Lapidus International Journal Spring 2019
Table of Contents Introduction – Francesca Baker ................................................................................. 3 Reflections after running a therapy and poetry workshop - Graham Mummery ..... 4 PoetsIN – an interview............................................................................................... 6 My mind is blind, but still I see – Rachel Hawkins-Crockford .................................... 9 Elderly Serial Migrant – Jeannie Wright .................................................................. 13 Plight – A. Hurford ................................................................................................... 16 Taking counsel from copy – Simon Brotherton ....................................................... 17 A useful peg for self expression – Alison Clayburn .................................................. 19 The gigs that got away – Kate Pawsey ..................................................................... 20 Forging an identity as a CWTP practitioner – Kathryn Aldrige-Morris .................... 24 When we write together – Louisa Campbell ........................................................... 26 Knitting pattern for life and marriage – Susan Howse ............................................ 27 The experience of online, live writing for wellbeing for non-native business executives - Nicky Torode ........................................................................................ 28 Blogging for wellbeing: benefits, drawbacks and ethical considerations - Amanda Pitts .......................................................................................................................... 32 The power of poetry film – Janet Lees .................................................................... 35 Writing meets wellbeing – Bernadette McBride ..................................................... 40 What to do if someone reads your journal – Greta Solomon ................................. 43 Lapidus London – Ottilie Hainsworth ...................................................................... 46 A thank you for every day - Dimitra Didangelou ..................................................... 47 My PhD journey, or how to start a project and keep going – Bev Murray ............. 50 1
Introduction – Francesca Baker
Welcome to the spring 2019 edition of the Lapidus International Journal. Once again I have been blown away by the quality and creativity of the pieces submitted. From poetry to graphic novels, advice to analysis, reflections to reports, it’s a varied and exciting collection of work related to the world of words for wellbeing. It really is an honour to gather all the work together for you to read in this way. The work of a journal editor never stops, so I’m already gathering ideas and pieces for the next edition. Send your work to me at email@example.com Enjoy the journal. I know you will. Francesca x Francesca Baker Editor
Reflections after running a therapy and poetry workshop - Graham Mummery Graham Mummery is a poet and transpersonal psychotherapist working in private practice in London. He had contributed articles and reviews to various magazines connected with Integral and Humanistic psychology. His poems and translations have appeared in various periodicals and his first full collection of poems Meeting My Inners (Pindrop Press) appeared in 2015.
As a therapist who is also a published poet with a book to my name, I’ve often been fascinated by parallels between poetic and therapeutic processes. Poetry is a medium through which we express our thoughts and feelings. My joining Relational Spaces in London provided an opportunity to facilitate a two-hour workshop with fellow therapists on reading and writing poetry. It was also an opportunity for me to work on how I might integrate what I’ve learned as a poet into my practice. My first port of call was the book Teach Yourself Writing Poetry. This has exercises suitable for beginners and experienced poets. Poems often come from playing with words generated in exercises and if one allows a poem to emerge the result can be a profound and even surprising discovery. I also looked for poems that reflect this process. Interestingly some famous therapists such as Neville Symington, RD Laing and Virginia Satir have all produced books of their poems. After selecting the poems, I reflected on what poems do, and how this might be similar to therapy. The first parallel I came up with was witnessing thoughts and feelings. Robert Bly’s Winter Poem does this beautifully, acknowledging an emotional wound that remains hidden. The power of the poem comes from the witnessing. The second parallel was how poems can voice life scripts (RD Laing’s book Knots has some powerful examples of this). In Gestalt therapy this process can be used to achieve a turn around. A poem which also does this is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese which we read to each other in the session. Wild Geese begins with words that might be a new life script: ‘You do not have to be good.’ It develops the thought further, stating ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ By curious synchronicity I had used this poem recently in a client session when I had read those very words to someone dealing with shame issues. Oliver offers even more here with her descriptions of the natural world which follow. The poem takes readers on an exciting journey in imagination. This brought me to my third, and final, idea on the day: poems offer exploration and transformation into a wider sense of self. Perhaps this is why the poem has been used at personal development workshops. In those two hours I attempted to bring out all these ideas, which even now are still crystallising further. It was an inspiring and soulful dialogue. My training is integrative-transpersonal where some of the theories describe what might be termed ‘planes of consciousness. I can see more ideas might be developed here, which are not yet complete. Through the exercises some wonderful poems were generated with exciting use or words, images
and expression. There was this sense of exploration in all them. I was asked when poems are finished. My response was maybe they are never quite done. How like the therapeutic process!
PoetsIN – an interview PoetsIN offer support for mental illness and promote the rehabilitation of people with mental illness and disabilities using creativity, mentorship, and written expression as an outlet for both children and adults. Francesca Baker caught up with co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Paul Chambers to find out more. Website: www.poetsin.com Email firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook Group: Poetsin Facebook Page: Poets IN Instagram: @Poets_in Twitter: @Poets_in Why did you set up PoetsIN? Wow. Now that is a long story. I’ll try to give the short one of how Sammie and I set up PoetsIN. A few years back I gave up the industry I’d hated for so long to write and publish my book. Releasing it was pivotal as I ended up having to master social media marketing. It was a crime thriller! I got talking to my Co-Founder Sammie on Twitter, who had read my book and was also the marketing and media director of an online reading and writing community needing serious growth. Long story short, Sammie and I turned it round through stripping back the hierarchical, exclusive feel the founders had given the site and opened it up to interaction, communication and an inclusive, supportive vibe. The messages we received from people the world over about how it had helped their mental health and suicidal thoughts led us to channel that approach into prison groups with creative writing tasks in group and assignments in the weeks between to be fully introspective. We honed and perfected the groups, including implementing measurement matrixes of our own and GAD7 and PHQ9, both of which are standard mental wellbeing testing used by the NHS. We then set up PoetsIN as a charity to continue helping people through creative writing having seen such spectacular results and are now delivering it in the community as well as online. Why do you think creativity is such an important tool? What we have found with creativity being the tool, is that it not only has a low barrier to entry, but everybody has the capacity to open up. Writing is so powerful. To purge with words and share for the support you glean
from our in-person groups or online community – or to open up in private on piece of writing never to be seen – they all have such a cathartic effect. Whilst it helps everyone on some level, we offer a multitude of ways to access it. There are our workshops, Mental Health IN the Community – such as the ones Mind and Shaw Trust are utilising. We have our online groups PoetsINdefinable which you can self-refer yourself to via an online form. In addition to that, we have a very safe community within our Facebook Group which is monitored 24/7 and troll-free. We provide writing prompts and a place to share words and feelings to a community of over a thousand people. We will be rolling out our PoetsIN Schools workshops to children of all ages this year; and even have a Corporate Team Building workshop to offer businesses that harness the same successful approach that has reaped such incredible results. How has it personally helped you? Throughout my life, without even realising it, I’ve used poetry and prose when struggling. Grieving, heartbroken, angry or just plain depressed; my best stuff comes out when I’m on a roller coaster of emotion. I’ve written and recited so many poems at funerals and they have always been a cathartic process when I write them but offer tears and laughter to mourners. That’s such a powerful thing. That’s words doing their thing. It’s an awesome thing. My book started after trouble with an ex. I was in an apoplectic rage and the book took on a savagery that was pure release for me. My angry poetry is by far my favourite. I’m not very good at poetry when content. I like it dark. Or maybe that’s just what I’m used to after the winding road my life has taken! On a more structured basis, the assignments we set within our in-person groups or online have all helped me manage my black dog – whether biting or threatening to. In person, to be interacting and sharing is key; whilst the ‘homework’ we set is truly introspective and can really wring you out in all the right ways. My scores on GAD7 and PHQ9 plummeted from severe to almost non-existent.
Have you got any good stories or case studies as to why it works?
Yes. Too many to mention. We’ve seen people stop their extreme self-harming, suicidal thoughts, handle addictions and overcome crippling anxiety. Needless to say, I can’t mention any people in particular, but I can provide some stats. What I can say is that we have changed the lives of literally hundreds of people in person and online. They were and are people from all walks of life, all ages – from those in prison to those holding successful careers to struggling teens and retired people. The following results were measured across two years of our in-person program. Reduction in depression symptoms: 99% Reduction in Anxiety symptoms: 99% Reduction in aggressive behaviours: 98% Reduction of stress: 100% Reduction of other mental illness symptoms: 98.2% Self-harmer percentage: 60% Reduction in self-harm instances short-term: 99% Reduction of self-harm long-term: 99% Cease of self-harm altogether: 85.4% Reduction of suicidal thoughts: 99% Increase in confidence: 100% Increase in self-worth: 100% What can people do themselves to help improve their mental wellbeing? Firstly, you can join our closed, safe and troll free Facebook Group. It isn’t just for writers. It’s for everybody. People struggling with their mental health, advocates of mental wellbeing, writers, poets, artists, young and old across the globe – you name it. As long as you are respectful and supportive, you are welcome there. Just search for ’PoetsIN’ in Facebook Groups. As for using writing to purge, aside from the prompt a day we deliver in the group; we would always suggest writing it out. There is no wrong or right. Whatever is in your head, set it down on paper. No one has to see it, but it’s always better out than in. If you head to our website Poetsin.com you can refer yourself via our ‘Get Help’ link for a future online PoetsINdefinable group or use our listening service also there on the website. If you would like to book a 6, 8 and 10 week Mental Health IN the Community workshop do please get in touch. If you are registered with Shaw Trust or Mind, ask them about our workshops in your area. Whatever you do, however you are feeling, please reach out in some way.
