5 Ways to Begin is the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival's scratch night, led by Associate Artist Emma Jayne Park. This year, it took place at Flourish House, Glasgow and Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh. Talking Heads reporter Stuart Low reflects on the event at Flourish House, which featured Ellie Silver, Lewis Sherlock, Jen Athan, Bibi June and Jassy Earl & Chloe Smith.

Right, so I will write this really quickly. Someone had an experience with the medication. Then someone else got a cup of tea. Then the balloons never touched the ceiling. Then a girl was crying. Then a woman talked about her family. Then there was a plastic fight.

First there was a girl lighting candles. Then a guy’s life was all over the screen. Vibrations talking to her. Then a tightrope with the question of where was the rope suspended. Then she read to us. Then she walked form the side of the floor to the other. Then emotions ran high.

Then there was tea. Then there were bubbles being burst. Then there was applause. Then there was more reading about the side effects of medication. Then there was another joke told by someone who didn't want you to read his Facebook page.

I saw someone who was good at what they do. I saw people talk and laugh with the performers. I saw someone who wanted to listen to what people say. I had seen people trying to get their point across no matter what. I saw people clap their hands. I had seen people sip juice. I had seen people sip water.

The lights were bright. The lights went dark. The participation of the audience was written on ruled paper. I had seen the outcome of more than an afternoon of rehearsals. I had seen a conversation built up from scratch. A performance talking about what people feel inside when they think no one is listening.

Coming from the stage were performers trying to not be alone. I had seen people on seats. I had seen people come from the door. I listened to the different styles of conversation. I saw the audience react. I saw the paper stretched. I saw instructions from the user manual of life.

Made a wee bit up then, but that’s what it was. Different people stating what they had to say. Political maybe. Spiritual again maybe. Lesson in life, definitely. Expression. Hypertension. Medication. Emotion. Comparison. Repatriation. Conversation. Applause.

Going back over the whole night, I enjoyed it. I wanted the people around me to enjoy it. I assume that the people around me also enjoyed it. A definition from the perspective of 5 Ways to Begin. A pleasurable statistic might be the one that is never given. A way to assume that everything in the world is connected.

Many photographs were taken. Many more needed to be taken. Everything suggested that connections were made. Meeting new people and being invited into their world, if only for a brief moment. Only for the space of a few minutes each time.

Realisations made to figure out what the rest of the world might think had they seen this work. These works of art. An unassuming detriment to the world of good. You had to be there to see it. You have to see it. The extension of their lives. A point in their world. Suggested to you. A brief encounter with... Add your words here.

by Stuart Low

Though This Be Madness is a disjointed tale, told in just over an hour, including several stops when a baby needed shushing, bouncing, or placing just so in a mimed cot. It was difficult to believe, afterwards, that there was no baby present onstage. Such is Skye Loneragan’s skill.

It was this physicality that I found most impressive: the repeated putting down of a just-asleep baby, removing one arm at a time, then creeping out of an imaginary bedroom, was intense and precise. But it was the sequence of baby-in-womb who is also a comet who is also an astronaut which showed Loneragan’s true virtuosity as a physical performer.

Loneragan’s set reflected in detail what parenting looks like: the mess, the post it notes to remind you of anything and everything, the pathological attachment to the baby listener, the intense hatred of the squeak of the Sophie giraffe. As a mother of two, I have only the haziest recollections of those days (there’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture tool), but when she climbed a step ladder and spoke in the voice of a sister’s delusions it was uncomfortably familiar. I can remember that feeling of everything joining up in a neat precise pattern that you could just about grasp and no more. 

Viewing this from a loved one’s perspective was revealing.

The older I get, the more I complain about pacing. At the beginning of the performance, I felt a better balance between fragmentation, and the need for the audience to be brought and held in the story could have been found. I wanted just a little more time to relish the well-crafted language, multi-layered word play and complex cultural referencing.

In terms of structure, Though This Be Madness was more a personal reflective essay than a story with a narrative arc, but sacrificing a pleasing beginning, middle and end is something that those with young babies often have to do.

The piece should be required viewing for working parents (usually but not always fathers) – the ones who don’t understand what a parent at home with an infant does all day. This is the answer, but with a lot more interruptions.

What it didn’t capture was the boredom of those days. Music, sound recordings and spoken word were all used to create a rich experience that was both entertaining and thought-provoking. There were many lines which will stay with me – such as Loneragan’s words of wisdom on trauma (from the perspective of a dung beetle), and what it means to bear a child (in gardening terms).

