‘I was bullied in school and I felt like a social outcast, which led me to be in isolation for a lot of my childhood. This led me to be really angry with the world and with the way people were treating me. So it led me on this search for answers about the government, about money, about war, about poverty. Why it happens and how we got into this situation. That’s what this side is about – the war and the searching – many people think that I’m crazy because of some of the ideas I put forward about the way that money works and how we are all like slaves to the system. I wasn’t taking care of myself, I was sleeping such little hours and my body was just getting destroyed, so I started researching about cleaner living. This is just the extraordinary prices that are in London, its difficult for anyone to live without having debt. The bit about my skin – I’ve had skin problems since I was about 13 or 14 and that downed my confidence quite a bit. I’m always quite self conscious about the way I look, and the way that people perceive me. This is what I want to be – love and peace and a hero for the planet. Sort of help people to discover their true selves and not be fake. To smile and be happy and live from the heart. Then the lion is how I’m feeling, wanting to get back to that lion – being a tiger or lion and not afraid of anything’.
“This here, at the bottom, represents my mind. Its just the top of someone’s head. And all this blackness is what’s all around at the moment. The depression. I start with very bad panic attacks and anxiety attacks and then the depression comes in. I start being listless and I can’t take an interest in things. All these things like the two people digging here – I used to go on archeological digs, which I really enjoyed. Trains. I tried to find a picture of a station, but I couldn’t – the infrastructure of railways is another interest of mine. Churches. I like walking in woods and books are a great passion. So that’s all those things, and all this here is just the blackness, the bleakness. A bleak landscape and ruins. Its all overloaded with blackness”.
“On the right hand side is what I saw as the ideal – beautiful, what I should be like, expensive clothes and the dreamlike state, what women are supposed to be like. At the time I think I was just obsessed with being like everybody else. When I became psychotic it felt as though my brain was pulled from some sort of vacancy, from not really locking in to what mattered to me, and what I had been through as a child, and I don’t think I really was thinking about love in the right way. When I became psychotic – its hard to explain – my brain felt pulled by a whole bunch of men. I felt like there was going to be one faceless man that saw that I was bloody vacant and my views were a bit… my behaviour was exampling the want to be a well dressed and rooted cherry blossom tree, but in reality I wasn’t that at all.
Who I was became a question like the many mirrors. I started to see my own worth and everything else and I felt very ashamed by the end of it I felt as though my sex, my whole person as a woman, as a young girl was being pulled to pieces. I lost ninety percent of everything, going into wanting to be this special person. Some really bad things had happened in that period. At first I thought it was going to be this beautiful artistic creation and realistically I had been thrown to the wolves, and the psychosis got worse and I felt like my brain. I was in some very dangerous situations, and I was getting more and more ill. I wanted to be everything the world expected me to be. I felt embarrassed by some of what happened, and so all of this was because I was concealing underground baggage this whole time. Wanting to be like the other girls and never being like them. The stairs? Well, sometimes I wonder if my paranoia started at a very young age because my mum became ill and all her secrets were kept for some time. My sister and I used to sit on the steps listening in, trying to pick up what is this big secret we’re not being told about? The staircase is also meant to be representative of trying to get myself up, wanting to be somebody who has money and beauty and all these things, going up. But at the same time going all the way down because the baggage is just phenomenally there. To me it looks like a bloody mess”.
Monday 11th May : Centre 1 When I arrived I was surprised to see Ingrid in the day room, sleeping on the sofa as she had been discharged. Apparently she had come back just for two days. Last time I saw her she was keen to work on her collages and photo book and to meet and talk about her work, but this week she was sleepy and indifferent. She didn’t have any enthusiasm or energy for working on the ideas that we had agreed two weeks ago and hadn’t brought her work along with her. I asked if it was something she might come back to and she said she didn’t think so.
I had arrived early to meet with Valerie, but she wasn’t there. Then she phoned. I didn’t speak to her, but she left a message to say that she had fallen over and hit her head and she wouldn’t be in this week. So I sat in the Art Room and worked on something else for a couple of hours. Whilst I was there I could hear someone playing the piano very beautifully. I met Luke in the corridor. We shook hands. I asked if he was coming to the Art Project and he said that was what he was waiting for. He was very inquisitive and interested in my View from Inside photos and kept thanking me for showing them to him. He didn’t seem to know how to go about making a collage about himself and only cut out a couple of things. I think I might have discouraged him as I said I didn’t know how the two images he had cut out and put together related to him. He didn’t mention it, but I later found out that it was Luke who had been playing the piano.
