Sunday, 4 April 2021

OUR CREATIVE JOURNEYS | IN COLLABORATION WITH NYXIE | AD

*these illustrations were very kindly gifted, all commissions currently £30*

When I spotted Nyxie’s incredible illustration of a cat on Twitter, I immediately contacted her to have illustrations created of my own pets; my bunny Pixie, and my cat; Emmy! My chats with Nyxie ended up in us talking about our journeys in terms of creativity and it turned out we had so many elements in common. And it was that chat, which has inspired this post…

How I learned about imagination

My first memories of being creative are from my nana and I ripping up the furniture bits from catalogues and sticking them on paper to make little collages of rooms in houses. I remember, even then, being aware of how much fun it was and that I enjoyed being able to use my imagination. I liked realizing that you could take paper and glue and produce something lovely. That you could live out your dreams through creativity.

Discovering the power of creativity

The next memories were of writing short stories about horses and creating little gifts for my Mum and Nana. I actually found one of those which I’d given to my Nana when she was poorly. It was a little booklet with each page being some sort of ‘benefit’ that happens when you’re ill. There were things like ‘Grandad has to bring you food’ or ‘you get to stay in bed all day.’ From doing these things, I saw how something creative could impact a person’s mood. Their thoughts and their feelings.

Losing Confidence

With my passion for creativity in mind, I opted to study Art and Design at High School and for a long time, I thought this was the biggest mistake in my creative journey because my teacher pretty much robbed me of any and all confidence, I had in the work I produced and created. She constantly changed her expectations and approval criteria – but only when it was in grading and providing feedback on my work. She’d set a theme, or a topic and I’d produce something very literal, so she’d say she was looking for more creativity and work that was distant from the definitions of the theme. So, I’d do something more abstract and then she’d say she was looking for something more typical! I came to believe that I couldn’t win, and naturally and understandably, this eroded my confidence in being creative and I was left questioning whether my creativity was actually anything remotely decent…

Why the abuse stopped me from writing

The lack of confidence in my artwork meant that I turned back to writing and really enjoyed the time in English lessons when you could do ‘free-style’ writing and I could just let my imagination run wild. And doing this, became my favourite part of school until the abuse took my writing abilities away from me. I was so used to just putting everything that was in my head onto paper that I found myself desperate to start writing about the abuse, but for so many reasons, I felt unable to tell anyone what was happening to me and that meant I couldn’t even write about it in case someone found it and read it.

How that made me feel

Literally within just days into the six-month-long abuse, I knew that my abuser was going destroy my life. So, honestly? His behaviours robbing me of my creative outlet, weren’t exactly a surprise, but that doesn’t make it acceptable or ‘easy’ to cope with. To be fair, I think it was even harder because it was almost as though I’d become aware of the power and influence, he had and had almost resigned myself to it. As though I’d come to realise that I wasn’t going to win this war and in doing so, I lost any fight there was in me and felt completely defeated.

It was also difficult to cope with because I knew my abuser was completely to blame for me losing this passion of writing and yet, I couldn’t punish him in any way. I couldn’t force him to experience anything even resembling a consequence for what he was doing to me. I mean, even if I entertained the idea of speaking to the police and him being arrested and imprisoned, I wondered if there was a length of jail time that would feel ‘good enough’ to me. Any sentence the Courts could hand out that would even remotely punish him in the way I was now suffering.

How I re-discovered writing

Over two years ‘after’ (because who can really say when abuse ends?) the abuse, I found myself in a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide and confiding in a fellow inpatient who had talked about her experience of abuse. She encouraged me to report what had happened to me to the staff and within hours the Police were on the ward taking my initial statement. As I spoke to them and used all the words I had desperately tried to avoid ever having to say, I watched them write everything down and seeing their pen cross the paper and produce all my secrets, was cathartic in itself. Experiencing that therapeutic value just from the thought of the abuse being written down, immediately led to me re-discovering the urge to write myself. To empty my head onto the paper.

What I initially did with my passion

After re-discovering my passion for writing, I first put it into practice in writing a letter to the staff on the psychiatric ward I was a sectioned inpatient on. I’d very quickly come to realise that none of the mental health professionals I’d spoken to since my first suicide attempt a month prior to this, seemed to actually understand what I was saying. It looked like those I’d spoken to and been cared for by, couldn’t empathise with my experiences and I questioned whether they were even interested in changing that. Whether they’d actually be willing to read what I wrote in the hope that if they did, it’d enable them to provide better help and support for me because they’d be better placed for really understanding what I was experiencing.

This hope and intention meant that the majority of my writing for professionals were about the hallucinations I was hearing and seeing. I think this was largely because I believed that the abuse, was a much more straight-forward experience to comprehend. It was a subject that people might more ‘easily’ consider how they’d feel if it happened to them. Hallucinations, however; well how do you imagine something happening to you which is so removed from ‘normality?’ I also think that whilst abuse is a very individual trauma in that it can impact someone completely differently to another person – the physical side of it can often be more ‘common’, hallucinations are more unique to each individual... You can get two people who hear voices and they may hear them in completely different ways. The voices might sound completely different. They might say completely different things. They might have a completely different impact on someone.  

Why I began blogging

Having written so many letters for professionals (Psychiatric Nurses, Psychiatrists, Doctors, Psychologists, even Police and Paramedics!), over the four years between my first suicide attempt in 2009 and creating I’m NOT Disordered in the specialist, long-term psychiatric hospital in 2013, I totally understood why my inpatient Key Nurse suggested I begin writing more about the abuse rather than focusing on the hallucinations. I think professionals had come to realise that whilst the trauma and the hallucinations needed different treatments, they were both linked and were hugely related to one another. I was also very aware that the most detail around the abuse that I’d ever gone into was with the Police, and whilst it’s so important that they do know everything, I think it’d be more beneficial for my mental health if I could say it was an actual psychiatric professional who knew.  

