Tag: storytelling

Project Wormwood

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!


Now then… What next?!

The Life of Robyn- Let’s Evaluate and Do Something

This is my blog following the catchily named ‘Discover’ Children and Young People Evaluation Workshop. I hasten to add that there was no ”s’ on the end of ‘people’ on the sheet I have, probably because this was a gathering mostly for professionals who work with and around the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service. It was not an event for the direct attendance of service users, but it was certainly a day with young people completely central in all points of discussion. Sitting at the tables were the people who can actually change things.

It started at *Cheery Lodge a few weeks ago with a group of patients and a pretty awesome storyteller. We were told about an enquiry into the CAMHS service which is currently taking place in our region. It is called Discover and we spent a very long session discussing the imagery used to represent the process. This was a logo of a missing puzzle piece being slotted into place within a silhouetted head. Is it too simplistic? Is it implying that there is just a missing piece that we as services users need to be given in order to be cured? Does it imply that we are broken? We weren’t sure.

Our awesome storyteller asked us to create a character together to use as an Everyman in all of our stories. We came up with the name of Robyn (unisex) and formulated the average age of sixteen. We left it at that and then set to telling our own stories through the life of the elusive Robyn. Poor Robyn had a multitude of lives- in some making a full recovery, winning the lottery and beating the system and in others being homeless and ending up stuck in an adult inpatient facility. We audio recorded our stories and then added pictures in order to create a presentation.

Myself and *Izzy decided we would quite like to go to present what we had made to the big fishes of CAMHS and other services. A room smelling of coffee and pens was the venue for all the big bosses. As Izzy said: “Adults talking adult stuff”. “They’re just people. Just like you and me.” I whispered back before suggesting we get involved in whatever they were discussing in order to prove this point.

A minor crisis occurred at the start when the audio part of our presentation refused to co-operate with us and despite our increasingly desperate pleas it continued to make demands for a file type we had never even heard of. Having only a first draft of the recording on paper we had to improvise big style by reading the transcript out and improvising the bits we had added in after it had been printed.

Unable to read the tiny words of our notes I had to reduce my non-existent professional image somewhat by borrowing a very kind gentleman’s iPhone, hastily panorama photographing some paragraphs and blowing them up. My own iPhone camera had been disabled on admission to *Cheery Lodge in order to protect patient confidentiality on the unit and such. Thank heavens for understanding and generous people because the loan of the phone was what made it possible for me to take part as planned. We made it through the presentation and got really good feedback.

Suddenly these professionals didn’t seem as big and scary. They were just people. Trying to do their best for so many young people who’s stories are so hard to follow. They did truly listen and pick up on the points that were made- early intervention is needed, more awareness and more training for physical health practitioners. We discussed how differently the subject of mental health is treated in comparison to physical health. One is the train platform, common ground and a safety zone to be observed and preserved. A talking point in a classroom and a measurement in the doctor’s office. The other is the railway track- vital but understated and yet live and silently taking casualties. Sadly the gap between the station platform and the railway track is vast. Far too vast.

When I do this kind of thing I always judge how well a presentation has been received by comparing the initial reaction to my guide dog with the end reaction to the talk. No matter how ignored I am in comparison to my furry companion at the beginning of an event I don’t mind as long as by the end people are more interested in the point that I am making than what my dog eats. Judging by this theory I think myself and Izzy pulled it off big time despite huge initial canine interest!

I did give my blog a cheeky plug at the end as the ‘Inpatient’ blogs I have done recently are all about CAMHS and the opinions of myself and others I have met. I hope they can do some good. If you are here for the first time- welcome. Please take a look around and if you like what you see I would encourage you to subscribe and hang about. The truth is that it’s all very well sitting and talking but mistakes need to be learned from and things need  to be improved. The message of today was definitely one of hope and change. One size will never fit all, but we need to stop so many people slipping through the net and I am so honoured to be a small part of trying to make that happen.