When I went into the day room only Jake, Selina and a new girl were in there. Jake came along to the Art Room as usual and continued working quietly and meticulously to finish his second collage. He said he would take photographs in the week of places where he sees eyes. He also said he still finds it difficult to look at the original composite image I made of lions – I suggested he destroy it, but he didn’t want to. Selina was a bit unsure about what she wanted to do. She seemed quite unfocussed and said that there is a lot going on for her at the moment, but she started to cut out some pictures. Nadia was painting her nails blue. She asked if she could work on her own paintings, and I told her that there is another time in the week when she can do that. Having said she wasn’t interested in making a collage, she tore out dozens of magazine pages, but she didn’t do anything with them. This week Steve stuck images down in an apparently random and chaotic way. He said he thought the collage would be finished next week. I asked and if he would be prepared to talk to me about it and he said he would. Alex was not back so today I took his first two collages home and photographed them, along with Jake’s finished one of eyes.
Thursday 14th May, Centre 2 Whilst I was in the office a young woman knocked on the door asking if she could come to the art group even though she was due to have a meeting with staff. I verified that was OK and she looked pleased. Once in the art room she seemed quite quiet, but that may be because the group was large (ten people today) and other people were more immediately demanding attention. It feels ironic that now my weeks are numbered (I have two more left) the group is more popular than ever, and a lot of new people are joining. One of the staff told me about Eric – a Chinese guy, who has some trouble in social situations. At first he wasn’t sure about the photos I showed him, and then he started to ask about the different elements, and to tell me about himself. He said that he wanted to shut himself in like the lady with the newspaper at the windows because three of his family members had died recently, and that he had lost his job and “got crazy”. Once he had finished looking at the photos I explained what I was asking people to do, and then he said he needed to go to the toilet and didn’t come back. His keyworker said he didn’t think Eric was ready to start processing what had been happening just yet.
Luis was in the day room and was keen to come to the art group as usual. He said he wants to finish his collage on Monday so that he is ready to talk to me next week. He seemed fine, but at the end of the day I was talking to his keyworker in the office and he said that Luis had been having a hard time with flashbacks. He mentioned something about sexual abuse and Luis’s mother being murdered in front of him.
At lunchtime Scarlett was playing table tennis in the day room with a new woman, Sue. Both of them came to the art project. Sue was very clear about what she wanted to do. She started on the left of the paper, and was working right to left chronologically through her life. She said she hadn’t met her mother until she was six, and that time was very difficult and dark. Scarlett seemed more robust than last week. She showed me some photos on her phone of arrangements of objects that she had made at home to try to express how she is feeling and what has been going on for her. Her collage is quite detailed and looks promising. Last week she took it home to work on, but didn’t do anything. This week she took it again.
Whilst I was in the dayroom watching Scarlett and Sue play table tennis Verena appeared. She said that she had just been readmitted to the Crisis House. She was wearing a bobble hat and a short-sleeved t-shirt that showed the extent of the scars on her arms from cutting. She came to the group and sat at the table for a while, but when it started to get crowded she moved to the side bench. She said she thinks people see her as some kind of exotic exhibit. She started on a collage of animals, with an image of a camel and some cars, which she took away with her.
A young woman called Eva came down from the Crisis House about half way through the first hour of the session. She seemed angry, and quite aggressively wanted quick answers to everything. But after a while she calmed down and started working on a collage. She was not very satisfied with her work and talked about her dreams and about everything being in a mess. She was referring to a period of psychosis when she said: “I would make Tracey Emin’s bed if Tracey Emin hadn’t made it… I have too many ideas. It feels like my dreams were meddled with and my identity got lost.” She was cutting out an image of a baby being circumcised to put in a fridge. When I asked about that she said there had been some abuse and “I can decide to eat or not eat to get away”. She was struggling with the composition of her collage, saying it wasn’t messy enough. I turned some of the elements round so that they were at different angles and she seemed happier with that. She was speaking very intensely and quickly so it was difficult to remember without making notes, which didn’t seem appropriate in front of everyone, and I was already aware of giving her a lot of attention and turning my back on the rest of the group for too long.
Ron had new glasses this week, so he could see a little better, but he was still complaining that his eyesight was not good and it was a strain to work on his collage. Today he cut out some think pink lines, which he said were boundaries to keep the logos in (or out, I wasn’t clear which), but I didn’t quite understand the logic as there seemed to be logos on both sides of the lines! Raymond arrived a little late and sat next to Verena at the bench, apart from the rest of the group. He asked me if I had brought back his first collage (I still have it at home) but promised I would bring it next week. He said he wanted to photograph it and I took that as a good sign. Last to arrive was Harriet, who came in just before the official hour for the group was over. Luckily I had already decided to let it run as long as people were interested, which turned out to be just over two hours. This was the fourth time I had met her, and she looked completely different again.
