In a new take on the concept of the one man show, it is Mark Lockyer himself who comes to tell us that the house is open, there are free tea and biscuits available onstage, and please could we sit near the front, because it works better that way? We’ll understand later.
Living with the Lights On is brave and honest, reflecting Lockyer’s lived experience of, in his words, a circle of mental ill health. To say that we, as an audience, are drawn in from the very beginning is a gross understatement.
Using nothing but a blank stage and his own body, Mark depicts his first meeting with the devil beside the River Avon, then tells in forensic, excruciating detail, the experience of forgetting his lines onstage at the RSC. As events escalate, he catalogues missed second and third chances, wrong turns, and an unravelling that will be familiar to anyone who has suffered in a similar way. Of particular poignancy are the scenes where Mark embodies unsympathetic professionals, and the two times he reports that ‘there weren’t enough beds available on the psychiatric ward’ for him to be kept safe.
The vocal range of the performance is almost orchestral in its range of dynamics, timbres and textures. Lockyer doesn’t need a set any more than he needs a cast – he creates a story rich with scenery and characters using nothing but his own voice and the space around him. It is no surprise to learn that he has been classically trained. The devil’s American accent, characters with Midlands accents, London accents, Greek accents, Irish accents – all are pitch perfect. Lockyer drops us into the middle of conversations and we still know which voice is his and which belongs to someone else, because of the sheer quality of his performance.
In addition, Lockyer becomes each character: morphing into a cast of twenty. His rendition of one person towards the end of the play was breathtaking in its pathos: the room took on a special kind of silence while we watched this tiny, important insight. Others were drawn to comical effect – his study of what a woman looks like when she is flirting is laugh out loud funny and pinpoint accurate.
It was visible to us, sitting in the front row as instructed, that Lockyer was physically exhausted by his performance. It is the sort of play that leaves you speechless and reflective. If you have suffered with similar symptoms, you will realise what people mean when they talk about the importance of seeing your own story reflected back to you. It was an honour to experience this journey in such capable hands, and to realise, with each unfolding, that Lockyer’s recovery is in evidence right in front of us, as he once again owns a stage.
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.
“A story needs a beginning, middle and an end. Though not necessarily in that order.” Jean-Luc Godard’s quote presented itself in my mind as the speakers of the inaugural Real Talk x Write To Recovery event told their stories of lived mental health experience. Their steadiness in relating their experiences and acceptance of what they had learned was remarkable to behold, making the usually grand CCA Theatre a cosy cabaret space. Fairy lights turn each table into a campfire, hot tea is on tap throughout and the speakers are welcome to sit or stand as they tell their stories. In between each story is a minute or so of planned silence. The group collectively settles into what is not an awkward lack but a considered peace, relaxing into the safe and soothing atmosphere to share stories and learn by listening to others.
Real Talk is the brainchild of Lily Asch, who was struck by how applying storytelling techniques to her lived experience of mental health aided her recovery. “Real Talk is all about promoting conversation, connection and compassion around experiences of mental illness. I came up with the idea of holding safe spaces for people to share their stories with an audience, but I didn't want it to be an unsupported experience. So, I hired a professional storyteller to host two workshops with speakers beforehand so they would feel comfortable and prepared.”
Each of these workshops last about two and a half hours, utilising storytelling techniques such as storyboarding and guided meditation. Write to Recovery also hosts many programmes and workshops throughout Scotland, placing the focus more on creative writing than oral storytelling, but the overlap between the two projects is clear and harmonious. This is the first collaboration between Real Talk and Write to Recovery, represented on the night by facilitators Emma and Erin, but they plan to do much more in the future.
“Writing is such a useful tool in recovery,” says Lily. “It gives you space to ideate and to express without judgement or interjection. It helps connect dots and lends perspective. Creativity is a wonderful way to connect into yourself.” But Lily is under no illusion that this is a one-size-fits-all, miracle cure. “Recovery is a continuum. What works at one point doesn't necessarily work at another time and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. But I think sharing those thoughts with others can be a really helpful step. Participation is always voluntary, so if at any point in the process you don't want to continue, we completely respect and honour it.”
Each speaker is composed in telling their stories, which detail some sensitive and upsetting issues, in such a way that can only inspire awe in every audience member, especially considering how far they’ve come after just a couple of workshops. Even the term audience member feels like a misnomer here, as there’s so little divide between us all, a bond readily but steadily fashioned, that the traditional ideas of a silent, passive audience fall away. This is a conversation where everyone is welcome.
On my discussion table, we can’t stop once we’ve got started, thanks to the facilitation by Lily, Erin and Emma, as well as Rebecca, one of the speakers. I find myself laughing in recognition of how many common threads our various symptoms and behaviours have. I speak to a woman who hasn’t had experience of mental health difficulties herself, but has through her partner and friends, and wants to learn more and better help them. It can be difficult to identify an end to a particular difficult time or mental health episode but the techniques of storytelling, to frame experiences within the structure of a beginning, middle and an end, allows each storyteller to file that story amongst the many in the anthology of their lives. A few stories finish on an open-ended note but arrive at a place of understanding and awareness that seems to be the most robust coping mechanism for going forward in life.
