To say my life changed on the 6th of December 2011 is an understatement, that’s the day my life began again. It was by at a psychological assessment from hospital discharge, that I saw an advert for Creative Minds Art for Wellbeing. I do not know to this day what it was about the advert as I have never drawn in my life and was never any good at drawing, but something made me interested. I rang the number on the advert and spoke to someone who said the date for the next session was the 6th December. I went along absolutely terrified of people wondering why I was at an art class when I could not draw. Having suffered from mental ill health most of my life who would have known that art would have such an impact in my life.
My first picture
I arrived at the Artworks in Halifax, I walked into the studio and was met by a vast ‘factory’, no one was there and I was just about to turn and ‘do a runner’ when John (complete with beret and cravat) stepped back saw me and called me down. I sat on the chair nearest the door (in case I needed to leave in a hurry!) Several more people came in and so the session began. We were shown how to draw a thistle. It looked so easy. I started drawing and John and Stan came around and checked everyone was alright. It was much easier than I thought and I was astonished at the end that it looked like a thistle. I had drawn something that resembled what it was supposed to! We then drew a few similar things before the sheep’s skull came out. When I showed my daughters the wonderful thistle I had drawn they did not believe me and I had to draw another to prove that I had done it and not cheated and got one of the tutors to do it for me.
The sheep skull
They asked us to draw a sheep skull without any guidance or advice. I drew something on the paper; it did not resemble anything like a skull. I screwed the paper up and tried to hide it, Stan stopped me from throwing it in the bin and although he wanted to see what I had drawn he saw how upset I was with the effort I had done. I was sat there, hands crossed and tears welling in my eyes in anguish, all the other people there seemed to know what they were doing, knew how to draw, and here I was with not a clue. He then called us all together and showed us the best techniques and how to draw it. I went back to my seat and produced my sheep’s skull. I was hooked! (It is only now that I can look back at that crumpled piece of paper and can thank Stan for not letting me throw it away just to remind myself how far I have come).
I went to the lessons every week and as each week went by I produced work that I was proud of. I was addicted, I went home and drew. If anything was on my mind and stopping me from sleeping, instead of reaching for sleeping pills I was reaching for my sketch book and pencil. For the first time in years I was gaining confidence and was proud of myself. My daughters were proud of the work I did (they previously laughed at me when we played "Quick On The Draw" as my drawings were shocking and the butt of many of their jokes, I would even go as far as saying they only used to play it to laugh at my efforts!).
A year later I was still addicted to drawing, but now I was medication free, I began to paint, Simon started me off with the painting, he just got some paints out one day and said see what you can do with that. From there I am producing some work that people are asking me if they can have to put up on their walls. How cool is that? I would never have thought that in one year I would be medication free and confident enough to stand and talk about my life (and write about it too). I never ever thought that people would want my work on their walls, but to date there are many people with my work adorning their walls (I am still in shock!!)
People cannot believe how much I have changed, how confident I have become (I cannot believe it myself) but thanks to the use of creativity and the skill of the tutors at Artworks I have my life back, I no longer stay in all day unable to get out of bed let alone the door, I want to face the world, I want to see what else I could draw or paint. I want to live. Thanks to The Artworks/Creative Minds I am sat here writing this story of how my life has changed. My daughters have their mum back and I have my life back. You cannot say better than that.
Well time has flown by! I have moved on from Artworks and have now branched out on my own (scary!) but it is a wonderful opportunity and the next part in my recovery and progress. I have my very first solo exhibition on the 27th June (Who would have thought I would be showcasing my work and even branching out alone) I am very apprehensive, but know that to keep going with my recovery I have to push myself to keep moving forward, no matter how scary it might seem. I would like to thank those who continue to support me and look forward to even bigger/better things in the future.
Update Oct 2015
Well I have been very busy lately and apologise for not putting new pictures up on my website. I am now officially free from services and am no longer classed as a "service user". It is hard to stop calling myself a service user as I have been that all my adult like and some of my childhood too.
I am now working for Creative minds. The company that saved me is continuing to support me but in a very different role. I am still doing my voluntary work with the mental health charities that I am passionate about. I continue to do the talks informing people of my journey and enlightening them on how it feels to be a service user. I have done several talks at universities to the student nurses, occupational; therapists, social workers to name a few. I have also done talks to psychiatrists and psychologist which went down extremely well (after feeling like I haven’t been listened to most of my adult life, I now watch as they hang on to my every word).
I still go to my studio, not as often as I would have liked, but it is still my sanctuary. People keep asking if I will ever take art up full time, but to me art is about freedom and expression. I feel if I started to do it as a ‘job’ then it would lose the tranquillity that I feel when I do go and let myself loose on the paints.
Update March 2017
Well what a roller coaster these last few months have been. I moved studio and am now painting both from home and have an exhibition studio in Brighouse too. I continue to strive for better mental health services. I have worked with Yorkshire Ambulance, Department of Work and Pensions, Department of Health, NHS England, Health foundation, Nesta to name but a few.
I still love my work with Creative minds and they continue to help me stay on the right track. I won the trusts Outstanding achievement award (which was incredible as I do not feel what I do is outstanding) I have made some amazing contacts and inspirational people, which really helps keep me going in what can be an incredibly frustrating and infuriating system, but it NEEDS to change and I KNOW I am making changes (all be it slower than I would like)
In May 2017 I was a nominee for the Yorkshire Woman of Achievement award in the courage category. I do not see what I do as courageous, I see it as something I was saved to do. Something I need to continue to do. In the same month I stood and did a talk in front of (then) Prince Charles. Me, talking at the Kings fund, in front of the heir to the throne. Oh how my life has changed. Invisible I used to be, but not anymore.
Update June 2019
Gosh I cannot believe it has been over 2 years since I last updated my website (hangs head in shame) I have been very busy with loads of things. I have won a few more awards, done many many talks, moved house (twice) and started doing a Masters degree in Mental Health recovery and Social Inclusion (designed for people with lived experience) and in April this year I got married. I have not had as much time to draw and paint as I would like, but it is still a part of my life and I do it when I get the chance. I have a small studio in the house so it is easier to just nip in there to paint rather than try and find time to visit a studio.
Update March 2023
I am always amazed at where my journey continues to take me. I still have to pinch myself that these wonderful things are really happening to me. I am just about to start on my own, leaving the NHS that has been my safety blanket for many years now. I passed my MSc with DISTINCTION and I have been doing KUF training for the past 6 months, which I want to focus on more. I am also going to be doing consultancy and project work which aligns better with my passions and ethos of mental health recovery and using creative approaches to support it. I continue to paint to help with my wellbeing. I continue to talk about changing services and being more trauma led/informed and I continue to support all services users to have a voice and a choice within their own care.
Life has a strange way of working out. I never imagined that I would be strong enough to be working let alone self-employed! I used to say the sky is the limit, but I realise now the sky has no limit. We can go further than we could ever imagine.