Monday 18th May: Centre 1 Today I woke up with a streaming cold, so am a bit out of it. I arrived a little late for a 1pm meeting with Valerie, but luckily she was in a very good mood. Her keyworker was in reception when I arrived. He said he wanted to talk to me, so we had a quick chat about times and I promised that I would keep meetings with Val to next week only, but that we may need two. He seemed fine with that. She had written a lot and we spent an hour and a half working through her texts, editing and ordering the fragments we had selected to make a book. The time went quickly and Valerie was the one who pointed out that it was almost time for my group to start.
Jake started a new collage today using as a background his own photograph of a location where he had seen eyes at the time the phenomenon first appeared. This seemed like a step forward as previously he had found this photograph too disturbing to look at for any length of time. At the end of the day he asked me if I could bring in a scalpel for him because he wanted to cut out one of the windows in his photo – I can imagine how the staff might react if I did, so I said I would take it home and do it for him. Then he said he wanted twelve of them cut out. Selina took a while to get settled. She was a little bit edgy today and didn’t seem to want to communicate much. Steve completed a collage today and talked to me 1-1 about it after the group had finished. Last week he had stuck a lot of images down seemingly randomly, this week he stuck pieces of black paper all around and sometimes over the other images. Both visually and in words he described some dark experiences.
Arthur seemed a lot more confident than when I last saw him two weeks ago, but still not completely comfortable in the group. He made good progress with his collage today, but he too seemed a little edgy and quiet. He was sticking down mostly words. Today was Fran’s first day at the centre. She gave the impression of being confident and at ease and chatted to me about using lemon and honey for my cold (my nose was running like mad). When I showed the artists collages she looked at the composite photo of hands by Man Ray and said that was exactly what she needed to express how she feels. It was also Rashid’s first time in the group. He took a little while to understand what was going on, but in the end he started to cut things out of magazines. He asked for a piece of paper and started assembling pictures of dogs and people on one side, a roaring leopard in the middle and some less positive images on the left side. He hadn’t cut anything out very accurately and I tried to point out that he might not need parts of some of the images, or the writing in them. Suddenly it was 4 o’clock and we needed to finish. Steve stayed behind and talked to me about his collage and answered my questions. Alex still hasn’t reappeared – I meant to ask about him but didn’t get a chance.
Next Monday is another bank holiday so I’m going to run the project on Tuesday morning instead. I’m not sure there will be very many people, but its better than nothing and I can see Valerie afterwards.
Thursday 21st May: Centre 2 As usual when I arrived there were not many people around. Then Verena came in. She said she wasn’t able to stay for the group because she had an appointment, so we agreed to have a quick talk beforehand. We only had 15 min. We went to the art room, but there was someone in there, so Verena suggested we “go out for a smoke”. She wasn’t wearing her hat today and I noticed a big open wound on her forehead. I asked her about it – it’s where she banged her head against the wall when she was anxious. She told me that she is slowly becoming resigned to the idea that she will need help for the rest of her life. I wanted to ask a lot more questions, but there was no time.
When I arrived in the art room Eva had completed her collage from last week and started on a second one. They were spread all over the table. This week she seemed a lot less troubled than last week. She had written a testimony about her illness in big blue letters. She said that because she can use the ‘correct’ language to describe what is happening to her the doctors fail to see how unwell she is. When I arrived a young man was also in the art room working on a drawing. I explained that the group was about doing something particular and gave my usual introduction to the project. He didn’t make any effort to start on a collage, and I thought this might be because he didn’t know where to start. Eventually he explained that he was afraid it would “open a can or worms”. Towards the end of the group time he started to join in the conversation. Then I asked him if he would search for an image on the internet for one of the others because I thought that would engage him more. He looked scared and said he wasn’t good with computers, then he mumbled that he couldn’t read or write either.
Harriet arrived a little after we had started the group. She hovered just inside the door for a bit and then sat flicking through a magazine. Eventually she got out her collage, worked to tidy it up, and then started on a second one. After about 40 minutes she got up and left saying that she was going for a drink of water, but she didn’t return. I was concerned that something had upset her. Later I saw her again, she was fine and we had a 1-1 meeting to discuss her collage. She told me that she is afraid to reveal anything about herself.
This project is really forcing me to take people as I find them and to forget any assumptions I might make about anyone – how do I create work that puts the audience in this situation as well?
Tuesday 26th May: Centre 1 This week was another Bank Holiday Monday, but I was able to move the group to Tuesday morning. When I arrived there was no one around, staff were in the morning meeting, and the day room was empty. Then Marvin appeared in the corridor, with a long beard and rips in the back of his jacket. He was very extrovert – he couldn’t remember my name, but he did remember that I run the art group and he said he would come along. He shook my hand and held on to it for a little too long. He was full of questions and was warm and jolly, making jokes and witty observations – very different to his usual reserved persona. In the art room I started to get out the magazines and Marvin was flipping through making comments about some of the pictures. He said he wanted to start another collage, but he couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a minute or two and asked if he could go and make a coffee. He left his watch and a pamphlet on the table and was gone for ages. When he came back he asked if he could open the door to the garden, then he went out and was standing in a corner talking to someone that I couldn’t see. As soon as I spoke to him he responded perfectly rationally, but he seemed to be experiencing more than one reality at a time. Later staff said that he shouldn’t have been at the Centre today, and had been admitted to hospital.