By the end of the evening, even I cast the last shreds of journalistic objectivity to the wind and join in with the writing exercise, a quick-fire round to share thoughts on the theme of ‘courage’. We can mind map, doodle, try a poem or short testimony. Sharing what we have after only six minutes, the group comes to a consensus that courageous acts rarely make you think you have courage - but then that’s the point. To feel the fear and do it anyway. You never know who you might help by sharing your vulnerability.
by Emily Benita
Emily Benita is a writer and performer who lives in Glasgow with her cat called Malcolm Tucker. She manages her depression and anxiety through a combination of medication, counselling and art, liberally applied. Tweets at @BenitaEmily.
Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, Art Building Bridges and Moving Forward are three art collections displayed as part of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a collaborative exhibition spread across Edinburgh. Drawing inspiration from within themselves, professional and self-taught artists with past or current experience of mental ill health reveal the power of art to raise awareness, fight preconceptions and move forward.
Walking along the corridors and talking to the volunteers, you start realising that no matter whether or not you have experienced mental health problems, we all share the same struggles, whether it is fear of dentists or social anxiety. Once fully immersed with the art, it is not difficult to see the beauty and the emotions caught in each painting, drawing and installation. The idea of art as a way of representing feelings and fighting stigma finds expression in Oto Kano’s work displayed in Summerhall.
It shows us that depression can also be beautiful if only we could overcome what feels like an inborn urge to simultaneously look at or run away from sadness. Exploring her ‘semi-blind’ drawings of faces and dark paintings of tsunamis and stormy waters, one really starts getting a feel of how excruciating living with alternating depressive and manic episodes must be. At the same time, a closer look makes the edgy black contours of the faces milder, the eyes warmer and the golden splashes sitting on the top of the black, turbulent waves more prominent.
Two bright and spacious rooms at the end of a corridor, hidden in the basement of Summerhall, host Moving Forward and Art Building Bridges. These are two collections of work created by members of Contact Point Art Group and TollX Art Group, respectively, that show how art groups can have a positive impact on mental health by creating social circles in which everybody can find a safe space to relax, focus and express themselves. Sketching electric circuits with open ends, drawing boxes, interlaced with spheres and matryoshki, cracked by heavy labels around their necks becomes a way of exploring the conscious and subconscious, of identifying the real struggles, accepting the imperfections and moving forward.
Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, an exhibition held in Argyle House, displays paintings by Margaret Ramsay. Walking into the room, a massive painting catches the eye – an eagle in the sky symbolising the broken chains and achieved freedom and empowerment. Margaret’s works tell a personal story of how art could be part of a healing process, acting as a vent for accumulated feelings, freeing the imagination.
Composed of paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures from modelling clay, these three exhibitions show us how art can help every one of us acknowledge their struggles, identify the roots, accept the imperfections and in this way release themselves from the chains that hold them, achieving tranquillity and gaining confidence. But it could also build bridges through creating a safe space for expressing emotions, sharing experiences and stories of recovery.
by Katerina Gospodinova
Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness. Follow her on Twitter at @KaterinaGospodi.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind continues at Summerhall until Sun 29 Oct, and venues across Edinburgh. There is no need to book.
I'm on somewhat shaky ground here. Me and religion mix a little like oil and water. Never the two shall meet, despite being close at times. However, the Augustine United Church on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, is opening its doors to the issue of mental health within spirituality for SMHAF and I'm keen to hear what is being said.
I attend two events within the space of a week. The first is a drop-in service for those with mental health problems. I speak to a few of those in attendance and it quickly becomes apparent how important the sessions are for everyone here. Cups of tea are poured and stories are shared. I find out that these sessions have been going for some 20 years. That’s a lot of support. A lot of heart. We all watch a film about the drop-in history project which summarises these 20 years. The story is brave and self-effacing. At one point the narrator describes the group as like ‘a chimpanzee pack'. This speaks volumes about the atmosphere here. How there is comedy in what is also deadly serious.
I am then taken by artist, Lewis Reay to see the new stained glass windows at the front of the church. The work is a triptych based on the theme of reclaim. Reclaim our stories, reclaim our space and reclaim our future. Reclaim our future has a particular resonance for me – how difficult it is to plan for the future when you’re up against a mental illness! I guess the work is saying that a future for those going through these experiences is possible. Just take your time. I leave the drop-in service looking forward to the Space to Be: Sunday Worship a few days later.
What transpires on Sunday is a service which at its centre is the theme of peace. Again, as with the theme of planning for the future, peace can be elusive when dealing with mental illness. Minister Fiona Bennett describes how we can be peaceful when dealing with difficulty. Peace and difficulty can run side by side.
The service used song, prayer, readings, interview, mindfulness and meditation to highlight how we might all find peace in difficult times. I leave the Augustine United Church feeling inspired and hopeful for the future.
by David Lamond
Having recovered, to a certain extent, from years of ill health, David is now studying at Fife College. David hopes to reclaim more of his identity by attending the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and writing down his experiences.