My mind is blind, but still I see – Rachel Hawkins-Crockford Rachel Hawkins-Crockford is midway through an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes at Metanoia. She has loved writing since she was a child, particularly poetry, and her house is filled with half-scribbled on pieces of paper. Her first career was as a solicitor in NZ and the UK. Then, in her late thirties she started a long journey towards creating a new career life which began with volunteering with Cruse Bereavement Care. She went on to quit her job as a lawyer and worked in various roles including with formerly homeless people and mental health clients. She is currently working in private practice as a counsellor. She recently discovered that other people could visualise and that has been a mind-blowing experience. Abstract: My mind’s eye is blind and it’s ear is deaf. In fact, I have a complete absence of all sensory imagination. In terms of visual imagery, I am at one end of a spectrum where I cannot see any visual imagery at all. My inner canvas is completely black. This is called aphantasia. In this article, I explore how learning this has affected me and the ways in which writing it has helped me process it. When I try to sleep I don’t see sheep flipping over fences. If you say ‘pink elephant’ I don’t see her trumpeting in the corner. If bored, I don’t daydream about monkeys. I’d assumed people were speaking metaphorically. Recently I made this discovery about most of you: you’re not speaking whimsically, you actually see these things. Amazingly (to me), some of you can even taste the sourness of a lemon on your tongue or smell the rosemary from your Grandma’s garden just by thinking about them. I cannot do this because my mind’s eye is blind, my mind’s ear is deaf, my mind’s tastebuds are not firing and I cannot smell or feel with my imagination. In terms of purely visual imagination, I am at one end of a spectrum where I cannot see anything at all. My inner canvas is black. This is called aphantasia –a neurological condition in which people have reduced or absent voluntary visual imagery (Zeman, Dewar and Sala, 2015). Really, I prefer to see it as one particular variation of human experience of the world. This is not a new discovery. Lack of visual imagery was first written about by Galton (1880) who asked his (largely scientist) friends questions requiring them to visualise their breakfast. The majority of those men of science could not visualise. But after his investigation, the area did not garner much further attention. My discovery was primarily about you because I already knew that when I closed my eyes all I saw was black. What I hadn’t known was that you might have a rich visual experience going on inside your head. As a student on an MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes, this was obviously rich writing/ reflective fodder for me. In 2018, I began to write: Ellie Aphant It’s a pink elephant that’s in this room: A massive matriarchal beast. You can see her leathery trunk, her intelligent eye, Her cumbersome behind as she knocks over the pot plant by the window, The cracks on the pads of her enormous feet. She’s not just a metaphor for you, Her magnificent form shimmers before you. I can’t see her but My blind mind wanders to wondering: Where did she escape from? What is she doing in this room with us? Exactly what shade of pink is she? 9
But most of all, I wonder if You can set her stamping to some music, Each foot lumbering to an ancient bush beat, Her big behind swaying to some syncopated swing? As the music reaches a crescendo, Does she lift her trunk in triumph with the song? I found myself asking: if aphants don’t visualise, how do we think, imagine, process, remember? Galton suggested: ‘…the missing faculty seems to be replaced so serviceably by other modes of conception, chiefly I believe connected with the motor sense, that men who declare themselves entirely deficient in the power of seeing mental pictures can nevertheless give life-like descriptions of what they have seen, and can all otherwise express themselves as if they were gifted with a vivid visual imagination.’ (1880, p.3) I can remember detail. I store ideas and memories in my brain somewhere and it has not affected my life or my cognitive function. Perhaps I do forget things, but important things, especially anything connected to strong emotion, I can bring to mind. I just don’t experience it in a sensory way. Others liken this to a computer, able to store the data of ideas and memories but without the monitor to connect that data to pictures (Kendle, 2017, p43). This discovery led to questions about how this affects my memory. The poignancy of this was discovering I was an aphant a short while after my father’s death. I experienced a sense of loss that was intensified by my bereavement. It was as if I’d discovered magic was real and everyone could do it but me. I could not visualise my father’s face and I will not be able to do this for any I lose through life. What upset me was that you can: blindfolded minds blindfolded minds perfect containers for us to float on a sea of stories encoded memories leap like glistening fish silver blades reopening the dark waters a door in the sky oiled and opening expands before an unconscious blink disrupts the story it closes behind the monster’s tail and again there’s only sea
I worried about my auto-biographical memory. Was I forgetting details of my life? I began to write autobiographical poems. That was helpful, I realised I remembered things in great depth. If I wrote about a tree, the details of the environment around it emerged as I wrote, it was not forgotten. If there were strong emotions attached I could remember clearly. My childhood bedroom with the walls I painted yellow, the dusty rose pink curtains, the ranch sliders through which the sun would spill, the deep builtin wardrobe I could curl up and hide inside. ‘Remember’ to me is not a picture or a sound, it is a sense of knowing, falling on into infinite ideas of everything I’ve seen, thought and experienced. It is something akin to a narrative but without a voice: a stream of words that connect to more words until I’ve got the essence of the memory in my mouth and at my fingertips. Through my writing I began trying to understand my world after I realised that I experienced it in a different way from most other people. I’ve emphasised those words because I experienced this at first as a lack in me, an absence. An example which caused me pain: I have always loved reading fiction and poetry but it dawned on me that others were actually visually imaging the scenes. Writing encourages meaning-making and self-understanding (Pennebaker, 1990) and I found it helpful to work through my feelings in writing. I struggled to navigate my boat against the deluge of emotion: frustration, anger, grief, loss, anguish. What did a lack of visual imagery mean for me as a writer? I sought out a community, joining and posting in two particular Facebook groups: one devoted to aphantasic artists and the other a more generalised group. Through conversation, sharing thoughts and art in this community, I saw that, having aphantasia was not automatically negative for artistic creativity. It helped me to write in these places and connect with others going through the same experience. I also connected with the University of Exeter study group, undertaking their questionnaires and attending a conference in April. Extreme Imagination, this conference, was an opportunity to learn about the neuroscience and psychology of visual imagination and take part in workshops using art and creative writing to engage with our aphantasic experience. I met academics, educators, hyperphants and aphants. I don’t think I have been more engaged in a subject, more eager to understand other people or concepts, no matter how difficult it all felt to process intellectually. Exhausted, at the end of a day of lectures, I wrote: into augmented reality into convergence into the activation likelihood I plunge headlong into the foci into a circling events occurring in no particular order I charge not laughing but curious pulling apart what’s underneath At the conference I met people who ranged widely in their feelings on how aphantasia had affected their lives, people who were really distressed by it and people who were just interested. By the time I attended, I had already found a place of acceptance within me, aware that it hadn’t held me back: I was able in school; I write; I engage emotionally; I’ve been a lawyer; and I’ve embarked on a new career in the middle of my life. I believe
all things bring gifts and I have noticed ways in which it has been an advantage for me. An obvious example being in my role as a counsellor, when I am listening to harrowing details of people’s stories, I am never troubled by disturbing images. I know from my peers this is not true for them. The discovery itself was a gift, I found a whole new level of diversity of experience to think about when dealing with others. I think I gained a deeper awareness of invisible difference. As someone put it at the conference, the unremarkable thing we can learn from this is: we are all different. References Blake, R. (2016) Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/blake-ross/aphantasia-how-it-feels-to-be-blind-in-yourmind/10156834777480504 Galton, F. (1880) ‘Statistics of Mental Imagery’, originally in Mind, 5, pp.301-318; available online at http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Galton/imagery.htm pdf pp1-17 Kendle, A. (2017) Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights. Staffordshire: Bennion Kearney Pennebaker, J. (1990) Opening Up. New York: The Guildford Press Zeman, A., Dewar, M. and Della Sala, S. (2015) ‘Lives Without Imagery – Congenital Aphantasia’. Cortex, Vol. 73, pp. 378–380. Available at: https://www.eugencpopa.ro/wp-content/uploads/Afantazia-.pdf Zeman, A., Dewar, M. and Della Sala, S. (2016) ‘Reflections on Aphantasia’. Cortex, Vol. 74, pp. 336-337. Available at: http://medicine.exeter.ac.uk/research/healthresearch/cognitiveneurology/theeyesmind/outputsandactivities/
Elderly Serial Migrant – Jeannie Wright Abstract: Writing has seen me through many moves and changes. This latest one to Malta (for a job) and then back again, is just far enough away now for me to go back through the odd scraps of paper and online docs without too much emotional turmoil (crying). It seems especially timely as we move out of Europe, to make some snapshots of two years living in a unique culture, with its own language and now over-development; joyful too to read those snapshots of Malta, two years on. Malta, the smallest of the EU states. The Canadian radiographer at the Screening clinic in Valletta – on the Waterfront opposite where the towering cruise ships dock – asks if I came to Malta on my own. ‘Brave’ she says when I tell her yes. ‘Bonkers’ I say. February 2016, Gzira, Malta At 7a.m.- as usual - the drilling starts. It sounds as if it’s coming through the wall. Last week the builders next door did in fact do just that. They drilled right through the spare room wall, leaving a pool of wet cement and lots of plasterboard dust on the bed and tiled floor. I’m alarmed. It could have been someone’s sleeping head there on the pillow. This time the drilling seems to be coming from another direction – what if it comes right through the wall, through the headboard and hits my head? I’m up and dressed very quickly. In my slippers on the cruel, cold marble floor, I listen outside the front door – there are voices and scraping. When I open the door a young man, polite and covered in white plaster dust, smiles from the top of the ladder which is about 2 feet away from my door – ‘I can’t get out of my flat’ I am not smiling back. The boss appears. He is white (without the plaster dust) and more assertive. I attempt irony, ‘Any chance I can go to work?’ The younger man scrambles down the ladder. On the landing where he can barely stand on the tiles for wires, boxes, and the ladder, he clears a space. I step over it all, thinking about broken hips and knees and pelvises. There’s plaster dust and bigger lumps of board all down the stairs. ‘Please can you clean this up at the end of the day?’ I ask. The boss waves his arms, disappearing up the stairs in an exasperated gesture, ‘Yes, yes yes yes yes’ he says. The older female – me - is subdued. The message is: stop nagging. The younger man is looking sheepish. He’s quick to climb back up the ladder. The energy of all these men who work on the building site adjoining the block I live in frightens me. They and their engines and machines dominate narrow streets and block pavements. I squeeze past giant cranes with wheels taller than me on my way to the Convenience Store to buy hot Maltese bread. (Deafening hammering is now coming from the block opposite ours as well as the drilling from the site adjoining)
The ‘ethnographic I’ might share a cigarette with some of these builders, take a coffee round, ask them where they’re from. I look at their dark hair and skin and hear them speaking Arabic. I guess Syria, maybe Iraq, some from Somalia? There’s no access to them – when my son came, he nodded and greeted them. The crone can’t do that - I don’t even know that I want to greet them. How can I smile and nod – not when they have driven some of my family/friends/visitors to seek hotel accommodation rather than stay with me because of the noise and dust? The health and safety of say, safe scaffolding at the back, away from any inspectors who might just manage a visit, is totally lacking. No safety boots, no hard-hats, no goggles, no ear-defenders. I wish I had ear-defenders What’s more, now David at the hardware shop knows I teach at the university, there is an additional layer to my new relationships with neighbours and builders. The man in the peaked baseball cap, who says he lives in the house with the green door and balcony, the house opposite me, tells me that his daughter teaches in Dubai. David is reflective; we bemoan the cement mixers and cranes blocking the narrow street. ‘Sometimes progress brings regress’ he sighs and tells me that he went home yesterday – two hours early, ‘I shut the shop – the noise of the cranes was just too much.’ He sells hardhats in yellow plastic, tool belts, teapots and cafeterias, cleaning products, washable bathroom rugs, paint brushes and in the back, all kinds of joinery and DIY equipment. So far my purchases have been minor – batteries, masking tape, a sweeping brush. I’ve lived here for two months. It’s good to be recognised, greeted and I even admit to myself that I’m buying things I don’t particularly need so that I can go into the hardware shop. David and his wife have been welcoming. Gzira is on the edges of high-rise hotels and tourist developments around the coast of Malta. It is on the up, from being run-down and ‘red light’ – and hence the cranes, drills and lorries on every street. Work – for builders - and money – for developers. The manager of two sites, including the one adjoining my flat is powerfully built, very short and with no neck. His mobile phone is never away from his ear and he drives an American pickup truck with bull bars on the front. Towering over him, I ask him to make sure that the stairs are cleaned at the end of the day. He nods politely still on the phone – no eye contact. The elderly female ignored. Today the builders have removed the Gypsum sheet creating a door-sized gap where there was a wall between the new build and our floor. It’s strangely disquieting. I’m noticing my edginess, for example, I’m double locking the door at night instead of just leaving it on one lock. The building is open to the sky. Another blow: When the gas bottle goes on the portable heater, I can’t detach the regulator. The shop where I need to buy another gas bottle says I have to bring the empty one back, and by the way we’re closing at one. It’s 12.55. Work colleagues say, ‘it’s easy, there’s a clip - I do it all the time’ I want to cry. Instead I close my eyes and breath. Exhaustion and a new twitch in my left eye. At the Chinese Traditional Medicine Centre, Dr Fu tries some new needles in that area. This morning, peering through the door shaped hole into the building site from my landing, I ask the builders to help me with the gas cylinder. The younger one comes in first. I’ve wheeled the heater over to the door. The blue-eyed boss one then follows. They struggle a bit, which makes me feel better.