An older lady from the Crisis House joined us after a while. She apologized for being late. I gave her my intro – she didn’t seem very interested in my photos, although she said she was an artist. She also said she had been a nurse. She was generally quite angry and slightly resistant to the idea of making a collage, but after a while she settled in to it. Then when I suggested it would be better to use cut out words than writing on the collage with felt pen she became very angry and walked out. (She later apologized).
After the group I met with Valerie to review the progress on the book we were making together. When she arrived she was complaining of a number of physical ailments, but she cheered up when she saw the work I had done on the design for her book and we managed to agree on an overall sequence and some details on wording.
Thursday 28th May: Centre 2: Last one As I was going in to the building Luis was coming out. He said that he would come back to finish his collage and talk to me, but he didn’t. He hasn’t signed a consent form, so I reluctantly left his collage in the drawer when I packed up my things. There were a few people in the day room when I arrived, but only Harriet and Sue that I recognized. I did mention the art project to one or two new people, but it didn’t really seem worth encouraging anyone new to join for the last session, so in the end it was just Harriet and Sue who came. Harriet seemed in a good place today – she was confident and talking easily and seemed calmer than I had seen her previously, although she did have some trouble remembering what it was she was doing with her collage. She started work on a second one, and agreed to me taking her first collage away to photograph. Sue worked hard to finish her collage, and then talked to me about it (with her keyworker present).
In a way I was glad that there were so few people in this last workshop. I packed up the folders and the printer. After the workshop I went into the office to say goodbye and one of the staff handed me a card and a box of chocolates from the team. I was very touched and gave everyone who was there a hug. The receptionist lady was also very kind when I handed back my door entry card – she said something about time going very quickly. I finished the workshops here because the manager requested that I should. Staff at Centre 1 are happy for me to carry on there, so I will continue the blog for one more month…
This month my notes are very long and detailed. I have tried to edit them, but so much of what happens is so interesting (at least, I think so) it’s difficult to cut it down very much.
Thursday 2nd April : Centre 2 The manager was in the office when I arrived. She wanted to tell me about Robbie, a tall and quite big guy I had not met before, who she said could be very intimidating. She offered me an alarm to take into the art room. I asked whether Robbie was physically violent and she said no, so I didn’t think the alarm would be necessary. When I went into the day room to get people for the art group Neil was making a cup of coffee and Anya was exclaiming about him taking three sugars. I made a joke about him losing his teeth. He then announced that his front teeth were already false because the original ones had been knocked out by security guards in McDonalds. Later, in the group we were talking about the fact that he will be discharged next week and I asked him if he felt ready – he said that he was going to go in to a detox programme. Everyone looked surprised. He often refers to his drinking, but never smells of drink or appears like someone who drinks excessively.
Robbie came into the art room with the others and once I had got them settled I sat next to him and did my usual introduction, showing him some of the View From Inside photos. He started to calm down a bit, but then he started to insist that we, and I in particular, should read some passages from the Book of Daniel, about the end of the world. I asked if he was religious and he said he wasn’t. The manager had warned me that he could be confrontational, so I was prepared when he started staring at me very intensely. He kept saying he wanted to come to the centre tomorrow (Good Friday – it will be closed). He was talking very fast about politicians, technology and all sorts of other things. I asked him one or two questions about himself, which he answered non-committally and with an expression that said “keep away”. I finally managed to get him to start looking through magazines for images – he said he wanted to look for horses because there was a dark horse and a red horse coming (this was something to do with the Daniel text). Then he found a microscopic photo of a beetle’s leg in one of the Scientific American magazines. It did look a bit like a picture of the sun with strange little figures crowded around it and Robbie started loudly insisting that it was God with all his minions gathered around. My attention shifted to Neil, who wanted to look for pictures of dark trees to put in his collage along with the bits of housing estates. Robbie fell silent. He didn’t find any pictures of horses. After a while he got up saying he needed the toilet. He didn’t come back.
Tuesday 7th April, Centre 1 I have a cold, so today I was feeling a bit vague. When I arrived the receptionist told me that Valerie was asking for me – I suddenly realised that I was supposed to meet her at ten thirty – it was now ten fifty. Oh no. She was in the day room and wasn’t very pleased with me. To make matters worse I hadn’t brought my computer, so we had to use one of the consultation rooms to look at the photos she had taken this week. She is still on crutches and showed me some bruises on her arm where she had fallen.
