Tag: Mental Health

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness: Graham Caveney in conversation with Deirdre O’Byrne

On the snowy evening of Wednesday 28 Feb, at Middle Street Resource Centre, Beeston residents were treated to a talk and exploration of Graham Caveney’s book The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.

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His book, described as ‘a memoir of adolescence’ is a powerful recounting of Caveney’s life growing up in Accrington, from a working class Catholic background. It explores his love of music, literature, and brings to the fore issues such as class, religion, and the abuse he was subject to by his teacher and headmaster at his local grammar school during the 1970s.

Having kept his abuse quiet from his closest friends, and parents, his book comes at a time of recovery from years of mental anquish, drinking problems and trips in and out of rehab. At the start of the event, after everyone has settled with hot drinks, Graham Machin, chair of Beeston Community Resource (BCR), and one of our Beeston Heroes, speaks about the history of MSRC and its role as a mental health day centre.

Attendees of the event were encouraged to donate money towards a fund which helps people with mental health problems when they are in need of emergency support. This was done on a pay-what-you-can basis, and that Caveney agreed was a fitting cause for the event to raise money for.

Deirdre O’Byrne starts off the conversation by asking Graham about how his book came to be written in the first place, revealing a link to the hosts of the event, Five Leaves Bookshop, who had given Graham a job when he proclaimed himself as unemployable. It was then being surrounded by books that struck the right chord and enabled him to begin telling his story. What began as an attempt to rewrite Kafka’s Metamorphosis, became the courageous and endearing book that now exists as an object in the world (something Graham appreciates in books generally).

He’d sent paragraphs to his friend Julie Hesmondhalgh as a way to tell her about himself and his past, and she asked him if he’d thought about having it published. “When writing it, it never occurred to me that it would be published, and that was a good thing, otherwise I’d never have written it,” he says.

He had contacts that would be able to help towards publication, but, “I wasn’t prepared to cash in on those friendships,” he reveals. He then received an email from Julie with the subject heading ‘oops’ saying that she’d sent it to Jonathan Coe, an old friend and author in his own right, who got in contact with Graham’s former agent, who sold the book within 3 months.

The conversation is split up with a few readings, each of them read wonderfully, and eliciting laughs from the listeners. Deirdre picks up on this, and asks about the humour and presence of quite dark jokes in the book. Graham says humour can be a great way to express trauma and abuse, and that he didn’t want to write a sad, gloomy book which expressed how bad abuse is. He wanted the focus to be on the stuff he liked as a fourteen-year-old and his adolescence, which the abuse happened to occur and coincide with.

I wouldn’t have been able to write it without the education given to me by my abuser, and that’s something that I’m deeply grateful for.

The event as a whole gets into the heart of the story behind the book, and Graham provides listeners with many insights, such as the book’s publication leading to the un-naming of a performing arts centre which had previously been named after Graham’s abuser, something which Graham says is a ‘minor victory’. He also tells of a few instances of negative reactions, such as one person telling him that Graham, by writing the book, had just ‘pissed all over my childhood’ and another pointing out that he’d misspelt a teacher’s name, thereby throwing everything else into question. In reaction to this, he says: “People are eager to find ways to discredit it.”

He discusses class, memory and the issue of trigger warnings, which he says suggests that there’s a process to solving a problem. He reels off a list of seemingly insignificant things that can trigger him: a certain perfume, the texture of someone’s collar etc.

When receiving questions from the floor, Graham is asked what it’s like having the book out there being read and reviewed. ‘Strange’ is his main feeling towards it, but he says that the strangest part isn’t the book being reviewed by publications such as The Guardian , The Times and TLS, it’s actually when he’s in a coffee shop such as The Bean in Beeston, and someone comes up to him and says ‘I read your book’.

He says those are the moments he realises that the “book doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the world.” He doesn’t regret telling his story, that he feels both “insulated and exposed” by it, but that ultimately its existence “validates something that I’ve carried around with me.”

The book itself holds a number of fascinating realisations in terms of Graham’s being able to write it in the first place. He says, “I wouldn’t have been able to write it without the education given to me by my abuser, and that’s something that I’m deeply grateful for.”

It’s also apparent that he couldn’t write it until his parents had passed away. His mother clung to her faith, and Graham believes that it was this that kept her going after his father had died. Revealing his abuse from his priest and teacher “would have been like telling her that God doesn’t exist.” So it was only after her death that he was able to write about it.