Though This Be Madness is an excellent addition to the essential work of bringing women’s stories, and stories of mental health and mental health carers, into the public domain.

by Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.

Though this be Madness is showing at Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh on Tue 29 May at 10:30am, specifically for parents with babes in arms. Book here. The show premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2018. 

On the eve of Mental Health Awareness Week, four short films made for BBC Scotland by Track Record Productions featuring well-known Scots talking about their mental health premiered at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. The In My Mind films explore experiences around anxiety, depression and self harm and how we can approach mental health differently. Talking Heads reporter Suzanne Griffin writes about how they challenge stigma and promote positive messages.

‘If they can do it, I can get on with this.’

Paralympian Samantha Kinghorn perfectly captured the overwhelming feeling from watching the In My Mind short films. These are the stories of four well-known Scots, openly discussing their own experiences of mental health. The words of actor Gavin Mitchell, paralympian Samantha Kinghorn, footballer David Cox and model Misha Hart, ring out with a sense of hope and moving forward. Speaking honestly, each takes us through the ups and downs of anxiety and depression while sharing the techniques they use to care for their daily mental wellbeing.

To start us off, Gavin Mitchell spoke very frankly about how he can feel, stating that sometimes: ‘I can be completely and utterly numb.’ By sharing this, he connects with everyone, as we all have good days and bad days. Although these feelings can be overwhelming, over the years he has developed coping strategies to challenge his negative thoughts. Mental health issues can occur at any point, in any person’s life and be brought on by a number of reasons.

‘Isolated’ is one way Samantha described how she feels at times. This theme of feeling alone is weaved throughout each individual’s story, but, after hearing them speak so sincerely about similar themes, the feeling of togetherness was evermore present. Kinghorn continued to discuss that as an athlete, the pressure to do well and make people proud are common thoughts to occur. Following on, she talked about focusing on the ‘controllables’ - there are many things outwith our control, so we should focus on what is controllable.

Next, we heard from David Cox, who spoke very openly about self-harm and suicide. These are things that affect lots of people but due to the upsetting nature of the topics they can sometimes be avoided in public discussions. Cox’s film was genuine and uplifting, seeing someone so positive and emotionally honest about mental health. The honesty in each film was inspiring, but particularly poignant in David’s film. With each topic discussed in the films, the feeling of not being alone was universal. Promoting conversation about not feeling ashamed, to seek help and remember you are never alone.

The closing film had us end on a note of positive self-love from Misha Hart. She spoke about how she challenges herself, keeps pushing forward but can also admit when she needs a break. When talking about how she opened up to people around her about her mental health, there were only positive words. It was wonderful to see someone so young and influential being honest and direct about their mental health.

A collection of shorts like this is a great example of what we need more of more regularly. Showing that it doesn’t matter what you do professionally, anyone can be affected by mental health. It is very relatable and a positive message about taking care of yourself and opening up to others. This is key to raising mental health awareness and breaking the stigma.

Hearing well-known people say they have felt similar to how you have felt is reassuring. Realising you are not the only one to have felt a certain way or been through a particular problem brings a sense of relief and compassion. The evening ended with hopes that if everyone can be little more honest and understanding, conversations about mental health will no longer be unheard.

by Suzanne Griffin

Suzanne is 25, lives in Glasgow and can make you a good coffee. She enjoys animation, would one day like to hug a panda and is a big supporter of the festival and mental health causes.

Watch the In My Mind films here: 

 Gavin Mitchell

 Misha Hart

 David Cox

 Samantha Kinghorn

Talking Heads reporter Michael McEwan spoke to representatives from inclusive music company Paragon Music, who are hosting mindfulness drumming workshops as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. They discuss how drumming can help with your mental health and why the organisation's ethos is an ideal fit for the festival.

Features interviews with Charlotte Gibson, Communications Manager & Programme Coordinator at Paragon Music, workshop participant Rory and workshop leader Gameli Tordzro.

The final Mindfulness Drumming workshop at SMHAF 2018 takes place on Tuesday 22 May at 1.30pm at CCA, Glasgow.

‘I would’ve loved it if somebody had said: “Hey it’s you today, not the baby. Let’s look at how you’re doing.” That would’ve been amazing.’