It’s Easter and the group is meeting on Tuesday instead of Monday, so I wasn’t expecting more than one or two people today. But in the end there were six – three men that I know, and three new women. It was a lovely sunny day and I opened the door to the courtyard because the art room was boiling as usual. I asked Jake if I could have a copy of the photo that he had taken on his phone of windows by the canal– he said that the picture was quite hard to take because then the windows were “freaking me out”, but now when he looks back at the photo it just looks “normal” and doesn’t trigger any reaction in him. “Its just what it is”. He is working on a collage of an office and inserting eyes everywhere. The lions seem to have completely disappeared, now he just sees eyes when he is anxious.
There was some confusion with Patrick, who thought I had said that I would print out some images he had sent me. Luckily I then remembered that I had printed a little silhouette of a tree for him to insert into the face of a character in his collage, but there were two other images he wanted. After the group finished I was able to find them online and print them in the day room. Alex still hasn’t managed to get his most recent photos out of his phone, and today he worked rather slowly on his latest collage. He said that he might not be here again after today as he was going to pick up some new medication at lunchtime, which he hoped would completely get rid of the voices he hears. But then after lunch he came back to say that the doctor wanted to monitor him and he would be around a bit longer after all.
Three new women arrived and I gave them my photos to look at whilst I got the others set up. They all looked a bit blank until I started to explain what they were looking at. Ingrid, the youngest of the three, was able to understand very well and identified with the image with a lot of different monitors in it. She described almost exactly the feelings that the person portrayed had described to me. She also said that she was familiar with making collages, and set to work quickly and confidently. She is not normally able to come to the centre on Monday afternoons, but was keen to continue with the project, so I suggested that we meet one to one next Monday morning, which she seemed happy with. The second woman was very quiet, her energy seemed low, and she said: “it’s difficult with depression”. But with some encouragement from others she started collecting some images. The remaining person was a young African woman who continued working after everyone else had left because she wanted to finish a collage documenting some traumatic experiences from her past.
As usual, today was completely different than I expected.
Thursday 9th April : Centre 2 As soon as I walked into the day room Neil announced that he had let himself down again and hadn’t taken any photos this week. He will be discharged in the next few days so it was his last chance. Margaret was in the day room. She said she couldn’t stay today, but she will come next week, and talk to me then. She wasn’t looking very well. Lee was also in the dayroom and said that he would come along to the group. A man I hadn’t seen before was making a cup of coffee. Just as Lee said that he might be interested in joining us one of the staff came in and introduced the new man to me. He is using crutches, so I waited until he had sat down and then tried to explain the project. He said that he had dome some drawings, but he didn’t like them. Not because he wasn’t skillful enough, but because he didn’t like the subject matter: himself. But he said he would come and have a go at making collage. He stayed for almost an hour and then got up to leave, saying he had done “nothing”, but actually he had cut out a page of grey with the word timeless on it, and had also cut out a clock. Whilst looking for images he mentioned that he suffers from depression. When you know the context a simple combination like that can seem profound.
Raymond was in better spirits than I have seen him previously. I noticed that he was using his damaged arm (last time he didn’t seem to be able to move it at all), but still, the collage he made today was very negative, he said “I feel like I’m an empty shell, a hollow person.” I offered him a camera to take home, but he said he already has one. Today Neil finished his third collage, and he was clearly proud of it. He said he could see the second collage on his wall, but when I asked if I could keep it in case I can exhibit it he agreed and also seemed pleased with that. I really hope I can make at least one exhibition of the work happen. Ana Sophia managed to come to the group today, even though she has a regular external appointment on Thursday afternoons. Her keyworker brought her along just as I had finished doing my intro for someone else, so I went through it again. She made a very proficient 3D collage that was like a little theatre set. I forgot my glasses today, so I was worried about not being able to see what people were doing, but it was only really a problem when Lee and Ana Sophia wanted to show me their artwork on their phones. Lee showed me a new photo of architecture that had been rearranged to make a face. He acknowledged that, like his other photos, this one is very controlled and that working like this is a kind of defence mechanism.