At the end of the event, the attention turns to his next book, which he’s 25,000 words into already, and which will be on the history of agraphobia. He says that he never made a conscious decision to write another book, he just carried on from this one.

A wonderful, insightful evening with plenty of books bought and signed by Graham, it was enough to make everyone want to get home and start reading (or re-reading) the book, with the added knowledge of all that he shared with us.

Read our interview with Graham Caveney.

JM

Creative Beeston: On the right path

Here at Creative Beeston we are passionate about the endorsement of craft therapy. The merits of art and crafts on mental well-being have been carefully studied, and the work of the Mental Health Foundation found substantial evidence that patients, who are suffering with depression or anxiety, found creative pursuits more successful in helping their symptoms than medical alternatives.

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We are so lucky to have numerous creative opportunities in Beeston and beyond, and most of them do not appear to have any age restrictions. Nevertheless, this did lead me to wonder what specifically we are doing to engage the elderly people in our community? I gave my memory a prod, then I remembered a lady I had been introduced to a while back in relation to community workshops she had been running in local care homes. Promptly I contacted her via her Facebook page and despite a busy schedule, she was more than happy to meet up with me. Taking the tram out of Beeston towards the city then back out again in a less familiar direction, I eventually found her in her bright new office in Clifton.

Karyn started Creative Paths, a Community Interest Company (CIC), working from a tiny attic office at the Voluntary Action Bureau in Beeston, fired by her desire to recreate the benefit of her very first job as a Community Artist, working with mainly elderly and terminally ill patients at Manor Hospital in Derby in the 1980s. Prior to the Community Care Act of 1990 support for the more vulnerable in our society was inadequate. Community Care ensures that people in need of long-term care are now able to live either in their own home, with adequate support, or in a residential home setting.

One of Creative Paths activities is to engage residents in workshops, such as craft, reminiscence and art.   Much of Creative Path’s work is centred around the elderly in care homes and in particular patients who have dementia. As well as the creative outcomes, people benefit from the participation and process of making and creating together. All Creative Paths workshops are designed to be accessible and have elements of sensory work, reminiscence and creativity so that there is something for everyone.

lack of interaction can exacerbate confusion and if people are engaged they tend to be much happier in their surroundings

Other services Creative Paths offer, with the help of community education funding via Inspire, is a range of specialist community learning. Such as the Creative Reminiscence course which runs for five weeks. Residents use photos, objects and memorabilia to stimulate their learning. In the group they share their thoughts on a topic such as childhood and this promotes their social interaction. This can counteract the isolation that many people with dementia can experience due to communication difficulties. Often, as people tend to be from the same area, some common memories spring up and spark natural conversations, which is wonderful to witness as well as being brilliant for the brain.

One of the techniques which is employed is known as Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, which can help the memory and thinking skills of people with mild to moderate dementia and can improve the quality of their life quite dramatically. Often songs are used as a form of stimulus and to promote a theme which can then be built upon. Karyn believes that these sessions are effective in producing positive results. She tells me that a lack of interaction can exacerbate confusion and if people are engaged they tend to be much happier in their surroundings. Evidence suggests there can be less accidents or falls due to their calmer mental state and even the need for medication has been reduced in some cases, all amazing outcomes.

Although Creative Paths are currently delivering learning and workshops in some of Beeston’s residential care homes, their offices recently moved to Clifton.  Creative Paths is now piloting a project in Clifton called Activity Match, where residents are supported with an activity that meets their specific interests. Participant’s unique pastimes are identified and then they are carefully matched with a volunteer who shares similar interests. Volunteers are often unemployed or retired and needing a purpose themselves. The benefits of this service, unlike some of the group projects, is that it addresses individuals’ needs on a one on one basis.

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Karyn also mentions they are providing some family learning opportunities in the Clifton community starting in February.  It is clear she still has a lot of ideas, the energy to realise them and a committed team to deliver this valuable support, that adds significant value to the daily lives of some of our older residents.

Despite humble beginnings, Karyn has persisted with her ambitions to empower the elderly in our community. I can feel warmth emanating from her as we chat over the set of tables she has acquired for her new space. The room we are in is spacious with big light filled windows and I think of my own community projects. Karyn tells me that the room is for hire and can be adapted to suit a range of functions, I make a note of this.

