Freelance Reflections #71

I’ve returned from my holiday feeling refreshed and excited for a new chapter, training to become an Art Therapist. Then on the Monday, I began to feel overwhelmed and indecisive. I’m puzzling the pieces of my timetable together, trying to work out how I can earn enough money to get by each month, let alone pay for my course fees. I tell myself this is just a period of uncertainty, and it will pass. By November, things will be clearer… either way, I’ll know the outcome of my scholarship application, and will have a better idea of finances.

There’s inevitable instability with freelance work. Going on holiday, and an important family event abroad means I’ve earned a lot less this month and need more work to pick up. I have no idea how much time the course will take up outside of the classroom, so all you can do is go with the ebb and flow, and try to keep as balanced as possible to keep negativity and anxiety at bay. From my Creative Entrepreneurship, I’ll be going away from the fantastical “champagne” budget (well, more like Tinto de Verano, which could can get for €1 from the shop in Lanzarote), to the “cabbage” budget (good thing I make a mean bokkeumbap!).

If you are able to, please do donate and share my fundraiser, and buy some books!

Freelance Reflections #70

So, both summer school jobs are over and I’m going on holiday, to have some “medicine” as my friend is calling it. I’ve finished my podcast and I’m looking forward to training to be an Art Therapist for the next three years! I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts on Art Therapy, and I’m keen to start a book I have, but will likely save it and use my holiday to indulge in lots of lovely fiction. I’m just about to finish ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’, which my mum pass on to me… I hope I can catch the film too. I would critique the way that black characters are depicted in terms of why a distinction is made to show their accents in the phonetic writing of speech, but not other white characters. I wouldn’t have picked it myself, but the story is interesting and it surprised me.

I organised my first class trip to the Horniman Museum and Gardens, and found out that certain (stolen) artefacts will be returning to their country of origin, namely Nigeria, from what I could see, which is great! One of my students already knew about it before we went, which was an impressive coincidence. I celebrated finishing my nine weeks of EFL work by going for tapas at El Molino, which was amazing. A taster of what’s to come!

Freelance Reflection #67

I’m fully feeling the anticipation of the nine weeks of TEFL work I’m doing in July (despite having started anxiety medication). Changing schools after the first six weeks, I’m hoping I’ll be less phased about going straight into a new school without a break. I feel more confident in some ways, but I can’t stand being observed and haven’t taught in this way for so long for years now! I’m doing a lot of teaching Macbeth at the moment, which is all good, but it’s also for 8 hours a week, so for the sake of my mental health, I’m giving myself a break from that before I plunge into teaching for 20 hours a week (this is all plus my regular 7-8 hours of usual tuition). So, I’m thinking about how I can balance things to make my summer as stress-free as possible. I’m thinking as much reading in the sun as possible! That’s my happy place, and where I fortunately spent part of my birthday – along with the Louise Bourgeois exhibition, eating pan-Asian food, and dancing at The Shard’s silent disco.

I’m slowly getting on top of things, but I feel sad that I’ve not been able to dedicate time to creative work. I feel inspired by so many things – I’ve seen loads of bands, including Dry Cleaning supporting Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who do spoken word over drums and guitars, which I love, and I’ve loved watching Jake Rooke’s Big Boys on Channel 4. Another peer, Bisha Ali, has also got Ms Marvel on Disney! I’m hoping I’ll be able to find balance and prioritise creativity in September… when I’m also going to be starting my MA to become an Art Therapist. Anyway, I’m hoping at least that I’ll be able to save well to pay my first year in instalments, but if I have more donations, I’ll also be able to create more… which is also a part of what the MA is about, becoming a therapist, whilst continuing your art practice.

Freelance Reflection #66

The past week, I’ve felt like my energy is properly back to pre-Covid standard. I’ve had the energy to go to all my gym classes and have taken on some extra work. I still need to get to bed earlier, but I’m setting my alarms less. I’m trying to remember that I’m in control!