‘Where’s the clip? Is that valve open or closed?’ Eventually of course they succeed. ‘You have to go to university to learn that,’ says the boss one.
Plight – A. Hurford A Hurford is a trans person, learning all the time in finding her place. She is a trained counsellor (MA, Dunelm). She is also a survivor (so far) of mental health issues and not least of the systems that have offered her help. When she did her MA research she began to write poetry. Poetry, sometimes just the memory of it, or dream/gleam of it has been very sustaining, during treatment that, at best, seems quite strange. Survivors’ Poetry mentored her and hope to publish her collection, A Staff of Asklepios. Is it vulgar, to gambol, on both sides of a sacred marriage? Not one thing or the other. There is a smell of spring and a smell of winter, the sound of a party and a wedding altercation. I’m unsure I’m invited to either. Small inside my puff pastry story I’m blowing on some ember - sometimes a flame, sometimes cinders - dizzy oscillator. Truth in both - true in neither. A neuter case to curse the wedding night. Unless, dance card spirited away, secreted in some fold, I turn toward my song, party of one, alone, seeking paradise. A veil lifted, falls to outward celebration.
Taking counsel from copy – Simon Brotherton Based in the north-west of England, Simon Brotherton is a freelance editor and copywriter with a passion for the written word. He’s edited everything from historical fact to science fiction, and as a full-time copywriter, has enthused about some of the world’s most stunning travel destinations and some of its fanciest fridges too. He also knows his way around a press release and a snappy headline, having been Chief Sub Editor for the Universe weekly Catholic newspaper and editor of numerous independent titles. He likes to blog about travel, books, music and much more besides on his website, sbrothertonediting.com. Writing is a great form of escape and arriving at a recent crossroads in my life made me reflect on just how much it has helped me. Whether I’m writing headlines, travel blogs or extolling the virtues of the latest hi-tech washing machine, words have been my bread and butter the whole of my working life. I’ve always loved them – from fantastical childhood stories to teenage band lyrics – so to get along in the world of words for a living has always brought me great satisfaction. Writing, including enjoying the work of others, has helped me get through some tough times too, but it was only after a particularly difficult time that I began to take stock. Losing my maternal grandmother, father and father-in-law in the space of a couple of years inevitably took its toll on me mentally. Anyone who’s suffered from bereavement and all it entails will understand exactly what I mean. As well as the initial grief, there’s everything that comes after it. This can take lots of forms but for me it felt like I was losing my sense of purpose. I’d initially been reluctant to discuss how I was feeling with other family members because they were also grieving and my friends had problems of their own. I knew that they wouldn’t resent me in the slightest if I did talk to them about it, but I guess I was just too worried about what they would think. So, I picked up the phone and called the Samaritans. As well as being the empathic ear I needed, they helped me to realise just how important the memories of our loved ones are. So, the next time a random thought drifted into my head, like a happy memory of one of those last days out with my father, or a musing over what my gran would have thought about something, I wrote it down. Well, to be precise, I typed it up and emailed it to myself. Maybe the act of getting those thoughts down was more significant the words themselves, but the point is, it helped. My observations of that happy day, or that special occasion, were instantly made more ‘real’. Now, I can draw on them however and whenever I want. Speaking to the Samaritans also made me realise how important it is to have someone to talk to. I’ve always considered myself a good listener – I’m one of life’s diplomats – always stuck in the middle in any situation. I’m not exactly sure when the idea fully formed in my mind, but I decided somewhere during my grieving process that I’d like to train to become a counsellor. Why not put this skill to use? I wouldn’t have to stop writing, as there would be plenty of opportunity for freelance work while studying. So here I am now. Still in the early days of my training but still convinced that it’s what I want to do. And of course, I’m still writing too. But you don’t have to be a ‘writer’ to write, and it can help you in all sorts of ways. Just like I did, type up those fleeting thoughts as soon as they fly in, or scribble them down. Journal-keeping is a recognised part of the counsellor’s journey of self-discovery and by jotting your own thoughts down, you’ll not only find it a brilliant release, but you’ll have something to look back on too.
And if that all sounds a little too self-absorbed for you, that’s fine. Any words are good. Even little things like reviews for stuff you’ve bought online, or of that lovely little bed and breakfast you stopped in last year – it’s all about finding a voice for your thoughts through your own creativity. And it really does help.
A useful peg for self expression â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Alison Clayburn Alison Clayburn has been a creative writing tutor for 30 years in different settings ... she started in prison, went on to community based settings, mental health support settings and further and higher education. Along the way she gained an MA in Writing for Personal Development, poetry and short fiction from Sussex University and contributed to the development of Lapidus. Her main interest is in the crossover between self therapeutic writing and powerful poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. She has developed courses in self exploratory writing and now works independently, running workshops in Writing for Pleasure, Poetry and Writing for Self Discovery and supporting writers one to one. Much of her work is based on her local community of Rotherhithe SE16. Facebook @creativewritinginrotherhithe I would like to share a bit on working with themes. I've been doing this for a very long while in monthly Writing for Self Discovery half day workshops (in sets of three). For example, the autumn 2019 set was about structures which CONNECT (bridges, tunnels, canals), the spring 2019 set about big buildings of different kinds CONSTRUCTIONS for worship, defence and public exchange. The summer 2019 theme is SPACE: inner, outer and in-between. And...it's more and more and more apparent to me that the theme is subordinate to everyone's personal experience and priorities...a useful trigger and a frame but NOT a topic. A wondrous variety of writing, in both content and style, results. Now I have started using a theme for six week runs of Writing for Pleasure, my local weekly workshop, as a lead up to the themed performance evenings I organise every two to three months, where workshoppers can present stories or poems if they wish. I aim to do one poetry and one prose writing activity in each Writing for Pleasure session and the last run was focused around CELESTIAL BODIES. The theme before that was LIMBO. It's been very fruitful. You may wonder where topic ideas come from. I can only say it's a mixture of whatever pops into my mind (as writers you'll know this happens all the time) and discussion with regular workshop participants. I have found the Psychosynthesis training I have done, with its emphasis on symbols, mixes well with approaches like anthropomorphism - inhabit the connecting structure, the building, any planet you like! I used to run courses in self exploratory methods and still introduce all those new to my workshops to flow, cluster, lists and the use of monologue and dialogue. So, though I might indicate which tool would be useful for a specific activity, regular participants may also select from their own repertoire. I find the most useful structure to be an idea blitz, a write, a share and then a repetition from another angle. It is exciting to see what comes up in the initial stage - often very different, and certainly more varied, than my thoughts on the theme. There is plenty of discussion and, with permission, borrowing of others' take on the subject. This cross fertilisation is fascinating: a very communal activity produces very unique writing.