Space To Be: Cafe continues in Edinburgh on Thu 19 Oct & 26 Oct.
I want to talk about death. I want to talk about death all the time. I want to talk about the fact that the only way I ever knew my Dad was through the lens that one day, he would eventually die. I want to talk about the fact that when he died, it was so much different to what I thought it would be. I want to talk about the fact that I am 25 and I didn’t want this to happen to me. I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know how to talk about it. I want to talk about the fact that losing a parent is losing who you think you thought you were and retracing back through everything you ever knew. I want to talk about how much it has taught me. I want to talk about the guilt I feel for not being there. I want to talk about how I’m scared my Mum will die. I’m scared everyone will die. I’m scared I will die.
I want to talk about the fact that other people find it hard for me to talk about it. I want to talk about how I feel guilty for how people feel around me. I want to talk about people’s sympathy for me. Their pity. Their worry. Their ‘oh, she’ll get over it one day’. Their ‘oh, it’s sad.’
I want to talk about the fact that I don’t know if I’m grieving. Or if this is who I am now.
Most of all, I want to talk about the fact that, ten months on, now more than ever, I don’t know how and when to talk about the fact that my Dad died.
When I look and talk to other people around me who have experienced death, this seems to be the consensus. On the whole, there just isn’t a space to talk about death, in a way that isn’t received 90% of the time, with an ‘oh’, or a ‘sorry’ or an ‘I don’t know what to say’, before they look away solemnly. Or that isn’t deemed as ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘bit much for dinner time’. As a society, we just don’t know what to say, and we’d rather run away from that which we fear, rather than confront and understand it.
We put death away in a box. But it is the most sure fire thing that will ever happen to us. We will die. Those around us will die. We will all encounter it at some point in our lives, yet noone wants to talk about it at any great length. Perhaps it's obvious, but death forces us to face the mortality we consistently deny and I wish we could walk hand in hand, just that little bit more.
Over time, death’s knock quietens and grief convalesces in a nuanced, private undertaking. It becomes unnoticeable and folk muddle on. In fits and bursts. Because they have to. But it's because it becomes more unnoticeable that I worry. Grief isn’t just crying in the immediate aftermath or falling apart in the months that follow. There isn’t a forward moving, linear trajectory. It sits in the getting it back together, the birthdays and anniversaries, remembered songs, nostalgic smells and flashbacks of the funeral when you’re crossing the Kingston Bridge.
I wonder if not being able to talk about it and by cutting a grieving process short; stuffing it into corners to be hidden away is going to do me more harm than good. I don’t want to just get on with it.
I find solace in another who is in the ‘club’. The ‘club’ or community of others who are trying to lessen the struggle, and provide a space to talk about death which provides the most comfort. The ‘club’ of art, film, literature and podcasts which speaks into the truth of the quiet struggle and lets me and others know, that grief is unknown, surprising, many and all things; it bubbles away and trickles through everything. It is an acute aching loneliness that breathes and sucks life into and from everything.
That’s how I felt when I watched Tom Lock Griffiths' Waterfall and Ingrid Kamerling’s Vivian, Vivian, programmed at the Scottish Mental Health Festival. The sense that both films are a working out, a processing where the personal becomes the collective. Both offer a way through. As Griffiths notes: 'It’s a discussion with my self as much as anyone else and an excuse to talk about these things.’ In this case, art becomes therapy and the camera an instrument for which to navigate the unfathomable and unseen depths which lurk beneath the surface of those that are grieving. Griffiths plunges the underwater landscapes to give shape and form to the interconnecting sites between memory, time and space: ‘the vast psychological landscapes.’ The waterfall where his Dad scattered his mother’s ashes is entangled with childhood memories and past relationships and become rewritten over the course of time.
It strikes me that grief is tidal. Grief comes in waves. At the beginning they knocked me over, and sometimes they swallowed me whole. In between the waves, I am trying to breathe, to function and to find joy in the beauty of life. I am deep in the throes of my understanding of what grief is and what it will become, and I don’t have all the words to describe it yet, but here is a list of things which I have seen, listened to and read which have bought a lightness to the darkest of times and have helped describe it for me and will perhaps help others too. Whilst it can be bleak, it is also a process that necessitates a lightness, humour and hope, and I have found that in the art which surrounds me. I don’t think there is a solution or a resolution to living in the face of death, but to find ways to endure and find joy, again in what it is to still be alive.
by Jassy Earl
Jassy Earl is a photographer, videographer and performance maker. At the core of her practice is an emphasis on people, stories and the human experience, working with people, children and communities. Most recently she is interested in grief, loss and the dialogues we have around death, particularly with young people. To find out more about her work, visit her website.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
What Comes Next and How To Like It by Abigail Thomas
Grief is a Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
On The Shortness of Life by Seneca
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Grief Works by Julia Samuel
A Grief Observed by C.S Lewis
Death by Julian Barnes