Monday 13th April : Centre 1 Today was the busiest day so far. When I arrived Ingrid was waiting for me in reception, so I hurriedly picked up the keys and we went into the art room. No time for a catch up with staff. She talked through her collage and then I asked my usual questions. The experiences she described are quite extreme, and yet she is an articulate, intelligent young woman and responded to my questions calmly and clearly – at times like this it is difficult to reconcile what people are telling me with the persona I can perceive. Valerie was also waiting for me, so I ate my sandwich quickly and went to get her. She had taken quite a few new photos this week, some of herself from the back using a timer. We looked at my suggestions for ways of putting together her previous photos, but I’m not sure if we will use many of these as the work is now going in a more interesting direction. I was just finishing with her and Alex came into the art room, I looked at the clock and saw that it was now time for the group to start. Alex started by watering the plants that were on top of the plan chest, and then sat down to work on his collage. Then another young man I hadn’t met before arrived introducing himself as Derek. He seemed quite confident and said that he had done an art course. I gave him my usual introduction and left him looking through magazines as Iris, an older lady who had been sitting in reception, came in. She has a walking frame, so I moved some chairs and got her seated. Then three women I hadn’t seen before walked in and sat at the far end of the table. There was a slightly tense air in the room now, but anyway I asked them to move up to sit near Iris and started on my intro again. When I said that I was going to ask them to make collages about themselves, two of the women got up and left saying it wasn’t for them. Paula, who stayed, was more positive, saying that she had previously made and exhibited some “modern art”. People kept on arriving – Michele came in and carried on quietly with her collage. Jake arrived unusually late, he had had a meeting with his key worker, and two more new people also joined the group. I wasn’t sure if one of them would stay as she seemed a bit unsure what to do, but she started looking through magazines and then cut out a whole lot of different faces, which she stuck down in rows. In each case she had just cut a square around the head, but when I asked her if she wanted to cut round the heads a bit more she said no, she wanted it just as it is. I said I was intrigued and wanted to ask her what it signified, she said “later”.
Thursday 16th April : I was away for a symposium and exhibition opening today, so no group.
Monday 20th April : Centre 1 Today Ingrid showed me sixteen collages that she had made over the weekend. We spread them all out on the table. We both like the idea of making them into a book, and I suggested she writes some words to go with them. We spent quite a bit of time thinking about which ones should go together and then agreed on some “homework” for the week, which is to rework a few of the collages, and to start on some short pieces of writing. We had just finished when I heard an uneven step coming along the corridor, which I knew must be Valerie. She burst into the room looking very upset. For a moment I thought it was because I didn’t come and get her as soon as I had finished with Ingrid, but it turned out that she had been in a meeting with staff and was very upset that they had diagnosed her with Personality Disorder. She burst into tears. I tried to calm her a bit, and then we looked at the photos she had taken this week.
At lunchtime Alex was lying spread-eagled over a chair in the day room, fast asleep. But then just before the time for the group to start he came into the art room looking quite energetic and cheerful and got out his collage to carry on. I gave him scissors and glue and went to look for other people to join us. I am getting a bit more confident about leaving people with scissors now, if they are people I know. Jake, Paula and Michele all said they would come, and a young guy called Arthur shook my hand and said he would join the group. Just as I was finishing the intro for him a young Asian woman came in. I started to explain to her what I was looking for, and she said “oh like a storyboard” – she said she is an artist, and works in design. But she seemed less able to connect with the portraits I was showing her than Arthur was, and was not so committed when it came to looking for images. Every so often I looked over at her and she seemed to be frozen – sitting completely still and looking at nothing. When I spoke to her she came back to the present, and then some time later drifted off again. As it was her first week I didn’t ask her anything.
Jake worked quietly away on his collage of eyes again. I asked him if he would be willing to have a go at taking some more photos and he said that he didn’t want to because when he was hallucinating he wasn’t thinking about taking pictures, but about how to deal with the images. I tried suggesting that to take a picture of the place might be a way of gaining power over the hallucinations, but he didn’t like that idea. Alex was working well on his third collage, so I left him to it for a bit. Then he announced that it was finished, so we looked through the photos that he had taken during the week. There were about seventy, but they were all a bit random. I held off saying anything much today, but we agreed to meet before the group next week, so if he seems well I might try a bit harder to get him to think about subject matter then. He said he didn’t think any of his collages were any good, and that perhaps that medium is not for him – we should talk about that as well! Paula came in a while after the group had started. She said she thought the collage she had made last week was finished as it had all the elements that were needed to tell her story. I asked if she would talk about it and she said she was embarrassed, and I said ‘if there is no one else in the room?’ She said that would be OK, so we arranged to talk after the group.
Monday 27th April: Centre 1 Ingrid’s keyworker was in the office when I arrived, and I mentioned that she had made sixteen collages the previous weekend. At first she said that I shouldn’t encourage that and should try to calm down Ingrid’s energy, but then she thought again and said it might be a good channel for it. Ingrid was waiting for me in the day room as usual. This time she hadn’t done anything new, but brought along some previous photos for me to look at, so I didn’t have to deal with the problem of not encouraging over-production. We talked about how she could make a photo book about the difference between her experience of being her and other people’s perception of her. However, she is being discharged soon, so this may be the last time we will be able to meet. When I saw Valerie she was very enthusiastic about the edits I had made to the arrangement of her photos, and had written some texts to go with them. We played around with putting these together. Then it was time to go and round people up for the group. Jake was printing out some more pictures of eyes to use. His collage is getting more subtle. We both agreed that some of the eyes he had stuck on at the beginning didn’t work. He is now trying to match them more with the architecture of the room. When I said it was starting to look like a still from a surrealist film he looked quite pleased! Michele arrived late, and then after about five minutes asked if she could go for a cigarette. She wasn’t really concentrating, and when I said I thought there might be some story there, she said ‘oh really? I don’t think so’. Arthur came along at the start of the group, but then said he couldn’t find his folder and left again saying that there was something else he wanted to do anyway. I think the folder was in the cupboard, but he suddenly seemed to feel uncomfortable when he got into the art room. He said something about not being able to remember, but I wasn’t sure what he meant.