The gigs that got away – Kate Pawsey Kate Pawsey is the founder of Writing Time and has an MSc in CWTP from Metanoia Institute. She works freelance in a range of settings including museums and galleries, with women in sheltered housing, and with the team at Skanda Vale Hospice. She is writer in residence at The Bakelite Museum. Abstract: The gigs that got away - tales of all the unfulfilled projects a freelance CWTP practitioner invests in for every workshop that comes to fruition. This is a brief account of one aspect of being a freelance CWTP practitioner - some of the unfulfilled spade work that gets put into securing facilitation work in the public realm. It is a parallel but distinctly different process to that of writers who submit poems, novels, flash fiction etc to publishers, journals and competitions. It is written to illustrate some of the challenges we face and perhaps prompt problem-solving-thinking. I have had to ask myself what is my motivation for writing this piece. Is it to cast light on the work of a freelance CWTP practitioner, to warn others of the pitfalls, to show where things can go awry and consider more discriminating approaches? Is to confess my own failings – of not being able to read a situation more perceptively? Is it to publicly celebrate my tenacity in the face of adversity? Or is it to express my frustration at the systems and attitudes I encounter from time to time? I think it is a little of all of these. I once considered offering a workshop on this – The gigs that got away - where we could all share our collective experiences, celebrate, commiserate, laugh, wince, pick ourselves back up and grow wiser and stronger together. Perhaps this might still happen. A while ago I posted on social media photos and copy about a series of workshops at No.1, Royal Crescent, a museum in Bath. A friend and colleague congratulated me on landing such a big job. I replied that I had sent over a dozen emails to as many museums in the area, proposing my work, received three replies from interested parties. This project, after umpteen more emails, meetings, reccies and form-filling, was the only one to bear fruit. The facebook exchange made me reflect on the hours, days, weeks of my working life which are taken up with things that have potential, are a good idea, have a spark of energy or interest with the people I am in conversation with, but which never reach the stage of actual practice. This bit, the contact with the participants and immersion in the material we use, is, of course, the whole reason I do this work. I absolutely love it. The proportion, however, of preparation (some fruitless) to practice can be high. My experience is that the workshops I set up from scratch on my own (or with a partner from a complementary discipline) – hiring the venue, publicising the event, administrating the the bookings, designing and preparing the content, delivering the work – are those that have the highest chance of reaching fruition. Those where I have to persuade an institution that the work is valuable and relevant to their needs, that I am the right person to deliver it and that the work is value for money, takes a lot more time. There is also more room for slippage, particularly where there is a tiered hierarchy. I will illustrate just one experience in detail. Having received Karen Hayes' wonderful, moving and inspiring Poetry and Dementia training in 2016 and having taken part in a placement with her at a day centre in Poole, I approached a relevant group in Wiltshire. I met with the managers, wrote a detailed proposal, which was approved, and identified and applied for a grant for 20
the work. I was then invited to the day care centre to meet the staff and attendees, while another workshop was in session, in order for me to 'just observe', as I was told. The regular manager who invited me was not there on the day and a colleague, new to the post, received me. She was not well briefed on my proposed role, was clearly nervous of poetry herself, and after a short chat, she interrupted the workshop that was in progress to insert me into the morning's activity. Not an ideal situation. I would have preferred shadowing the activities and allowing people to get used to my presence over time. I was, however, exhorted to read, there and then, having brought a collection of poems to show the manager during our chat. I could see that some people were captivated by the words, momentarily distracted from their states and preoccupations. The man next to me however, who, I was later told, objected to most things, was vocal and loud in his dislike of what I was doing. In the circumstances this is not surprising. His was taken as the definitive and representative response of the group by the day care centre leader. And she objected to my material. She suggested that I offer, at complete odds to what I had learned from my training with Karen Hayes, Lear's The owl and the pussy cat or 'some of that Pam Ayres' instead of Rose Flint, Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry. It turned out that when I returned, ever-hopeful despite that initial contact, to meet the permanent manager, that he was not really interested in experiencing what I was offering. Management had, in his opinion, interfered. And I, the Poetry and Dementia work, and the service-users, were the casualties. I regularly apply for posts, grants, projects and positions and am regularly unresponded to altogether or turned down. This gives me lots of practice in the gracious art of being rejected. Projects that I successfully establish and deliver and which sound, at the initial, consultation stage, like they will be ongoing, peter out. Someone else's new workshops usurp mine, the money dries up or our early conversations are forgotten or ignored. It is disappointing. Sometimes, of course, discussions that I have not been party to lead to me being invited back in on some related project, but I notice the silent times, having invested time and energy into the initial set up. It is not all doom and gloom however. Quite the contrary. My work at the hospice, where I have worked with staff and patients since May 2016, now use me to deliver CPD training to the staff and volunteers. The CWTP I offer has become an established part of the introduction of reflective practice for the team. I shall be running writing workshops at their week of Dying Matters in May. The Bakelite Museum team, where I am the permanent writer in residence, has invited me to help them make a film about the museum. This is despite the fact that the collection is currently packed away in boxes while we find a new home for the collection, constitute the museum, raise funds and roll out its future incarnation. It is to be both a museum about Bakelite, plastics and 20th century domestic appliances, and a showcase to disseminate advances in research into solutions to the problems that plastics have created. I am hugely invested in this last part of the museum's remit, as well as valuing the collection. Through my experience in running workshops at the original venue near Watchet in
Somerset, I found it to be a remarkably powerful source of stimulus for creative, reflective and expressive writing. I continue to deliver the flagship workshop, Marks I make on the world, to teenagers in West Wales. I am in talks with managers of a community walled garden in Somerset, where I shall offer similar workshops. I have an exciting writing workshop project in development at a bookshop and bindery in Bath and I will be running one day Writing Spas, with Stephanie Dale in June. I have recently launched a service called Just Write for established, selfdirecting writers who just need a time and a space to anchor their habit. And, although writing this article has given me the chance to observe that the ratio of deadin-the-water projects to alive-and-kicking ones has lowered over the time I have been delivering this work, there are still those gigs that get away. If some of this chimes with your own experience of being a CWTP practitioner, I hope it is helpful to know that you are not alone. I recently admitted to myself that my work is not an efficient way of making a living. But it is, for me, a vocation. And the most rich and rewarding work I can experience, when I succeed in landing that glorious, juicy fish.
Forging an identity as a CWTP practitioner – Kathryn Aldrige-Morris Kathryn Aldridge-Morris works as a freelance writer of English language learning materials, specialising in resources for refugees and migrants, and as a trainer for the modern slavery charity Unseen. She has a Post Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes from Metanoia and is currently writing an autoethnographic novel. Email: email@example.com Abstract: This article describes a CWTP visualisation activity and how it helped the author to reflect on aspects of self and start to disentangle and integrate her multiple identities as a ‘portfolio writer.’
Like many other freelance writers, I am a portfolio writer, weaving eclectic experience and skills into something that looks vaguely career-shaped. My regular income is from academic publishing, and this itself dovetails disparate ways of writing, which can be writing standard textbooks, or designing digital games to practise sets of vocabulary. I also facilitate writing for wellbeing workshops in the community, am 30,000 words into an autoethnographic novel, run teacher training sessions and train frontline professionals for a modern slavery charity. I dread people asking me what I do. Although I love the variety, I sometimes feel like I’m freefalling through my professional life without a parachute that a formal, grown-up job-title might offer. CWTP has opened up a plethora of writerly ways for me to explore my identity and aspects of self. I include them in my journaling, sometimes at times of self-doubt, sometimes when I’m suffering from a bout of imposter syndrome, and at other times when something positive has happened -it’s a way of reflecting and revisiting the good times as a form of self-affirmation. This is invaluable when you’re self-employed and those channels for recognition, (such as a congratulatory email from a line manager or end of year review), are absent. This year I’ve been ensconced in an ELT writing project and my writing for wellbeing self was feeling neglected. So it was time to attend to her. I sought nourishment and inspiration from the Wellbeing and Writing Conference organised by Lapidus and Mslexia at the Newcastle Life Science Centre in March. Dr Sophie Nicholls from Teeside University ran a workshop focussing on the writer as researcher, and creative practice as research, and this opened up a new opportunity for me to reflect on my professional identity and how these strands inter-relate.
We were invited to visualise ourselves on paper as writers, researchers and facilitators, using a different colour for each strand. We could take into consideration the shape, size and relative space of these strands. The picture on the right is what I drew. I started at the centre and spiralled out; the autoethnographic writer and researcher travelling in parallel in ever increasingly expansive swirls. As my writing deepens, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m aware that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m gaining profound, personal insights which in turn feed back into my writing and both funnel out into pink bubbles, representing my facilitator self. I guess the roundness is a subconscious nod to participants sitting in the round, but looking afresh they look more like eggs, being fertilised by my writing / research process. The bubbles/eggs dissipate into pink dots that dance a polka in my writing and research, becoming a metaphor for working as a reflective practitioner; my practice constantly being informed by lessons learned in workshops. The visualisation as a whole invokes the duochrome test that opticians use to tell if youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re short or long-sighted. You have to stare at two circles, one red and one green, and depending on how your eyes focus on the different wavelengths, one colour will stand out more than the other. I guess the way I perceive the circles of my writer / researcher / facilitator self ultimately depend on the wavelengths I happen to be focussing on that day.
When we write together – Louisa Campbell Louisa Campbell used to be a registered mental health nurse, but now writes poetry. Her first poetry pamphlet, The Happy Bus (Picaroon Poetry, 2017) is about recovery from dissociation, anxiety and depression. Her second, The Ward (Paper Swans Press, 2018) is about experiences of nurses and patients on a psychiatric ward. A Poetry Book Society choice, The Ward describes the humanity of mental illness and Louisa uses it as a teaching tool to help enhance mental health nursing students' empathy with patients. you can write the dusty creeper tangled round the oak tree. Or you can write the shears to cut, or strength to pull the creeper off. If you can’t write the cut or strength, then you can write the flames that grow: the bonfire that we build; or you can wait and write the embers. If you can’t write the embers, you can write the rain that puts them out. Or you can write the breeze that shifts the clouds; the sun that waits behind them. If you can’t write the sun, then write the bird that comes to sit up in the oak. If you can’t write the bird, then write its song, because it’s your song, and you’ll know it.
Knitting pattern for life and marriage â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Susan Howse Sue Howse was born in Essex, growing up with the scent of the Essex marshes and the feel of the East wind against her skin, listening to the calls of seagulls. Her holidays as a child were spent cockling and winkling on the mud flats of the Thames estuary, watching, from her wooden beach hut, the ebb and flow of the tide. Her love of stories and story-telling comes from her father, who would weave imaginary stories for her as a child. She continued her relationship with the sea, spending many years by the Solent with her two children. She now lives on the Jurassic Coast with her husband, enlivened by frequent visits from her family and grandchildren. Her career as a psychotherapist has influenced her writing, interest in human nature, and the choices we make in life and their consequences. Materials: Two human beings (Average size). Biodegradable. Best quality Assorted yarns of Sadness Happiness Joy Compassion Kindness Pain Love Loss Tension: to ensure success of the unique pattern emerging it is essential to work with the correct tension. Cast on: Two stitches loosely together with yarn of happiness. Then: Knit one. Purl one. Add yarn of love for three rows. If tension gets too tight, unpick to where stitches of love were dropped. Add: Four more stitches, using blue and pink yarn of Pain and Joy. Continue: with repeat pattern over next ten rows, checking tension for sleeplessness and exhaustion. Then: Knit one. Drop one (for next 20 rows) picking up black and silver yarn of loss, grief and tears. If yards tangle, reverse stitch to where knot is stuck and loosen with yarns of gratitude and joy. Knit one. Purl one Start to cast off over next 10 rows using golden thread of healing until one stitch remains. Check: for gaps, dropped stitches and loose threads before sewing garment together. Complete: stitch together with strong threads of love.
The experience of online, live writing for wellbeing for non-native business executives - Nicky Torode Nicky Torode is a career coach, business communication skills coach and teacher, adult education tutor and materials writer. In an earlier career, she worked as a human rights NGO Development Advisor in Russia and secured grant funding for running start up business courses and mentoring to the young unemployed in East London. She has an MSc in Creative Writing for Wellbeing from Metanoia Institute. She offers workshops in journaling for business success online and in Hastings. She loves reading and writing flash fiction, has bought too many psychological thrillers and spends too much time listening to radio plays and comedy. Abstract: This article describes the process and outcomes of delivering online, live writing for wellbeing exercises with business executives working for a multinational company. English is not their mother tongue. The author claims that writing for wellbeing augments corporate wellbeing policies as it is a tool to help employees restore their work/life balance, bring greater self-awareness and feel more equipped to handle the pace of a busy work environment. The challenges of using this method (and technology) in a cross-cultural context with non-native speakers is also explored in terms of the delivery process, selection of materials and associations and expectations. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Listen In every office You hear threads Of love and joy and fear and guilt The cries for celebration and reassurance, And somehow you know connecting those threads Is what you are supposed to do And business takes care of itself. J.A. Autry Threads in Love and Profit: The art of caring leadership, p.32 My research, completed as part of the MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP) in 2018, aimed to explore the experience and impact of expressive and creative writing through live, online one-to-one sessions with business professionals whose native tongue is Russian and who use English as a lingua franca in their work in a multi-national company.
