“We might not feel like it, but we are very strong people”

“Get me off this roller coaster
Feel like an astronaut I’m not strapped in
Hanging on by my fingernails
I can see the bad man grin”

What is it about the link between mental illness and creativity? The world seems to divide people into categories in so many ways – children are told in school that they are creative or not creative. Everyone is familiar with the stereotype of the tortured artist genius such as Van Gogh. So very often we make a connection between madness and artistic output – we look at Van Gogh’s tortured skyscapes or read about how Gregor Samsa woke up one morning to find that he had turned into a cockroach (The Metamorphosis, by Kafka). So do we have to be mad to be creative? Does emotional, mental, or spiritual distress somehow give us licence to channel some sort of lightning into a song, poem, or painting?

In our workshops here at Other Ways Of Telling, we’ve been exploring all sorts of techniques that unblock our creativity. We’ve written songs and poems and we’re putting together a performance, which will be on in St Helens Central Library in mid March. The lyrics at the start of this article are from one of our songs, which describes the highs and lows of emotion that people often experience when going through a stressful period. Out of this collective sharing come some themes – we’re looking at how people move from what is sometimes described as a breakdown, to a break through, and then a break out. This break out might be from what’s expected of us by the outside world, or what we expect of ourselves. It might be refusing to accept a verdict that society has passed on us. It also means that we don’t have to be tortured geniuses to be singers, writers, artists or performers – in fact, getting back in touch with our creativity is a healing and integrative process, that for many people rewinds to the moment when we were told as children that we couldn’t draw or couldn’t sing, and undoes the harm that was done at that instant. Creativity is a fundamental human activity, within and available to everyone. To quote another alleged tortured genius, Sergei Rakmaninoff, “What other function can music have [than] to make us whole again?”.

Welcome to ‘Other Ways Of Telling’

Collective Encounters are running an arts project using music, writing and drama to create a performance early next year. It’s aimed at anyone who finds it hard to get opportunities to participate in the arts. It’s open to anyone, regardless of previous experience, ability or confidence, and the first sessions we run will be aimed at building confidence and trying out simple techniques, so we hope they will be enjoyable. You’re welcome to come and find out whether the project is for you, you don’t have to commit to coming to every session, and it’s not necessary to be committed to performing to participate in the workshops.

The sessions began on Friday 16th November at Thatto Heath Library, and are running every Friday from then (except the 14th and 21st December). The Library is small and friendly, and is easily reached by train and bus, and we can cover travel expenses where necessary. The sessions begin at 1.30 and runs until 3, but people are welcome to come at 1 for tea, coffee and biscuits. New members are welcome.

We’ll also be running some creative music sessions at the Central Library – these will be starting on Wednesday, December 5th, from 5.30 to 7.30.

For more details about any aspect of this project please contact Aidan on aidan@collective-encounters.org.uk, or look us up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/OtherWaysOfTelling

An Ideal World….writing from Other Ways Of Telling

We all walk around in tiger-striped skin
Then we’re all happy in the skin we are in
None disadvantaged and we all get stuck in
No mental illness, no bullying
All people everywhere, joined
In an unbroken ring
Helping each other, one family
All have what they need and no-one has more
None of the children ever get bored
No politicians, no random greed
When all are equal, we all take heed

I think there should be more peace in the world,
Make love not war
More diversing, more equality to eradicate bullying
Stamp out stigma against mental health
We all bleed red, no racism
There is only one race, the human race
Less politicians, more understanding people
Encourage more people to have more respect for animals, birds…etc…
Less violence on the streets, more bobbies on the beat
The politicians need to shape up or ship out
Love hate, don’t hate love – love one another as brothers and sisters