I’ve got some extra work over the summer, which will not only help me live day-to-day, but it should help me save for funding my MA in Art Therapy! I’ve been getting back on the ukulele and had another in-person lesson and have realised what a difference it makes learning songs you know and like and can sing along to! I’ve released another couple of episodes of Carmina’s Cantata as well – Malaika Kegode and Dizraeli, from when I was in Bristol.

This week, my gran sent a translated poem by Anna Akhmatova. I happened to have just picked up a load of my old books from my parents’, and had the book she’d got me at hand. I found the poem, but it was a different translation, and I preferred this one my gran sent.

In other news, I’ve also been starting a few things I’ve been putting off or not got round to for a while. I’m going through notes on my notes app from 2018! It’s very long, but there’s lots of poems. I’d love to be able to get organised and make a nice spreadsheet of poems. Many are unfinished! I’ve also started doing a series of videos on mental health stuff connected with neurodiversity, BPD and being a HSP.

I went out to the park with my laptop and its tent, but it was a bit premature as it clouded over and got a bit chilly, when I had visions of being out there until sunset! Next week, I’ll have 8 hours of online tuition as well a my regular lessons, so I’ll try to make the most of any sun when I can, looking forward to my birthday next weekend!

Carmina’s Cantata #13

I haven’t written an update on Carmina’s Cantata in a while, and as I’m back to it after a bit of a break, I thought I’d write a little on what I’m doing, as well as some more general stuff. So, after the festival, I didn’t listen to my body. I had an amazing massage should have gone home to rest, but I went to the Taking Back Sunday, Alkaline Trio and Destroy Boys gig… which I’m pretty sure if where I then got Covid! Made worse by going to see Funeral For A Friend the following week! I’d gone so long without it, I even thought maybe I’d had it but been asymptomatic. It was rough. It’s the second-worst illness I’ve had (the other being a kind of relative of Glandular Fever). I’m still struggling with the fatigue and my lungs don’t feel 100% when exercising. At one point I even got mixed messages about going to A&E, but I waited until Monday to see a doctor and it turned out that I just rushed into exercise. I’m feeling super tired right now and hoping I’m getting the balance right, as it’s something I struggle with.

SHEreos of Lewisham

I’d had to cancel my poetry gigs at SHEreos of Lewisham and R.A.P. Party, but I was at least able to watch The Albany stream, where an audio of my poem I’d recorded in the day was played, and a couple of people told me that my poem was one of their favourites. It was a joy to see people dancing to my chosen tracks as well. I was able to see the SHEReos of Lewisham exhibition with my poem in it the following weekend at Crofton Park Community Library. I have also been accepted onto the MA in Art Psychotherapy at Goldsmiths. As I’m not eligible for a government loan and getting a loan to cover the full tuition is proving to be impossible, I’m trying to crowd fund as much as possible. Read about and share my journey here.

As I was trying to work out what I could do whilst still resting… I did some drawings inspired by the themes of Grayson Perry’s Art Club. I just felt weirdly guilty for watching and listening to things… though I wish I knew you could get audiobooks from the library on your phone then! It’s just so hard to manage fatigue. So, this week, I have started to work on the podcast interviews. I have finished editing the one I used for the production course I did, and after a panic that I have forgotten everything, I now know what I’m doing again.

I interviewed poet and theatre maker Hannah Jane Walker about her book on sensitivity… and just had to cut it down from over 13,000 words to nearly 5,000 words! I may have to cut it down even more, but it is taking a lot longer than anticipated. Although off-putting in some ways, I have made a note on my to-do list to use the same platform (Otterly) to write transcripts. It won’t take quite as long as I won’t have to edit it down to an article length thankfully!

