This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > Dolly Sen

Creativity and Mental Liberation Manifesto

Morley College has revived their 100 year old tradition of putting on their penny lectures, where people pay a penny to listen to a talk. Bobby Baker and I talked on the theme of Creativity and Mental Liberation. I decided to present my manifesto on Creativity and Mental Liberation, which has been harvested from previous writings and some new thoughts. 

A manifesto declares to the world your beliefs, goals, and what needs to be made real.

I had my first psychosis at 14.  I was lost in hell. Psychiatry didn’t rescue me.  I finally found my way into some kind of light in my 30s.  If you, like me, have been residing in psychotic hinterlands for a good few decades, you realise when you rejoin society, you are decades behind your peers. Your first love, job, career, home, relationships are new things in your 30s and 40s. People talk of lost youth like a misplaced item. Mine was never there in the first place.

When you stumble with the mistakes in middle age that most people dispensed with in their teens, it’s humiliating and demeaning, it skins you alive when you have no skin to begin with. Your vulnerability feels like a coat of petrol in a world of fire. It adds shame to more shame.   

Psychiatry & society say I should have shame for hurting because of trauma, shame that I am mad. I was told to gain a thick skin in a world that gives me nothing to buy them with. I want a culture that doesn’t produce a suicide every 40 minutes. I want a mind that doesn’t produce a suicidal thought every 40 minutes. I had to stop hating myself.

So what do I do? My mind is too strange to pay the adequate amount of taxes. My soul is too hurt to accept any more bullshit. If I do not belong to this world, where is my map?

Luckily, I discovered creativity such as writing and art, which helped me express difficult feelings. I wrote poems about loneliness that made me feel less lonely. I realized I was drawing myself a map. If services and systems provide you with a map on how to be lost, and stay lost, you need to find the map elsewhere. Creativity has done that for me. I see arts as an opportunity to develop ways to reclaim identity from a mercenary, judgemental world that has abused it. The sanatised world insults my dreams and humiliates my soul.  Asking me to be normal is asking too little of me, it asks too little of all of us.

The British artist Nigel Henderson said that art is the battleground for the human spirit. Madness might mean my mind is at war with itself but psychiatry has made me a refugee from my own soul. The guerrilla heart wants to win.  Most mental health difficulties are not about broken brain but broken hearts. And tablets do not mend a broken heart. Creativity knows the heart needs love, a new story, knows the heart should be respected and be exceptional.

You need to free your mind twice, before you tackle mental pain, you have to free yourself from psychiatry. Label yourself creative thinker rather than broken mind.  Too many of us are given the message that our inner realities, our very selves are pathological and must be hidden. Too many of us feel like lesser beings. How can it be lesser if we can, through creativity, make it is bold and colourful and beautiful as we like. That is what creativity is: the power to change.

Robert Motherwell, the artist, said he felt ‘unwedded to the universe’ I feel unwedded to the universe, adulterous to the breath, how can I love the bruised whore of my being, when I want to be with faithful death. But art weds me to the world by changing the way I look at it, and changing the world itself.

Let’s not beat around the bush, psychiatry has defined your mind as ugly, but why do you see your mind as ugly when I see the beauty of it?  Why are other people owning your definition? Who says you are you? Who has written your script? If you don’t like your script you are living, write a new one. If you don’t like the people around you, recast the characters. I realised this for myself. I realised I was giving my narrative on a plate to those who couldn’t even write a pot noodle ad. Also, I think psychosis is a story/experience that can’t be faced in its purest form.  Creativity can help that with its gentle re-writing.

Someone in a film I did called ‘greenhouse of hearts’ talked about madness and art. And he said something along the lines of “art bridges madness to the rest of the world, and it gives it a language that is better suited to the experience.” And it’s true. Words like disorder, pathology, false beliefs don’t explain my experience or help me make sense of them; creativity does.

Creativity is a voice that compels you to create with as much rigour as psychotic voices. To me the difference is whether the voice in internal, dancing on your skin or far away because it is too painful to be inside. What is the creative process but a voice, and what is art but a ghost that forces itself to be real.

Psychiatry or normality does not tell truth of me. My art show the truth of me: broken child, but cellotaped with glitter and stars.

When you look upon your mind with the eye of a painter, you can look upon it with curiosity and wonder. You can ask yourself why this crease is there, why the light is stronger here.  And why does the shadow always falls on that thought or dream.  Can you make your world beautiful enough to save your soul.

But it goes beyond art as therapy. I think reality is a cheeky bastard, and I am putting him over my lap and slapping his naughty arse through my art.  I have done it with things like ‘I helped a normal’ sticker or writing the Mad 10 Commandments, which are:

1. Thou shalt not kill free thought
2. Do not worship the ratrace, get off the rat and ride the unicorn.

3. Your story must be written by you.

4. Do not make pathology or normality your idol
5. Do not hurt anyone, including yourself

6. Honour your soul and the souls of others
8. Do not lose your sense of humour
9. Do not covet normality
10. Do not follow commandments

If I could sum up my manifesto in a few lines:

Don't be a little flame ashamed of the light you shed. Time to shine and embarrass the sun, the stars.

Subvert the world and insist it be beautiful. 

Posted by Dolly Sen, 24 October 2015

Last modified by Dolly Sen, 24 October 2015

Mental Health Week's theme is Dignity, I am still looking for it.

Next week is Mental Health Week and this year's theme is dignity. This is my take on it:

Dignity cannot be taken 4 times a day

Being labelled, pathologised and medicated,
I cannot claim my mind for myself
I cannot claim my life for myself
So how can I even have dignity?

Medicine does not heal
But seals the scream
Is that dignity?

Dignity are never in the side effects.
Weight gain – my arse is getting bigger than my dreams.
Too tired to reach for the day, let alone the sun.
Try having sex without coming – dignity?

Love with a lot of going – dignity?
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but try it with a largactil shuffle.
Constipation does not feel like dignity
How can I sing the song of dignity, drooling?

I would walk away with my head held high, but am too tired, too alone, too despised. 
But let’s put aside the pills for a moment.
Is dignity in the waiting room?
Is it in the set of eyes that sees you as a sickness?

How much does dignity cost exactly? It’s not in our budget this year. It’s not in the economic case.
Dignity is not in the control and restraint, face down, begging to breath.
It was not in the staggered silence of my ‘community care’.
It is not in the 'burden of care' phrase.
I am still waiting for my appointment with dignity.

Dignity means not begging for my identity, my dreams, it means not begging to be heard, to be cared for.
Dignity means honouring the person, but not being hated will do.
Dignity cannot be taken 4 times a day.

And shouldn’t be bitter pills to swallow… 

Posted by Dolly Sen, 2 October 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 October 2015