a piece of paper at Arty-Folks and told to just paint I was so scared of making something and not having it look like anything, without having a set way of doing things. Reclaiming my creativity has given me freedom more than anything. It has given me the freedom to say I don’t have to do it that way, I can do it my way, and it’s okay, it’s more than okay, it’s good, and I like it, and that’s it, and no one else can take that away from me.

It’s good doing artwork that makes me reflect on myself, it makes me realise what I was thinking without being aware of it. But it was there all along and now I can see it right in front of me. It’s like holding a mirror up to yourself, in a way that’s not always comfortable, but it means that you have to deal with it. But it’s not easy either; there comes a point when it’s so tough you’re tearing your hair out, but you have to bear with it and get over that hill to discover something new about yourself, discover how to deal with it, how to change, or at least understand that you have to do something about it. It helps you to move on, and to say ‘okay this is how I feel’. It’s out and now I can deal with it.

I am not sure how openly I will talk about depression and anxiety. I would need to know someone well before I do mention it because I don’t want to be looked at as a wounded animal, as weak. I do feel strong enough to deal with the judgement from some people, but not necessarily have everyone know about it, I’m not going to wear it on my sleeve. I would be more open about saying I didn’t have the best family life because that’s nearly normal and most people can relate to that whereas they may not be able to relate to depression and anxiety. I still remember my lowest point and it’s unbelievable to me now that I used to feel like that.

I have been through a tough time and I feel more resilient through my life experience. I have a different perspective on life that makes me more mature than many my age. I have met so many people from different backgrounds here and it’s made me more aware of how mental ill health affects us. I can now be more empathic, understand when people are having a tough time because I have been through it myself. I think my partner does understand me now and we can talk about it. I’ve grown through it with him, and he’s got a better understanding of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I think we’re stronger as a couple because he was part of the journey. I remember thinking at one point in our relationship that I would have to break up with him because I’m a terrible person and he can’t put up with me. I still do have bad days, but that’s when I know I need to pull back a little and use the tools I’ve learnt.

In the last 6 months a few people described me as a bubbly person which really surprised me, I would have never imagined something like that, that other people could see me like that. I can remember 2 years ago feeling like I wish I didn’t exist, wanting to disappear, and now I’m so excited for everything and I want to do things, I’ve got a place in this world. I am now moving on to my dream job but the prospect of not having this group is scary, Of course it’s scary to move on but I know I want to. I want to continue growing and exploring. I do hope that I can come every now and again, and touch base to offload, and I would love to volunteer when Arty-Folks starts an evening group for people in employment.
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T.B. “A new purpose in my creativity”

I used to wake up with a feeling of terrible dread and anxiety that wouldn’t go until the afternoon. I tried a private psychiatrist but all they did was teach me breathing exercises that I still use now. I knew I had to get up and do something, because if I was doing something like getting dressed, showering, taking the dog for a walk, etc. it was better than not doing anything at all. All I wanted was to hide under the covers but I also knew that these feelings would get worse and worse. I attended Willow View for 12 weeks every day. This made me get up and do all the mundane and everyday things I was so struggling with. It helped me to crack a bad pattern and I feel that perhaps it saved my life.

I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2000 but think it all started in 2004, perhaps a combination of empty nest syndrome, stress from my job as a teacher, not sure…. It just all got me down. I remember I felt very empty and I can remember sitting in the bedroom and crying and worrying about my son going to Uni. He wasn’t happy, nor was I, and he called and asked to come home. From the start my husband was very good and very supportive but he told me he was very worried for me, and he was scared to leave me during the day in case I was suicidal, which fortunately I never was. It was lots of little and big things building up, and then one day my mind was like ‘No, I can’t cope with this!’ and I went through a series of massive panic attacks.

I knew what it was, well, my husband knew anyway. I really scared him. I was out of control. Screaming. Shaking. I couldn’t stop it. We went to the Walk-in Centre and the GP chatted to me, prescribed me with various things so it quietened down a little bit but I was still getting terrible anxiety in the mornings. Then the person I was seeing at Caludon took me off some medication and it was almost like I was back at the beginning again. I had to go back in for an emergency appointment, and he apologised and put me onto something that worked much better. I noticed that when I started taking them I couldn’t cry anymore. That got better with time though, and now I am able to cry again which is such a relief! I got early retirement on the terms of illness both mentally and physically and it has taken me 10 years to adjust to life changes and coping with Lupus.