Agreeing to do a bit of writing about the abuse every evening for the staff to read, felt like a big step forward in my recovery from my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD, but known now as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder or EUPD) and I wanted to record it. I felt the need to have all the writing and the way it helped – or didn’t help – recorded for myself too. I hoped that my records of the beneficial occurrences from the writing might keep me motivated during the days where it feels like the worse idea in the world. And so, after making the agreement with my Key Nurse, I went to my hospital room, opened my laptop and began typing…

Why my blog began to grow

With my intentions to use I’m NOT Disordered as a place to keep a record of my progress, I didn’t – not even for one minute – think that it would become what it is today. I mean, not long after creating it, I had the realisation that it could prove useful for my friends and family. Having kept my mental illness a secret for so long, no one really knew what it meant, how it had been caused… And how could I feel that their reassurance and encouragement was genuine if they didn’t know what was standing in my way?

Even though I widened my target audience from myself to my friends and family too, I think it’s still completely reasonable that even then, I didn’t imagine that my readership would be at the level it is now! I think that because my social media posts (mainly Twitter and Facebook) which were aimed at friends and family were actually available for others to see too, it just sort of snowballed… And when I recognised that I could have some control over how public my posts were, I made the decision not to change my privacy settings.

One big reason for that was the fact that I’d already started to receive a ton of positive feedback and comments on my blog posts from others who I had a lot in common with – from being an abuse survivor, to having a mental illness. There were so many messages of relief and reassurance from complete strangers who – in reading my blog posts – realised they actually weren’t alone in their experiences. Feeling lonely and misunderstood was something I had struggled with myself, so it warmed me to think that I was providing someone with the thing I – myself – had really needed too; and that made me really invested in reaching/helping as many people as possible through I’m NOT Disordered.

How imagination comes into blogging

So far, the most obvious way I’ve discussed blogging being creative is that it’s about writing; but actually, there’s so much more to it!

As my blog continued to succeed and be popular, I began being invited to events to blog about them, and there was one time when I was invited to an event about coalmining in the North East. I remember thinking “how on earth is this relevant?” before realising that the seemingly irrelevant nature of the theme to a mental health blog could provide a theme for the content! So I went along and I made notes on statistics so that the origin of the inspiration for the blog post wasn’t lost, and then I just let my imagination run wild and allowed my hands to type whatever they wanted!

I’ve also found that I’ve needed my imagination when developing ideas on collaborations with different organisations. I’ve had some incredible opportunities in working with a number of amazingly incredible companies and charities etc, and maybe half of them people will say “how did you make that work with mental health?” Particularly with my content in collaboration with Cats Protection and my Christmassy collaboration with Wilko! I think that the way I look at it – and the way I encourage my collaboration partners to look at it – is that working together brings two completely different audiences together. It also prompts the partners audience to realise that they recognise the importance of mental health.   

Why the popularity of blogging is encouraging Bloggers to become more creative

Another way my blogging has become more creative has been as a result of how popular blogging is now. I mean, when I first created, I’m NOT Disordered there were about three well-known mental health blogs and not one of them was by a psychiatric inpatient, so I immediately found a niche! And it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realised just how lucky I was in that happening, because now; there are so many blogs out there – not just mental health, but fashion and beauty and travel etc – that it’s become so much more difficult for new Bloggers to find a gap in the market to make their own content that bit more special and different.

The appeal of blogging and the increased saturation (some might say ‘oversaturation’) in the industry, has resulted in things becoming – for some people, anyway – a little bit competitive. I’ve developed a new urge to want to continue to better I’m NOT Disordered to maintain it’s standing and reputation in the industry. Before more blogs were created, I think I probably would have just maintained what I was doing. I don’t think I would have found this drive to better my content.

Who is my creative inspiration?

If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear me answer with Victoria Magrath from ‘inthefrow.’ Victoria has been my blogging inspiration for a few years now because she’s the epitome of being a hard worker. No matter how many amazing opportunities she achieves or how popular her blog and social media accounts are, she never stops working.

My creative plans for the future

So, I think the most imminent and important creative plan is the release of my book; Everything Disordered on April 20th. My book took over a year to create and develop and I think my creative side to me really kept me dedicated and passionate about pursuing it, working through the difficult moments to produce a book I’m very proud of. That the book isn’t completely ‘text’ and that it has interactive elements to it, I think, illustrates my creativity and the power of my imagination.

 

Nyxie’s Journey

I’ve long since been a fan of art and all things creative. I’m a writer and have been doing so on a freelance basis for just two years now. My dream was to become an illustrator, but after the disappointment of my GCSE Art results and hard criticism from my teacher, I abandoned that dream.

Instead, I worked towards becoming a health and safety officer. Not because it was my dream, but because it was ‘realistic.’ After over six years of fooling myself into a professional setting, I left with more harm done than good.

When lockdown hit in 2020, I was shielding due to a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. While it started out as a chance to get working on my writing and to redecorate, it quickly became boring.

So, after over ten years without drawing no more than a sketch, I decided to dip my toes into digital art. It quickly escalated and soon I was asked to work on a number of commissions, including an upcoming children’s book which has potential for several additions.

I’m now working on pet portraits, website logos, and I’ve even worked with small businesses to create graphics for their social media handles.


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