A new girl, Selina, who had appeared at the end of the session last week said she wasn’t sure that she wanted to join the group, but then came in shortly after we had started. For the first twenty minutes or so she was chatting and giggling with another new woman, Shirley, who was a bit defiant and quite negative when she came in, although after a while of looking for images in magazines she became more focused. She then said she couldn’t find what she was looking for in the magazines, so I suggested she do a google search in the day room. She was gone for a long time, but eventually returned with two prints of dragons. She said that these are what she sees when she is ill. An older lady, Gloria, who had been once before, worked enthusiastically on her second collage today and seemed to enjoy the process a lot, although she didn’t seem to have any understanding of what I was asking people to do. She cut out a row of dogs, and an animal fashion parade with mice and other little furry creatures dressed up. She pointed at them and said ‘animal couture’ and looked at me. I couldn’t help smiling. The last member of the group today was a man I recognized, but couldn’t remember why. He introduced himself as Steve and reminded me that we had met before Christmas. He said that he is now back and in the Crisis House. He talked about how difficult it is for him to find that he is ill again so soon after his last recovery – usually he gets seriously ill every five years or so, but this time its only been four months. I asked if he knew why that had happened and he said yes, but he didn’t elaborate.
Thursday 30th April: Centre 2 When I arrived there was a young woman sitting at the dining table in the day room, and I just saw Raymond heading out of the door. Luis was the only other person I recognised and I almost thought I might have to cancel today’s session due to lack of people, but in the end it was a busy and very intense afternoon. Expect the unexpected again! Scarlett, the young woman at the table she said she liked collage and would come along. Luis said he needed a minute to go out and think, and that he would be along later. I got his folder out ready for him. Then an older man called Ron arrived in the art room. I hadn’t seen him before. He set to work cutting out logos from fashion magazines. I was intrigued and he said something like “this is what caused my problems”. I asked him what he meant and he said he would prefer to talk to me in private once the collage is finished. Scarlett was next to arrive and she spent ages looking very carefully at all my photos and then picked two that she said she identified with strongly. She hinted at having psychotic experiences herself. Then the door opened and a man strode into the art room as though walking onto a film set. I had seen him outside smoking when I arrived– he was dressed as though he had just stepped out of a Western, with the hat, fringed jacket and boots and a lot of jewelry. Once he was settled he turned out to be quite a serious and gentle person. He said his name was Larry, and he too spent a long time looking at my View From Inside pictures and then started working on a collage. I didn’t really look at what he was cutting out, but I noticed it was all cut in indiscriminate blob like shapes, so I got out the examples of artists’ collage to show how you can make things work together by cutting out carefully. He liked the photos, but I don’t think he really got the idea. At some point Luis came in and started assembling his collage. There are buildings upside down, and half a man in a suit upside down with an upside down bird on his head and his tie at right angles to his body. He said it was all about his world being upside down and all mixed up and the bird was flying towards the ground to try to save him by grounding him. I asked him if he would be willing to talk about it when its finished and he agreed. I said I thought the collage was beautiful and he seemed proud.
Then Raymond arrived. He said he was having a bad day and sat apart from the rest of the group. He went to the drawer to get his work out, and I could see him rummaging around. I told him apologetically that I had taken his first collage home to photograph. I thought he might be upset with me, but instead I noticed a glimmer of pride. This week he started arranging yellow circles around a small piece of paper. Towards the end of the afternoon I said ‘at least there is some sun there this week’, but then he told me the collage was about how everyone else sees the sun, but for him, on the inside, things are dark.
The door opened again a woman called Rhona came in. She had a box of coloured pencils and a drawing in her hand and she seemed very troubled. She wanted to continue with her drawing rather than working on a collage, so I said that was fine, but could she sit at the side apart from the group. Later, I asked her if she wanted to join us, but she refused, saying she didn’t understand anything. Then after a while she asked what exactly it was we were doing, I explained again and she got up, ripped up her drawing and joined the table. She started to browse through magazines, and I asked once or twice if she wanted scissors, but she said that she was still looking. Then she did start to cut out one or two things and gradually became more communicative. Her transformation over the hour or so she was with us was amazing. Scarlett was very focused on her collage and was making light and witty remarks, but then she became quite tearful as the process was bringing up a lot of emotions for her. Rhona suddenly got up and gave Scarlett a big hug, saying that she reminded her of her daughters. This seemed to be a turning point for Rhona, she became much softer and more open and started talking more to the others in the group. Everyone agreed that tears are good, and Scarlett stayed for a while longer. Someone was talking about how difficult it is for men to cry, and I said we should start a crying group. This made Scarlett smile through her tears. The atmosphere was nice, and felt very supportive.
