There is nothing that I could be happier to receive than a project; something to get my teeth stuck into and to keep me focused when life gets blurry.
When I first arrived at *Cheery Lodge they told me that they had a storytelling workshop based around fairytales. I was angry and fought against going. My feeling was that they were tipping ‘happily ever after’ into us along with Prozac and so I said no and asked for therapy. There is no such thing as happily ever after.
The next week however boredom got the better of me and I decided to go along. It was then that I met Cath Heinemeyer, a PHD student and storyteller. Though I was aware that fairytales outside of Disney aren’t all rainbows and fairy dust; I had certainly never ventured into traditional folk tales or the shadowy world of The Brother’s Grimm.
The process started with a very strange story called ‘Wormwood’ by Italo Calvino. It is the story of a woman who started life as a baby left to die under a wormwood bush. Wormwood is controlled entirely by other people and their actions. I became enthusiastic about the story quickly and after hearing retellings and the original several times I was wanting to work with it more. Cath had asked everyone in the first storytelling workshop to write a poem from different characters to Wormwood and her responses back to them. We soon had poetic conversations between characters that varied hugely in style and warmth.
Cath then asked myself and another patient to continue working on the story with the aim being to perform at a local festival celebrating arts and mental wellbeing. We met several times in various cafés and bookish environments- pouring over many sheets of paper and fine-tuning the tiny threads of each relationship within the story. Week by week we worked together to make the story into a script, which would later become our performance. I felt a connection with Wormwood and after looking through my poems I found some that I hoped would bring emotion to the character that we knew very little about.
In the end it was just Cath and I who did the performances. We were aided by the little hand sewn puppets we created and we also had the fantastic input of a local theatre director. The audiences for all three performances were fantastic and listened throughout. Many admitted that they found the story strange but fascinating.
I particularly loved to get feedback from those who had experience of mental illness themselves and hearing that they could connect to my poetry was amazing. It was the first time I had every performed my poetry live, and it certainly won’t be the last. I got a real buzz from it. The poems I used were ‘I am Exhaled’ and ‘We’re All Rare Anyway‘ accompanied by my letter to mental health professionals.
There were so many amazing things going on at the Love Arts festival that it was impossible to choose what to attend. So many people were there with so many links to mental health and the arts. I am so very honoured to have been a part of such a project and I am so gateful to Cath for the opportunity, and of course to all those who came to see us perform on some of the hottest days of the British summer!
At the end of the performance I repeat a line from We’re all Rare Anyway and tell the audience that they are all the most beautiful of creatures. It is at this point a basket of slightly battered apples get passed around with little tiny things to decorate them with and birth certificates. You can tell that these apples were made by very arty folk!