Freelance Reflections #48

I didn’t write last week as I was hoping to share some photos of the Poetry Party, but still yet to see them. For now, here’s some pictures of the lovely park. I performed my poem, ‘The Missing Scissors’, twice. The first time, I bombed it and forgot the lines three quarters of the way through. The second time, I smashed it, and could go home with my head held high. It was really fun to take part in the workshops with Simon Mole and Gecko, sharing some fresh materials with the audience/participants.

I really want to do more visual art, and I’m hoping to do an Art Therapy MA (most likely September 2022 by the looks of things), and I have seen that there may be a way for me to get a loan to cover part of the course after all (as I can’t get a government loan, despite self-funding my first MA). So far, I’ve just been working with a student to produce our own Top Trumps cards, which I’ve really enjoyed. And I won the game we played with them!

In other news, I have bulk bought some Montezuma’s chocolate. I will challenge myself to make it last until the end of the year, but we shall see. I also couldn’t resist the Penned in the Margins sale, and bought four books I’ve been really looking forward to getting. Also, watch this space as on Monday I will be one of sixty chosen poets to feature on a Poetry Map of London, as part of the Royal Society of Literature’s ‘Write Across London’ project.

Is Poetry Therapy?

It was recently World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to start writing this blog again. I made a note in my calendar to try to do it weekly, but even then I’ve ended up pushing it back to three days later. It’s been over a year since I actually wrote a proper freelance reflection, so I guess things are going well in that respect, but for my next post, I hope to catch up with that.

So, the topic of this post was the question as to whether poetry is therapy. My short answer is no, but that’s not to say poetry and other forms of art can’t be used for therapeutic goals. Over a year ago now, I made a new friend through other friends and he challenged me to write something everyday, and he would do the same. He wasn’t a writer, but wanted to be more creative, and he told me in this time that it was something that really helped him. After a year, I had a lot more material that I would have had otherwise, and I think the process was therapeutic for both of us. 

Poetry is cathartic for me, and it is naturally how I process things. I aim to write my diary each morning, but it is writing poetry that gets to grips with certain issues, delving into them in a way my simple prose writing often doesn’t. Fellow writers may also have the same experiences, whereby the same themes will reemerge time and time again, haunting you, as if each time you return to it, you are attempting to exorcise it from you. There is something about getting it down on paper in a poetic form that allows you to distance yourself from it somehow, as you then try to craft it into art, and shape it into something that can then also connect with others and help them too.

Helping others is what motivated the artist Rich Simmons to create the project ‘Art Is The Cure’. He explains in the short film how art has helped him with autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. He talks about how visual art can help as a means of self-expression, and how it can be a positive release, even going as far as saving his life. Throughout the last few months, experiencing lockdown, I have also recounted how poetry has saved my life, in response to the way the arts are suffering and how they continue to be devalued. He talks about how other kinds of art can help us, and that it is really creativity as self-expression that is at the core of what is therapeutic in this sense. 

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This concept was also summed up in one of my favourite podcasts (before they moved from Spotify to Luminary, which isn’t available in the UK), ‘Guys We Fucked’ by ‘Sorry About Last Night’, made up of comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson. They would repeat the phrase ‘comedy is therapy’. After Tweeting about a show I’d listened to that made me both laugh, cry, and heal, on a train, they repeated this phrase again when retweeting me. Likewise, Apples and Snakes shared poet Inua Ellams’ ‘Art as Therapy’, where he discusses the topics, stating: 

“Any seasoned poet will concur that more time is spent editing than writing. Involved in that process is the going-over of memories and instances, of emotions and images, the combing-through and the filing-down-to-their-smoothest-most-ergonomic-shapes our creations. It involves meditation, introspection and inspection. This for me is where poetry becomes therapeutic, when the created serves the creator, when the feather serves the bird.”

All of these points are true, but it was this Tweet from Burning Eye, which put the state of mental health in UK today into perspective: when it comes to talking about mental health, things are getting better, but when it comes to funding and enabling people to have access to therapy, we are a long way off.