Room bookings can be made via the website http://www.creativepaths.org.uk/ but you can also find them on Facebook. And if you want any proof of the wonderful work they are doing I suggest a scroll through the photographs on either page, they are absolutely brimming with positive creativity that is a pure joy to see.

DU

Poetry For The Mind

(First published on Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature , republished with kind permission

Middle Street Resource Centre is an inconspicuous building. Long a feature of Beeston, its unassuming structure belies the vibrant creative activity within. The charity, Mindset, runs from here, lending support to those with mental health issues, and the socially excluded. It has been an invaluable asset for Beeston and surrounding areas, signposting and providing activities for those looking for them. The filmmaker Shane Meadows has run exclusive fundraisers at the centre, and it has gained plaudits from all quarters of the East Midlands, as well as from further afield.

There are a multitude of courses here for people to participate in, from music appreciation to carpentry. A beautiful, meticulously-tended vegetable garden is a testament to the work done by the volunteers who have made it their own. We at Nottingham City of Literature are here for a less green-fingered reason, though: to meet an inspiring poetry group that has just put out their first anthology.

The Middle Street Poetry Group was co-founded in 2014 by Steve Plowright, a local poet, songwriter, and craftsman who has been dealing with acute mental health issues for decades. Around the time of the millennium, he set his poetry down in a self-published anthology, Bi-Polar Rhythms: a raw, often terrifying look into his own chaotic head. The book is a visceral read, and it would be easy to assume that the writing process behind it must have been painful. Yet Steve also found that it had a remarkably therapeutic effect. As one of the group participants later comments [of writing poetry], “It gets my thoughts out of my head, and onto paper.”

However, the purpose of the group is not merely to provide catharsis. “It’s good fun,” Steve explains, as he sets up for the session. “People have to enjoy it.”

The group-members gather, some clutching their own poetry, some with other’s work. They form a circle, and with no real prompt, start to share poetry. Tom has brought along four poems, each one exquisitely crafted tales of his life – of alcohol and breakdown. The group listen intently. They discuss the poems afterwards, opening up to each other and exploring the meaning behind the lines. It would be too simplistic to label this ‘talking therapy’; it is a spontaneous discussion, with any therapeutic aspect merely a helpful by-product.

A cheerful older gentleman named Dennis tells me that he has only just started reading and writing poetry, at age 74. “I’ve always liked reading, just never poetry.” Has the group converted him? “Oh, yes. It’s my hobby now.”

Ray, a young man with his poetry in pixel form, ready to be read off his tablet, tells me how the sessions have boosted his social confidence; first encouraging him to read aloud to the group, and then to the general public.

It’s also an educational experience. In the previous week’s session, the chosen topic was the First World War. While the usual Sassoon and Wilfred Owen poetry was read, so too was that of the often-overlooked Irish war poets. Notable among these was Francis Ledwidge.

“I’ll go home and google poets and poems we talk about,” one member told me, “and then find something else, then something else. It’s constant learning in a subject I never thought I’d be interested in.”

Another member, Yasmin, found the session on war challenging but ultimately effective: “I like nice things,” she explains. “War, and talking about war – it’s horrible, horrible. But when I went home and my mind had thought through what we’d talked about, I felt a wave of emotion and empathy, which I’d have never been able to face before this. It had a huge impact on me.”

Nick brings in lyrics that he judges are more poetry, with a particular love of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. “So much can be poetry,” he tells the group.

Earlier this year, Steve realised they’d produced enough good poetry to justify putting together a collection, and thus Journeys Through the Mind came to be. A diverse and fascinating volume, beautifully illustrated, they’ve sold most of their initial run of 100 copies and are considering printing more. For most of the contributors, it’s their first time in print.

Poetry has proven to be a force for good with the group. They relish playing off each other, developing each other’s work, interacting and inspiring. Their weekly Monday meetings are looked forward to; they lend a crucial structure to the group and provide motivation for the participants.

“I get excited on a Sunday and re-read my poetry,” one of them explains. “I want it to be just right.”

The group are now hoping to take their book on tour and perform in public places. If you know of a good venue, or a similar group to collaborate with, please get in touch with us via the Contact Us page.