Then just before we were due to finish two more people arrived – a young woman all dressed in blue with a beret on. She seemed very tense, was frowning a lot and her movements were angular. I asked her name, and then it dawned on me that she was Harriet, who I had had such a long conversation with last week. She was almost completely unrecognisable – the style of her clothing was different, she had makeup and glasses on, and her hair was covered by the beret. I got her folder out for her and apologized for not recognizing her. She said ‘a lot of people say that I look different all the time’. She spent a long time intensely looking at the pictures she had cut out previously and, although she did respond when I spoke to her, it was clear that she didn’t want to communicate. The group went on for nearly two hours today, everyone was working away and so many people came in late, I just let it run until people wanted to leave. An older man wandered in very late. I explained what we were doing, but I’m not sure he understood and I didn’t encourage him to start anything because there was no time. He was from the Crisis House, and after a while someone came in looking for him. Apparently he had come to the art room without letting anyone know where he was. Larry stayed until almost the end, but then had a phone call, which he took outside, then he came back and said he had to go to a doctors appointment. He was looking quite proudly at his collage and said he was beginning to get the hang of what to do. He said he had really enjoyed the group. I told everyone that I would not be there next week, but please remember to come back the following week. Scarlett took her collage away to work on at home and by the end of the (prolonged) session Harriet was more relaxed and talkative, she carefully cut out and the elements of her collage and was starting to assemble them.. Rhona very thoughtfully offered to take Martin back upstairs. She seemed like a completely different person than when she had come into the room. It was quite an intense group today but everyone except Raymond seemed to leave happier than when they had come in. I felt a bit panicky that I only have three weeks left. There are several new people and one or two existing ones that I would like to get to know better and to record conversations with – I only hope there is time before I have to leave. I was exhausted when I got home.
In a way it will be good to get some distance, I feel so caught up with the process of the workshops and the people that I still can’t imagine how I am going to make something of this experience.
Time stood still, that’s why I’ve got the watch, and its time and time again that I’ve got ill. I was roaring like a bear and being irritable, and biting people’s heads off. I was acting wild, that’s why I put that scenery there. These weren’t the things I was buying, but I was buying all sorts of different things. I put that there because I bought some furniture for people. Not exactly the same as that, but furniture. I had it delivered to the people’s houses without them knowing, but they seemed happy enough. This has happened to me quite a few times, about thirty nine times. I was getting ill twice a year. This time I wasn’t taking my tablets properly and I was feeling alright, but I started getting a bit high and then I started getting manic and I couldn’t listen to anyone in my family who told me to start taking my tablets. I can’t say that I felt happy while I was high. It was just like a whirlwind, I was just rushing about buying a lot of things. Its quite regrettable. It would be good to give people an insight into how people with mental illness feel when they are ill – if they’re interested. I’ve had friends in the past and we’ve fallen out when I’ve been ill. The majority of the friends I have now have had mental illnesses themselves so they understand.
“I put obesity because I’ve had a lot of issues with food. I used to be anorexic and then I started taking anti-psychotics and they made me obese. Now I’ve lost a couple of stone, but I’m still over weight so I put more food less energy and a big image of obesity. I cut out “slept on the sofa” because when I’m not well I sleep on the sofa a lot. I don’t go to bed, I sleep fully clothed. And this is some redness and some red blood cells that I found because I self-harm quite a lot. This bit over here is some fish, and I put “hidden” because I’ve got a fear of fish. It means I don’t go swimming or anything. And I’m hiding in fear. This is a screen. When I’m not well I think TV screens and phone screens can control you. And this is a mouse, because one time I cut up a mouse and pulled all its organs out. It was horrible, I really wasn’t well, so I put dangerous there. Then the nicer bits – this is some sunshine coming through, and this is “Let it Be” – I learnt in therapy let is be is better than let it go. The different areas of the collage are: food and body image, and fatness; self-harming, depression, anxiety, paranoia; and then calmness and getting well. The sewing machine is a nice thing to do for recovery, and its quite mindful because when I sew I’m totally in the moment. I can’t be thinking about something else, or I wouldn’t be able to sew. I did a sewing course last year and I made a friend who is “normal”. It made me confident because I thought I could mix with people who aren’t service users. I’ve been in the system a long time and all my friends are service users”.