A corporate context is suitable for expressive writing as CWTP has the propensity to not only ‘hear the threads’ but also to ‘connect those threads.’ CWTP, coupled with an Appreciative Inquiry approach of iterative learning cycles, helped bring out hidden emotions, helped access the ‘shadow’ and gave voice to known work-related concerns such as lack of work-life balance and imposter syndrome, the feeling when an employee feels undeserving of their current position and afraid that they will be ‘found out.’ In addition, one participant acknowledged a sense of ‘corporate culture shock’ of working in an American-owned multinational. CWTP is a tool which, I argue, aligns with, and complements, corporate wellbeing objectives. And yet it is not that widespread as my research confirmed. I discovered the growing trend of corporate poetry workshops as a strand of the broader arts-based learning in corporate settings. Nissley (2002) categorised the use of the arts as ‘arts-perceiving,’ in this case reading/listening to poetry to the rarer use of ‘arts-making,’ that is writing poetry. Corporate poetry workshops are often, but not exclusively, used for furthering organisational goals such as team building, leadership skills and as a way of research. The benefits are numerous as detailed in Morgan’s What Poetry Brings to Business. However, I believe that CWTP exploits more fully the potential of poetry and other forms of writing, as it gives agency to the individual to write, facilitates their self-expression and shared discussion. Foremost, it prioritises the self over aesthetics or form. In addition, the potential of the poetry and writing to be transformational lies a lot in the skill of the facilitator. Therefore corporate poetry workshops, in the forms I have identified, appear to have different outcome goals, focus and facilitation goals. The research cohort was relatively homogenous, that is, three mid to senior female executives in a multinational company in the Russian Federation. One was from a creative background. The professional role and career background did not impede the experience or impact. Not being native speakers of English was not a barrier in the research due to their advanced level. However, different cultural perspectives of words used in Appreciative Inquiry influenced the research. Notably, one participant commented that the word ‘dream’ had no bearing on reality and it was used as a way to indicate a lack of commitment to its actualisation. Regarding which language to write in, I gave participants the autonomy to choose. This was to enable participants to feel free and comfortable in expressing themselves. It is interesting to note at the same point in the research, two participants switched from the language they had chosen. In the Dream session, after the visualisation, one participant noted that it felt natural to continue writing in English. Previously all her writing had been in Russian. Similarly, another participant, who had always written in English, stated that it felt only natural to write the letter to herself in Russian. Methodology I used an Appreciative Inquiry approach to frame the themes and prompts in two live sessions with each participant. AI uses a 4D cycle to generate and collate research. The 4 stages are: Discovery, Dream, Destiny and Delivery. In this study, due to limitations of time and the participation in a personal capacity, participants went through the Discovery and Dream phases only. In the Discovery phase an AI facilitator uses a variety of techniques, typically questions, to elicit and recollect the peak experiences of working in an organisation. Often at this stage, the question ‘what gives life?’ is asked. Responses are gathered by interview in groups or one-toone. In my research, it took less of an ‘interview’ approach and more of a narrative. I used the poem Diamond by William Ayot which recounts a diamond moment at work. After reading it, the participant identified a line which resonated with them and wrote their own expressive pieces. They then reflected on their piece and we discussed their reflections and, if they so wished, their written words. I was conscious that I wanted to probe into the shadow by not limiting discussion to ‘peak experiences’ and thus use CWTP to augment the AI 29
approach. In the post-session questionnaire I asked whether there was anything they wanted to write about but felt they couldn’t. In the second session, Dream, I facilitated a guided visualisation by prompting participants to imagine their future self, three years from now. After the visualisation, participants were asked to write a letter from their future self as seen/heard in the visualisation. For data analysis of our discussions and sharing of any writing, I used poetic inquiry in which I used the words of the participants to construct data poems. I was attracted to this creative method of data collection and analysis as it was a new form of qualitative academic research for me as well as offering the following benefit: It’s like matryoshka dolls: poetic inquiry goes further inside to the hidden, or waiting, treasure that the first, or second glance does not give access to. Guiney Yallop et al, 2014 Results One participant stated that writing helped her embrace her imposter syndrome and confirmed how it helped her feel like every day is anew. As a result of the writing, she felt ‘repaired and refuelled.’ Another participant acknowledged that the writing about the lack of her work-life balance made her more determined to rectify it. By writing about ‘diamond moments’ one participant noted a greater appreciation of her skills, the generation of a new solution and greater motivation. Here is one data poem from the words of one participant: My Core It feels like flying Freedom Taking me anywhere Reconnecting To my true inner self. All the bright shining ‘I’s Always deleted from my Business texts. Now I am My uncompromised self Reaching my core value. The online dimension to my research is, I would argue, a factor for the success of the research. While there are many purported benefits to face-to-face writing sessions, doing one-to-one via online live sessions is incredibly rich. I noted the concept of ‘telepresence,’ feeling as if both parties are in the room. (Fink, 1999). One participant noted the benefit of working online as having ‘more control how far I open with ease.’ It was not only the writing which helped. As one participant stated ‘the biggest value was the dialogue in which you listen and guide.’ In my analysis I suggested that the training of writing for wellbeing facilitators may need supplementary skills to deal with one-to-one and online work such as coaching skills and a greater use of immediacy and flexibility.
I believe I wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have enjoyed the process of research as much, had I not practised journalling alongside the research. My research journal was so much more than a to-do list. It was the perfect companion for aiding my understanding and digesting of all those academic articles. I scribbled numerous poems, expressive writing texts, mind-maps, lists and word clouds. By reflecting on those pieces, I was able to take my writing further. References Autry, J.A., (1991) Threads in Love and Profit: The art of caring leadership. New York: Avon Books Ayot, W., (2014) Diamond in Email from the soul. New & Selected Leadership Poems. UK:Sleeping Mountain Press. Blair, M., (2011) Essays in two voices. USA: Pelerei, Inc. Fink, J., (1999) How to use computers and cyberspace in the clinical practice of psychotherapy, Northvale, NJ. Guiney Yallop, J.J., Wiebe, S. & Faulkner, S.L, (2014) Poetic inquiry in/for/as, In Education, Vol.20, No.2. Morgan, C., (2010) What poetry brings to business. The United States: The University of Michigan Press. Nissley, N. (2002) Arts-based learning in management education in Wankel, C., and DeFillippi, R., (Eds.) Rethinking management education in the 21st century: Research in Management Education, pp.27-61. New York: IAP.
Blogging for wellbeing: benefits, drawbacks and ethical considerations Amanda Pitts Amanda has an MSc in Counselling Psychology Studies, during which she completed a dissertation on therapeutic writing and mental illness. She has volunteered for Lapidus in a number of roles over the last few years.
The internet has brought the world into our pocket - literally in the case of smartphones - and, as a result, has allowed people to develop new ways of engaging with their surroundings, themselves, and each other. Keeping a diary has been much-loved pastime for centuries and can provide a detailed insight into the everyday life of the writer. Diaries can take the role of many things - friend, confidante, record-keeper, amongst others and it was only natural that with the arrival of the internet, some journalling would move online. Blogs can be used for many purposes, but this article is using the term specifically to refer to those that resemble offline diaries, which people use to write about personal, emotional topics, including sharing their experiences of mental illness. Some of the points discussed can also be transferrable to other forms of online communication, such as forums and social media. What used to be restricted to a notebook can now be easily opened up to the entire world. Needless to say, this brings its own, unique, set of consequences, both positive and negative. There are elements of blogging that are not available to those who keep a physical diary and while one of the attractions of the latter is silence, providing the space for reflection in solitude, blogs can increase the audience significantly, allowing them to be used as a way of connecting and communicating with people throughout the world. With a blog, the writer can choose to remain completely anonymous or share specific identifying details about themselves. They can leave it open to anyone, or allow only a carefully-selected audience access. Engaging with other, similar, blogs can be comforting, perhaps helping to reduce feelings of isolation by showing that others understand what the writer is going through. Fellow bloggers may offer advice, share their own experiences, or just offer a much-needed word of comfort. Comments can be invited and replies to them made, creating a more direct dialogue which, in some cases, allows friendships to be built. As with other forms of writing for wellbeing, the first level of therapeutic value can be found by the act of writing itself. Expressing thoughts, feelings and experiences can have a positive impact in a number of ways, not least just getting them out of the head. When written down, the words are more tangible and seem more accessible.
As a result, a situation has the potential to be considered in a more objective way, allowing room for reflection and even resolution. For some, a second level of therapeutic value is added when blogging, due to the element of communication with others. Knowing others may read their words (whether they actually do or not) can lead to them view them from a slightly different, detached, perspective, with more objectivity. Being a step removed from the emotion can clear the head enough to engage the writer in a different way and allow them to focus on delivery as well as content, using their words to process their own experiences even as they convey them to others. Although blogging does have its benefits, these inevitably come alongside drawbacks. Children today grow up with the internet, social media is an everyday part of life, putting every thought, feeling and occasion out there is the norm. The internet is not yet old enough to see the long-term impact of this, but most people will have heard rumours of bosses checking the social media pages of potential employees, or people facing disciplinary action after writing something untoward about their job online. This inevitably raises concerns of what the future may bring regarding other types of online activity. Once published online, something exists forever. Even if it is on a private blog, the data exists somewhere and deleted information can still be resurrected by experts. When something is posted online - in any capacity - the risk includes the possibility of some kind of backlash or negative comments from others. It is important that a blogger is resilient enough to cope with any such reactions. The responses may be personal, related to their vulnerabilities and, in some cases, made with the intent of causing hurt. Comments like these, rather than provide a sense of comfort, can be upsetting and feel very personal, even if everything is completely anonymised. For some bloggers, even positive comments can trigger an unprecedented emotional response. Blogging can come with a feeling of pressure - if a person's readers come to expect it on certain days, for example - it can lead to the feeling of having to post something, so they are not disappointed an do not lose interest. This sort of pressure can quickly turn blogging from a way to healthily express some emotions into a reluctant, stressful chore. A vicious circle can be triggered, where posting becomes something which no longer provides any benefit, yet they continue to try and gain relief by blogging and interacting with others, without the effect it used to have. It is only natural that someone with a blog will also read those written by others. This, however, also comes with a risk. Depending on what exactly is being read, as well as the reader's emotional state on any particular day, there could be a variety of reactions, positive and negative. Some may be reassuring, some may cause confusion, upset or even anger. As with writing a blog, developing relationships with others may lead to pressure to read those of others regularly, commenting and also potentially providing support that they are not in a strong enough place to give. Blogs exist on innumerable subjects, from baking cakes to classic cars. Within the scope of mental health and wellbeing, there is also a wide range of forms such blogs can take. Examples include self-help, mindfulness, campaigns for awareness or better treatment, and personal experiences. However, not all blogs have the same intent, and it is possible to stumble across these - including some that can even be dangerous. In the world of eating disorders, a well-known example is of websites, forums and blogs which allow pictures and tip-sharing of how to lose weight unsafely. Although this is obviously an extreme example, it does show how using the internet can also be detrimental to a person's mental health.
