MENTAL illness can be isolating and painful, damaging relationships, confidence and lives.
I’ve written before about people’s experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, bipolarity, depression and emotional problems.
Their stories were touching and very human.
But to mark World Mental Health Day, I want to focus on recovery.
Let’s talk about art instead of illness.
I recently volunteered to teach creative writing sessions at the Mind wellbeing centre in Mold.
I write for the Leader every day but writing fiction and poetry has always provided me with a source of relief and great satisfaction.
One of the problems with mental illness is that there is a tendency to retreat into your own little world – a dark, cramped, uncomfortable world – difficult to escape and tricky for other people to understand.
When you write, you enter a world that’s just as private. But instead of being confining, it is liberating.
It’s yours to shape, and you can make it as colourful, realistic or fantastical as you want.
I wanted to share that with other people.
Over a relatively short time, I’ve come to realise that the hour-long session every other Tuesday night does more than create a little world – it opens it up.
Wellbeing Centre manager Lynne Jones said: “Being involved with art is about wellbeing. And working as a group makes it into a collective experience. It allows people to connect with others, to become involved in the creative process.
“We’ve run art workshops before, of various kinds, and they give people a sense of achievement, and it also allows them to express themselves.”
At the most recent session, I asked the participants, who come from all over Flintshire, to work together on a group poem.
Collaboration is tricky.
Everyone knows the adage “too many cooks spoil the broth”.
But over the course of a few minutes, with group input, we had a theme, a rhyme scheme, a rhythm and then a fully formed poem.
I can only talk with confidence about writing but there are many other forms of communal art open to new members, incluing community choirs, and painting projects, such as those run by Wrexham artist Peter Davy, whose work is displayed in the town library.
Carol Udale, an artist from Mold, runs print workshops with Mind.
She said: “They were brilliant. The people were lovely. One gentleman had cleanliness OCD – the people were very open about their experiences – and the session was a pretty messy one.
“I was wondering how he’d cope but he did fantastically well.”
Fiona Roberts, 48, of Deeside, a volunteer for Mind, also takes part in the creative writing sessions.
She said: “It’s fun and it doesn’t cost anything. It makes you realise you can do something you never thought you could.
“I went in thinking ‘I can’t write’ but I came away thinking ‘I’m going to get myself a little book and carry on’.”
I recently spoke to Ruth Bayley, a Shropshire-based photographer, a former sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder.
She offers ‘Healing with Photography’ sessions to people on the Wrexham-Cheshire and Wrexham-Shropshire border.
She aims to “move the attention from their mind to the object that they are taking pictures of” and described the process as “humbling” for her as an artist.
It is humbling, both what art can do for people and what it can reveal.
My class has come out with some blistering lines and beautiful imagery, from frozen fountains to golden harvest moons.
I didn’t quite realise what the session might mean to the attendees until one, Janet Burns, sent me a letter.
She eloquently described her problems with sadness and her low confidence and signed it off with: “Thank you for believing in me”.
It brought a lump to my throat because when Janet has a notebook out, she isn’t sad and when she reads her work out she is anything but unconfident.
That belief doesn’t come from me, it comes from her love of the artform.