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Poetry, art and any kind of creative self-expression is certainly therapeutic, but it is not in itself the same as therapy. CBT and mindfulness are also great tools to tackle mind anxiety and depression, but even with CBT, I would argue that it is pushed because it is often cheap. It is often delivered in groups, and can even be DIY, but it is not a miracle cure. Really, what is needed is a holistic approach, that gives value to both therapy and medication, which can often work best in tandem, rather than it being a case of one or the other (though I’d argue sometimes therapy alone could work, I’m skeptical about medication alone working, but that’s more to do with my view that everyone would benefit from therapy).

At the start of this year, I saw a psychologist who said I had traits of BPD; she phrased it ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’, but this is just one of the many alternative names for Borderline Personality Disorder. I tend to use the term ‘BPD’ because it is more well-known, though I do feel that EID does capture a large part of the characteristics of my own experience. What others may deem to be “too sensitive” simply refers to my lived experience, and whilst there are negative points to feeling so intensely, I am thankful that at least these experiences of emotions has given me greater empathy and compassion for others.

Although I see it as a kind of neurodivergence, because of the fact, I often feel I really need the support of therapy, whether one-to-one, or a support group. Unfortunately, the support I was given previously was inadequate, essentially due to lack of funding and not being suicidal enough to get proper therapy (though ironically, that changed over the last few months, when it has been impossible to get anywhere). After moving, I found a support group that would have been free to attend, but I was in the wrong borough, and I haven’t had much luck finding anything beyond the £75-100 BPD therapy sessions. If there was a way to pay a fraction of the cost, and for the majority to be covered, it may be doable, but I’m not aware that this framework exists. Previously, I had paid for one-to-one counselling at a cheaper rate, but it didn’t meet my needs.

I know I need to do more self-help work as well, and part of me is using other (sometimes unhealthy) coping mechanisms rather than delve into the DBT book I have, for example, which is meant to be good for those with BPD. Aside from that, poetry, amongst other things, has saved my life, where the system has failed me, and so many others. The less fortunate are no longer with us.

Suicide rates are continuing to rise, and our mental health is bound to be the collateral damage of the current pandemic. Writing, drawing, walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing, singing, cooking, playing games, and having a good support system have all helped me and continue to do so. But when things are okay, I still don’t feel I have the right tools to cope when triggered, where I might turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, whether manifesting as an “episode” of crying inconsolably, screaming in a rage, or self-harming (in its many forms). When these moments happen, I’m reminded that I do need help, but at other times when I reflect on my instability in relationships, it can dawn on me how much I need support in unlearning certain patterns (one of the biggest I think being related to elements of emotional abuse, whereby I have grown attached to receiving comfort after either being ignored or treated poorly emotionally in some way, meaning I am finding myself becoming attached to those who use such manipulation tactics or simply behave in an avoidant way due to their own attachment issues, for example).

Where the system does fail us, we have art to reflect our experiences when we consume it, and we have this fantastic ability to create, where talent and skill doesn’t have to matter, as it is something that everybody can do to feel good, whether it’s as a means of self-expression, an attempt to heal from pain, or simply to get a buzz from creating something from nothing.

If you want to know more about BPD disorder, I stumbled upon this video, which I’ve found accurately describes most of my experience. The fears of abandonment, interpersonal issues, and difficulties with regulating emotions are described here as the main characteristics. The only thing I would say, is that I have a strong sense of identity, though I can relate to the idea of having different personas within myself, but in a way that I feel is somewhat “normal”. I also feel like to say a reaction is “too much” is difficult to fully get to grips with, as it is in response to real emotions, and whilst I fully acknowledge I need to take responsibility for the ways I cope with these emotions, more often than not, a little empathy and compassion goes a long way too.

In the video, Dr Ramani also emphasises that diagnosis is a tool to drive treatment, rather than labelling someone, which is also a great point to remember.

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. I have also personally found CALM’s chat function helpful, because phone calls with strangers can also provoke anxiety.