Chris McLoughlin: Interview

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeiran Ganiyeva

We met a Beeston performance poet who is breaking down the boundaries of mental health…

Breakdown

It’s very rare that I cry after reading a book or poem. But one Beeston-based performance poet succeeded in opening the floodgates when I read one of ten poems in his collection Breakdown. The man in question is Chris McLoughlin, 28, who has been writing for two and a half years, ever since he moved to the area.

His chapbook was published in July 2016 by Big White Shed, a Nottingham-based business run by Anne Holloway, which acts as an enabler to help poets such as Chris realise their ambitions, such as writing a book.

After reading his collection, I couldn’t wait to meet him and it turns out we have a lot more in common than expected, i.e. we both have anxiety. I begin by asking him about the subject matter of his poems. He says, ‘They predominantly cover the mental health spectrum and grief.’  It is by nature a personal subject, so I asked him what his poems mean to him, in terms of their content and writing them. He tells me that ‘they are a way for me to process what I’m going through, but in performance and by publishing they are a way that I hope other people can process what they are going through.’

As a Beeston poet myself, I wondered whether he has ever been inspired by our home-town. He says: ‘I write about Beeston quite a lot. You know the concrete steam towers? When you get the train in just before the station? I’ve written about them loads. Every time I reach them I’m home, and they’re the signifier.’

At this point we turn to the subject of performance. Chris tells me that he has a background in drama and is a trained actor. He says, ‘I’m more of a stage poet than I am a page poet. The difference for me is when you read a powerful poem, it will tend to reach people for longer but not in the same way. Whereas when I perform, I perform to people not just at them.’

I walk into the audience and get them to cram around me as tight as they can, and it’s trying to teach them what anxiety is.

Chris has performed at a number of festivals including Luton International Carnival, Nottingham Poetry festival, and Greenwich & Docklands Festival. He provides me with an insight into how someone expressing mental health problems transfers that to an audience: ‘There’s one poem called Ghosts which I do at festivals,’ he says, ‘and usually you tend to get quite a lot of “traditional” poets who read and look like professors. But in Ghosts, I walk into the audience and get them to cram around me as tight as they can, and it’s trying to teach them what anxiety is.’ I tell him what a great idea it is, to combine his acting skills with being a poet, and he recalls a performance he did at Das Kino in Nottingham. ‘They’ve got a big mirror at the back which you perform in front of,’ he tells me, ‘and that’s so horrible! If I perform in front of that, everyone is going to be like “whatever”, so I got everyone to turn around and face the mirror, and I faced the mirror and said, “this is what anxiety looks like.”’

I tell him I need to see him perform.

To tell me what message he wants to convey to his readers through the written word he begins by explaining the writing process of his book’s blurb: ‘We [him and Anne] took three hours to write the blurb, and it’s two sentences. It’s because we didn’t know what we meant, and it was always stuff like “Chris McLoughlin is a blah blah blah” and in the end I just wrote “he kinda wants you to buy this book, or whatever, but really he just hopes these poems help you feel less alone”. And that’s exactly it, I just want someone to hear the poem and go “oh, me too.”’

I was meant to interview Chris for the last issue, and touch on his role with the Mouthy Poets, a poetry collective that run weekly workshop sessions to explore poetry in terms of performance. But in December 2016 they split up, so I decide to ask Chris, who was their Artistic Director, about the reasons behind the split. He tells me ‘we got caught in a catch 22 where our funding got so low we could barely afford to pay our staff, and we needed our staff to be doing funding stuff. Eventually we decided rather than impact our participants negatively we’d say “we’ve done a lot and that’s that.”’ He informs me that the average running course of an arts organisation is five years, and the Mouthy Poets had been on its sixth year.

It’s not all bad news, however, as participants from Mouthy have branched out and created new projects such as a writing collective and an editing circle. Chris adds that although he doesn’t see Mouthy coming back together, he wouldn’t rule it out completely.

After reading Breakdown I’m eager for more, so I ask him if he is working on anything at the moment. ‘I’ve just finished my first full collection, called Underneath the Almond Tree. It covers my life from three months before my mother passed away from breast cancer up until the present day.’ As he wants his collection in the hands of more people, he’ll be sending it off to publishers such as Faber and Carcanet, and it’ll be another two years or so until the collection is out.

But for now, you can buy Breakdown from Chris’ website:  http://www.pijaykin.com

Or see his featured poem below, taken from his upcoming collection.