There are risks with sharing personal information with any audience, even one you know and trust in real life. People fall out, confidences are betrayed, and something written down can easily be shared beyond the anticipated audience. At times, cyberspace can become an unfriendly, unwelcome place. People use blogs in different ways, with some more personal and more revealing than others. However careful the writer is, most likely the blog will, on some level, involve others. Even being careful not to identify people by name does not mean someone may not recognise, or think they recognise, a description of a person, place or event. It is easy to think something is more anonymous than it actually is to others directly involved. Therefore, writing about others on a public website brings with it important ethical considerations. Even if names and places are changed or omitted, many of the other details given will likely be real. Several questions are raised immediately; How much can or should be said about others, even anonymously? Should others be told/asked for permission? Where does the line between honesty and confidentiality lie? For people that may be written about, other questions arise; What if someone thinks they recognise themselves in a blog post? Or someone else? What if it includes learning sensitive information that the writer would not want them to know? What if a post suggests someone is at risk of harm? There are no easy answers to any of these - not least because the long-term implications of the use of such websites are yet to be seen. How much should about theoretical worst-case-scenarios be allowed to interfere with what benefits people now? In another generation, will there still be a place for blogging? Will it prove beneficial for people's mental health in the long-term? Where will it fit within the field of writing for wellbeing? At present we, can only speculate.
The power of poetry film – Janet Lees Janet Lees is an artist, poet, poetry filmmaker and writing for wellbeing workshop facilitator. Websites: https://janetlees.weebly.com https://vimeo.com/janetlees Instagram: @janetlees2001 Ingmar Bergman said, ‘No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.’ With its emotionally potent mix of words, moving image, music and sound, poetry film can be an incredibly powerful medium for self-expression and connection. Finding exactly the right footage to go with exactly the right words, then selecting exactly the right music to capture the overall feeling of the film is a fully absorbing, necessarily mindful process which in my experience has a big impact on personal wellbeing. Words are powerful, of course, but we have all felt the power of music to move us; of film to instantly evoke atmosphere without a word being uttered. Film poems can potentially reach and connect with more people than poetry alone. And poetry film can support people’s emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing as a group activity. Not everyone wants to write and not everyone wants to perform. Some may prefer to film on their phones, or find music, or create sound effects – in ‘poetry film for wellbeing’ sessions, there are many different opportunities for contribution, collaboration and connection. Many years ago, my dad created a ninety-minute DVD compilation of his old cine films from when my two sisters and I were young – mostly on holidays in Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man, where my mum’s family is from. I had not been able to watch the DVD since my youngest sister Carole died suddenly five years ago. Losing someone you love is always devastating. Losing someone you love without warning adds shock and trauma to the grief. And losing someone who has struggled, as I have, with addiction, piles yet more layers of emotional complexity on top of sorrow. You’ve felt frustration, you’ve felt anger, you’ve felt despair, you’ve felt like washing your hands altogether of this person you love. Sometimes you have told them all this, only to deeply regret it. On losing her brother to addiction, my friend said that grief is a sort of intense love and there is something purifying about it; it becomes apparent that any difficulties and tensions were meaningless, and only love is left. In the last five years I have walked and walked along the edges of an infinitely vast and deep sea of loss. Occasionally I’ve ventured in, sometimes even put my head under and swum down. But mostly I’ve kept to the shallows. I have a box of letters and small personal things of Carole’s that I’ve opened maybe three times in five years. I simply have not felt able to go there. I have written three letters to her, and some poems. I have cried, a lot, in therapy sessions. But I’ve always felt it wasn’t enough. Not enough in comparison with the enormity of the loss, and not enough to honour the feisty, creative, offbeat, hilarious, gentle, generous, rebellious, hugehearted, completely one-of-a-kind spirit that is my sister. A month ago, I felt compelled to create something with my Dad’s old cine footage. Making a three-minute film out of ninety minutes of film required not only watching the old footage, but going right into every minute of it in order to find the clips for the poetry film. This was instant, deep, sustained immersion. I worked in a frenzy of sorrow, crying almost continuously over the course of a day. When the film was finished, I felt some of the things I feel after a sea swim: emptied, cleaned, changed by the contact with something uncontainable. I’m not saying it was a silver bullet for my sorrow, but it enabled me to process a large piece of it, and to let go of some of my regret, one of the most soul-corroding aspects of grief. I shared the film with my sister Niki and my mum and dad, and I think it has helped all of us to connect with our loss, with Carole, and with some of our happiest times. This was the most intimate of collaborations. My dad was the filmmaker, our five-strong family were the subjects, I was the poet and editor. The only ‘outsider’ was Moby, who made the beautiful music (he offers his 35
music free to independent filmmakers via mobygratis.com), but he didn’t feel like an outsider because Carole introduced me to his music, and we used to listen to it together, over and over.
It is said https://vimeo.com/311504800 Australia-based Amy Bodossian is a cult spoken word star, cabaret artist and ‘obsessive compulsive diva’ who serves up a raw, eccentric, glitteringly unique mix of song, spoken word, comedy and personal revelations. Her acclaimed shows Phlegm Fatale, Exhibit Amy, Salvation Amy and Don’t Worry, I’ve Got It Covered have all been fringe sell-outs, and she launched a book of her poetry and drawings, Wide Open, in 2016. In short, Amy reaches and resonates with a lot of people. On 9 October last year, to mark World Mental Health Day, she shared a poetry film version of her poem Sea Inside Me, an honest, vulnerable, passionately felt piece highlighting her struggle with OCD. ‘I think expressing emotion is essential really, for humans to be healthy,’ she says. ‘We need to let our hearts be touched and be able to express what is going on for us, or we can get incredibly stuck and it can lead to all kinds of problems. If I can open my heart up enough to enable other people’s catharsis, this is the highest honour I can think of.’
Sea Inside Me https://youtu.be/6ghli0Yj1LQ Another of Amy’s performance poetry films, Pour the Champagne, deftly treads the fine line between hard to watch (because as the viewer your heart goes out to her so much) and utterly compelling. Her constant questioning of herself and her worth, her fragility and her absolute realness, help to shine a light on our own troubles – ‘these hounds in our minds’ as she names them in the poem; the ways in which, as she says, ‘we’re all just struggling in the dark.’ Amy says, ‘The poem is about my OCD impinging on my being able to live the life I always envisaged for myself: to ‘soar’ more often, to travel to amazing places and achieve all my wildest dreams. In my poem, I’m not doing all these amazing things. I’m just at home holding a plastic lid. This is indeed part of my therapy, which I am still doing – touching something that freaks me out and resisting washing my hands so that I get used to the crippling anxiety and rehabituate. And it is really hard. There is grief and shame and heartbreak in that – in not being what and where I thought I would be by now. But, of course, as the poem unravels I start to realise that this is possibly a deeply human predicament, and that perhaps no one is 100% where they thought they would be.’
Pour the Champagne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCyhT1z4XJs Sarah Tremlett is a poetry filmmaker, artist, writer and co-founder, with poet Lucy English, of Liberated Words, an ever-expanding umbrella for poetry film workshops and large-scale events. Sarah has taken the wellbeing benefits of videopoetry into the community with profound results. In one of her recent projects she worked with ecopoet Helen Moore, media artist and musician Howard Vause, and Trisha Williams, the founder of the Butterflies Haven project based near Bath, which supports young people affected by autism and their families. Over the course of two days, a group of teenagers with autism conceived and created three poetry films.
Sarah says, ‘I remember a lot of highly creative ideas flowing. With a demonstration of storyboarding, the students’ ideas began to take shape, and they were encouraged to film using their phones, develop drawings and firm up their writing by the end of the first day. On the second day, Helen and Howard worked hard to hone each group’s ideas and finalise footage. Howard then worked his magic and turned their work into the final films: Bertie Bert’s anti-bullying rules, You Never Started This and Danni’s Poem.’ What began as a journey into uncharted waters for Sarah, Howard and Helen, and a chaotic mass of inspired but unformed ideas, became three revealing and meaningful explorations of what it is like living with autism. The trio of films was screened as part of an evening organized by Bath and North East Somerset Council to celebrate the work of Butterflies Haven. ‘I was overwhelmed at the audience’s response,’ says Sarah. ‘Many parents commented that they no idea how their children felt until seeing the films. The outcomes were far greater than we had imagined, in terms not only of the wellbeing of the children, their creativity, self-expression and growth in confidence, but also in how their carers and parents were able to relate to them. This is a priceless outcome. Each of us can feel trapped behind a closed door with our issues. Writing and art open the door, not only for the makers themselves, but also for those who care for them, and who often need this the most.’ Trisha Williams adds, ‘The Liberated Words partnership was a triumph. The team understood the importance of not having any preconceived ideas about autism and to simply get to know the young people.’ Across all of her projects with young people, Sarah aims to foster and stimulate literacy, as well as social and technical skills. But more important is the empowerment and celebration of individual, often unheard, voices; the discovery and revelation of who people really are through words and moving images. Sarah concludes, ‘I personally see creative examples of ‘wellbeing’ in action within much art, music and narrative writing, particularly in relation to poetry films. All of us can benefit emotionally and practically from exploring creative writing, learning new audio-visual skills, meeting new people, and generally having fun; and all these can be magnified tenfold by digging deep through poetry film workshops.’