I do remember my first day at Arty-Folks quite clearly. I was very anxious because I didn’t know what to expect. I heard about it while I was at Willow View and I came to Arty-Folks at the end of my 12 weeks there. I got into the activities quite quickly but I was still feeling held back, like everything was happening without me. Things were going on around me but I wasn’t part of it. I felt invisible, or like I wasn’t needed, which I think leads back to the boys going to University.
I think I started to come out of my shell when we did the mask. I was fighting my way out of foliage, I was in there so long, I was so pale. At the time I felt colourless, insignificant, everyone else mattered apart from me. My creativity started to fill a hole that my lack of job, health and purpose had left. I have been with Arty-Folks two years and I would describe my journey as very interesting, good to be with people with similar problems, being able to talk to people about it, and they know what I’m talking about. The art projects are interesting, I’ve been doing things I never would have, like the sculpture and various other things. I go to a lot of other classes but Arty-Folks is more structured, the projects are clearly defined to channel and stretch skill and thinking. My artwork has developed a lot and I’m quite happy to use all sorts of paint, and I mix them in my work.
I have discovered a new purpose in my creativity and I attend numerous classes like watercolours, pottery, I like drawing portraits and people, and we changed the garage into a craft room, with my husband making models there, and I do work in there too. Yes, I’m coming out and I’m becoming more me again. My husband and I both had busy working lives, we were both teachers, and we have decided we need to spend more time together. We have been through a tough time together and we accept things how they are now.
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N.G. “Out of the blue”

I had done very well for myself but four years ago I was made redundant. I phoned my wife in tears and she reassured me we’ll manage. The job had been very stressful for a long time but I just hadn’t expected the company to fold. Suddenly I was too young to retire and too old for a new job. Then my mother became really ill and I became her carer. Whilst I was retraining myself in accountancy and exams were coming up my mum became very sick, and all of a sudden the pressure was too much.

My mother passed away a few months after losing my job. After just a few weeks, one day on my daily walk, I started to feel pins and needles in my legs, it felt like my legs were going to give way. I rested but the next day it happened again and I wasn’t able to walk. My GP referred me to a specialist and eventually I was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), a very rare form of illness. This physical illness just came on out of the blue.

It felt my whole world had already fallen apart and on top of that I had to face possible blindness and paralysis. I sank into a dark depression, questioning why this was happening to me and why everything at the same time. I lost faith in the future; all the plans I had with my wife to travel and retire vanished. I felt useless, surplus to requirement, and I felt a burden to my family. I fell silent. Life had been squeezed out of me and there was no energy left to do anything. I stayed in my room and didn’t feel like going out.

The specialist at the hospital recognised what was happening to my mental health and referred me to counselling and CBT where I started to talk about how I was feeling. They also referred me to Arty-Folks. I remember how low I felt at the time. When I look back now I feel sad about how I felt and I can still remember how terribly destroyed I felt.

At Arty-Folks I wasn’t able to take part in conversations firstly because of hearing problems but also because my voice was so faint. I had no energy to speak up and other people just couldn’t hear me. At first it was a tremendous effort just to get there and to concentrate for 2 hours but I attended every week and the group became my anchoring point. I think when we were painting I realised that I was learning new skills and that I was producing good art work. I thought, actually there are still a lot of things that I can do and that I can do well.

I moved quite quickly through the groups and I found the projects with Making Way group are really interesting. Most of them are about expressing and dealing with your feelings whether it be using clay work or drawing. We did a project around Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the carving in foam board helped me to deal with things and release negative emotions. I was able to give those bad feelings a voice, to express my pain visually. This piece of work made me realise what I’m going through rather than blanking out my pain, and it helped me to think and communicate things rationally.
I have been battling with this condition now for 4 years and because I have to take steroids my muscles have weakened and I’m on the waiting list for another operation to help me swallow properly. It has really taken over my life but since my diagnosis there’s been a lot of research into the condition. My treatment has started to improve and I’m dealing with it. In Oxford I met other people with a similar condition which really helped as I could see some people coping well and looking positive.