 Dodo

I want to be big, flightless, and tasty
for explorers. When I walk into a room
parrots will squawk Who’s a pretty boy
then? I want a beak, for pecking,
grabbing, but not chewing.
I don’t want to chew anymore.
I want to swallow things
whole

or leave them alone.

Chris McLoughlin

Jade Moore

Letters to the Mind Project

A Beeston project aiming to raise mental heath awareness

PMeJ3uWn

In November I began a project that was inspired by a poem I had written which addressed my mental health directly. I wrote to my anxiety: this helped me to view it differently and I realised that writing poetry is my main technique and coping method when it comes to dealing with my anxiety.

I wanted to share this with others and give people the chance to use writing as a coping technique. As soon as I voiced my idea I received positive feedback. I set up a blog and since its inception the project has received 19 contributions which range from poems to bipolar and eating disorders, to letters to anxiety, a drawing, and more personal accounts of experiences with mental health issues.

Jenny Marie, who contributed her letter Dear Anxiety said: “When I began, I didn’t quite know what to say. But the words kept coming, and it felt like I was pounding them out on the keyboard. It was therapeutic for me to write this. It’s healing for those with mental illness and helpful for their loved ones to read.”

A huge part of this project is not only to help people but also to try and combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Writing to the illness immediately distances it from us, and allows us to look at it in a way that can help people realise that they are not their illness.

We have to stop hiding and bring the taboo into light and teach the people around us that within our hearts we are all the same.

Mental health problems can drive people apart, whether they are family or friends. This can make the illness worse as the one suffering believes they are at fault, when really there just needs to be a bit more understanding. I hope that this project can reach people who need that understanding, and want a fresh way of trying to come to terms with their mental health. This is why the project encourages friends and family members who are impacted by mental health to participate too.

My editor on the blog, B. L. Memee, said: “It is my belief that every person’s story and experience matters and that in sharing our stories at Letters to the Mind we will educate the uninformed and with education comes understanding and with understanding stigma begins to fall ill and eventually dies. I want to see that happen in my lifetime, but to do that we have to stop hiding and bring the taboo into light and teach the people around us that within our hearts we are all the same. With Jade seeking out contributors and media in the UK and I doing the same in the US we are making a fine start of it. But we cannot do it alone. We need those diagnosed with a mental illness to be courageous and join us in our efforts. We need family members to share their stories as well because as a support person, the impact on you can be just as intense and people need to understand about your struggles and hardships as well. As human beings we are meant to accept, support and care for one another. So please take the first step and share this story with your friends and families that you think might be interested.”

Issue 41 of The Beestonian contained an article about Steve Plowright and his poetry writing. I attended a Time to Change event at Middle Street Day Centre and told Steve about the project. He kindly agreed to be a part of it, and shared his poem Cruel Jailers with me, which he is happy to submit to the project, as the poem is written directly to his depression and anxiety.

In celebration of National Time to Talk Day on Feb 4, Time to Change hosted a free event called ‘Time to Change Village 2016’, which ran during the day at Trinity Square, Nottingham. It gave the public the opportunity to speak to volunteers and organisations about mental health. There was live music, children’s entertainment and a health and beauty pampering zone.

If you or someone you know suffers from a mental health problem then spread the word to them about the Letters to the Mind project. Contributions can take various forms: a letter, a poem, a short essay/blog post, or artwork. You can visit the blog at: letterstothemindblog.wordpress.com where you will find more information about the project, and details about how to contribute. Or you can send a submission straight to: letterstothemind@outlook.com

An Open Letter

To Anxiety,
Shall we begin with where you began?
No, first I’d like to ask you about
your master plan:

Did you hope that I would fall?
before I opened my eyes to it all?

Did you want to make me scream?
enough to make me miss out on my dream?

Did you intend for me to cry?
long into the night while
life passed me by?

Or did you in fact, want me to react
so that I might find hope
along with ways to cope?

You helped me to climb
and make the most of my time.

You helped me to realise
the importance of advice.

You taught me that tears are fine,
although born of sadness, they are mine.

You allowed me to think with a clearer mind
and discover the happiness you never
thought I’d find.

In the beginning all I felt for you was hate,
but gradually I became patient and able to wait
for that moment when the bad becomes good…

…the moment at which hate becomes love.

Jade Moore

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