You Never Started This https://vimeo.com/315853121
Danni’s Poem https://vimeo.com/315842411
Bertie Bert’s Anti-Bullying Rules https://vimeo.com/315838977
Writing meets wellbeing – Bernadette McBride Bernadette McBride is a writer and PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool where she is working on her first short story collection. She is the author of the self-help book ROOTS: THE ECO-JOURNAL (Green Guild, 2018) and is currently working on an autofiction novel Dark Bay. Twitter: @b_mmcbride
Several years ago, when my desire to be a writer was still a dream, I made my first trip to the famous Brontë country in Yorkshire, UK. The land of three early iconic female literary legends: Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë. Most visitors associate the market town of Haworth with Emily’s classic Wuthering Heights, with many stretching their legs past the Brontë museum and up into the moors to visit the renowned ruins there: ‘Top Withens’. A site said to have been a source of inspiration to Emily, and of course a key place name in her classic Wuthering Heights. At ‘Top Withens’, there is a plaque on the wall positioned there by the Brontë society and it reads: This farmhouse has been associated with Wuthering Heights, the Earnshaw home in Emily Brontë's novel. The buildings, even when complete, bore no resemblance to the house she described, but the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the Heights. — Brontë Society 1964. This plaque has been placed here in response to many inquiries. Emily was said to have been a rather solitary figure, preferring to roam the moors alone, at home amongst the landscape she so loved. It may be that for Emily, spending her time this way was, in essence, her way of looking after her own wellbeing – mentally, emotionally, as well as physically. Roaming in her footsteps, as I did on that first trip, it is easy to see how one could take solace and get lost in one’s self there. For Emily, this land was for no 40
Victorian lady taking a turn in an ornate garden as expected. Although pretty with its burnt colours amongst the heather and bracken, the moors were often violent and turbulent, dark and brooding, all the things a Victorian woman wasn’t expected to feel or express. Skip forward a few years, and the situation that had been in my own mind during that first trip had come to fruition, I had become a published writer. I went to university as a mature student and won a scholarship to study a master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool, winning a further scholarship to progress to their Creative Writing PhD. In the same year, the Green Guild published my first solo book ROOTS: THE ECO: JOURNAL, a self-help book with a focus on wellbeing through combined journaling and ecotherapy. I had learnt a lot during my years studying, and in the research and writing of my book ROOTS, and I wanted to share all that with others. I felt called to gather other women, who maybe like my former self, harboured some secret ambition to be a writer. By this point, I had also started to study the positive benefits of writing for wellbeing, and I was undertaking a person-centred expressive arts therapy course (PCEAT), with a focus on the ‘creative connection’ pioneered by Dr Natalie Rogers. I became very interested in the intersection of writing and wellbeing and approached a long-time friend of mine Karen Podesta, of More Love Yoga. We decided to set up a retreat for women in the Yorkshire moors, in Brontë country, the site for my inspiration all those years ago. We felt there was a real calling for held spaces and places for women to gather and express themselves, through creative expression and yoga, and in a supportive group atmosphere. We devised a programme for a retreat weekend which would combine creative writing exercises led by myself, and wellbeing exercises e.g. yoga, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or meditation, all things Karen was qualified to teach. We held the retreat in a gothic manor in the moors, at YHA Haworth, who catered for us and provided an excellent base for sleeping and their old ballroom for some of the indoor sessions. We set about advertising the event on Eventbrite and through our own contacts, by the time the event came around we had women booked onto the retreat from all around the UK. As the women arrived on the first evening, Friday 14th September 2018, we felt a little nervous. Though Karen and I had both attended retreats ourselves before with a focus on wellbeing, we had never actually been fully in charge of one before. All the women had booked on as solo guests, none were arriving as friends, and would all be sharing dormitory-style bunk beds, so they were nervous too. After a meet and greet we held a guided Wuthering Heights book club over dinner as a warm up whilst everyone got to know one another. We went around in a circle afterwards in the drawing room and the women all expressed what had brought them on the retreat. For many, it was a chance to focus on themselves. The next day the group made the pilgrimage to ‘Top Withens’ via the Brontë Waterfalls, with a ‘nature’ writing workshop held along the hike by me, and with a midpoint ‘nature’ meditation conducted by Karen. We had hoped for sunny September weather, but alas the skies were dark and menacing, and rain started to fall heavily as we set off. The walk took several hours over the moors, through some rough terrain, alongside some amazing views. As we walked, various members of the group connected
with one another, opening up with the motion of the movement, jotting down notes as they went along for their ‘nature’ writing exercise. By the midway point, the group had acclimatised to the bad weather, smiling through the dark clouds, and by the time we reached the summit point ‘Top Withens’, as though some sign, the sun had appeared from behind the clouds just in time for our next activity: grounding yoga. The ground was still very wet from the rain, so Karen led us into standing poses such as warrior pose, fitting for a group of women who had fought the elements to reach their destination. The experience of a tough hike really bonded the group together, and I felt an incredible spirit and warmth amongst the group rising. The combined wellbeing benefits of walking, writing, yoga and meditation, had really had a positive impact on the group and it was clear to see. A fusion of these wellbeing activities over the course of the weekend brought about unique results. Karen led activities such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for writers block, and yoga for creativity, I would follow these sessions directly with my creative writing workshops as it was clear attendees were more open and in a better creative flow after Karen’s sessions, which meant they could produce more authentic and less guarded writing and sharing. We also booked two special guest speakers: Dr Alexandra Lewis, who delivered a talk and workshop on the Brontë’s, and the poet Ruby Robinson author of Every Little Sound (Pavilion Poetry, 2016), who delivered a talk and workshop catered for the weekend. We conducted feedback with the attendees afterwards, and they all said the same thing: that they’d had a unique experience and gone away with a special feeling that they couldn’t quite put their finger on. They left feeling revigorated and with a renewed sense of purpose and wellbeing. For Karen and me, the experience was eye-opening regarding how well the combined aspects of writing and wellbeing activities such as yoga worked together. For anyone else who is looking to organise a similar retreat, I would advise them to work with a partner or partner(s) you know and trust, and who you could work with well as part of a team. Though the event was an amazingly mind-blowing experience, it did require a huge amount of planning and effort, and as such with our busy lives we would only ever hold it bi-annually. Key takeaway points for would-be wellbeing retreat organisers: • • • • • • •
Research your base and accommodation well as this will be the focal point of all your activities Ask for several quotes from different companies for catering and or accommodation Use a well-known event hosting site such as Eventbrite, but factor in the various commission options when looking at overall costs for the retreat Make sure attendees fill in medical and health questionnaires and be sure to get their emergency contact details Make sure you have insurance for your event, such as public liability insurance Bring a first aid kit Make a timetable for all the activities and send it ahead to all the attendees so they know what to expect and when
What to do if someone reads your journal – Greta Solomon Greta Solomon is a journalist turned writing coach and the author of Just Write It! (McGraw-Hill, 2013) and Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness (Mango, 2019). In 2006, she discovered a talent for helping people overcome the blocks, fears and shame that stops them from fully expressing themselves. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, certified life coach, trained lifelong learning teacher and holds a specialist certificate in lyric writing from Berklee College of Music. Website: www.gretasolomon.com
At the beginning of every workshop I deliver in writing for creative self-expression, I always ask the same questions. These are: ‘When you write, do you feel truly able to express yourself?’ ‘Are you able to really say what you need and want to say?’ And finally, ‘What do you really want to get out of this workshop?’ We’re all taught in our daily lives to censor ourselves, and we’re socialised to do this from a very early age. Often, this censorship not only extends to our social relationships, but even to our private thoughts. And for some people – almost every waking moment of life. So, when I ask that question, ‘Are you truly able to express yourself?’ it’s no surprise that 90 per cent of people say, ‘no’. When people sense that they are in a safe space, they often open-up – and gladly seize the chance to speak freely without judgement. But there was one occasion where I could see a workshop participant was wrestling with her truth. She gave what she thought was a socially-acceptable answer to why she’d come to the workshop. But then she asked to speak again, ‘The reason I’m really here is because when I was a teenager my parents read my diary and punished me for the contents, and it’s left me feeling blocked ever since.’ Since then, I’ve had those words echoed to me time-and-time again. The circumstances and people involved are often different, but the result is the same. Broken trust. Guilt. Grief. Shame. Loss of creative freedom. Clients and colleagues have shared how they can never quite write what they want to. That they always feel that they’re writing for an audience. That they can never let loose and let their heart and soul flow. Writing their truth no longer feels safe. So, they find it mentally and emotionally easier to write something bland. Something every palette can handle. But the problem is that if you do this enough, it becomes a habit that’s hard to break. Expressive writing, and writing for wellbeing, works. There is absolutely no doubt about it. But what’s often not spoken about is what to do if you feel blocked and stifled, how to figure out the cause and how to free yourself up. This has long been the focus of my work as a writing coach, and in my latest book Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness, I outline ways to effectively bypass the blocks, fears, doubts and shame that you may harbour. So, if someone has read YOUR journal, the first thing to do is give this event the weight it deserves. Don’t brush it off. Acknowledge that a boundary was crossed, and that it’s likely created a wound that needs to be healed. 43
Here is a three-part journaling exercise you can do to begin to heal Part one Write the sentence: ‘My trust as a writer was broken when [Insert name of person] read my journal.’ Next, set a stopwatch for 10 minutes and focus on writing about what you saw, heard, touched, tasted and smelt during that episode. Also, write about what movement happened, whether internally or externally and what you felt. Focusing on your seven senses in this way is extremely powerful. It can switch off your conscious chattering brain and allow your writing and emotions to flow. Go wherever your senses lead you in this exercise and remember that your sensory experiences don’t have to be literal (although it’s fine if they are). For instance, you may have ‘tasted’ fear, or ‘smelt’ a relationship going sour in that moment. Or you may have smelt dinner burning on the hob, as you forgot to turn off the cooker. The movement may have been someone darting across the room and ripping out or scrunching up journal pages. Or it may have been the movement of your chest going up and down, as you struggled to catch your breath. Just keep your pen moving and don’t stop to correct any spellings mistakes or grammar. And don’t worry if it feels that what you’re writing is clunky or disorganised. The aim is to get all your thoughts and feelings out, so repeat this exercise as many times as you feel you need to. Part two Next, get factual by answering these questions:
• • • • •
Who shamed you? How did they shame you? Why did they shame you? What did they do? How can you reframe what happened (with the benefit of insight and hindsight)?
What affirmation (s) do you need to restore your confidence and trust in yourself as a writer? For example, ‘It is safe for me to write.’ ‘No-one will read my journal again.’ ‘I am not responsible for other people’s emotions – what I think and feel matters most.’ Don’t get too hung up on making this perfect. It ought to just be a simple positive statement of intent for something you want to feel, believe or have. Part three The next step after this is to do creative writing exercises that you get you in the flow, so that you can once again feel what it feels like to write freely. I have lots of these in my book. My online course client, Janet, shared that this with me: ‘When I was young, I loved to write stories and also wrote constantly as a way to express the angst of my teenage years. Unfortunately, this led to shaming because those very personal journal entries were read by someone who used them to ridicule and criticise me. You are the first person to name and identify the damage done by this kind of shaming. After working through your 44
course, I am recognising that I am well on my way to healing that tender, violated part of my inner world. There has been a remarkable, gradual fading of the critical inner voice. Now, I have a structure to work within and techniques to practice and it has given me a sense of direction and purpose.’ It’s incredibly freeing to put words to a murky feeling you may have been holding for years. Don’t underestimate how profound the simple act of someone reading your private words can have on your psyche. And whatever you do, make sure you keep your journal under lock and key in the future.
Lapidus London â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Ottilie Hainsworth Based in Brighton, Ottilie is a drawing artist. She studied illustration at Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, where she began to develop her skill as a graphic novelist. In 2017 she published "Talking to Gina", a graphic memoir about a rescue dog. She is currently working on a graphic diary, and teaches comics to adults and children. This is Ottilieâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s experience of running a graphic novel workshop with Lapidus London.
A thank you for every day - Dimitra Didangelou Dimitra Didangelou is a psychologist, science journalist and author. She aims to help people gain insight and bring balance into their life through expressive writing. She has worked as a journalist for more than twelve years in order to raise public awareness about mental health issues. More recently she has worked as a certified psychologist as well. She is the founder of a business called “PSYCHE”, which offers online workshops promoting conscious living.