This illness did signify the end of the world for me at the beginning but I’ve been able to re-evaluate and discover that my health is more important than anything else, and that I need to do the best I can with what I’ve got. This acceptance of facts has opened doors for me. More than ever before do I value that I have a supportive family and with my wife and daughters supporting and encouraging me, I am able to do things again, I can cope with stresses and it feels like things have balanced out a bit now. I have even stepped on the ladder to do some DIY around the house and I go to Pilates and practice relaxation. Coming to Arty-Folks and meeting people and doing normal things has helped me to be more outspoken. Of course I’m still dealing with the pain and I have moments of depression but I’ve discovered how not to let it take over.

I have attended Arty-Folks for 2 ½ years and I think it would be very easy to remain within my comfort zone. But I do think it is important to take a next step, to challenge yourself and ask what else can I do? I know now that it is important for me to be in contact with people and keep busy enjoying my social life. I am ready now to move on from Arty-Folks and I will be volunteering in a maths class for adults. I will miss everyone in the group, they’ve been like family to me. I will keep up to date looking on the website and Facebook and tick ‘like’ on people’s artwork.
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G.P. “Music is my first love”

A friend mentioned to me that he found Arty-Folks had been useful to improve his mental health and I also picked up a leaflet at Willow View which encouraged me to attend. I’ve been attending Arty-Folks a couple of years now and reflecting back I feel I have progressed in quite a few ways.

My difficulties started while I was studying for my Masters in London.  I had a great upbringing in a loving and supportive family, got through schools ok, and enjoyed Uni.  I am not sure why about half-way through the first year of my Masters I started having bad panic attacks. I was sitting in a seminar and I remember my heart racing and feeling like I was going to die. I thought then it might be a panic attack but because it hadn’t surfaced in this way before I felt frightened.  I remember someone on my course also saying they struggled with anxiety and I realised that I wasn’t the only one who found the pressure hard to handle.

I have such high standards of myself that I need to reach, I feared looking foolish. My perfectionist tendencies and fear of being humiliated kept me stuck in a cycle of fear. It was at this point that I sought help through the NHS. I had some cognitive therapy which has taught me how to deal with panic attacks and I was able to complete my Masters.  After I completed my PGCE I taught music for seven years but didn’t enjoy it. Then something unexpected happened which changed my life.10471513_757215474345484_6710971308180891185_nMy breakdown happened during the summer holidays; I had come back to Coventry and the thought of going back for the new academic year simply became impossible. I was unable to do much for a while but began to recover slowly through volunteering and also some focused therapy that helped me to understand that I need to continue challenging myself step by step.  It opened up new doors for me like starting Arty-Folks and having piano lessons.

I have seen Arty-Folks change and develop since I have been there and it is providing me now with new opportunities that I wouldn’t have had before. Over the last few months, and especially since Ellie has been in post, Arty-Folks has had more links with the community and it has helped me to find the confidence to play in public again. It had been a long time since I performed so I started playing with the Coventry & Warwickshire Mind band and now I play twice a month at Soul Space lunch time concerts run by Warwick Road United Reform Church.

I visited the church with someone from Arty-Folks just to have a look at the space and meet organisers. I felt safe going with someone I knew as I become very anxious trying new things. Soul Space absolutely boosted my confidence.

After all the years of not playing publically it was strange. I’m used to playing at home, which I do often, but it’s usually for myself and it doesn’t have that added adrenaline and excitement that performing gives me. The first session went well but from then on I was apprehensive because I was aware of my expectations and the routine. I felt more self-conscious that I would go wrong.

I’ve been choosing pieces that I feel more confident with and will help listeners practice their relaxation techniques.  In the new year I’ll be trying some of my Grade 8 pieces which are more challenging. I recognise that I can practice towards my exam whilst giving something back and helping others to grow through my music.  This is such a nice feeling and I have noticed how much my confidence and self-belief has grown.

Once a fortnight performing at Soul Space is enough for me at the moment.  But I have been considering working towards a diploma which will help me start teaching piano. This is an option that I wouldn’t have been able to consider six months ago.

I’ve realised that I have the tendency sometimes to stay in a box and that I need to open up and reach beyond the limitations of my mental health condition.  But I know now that I can counterbalance my fear and nerves and get my life back on track.  Arty-Folks will be there, pushing me to open up to others, continue communicating through my art and music, and to build my skills and confidence to move on in life.

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