Because Skye Loneragan and I both have children at home, we meet on Skype, in the time (as she calls it) between bedtime for the child and putting all the toys away. We are both tired, but I become re-energised just by chatting with her. We spend 45 minutes putting the world to rights, admitting to the answers we don’t have yet, and talking about her one woman show, Though This Be Madness.

Though This Be Madness is a fictional piece derived from Loneragan’s experience of seeing loved ones wrestle with psychosis and schizophrenia. But it also concerns itself with how we all approach staying sane in the wider world. ‘There’s a lot in the show about the whole “consume, consume” thing,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing sane about it! And in terms of my experience as a sleep deprived mother, the real question should be: how does anybody not get depressed when you can’t sleep for more than two hours in a row?’ Loneragan’s own daughter couldn’t sleep lying down for the first six months: she was eventually diagnosed with silent reflux.

Loneragan approached SMHAF with an embryonic idea last year. She explains that it was and is about how Shakespearean characters would be diagnosed today. Through workshopping as part of scratch night Five Ways to Begin during the festival last year, Loneragan decided to use her experience of being a new mum as a vehicle for telling what she describes as ‘a fractured tale, partly told on a Pilates bounce ball.’ The Shakespeare remains. ‘It sort of crept into the show,’ she says, ‘because I recorded myself when I was literally bouncing on this ball – I had to talk to someone, just to feel like I was talking to someone.’

And it’s got a sister character in it, I say – as someone with four sisters that always interests me. Did you look into the complexities of that relationship? ‘Yes,’ she tells me, ‘but I say there’s many sisters in this story, because I want to widen out from “my sister does this, my sister did that.” As women, I feel we could all nurture each other more. If we see people struggling mentally in public and thought of them as our sister or our brother or father, our reactions would be different, I think.’ For Loneragan, distance is twofold. Her sisters live back in Australia, but she talks about ‘trying to reach someone who is nowhere near you in their reality.’ ‘I always thought we’d be together,’ she says, ‘the line that kept coming back to me was “she is a part of me.”’ This resonates, so I make a throwaway joke about how annoying my sisters can be, and we move on.

As part of the tour, Loneragan is holding two performances specifically for parents to attend with their babies. We agree that this is the kind of thing we would have both loved to go to when our kids were little – she calls it ‘a big fat experiment’ but also seems to have a really good idea of how to facilitate the space. It is an attempt, she says, ‘to combine what I’ve scripted, with how I can work in community settings as an artist and respond directly to what happens in the room.’ She is keeping these events deliberately intimate, no more than six or seven parents on bounce balls. I immediately start wondering if anyone has a baby I could borrow.
I ask Loneragan what she feels are the main challenges for creative parents, and one she has identified is time. ‘Once upon a time … I don’t have time!’ she jokes.

Childcare is also an issue close to home for both of us, especially without local family support. Does she struggle with balancing being present for her daughter and making time for herself? ‘I can be present and be “making” but not really making time for myself,’ she says, going on to explain that in the early stages of development she literally rehearsed the piece in her living room with her baby. Fortunately, she benefitted from Creative Scotland funding, which provided five full days of childcare so she could write and make time for rehearsal too – but she is clear this would not have happened if she hadn’t been given that financial assistance.

How will she speak to her own daughter about mental health as she grows up? ‘Perception and language are key,’ she says. ‘I might use words like “different people see things differently and some people aren’t well.” I would definitely speak to her about mindfulness and staying present. When I was eight I had already internalised the silence around my dad’s condition, I knew I wasn’t able to talk to people at school about it. It wouldn’t have been like that if he had had cancer. I guess some people find it too terrible to think about, or incomprehensible to talk about, and just shut it down.’

We’re already over my allotted time so I quickly ask how she thinks we can help primary carers with children to maintain a creative life. ‘Just stay connected,’ she says. ‘I don’t know how to juggle the sleep deprived conundrum, or the financial impossibilities, but communicating honestly – it’s about how we nurture our sanity isn’t it?’

And with that, I leave Loneragan to pick up the toys. She’s given me plenty to think about while I feed the cat and check on my own kids.

by Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.

Though this be Madness will premiere at The Stove, Dumfries on Sat 12 May at 7:30pm, with content from the show performed at 1.30pm for parents with babes in arms. It is also showing at Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh on Sat 19 May at 7:30pm, and Tue 19 May at 10:30am for parents with babes in arms. Booking details can be found here.