“Be thankful for the good and the bad things in your life. They have both taught you something.” Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet- writer During the last few decades, research that proves the benefits of practicing gratitude in everyday life has increased. The general outcome is that expressing gratitude can have a positive effect on the soul, the mind and the body. Emphasis has also been given to its social dimension, and scientists claim that when we feel grateful we tend to analyse our relationships with other people and find out if and how they have supported us. The word “gratitude” derives from the Latin word “gratia”, which means grace, courtesy. All the derivations of this word refer to generosity, gratitude, gifts, the joy of giving and receiving or just giving generously without taking something in return (Pruyser, 1976). The object of gratitude can be a person or another being - for example our friends, animals, - or something impersonal or other non-material entities - such as God, nature, the universe, and so on (Teigen, 1997). It has been said that gratitude is an emotion, a behaviour, a moral value, a habit, a personality trait or a reaction (Emmons & McCullough, 2003) and can be applied in the past, present and future. According to Weiner (1985), gratitude as an emotion arises from a cognitive process consisting of two steps: recognizing the positive result and recognizing that there is an external source for this result. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California Davis and pioneer on this subject, claims that gratitude makes us appreciate the value of things - however little or big they are - and not take them for granted. He also believes that gratitude helps us be more active and focus on positive facts, so that the joys we get from life are multiplied (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Dr. Emmons and his colleagues conducted research with thousands of people of all ages. Briefly, they found that people who practice gratitude regularly have the following benefits: On a physical level: - Stronger immune system - Less pain 47
- Lower blood pressure - They exercise more and take care of their health - They sleep more and feel more relaxed when they wake up On psychological level: - More positive feelings - More awake, alive and active - More joy and pleasure - More optimism and happiness On social level: - More helpful, generous and compassionate - More forgiving - More extrovert - Less isolated and lonely (McCullough, Emmons & Tsang, 2002, Emmons & McCullough, 2003, Emmons & Stern, 2013). What happens when we keep a gratitude journal? There are many ways of expressing gratitude, including keeping a journal. It has been shown that when we express our gratitude on paper, the beneficial effects can be more than when expressing it orally. Emmons and McCullough, in one of their studies (2003), instructed young adults to keep a journal of the things they felt grateful for. Other groups have been instructed to keep a journal of things that have bothered them or why they felt superior to others. Compared to other groups, those who kept the gratitude journal increased their determination, focus, enthusiasm and energy. In a second research study, the same scientists found that adults who kept a gratitude journal for just one week, also had some benefits. They had greater optimism, exercised more, got sick less and had fewer pains (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Dr. Martin Seligman (2005), psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and pioneer in the study of positive psychology, studied the effect of various psychological interventions on adults. When the assignment of the week was to write and give personally a gratitude letter to someone they had never thanked before, the participants immediately reported a huge increase in their happiness. This effect was much greater than with any other intervention, with the benefits lasting more than one month. Expressing gratitude through actions Scientists point out that gratitude does not mean believing that we are better than the others. Sometimes we feel grateful for what we have by looking at what others do not have or when we realize that they are worse off than us. But this is not gratitude, it is just a comparison. In addition, in order to have positive results from gratitude, it is necessary not only to assess the positive aspects of a situation, but we also need to take a step beyond that, to show or to express it. Gratitude not only encourages us to become aware of the gifts we have received, but to give in return as well. For this reason, sociologist Georg Simmel (1950) called it â&#x20AC;&#x153;moral memory.â&#x20AC;?
As a daily practice, it is worthwhile wondering what is our act of gratitude for today. Ultimately, gratitude is a life attitude and a perspective. Journal Prompts on Gratitude Journal writing can have mental and emotional benefits. Especially keeping a gratitude journal can make us pay attention to all the miracles that happen every single moment and find satisfaction in our everyday life. Suggested writing prompts: • • • • • • • • • • •
Complete the following sentence: right now I feel grateful for... Make a list of everything you have and feel grateful for. You can fill it up every day with something new. Make a list of the memories that make you feel grateful. Choose a moment for which you feel grateful and describe it in every detail. Write a letter to someone you feel grateful for. Read it again and if you wish, send it as a gift. Pick a picture and write why you are grateful about this moment. Express your gratitude for a moment that you laughed. How can you show your gratitude to yourself? How can you show your gratitude to your body? How can you show your gratitude to the people you love? How can you remind the others of the value of gratitude?
References Emmons, R., McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. Emmons, R. A., Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8), 846-855. McCullough, M. E., Emmons, R. A., Tsang, J. (2002). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 112–127. Pruyser, P. W. (1976). The minister as diagnostician: Personal problems in pastoral perspective. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. In Emmons, R. McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389. Seligman, M., Steen, T., Park, N., Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60 (5), 410-421. Simmel, G., (1950). The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Compiled and translated by Kurt Wolff, Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Teigen, K. H. (1997). Luck, envy, and gratitude: It could have been different. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 38, 313–323. Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92, 548–573. 49
My PhD journey, or how to start a project and keep going – Bev Murray Bev Murray is in her submission year for her Phd in Creative Writing, working on a novel and researching the role of witness for our stories at the end of life. She has worked extensively as a business psychologist and coach and is now exploring new ways of working with others. She is especially interested in focusing on narrative, helping individuals and teams explore their stories and develop meaning, using writing in particular as a beneficial tool. She is enjoying finding ways of using her past experience and knowledge in new and creative outlets. Some time ago I started a part-time PhD in Creative Writing. I had an idea that I wanted to explore that had come out of much personal reflection and experience, and I felt it deserved to be taken seriously, and by that I mean taken seriously by me. I knew that it was a big step to take but what I didn’t understand was just how much I would learn about my creativity and my approach. Writing has always been part of my life, a compulsion that I’ve never been quite able to ignore, but also one that I somehow found difficult to give adequate room to. Indeed, I’d been very good at identifying all sorts of reasons as to why the writing wasn’t happening. Throughout my PhD these reasons remained present but I’ve learnt to create the space to pursue ideas, to not only work with uncertainty but to relish it, and ultimately to write. I’ve tackled all sorts of things to create this space, and what I want to share here is a simple framework that has been influential in getting me to this point; so simple that one might easily take it for granted. I certainly did, and it was only once my journey had begun that I realised how much it could help me. Two learning dimensions If we’re to learn and develop in such a way that we grow in competence, independence and commitment we have to take into account what we need from our environment and from those around us. There are two key dimensions that make the difference between success and getting stuck: the extent to which we need direction and the extent to which we need support. In this model, ‘direction’ is about having a safe and navigable environment, with structure and boundaries, while ‘support’ is more about growing to trust one’s judgement and nurturing our skills and self-belief. The interplay between these two will vary according to the stage in the project. 1. Getting started: It’s all about ‘direction’ The difficulty of getting started is that you’re presented with a blank page and all that that means: no sense of boundaries, no rules, no definitions, no clarity. A bit like that squirrel holding the apple – where do you make the first bite? But it is exciting, and that’s the one thing you have in your favour at the beginning, the desire to create and to pursue an idea. What’s needed most at this stage is direction, essentially developing a framework or an approach that helps you feel safe enough to explore. To adapt a phrase from Louise de Salvo (2000), I knew I had to let the writing become the teacher, but for me what I needed to ensure was that the writing happened at all. It felt like the ‘blank page’ was there every day 50
and so it was important to establish a framework that would ease me into the creative writing. I experimented with all sorts but what I now have is a structure that gives me a creative safe space. One of the things that I do is to always begin with what I call the ‘six minute splurge’. I set the timer on my phone, sit down and allow my pen to write whatever comes into my mind. It’s as though it’s waking up my writing muscles. I don’t edit it or worry at it, and the activity acts as a release for any pent up emotion that happens to be hanging around and blocking my focus. Once the six minutes is up, I might continue to write to complete a thought but then I step away from it and make myself a cup of tea. When I return, I’ve learnt to review what’s been written, appreciating the distance I’ve created between myself and my thoughts and emotions. And then I feel ready to write. 2. Uncovering the core: refining the focus, and getting creative This was the stage in the PhD where the panic started to set in. I was beginning to understand the scale of what was required and starting to develop clarity as to my novel, but I felt very uncomfortable at the thought of just how much I didn’t know about the way ahead. I not only needed more direction but I also needed support, rather as the two youngsters are seeking from the parent blackbird in this photograph taken in my garden last summer. In terms of direction, I needed to build a sense of this new creative environment and its ‘rules’, and I began to explore the work in psychology around creativity, especially the writing of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2008). It helped me see that creativity was all around me and that if I was beginning to get stuck with words I could create flow using other mediums. At this time I discovered the power of visual metaphor, especially through comics, and also loved the way witnessing live performance would help me step back and see things differently. I found support from reading writers I respected and who had the experience I didn’t, seeking out their reflections on their work and process. I found that it wasn’t just me that was scared of the dark, and that sense of community helped. As Margaret Atwood (2002) wrote, ‘writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out to the light.’ 3. Keeping going: got clarity, but is it worthwhile? This is when things started to get motoring. I knew what I wanted to do, I had focus for my research and for the novel and I needed to keep going. And therein lay the difficulty – keeping going. I felt so uncertain at times as to whether I was doing anything worthwhile that my motivation would waver and I’d effectively come to a halt.
I needed further support to keep me going, rather as the Red Kite uses the thermals to support its flight, and sought ways of building my confidence and belief in the project. I wasn’t ready to share my work, being fully aware that the novel had structural issues from the beginning and also conscious that storylines were developing as the pages were growing. So how could I develop trust in me? 51
One of the things I started to do was to begin to apply what I’d learnt from my own writing when working with others. I belong to a writer’s group and members certainly recognised a shift in my editorial insights. I was also able to use my experiences directly in support of others through my coaching and workshops. It started to become clear to me that what I had learnt was informing and enhancing my approaches elsewhere. Consequently, it reinforced the feeling that I must be on the right track.
4. The end is in sight: I know what I’m doing and I’m grateful
At this stage I need very little direction or support: I feel competent and am fully committed to what I am doing. It makes me think of standing atop a hill and being able to take in the whole view. I have to admit that I like the joy that comes with this stage, the sense that I finally know what my PhD is truly about and that I can represent it well. That broad view, a sense of the landscape as it spreads before me, means that I’m quick to spot when I need to adjust what I’m doing. For example, I’m not used to talking to people about my research or the novel itself. I’ve got much to learn about tailoring what I say to suit the audience, and I’m taking myself back to the model’s first development stage to figure out a way forward. The main advantage of using this model has been the sense of freedom it has brought me. This may seem an odd thing to say, but its application in my learning life has helped ground me and root my work. Because of that it’s also allowed me the freedom to play and experiment, giving me confidence to take steps that I had never envisaged.
References: Desalvo, Louise, (2000) Writing as a Way of Healing. Beacon Press Csikszentmihalyi, M (2008) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial Atwood, M (2003) Negotiating with the Dead: A writer on writing. Virago Pre
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