This week it’s Mental Health Awareness week. So my twitter feed (in particular) has been full of really interesting events and activities that link my main interests of Craft and Art with a topic that is close to me personally – maintaining good mental health. On a beautiful day like today the heavy grey days of winter seem long gone, and my struggles with SAD are thankfully over for a while. But I still grapple with anxiety and on-and-off low level depression that slows me right down or puts me out of action, no matter the season. I’m pretty certain that everyone deals with their own unique combination of mental health issues, and that we all sit on that spectrum. How much they affect your day-to-day functioning seems to be the deciding factor in how open we are about it with other people. I know I don’t really talk much about it (beyond a few blog posts) with people outside of my family and friends, which makes me sure that if we were all more open about things, then maybe we would no longer need a ‘week’ to highlight how much people deal with on a daily basis.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the links between mental health and art. The Arts Council is very keen that we make the link between Arts & Culture and mental wellbeing: “We believe that making and experiencing arts and culture can transform quality of life for individuals and communities. #ArtsHealthWellbeing." Something I wholeheartedly agree with, but believe that it’s hard to quantify the benefits as it can be so personal. The arts make us feel better, as observers, as participants and as creators. But its effects can be elusive and transient as well as far-reaching and permanent. What I do know, from my limited position as a person who works with artists, who considers herself an artist, and as a person who deals with mental health issues, is that without art and culture I would not feel like myself. And that is a big part of it, for me. What are the things that bring me back to me when I’m feeling lost? Weirdly, it’s not people, but it’s connecting to something creative, something that feels a bit bigger than myself, that allows me to see in a wider way.
I am beginning to piece together some thoughts about making and creating as being displacement activities for my nervous energy. My need to use my hands to make things as a way for me to keep occupied, both physically and mentally. There is no doubt that the act of making, of spending time focused on a particular task, is a form of mindfulness for me. And when that is removed, or I forget to do it regularly, I notice a decline. These thoughts weren’t very well formed, and I’d never articulated them, until recently. Which is mainly because up until a few years ago I was a maker with a regular making practice; my whole life revolved around my making. And then, post-graduation, with life doing what life does, taking me off in unexpected directions, I lost my every day making practice. And I became adrift. I’ve talked about my struggles with not making in previous blog posts, and it’s ongoing. But what I’ve noticed, now having some distance between me and my making, is what the making represents and how it is important. Which is possibly something I would not have considered properly before. For me, my relationship to making and my creative practice are intrinsically linked to my mental wellbeing. Learning more about that, and how I can nurture the precarious balance, feels vital.
So, here are some resources for those times when you feel a bit detached from your creative practice, when your mental wellbeing could do with some kindness:
Do take a look at my blog posts on self-care. There may be some strategies I use that can help you. Or it may just help to hear that I deal with this stuff too.
Here are my 5 favourite books for reigniting your passion for your creative practice, for being true to your own talents, for understanding why we make things, for finding the way to do it every day, and for being reminded that even Emperors struggle with the same stuff we do!
A new find for me is the Hurry Slowly podcast by Jocelyn K Glei about how you can be more productive, creative and resilient through the simple act of slowing down. Great advice for people who are always feeling stretched and too busy, feeling drawn away from the time to recharge creatively.
And, if you want something a bit more active – King's College London are holding the Arts in Mind festival from 4 – 10 June. The programme is full of events on how arts can help understanding of depression, anxiety, psychosis, dementia, ADHD & brain injury as well as enhance mental health.