Yesterday I wrote this poem on a path.
'Do not step here, my dreams have fallen out of my pocket and are hard to find again.
Don't grind them into the ground or I will have to wait for the rain
to feed the daisies to push them back up again.'
I didn’t have to aim it at a particular audience except humanity in a part of Brixton, South London.
Didn’t know if they liked poetry or art beforehand. But it made everyone who came across it stop.
They read it, asked questions, and gave me knowing nods, but the best thing was that they stepped gently around the poem, from the child to the drunk to the woman going home with her shopping.
Nobody complained of vandalism. Vandalism belongs to the world that steps onto dreams.
Please fill in my sanity feedback form, which asks questions like: would you recommend sanity to others?
This is so I know whether to continue subscribing after the free trial ends.
It has taken me a while to write about Robin Williams for several reasons. I thought: why do it because he can’t read it, nor can I ease his family’s pain. Also, it has unsettled me deeply, because I can identify with his situation and am a bit more scared for myself.
You either loved Robin Williams or hated him. I loved his work, so much of it was putting a hand into human darkness and pain and bringing out beautiful words and laughter. Thank you, Robin, for that.
But now his beautiful heart will beat no more. He will create no more. There will be no more laughter – his or others. He is the curator of no more dreams. But also his pain has stilled in the razor storm.
One million people commit suicide a year. One million people’s laughter extinguished. Their silence is so painful, but I so understand their need for peace. I want the world and life to be their peace instead. I have realised my life will never be peaceful. It will be a place of constant hurt, chaos and confusion. But my hand is held very tightly by some beautiful people, like partner, friends, and fellow artists. So what can I do but stay?
Created a website called 'the future'. It will always be coming soon
Who wants an Apocalypse Loyalty Card?
I decided to create one as I have survived several apocalypses, according to several religious groups, and I have nothing to show for it.
Survive five apocalypses, get the rapture free.
The terms and conditions are that Tory governments are not included. That is the dystopia loyalty card, where you get nothing for your loyalty. Or a fascist loyalty card that chops your fingers off for holding it.
This week my film ‘Outside’ was shown at the 'Shuffle Your Mind' event at Shuffle Festival.
‘Outside’ was premiered at the launch of The Institute of Inner Vision at the Barbican Centre in London in March 2013 as part Wellcome Trust's 'Wonder in Film' season. The Institute of Inner Vision was set up at the London College of Communication by Sal Anderson to create and support a community of filmmakers and photographers with experience of psychosis. The Institute commissions short films and is raising monies to run programmes and workshops in film and photography to offer training for people with experience of mental health conditions and/or experiences of inner vision that we can learn from and share.
There are many films professing to show the experience of psychosis. Although there are a few exceptions, mostly it has been done very badly, made by people who have never experienced it and are informed by previous inaccurate cinematic portrayals of psychosis. Think about it this way: you may know the language, the food, the culture and the history of, say, France, but unless you live there, how can write about what it is to be French? There aren’t nearly enough films made on psychosis by people who know it first hand.
So I love the idea of this project, because we need to provide an opportunity where both the filmmaker and viewer can deeply and emotionally share the experience of psychosis, and not be separated by it.
But it is no easy thing being a ‘mad’ film maker. I am writer who uses both pen and computer, and a visual artist who uses both brush and computer. With those I am not disconnected from my art, or the tools of my art. The control is placed firmly in my hands, physically grounding me. Film is more tricky than that. Film differs in that it is not a solitary vocation, it needs a proliferation of people and equipment in order for the art to be realised. If reality can be divergent in the eyes of psychosis, so the equipment and people stir its mechanisms riotously too. You definitely need people who are gentle and patient around you, to fight any monsters with you. And I was lucky enough to have good people around me when I made the film ‘Outside’. The film itself was just a depiction of a simple shopping trip if you look upon it from the outside, but through the protagonist eyes, you see how difficult it is to differentiate what you see and feel with what the rest of the world does; you know how devastatingly lonely it is, yet how brave the protagonist is to still want to reach out to the world. When I made the film, the experience of being outside I had endured a thousand times alone, so alone, was no longer lonely.
It was boring. That is, once I got through their insecurity guards.
My artistic output at the moment is very driven. I guess you just need to put me in the sun to ripen. If my daily deluge is too much for you, do not worry: you will return to your usual programming soon, when I will switch from art to writing for the rest of the summer months.
ONE STEP SANITY MAINSTREAM TEST
Please read all instructions. They will tell you what to think, do and feel.
Failure to follow instructions may impair your ability to be part of the machinery.
How to use the test:
- Remove the mainstream from the foiled mind.
- Remove the cap.
- Direct your urine mainstream on your dreams for at least ten years.
- NOTE: Do not urinate on the Test and Control windows. They are meant to piss on you.
- Wait at least five years for the red line to appear. If nothing has appeared, piss on your dreams for longer.
Why am I called a 'service user' when I have no choice in services?
If I went to Argos for a kettle and somebody pumped me full of drugs I didn't want, pushed me on the floor because I complained my kettle was faulty, or electrocuted by said kettle, you know, I wouldn't go want to go back. How in any way, shape or form is that a service, especially if this 'service' affects your statutory rights. No refunds or exchanges for missed life.
So I had fun creating an amazon page for psychiatry. Enjoy.
The dictionary definition of Bedlam is 'a scene of uproar and confusion'. This is because sanity constructed it to be that way. As Thomas Fuller said, 'It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf.'
If I had a free creative space, I would create a public Bedlamb, inspired by the one I created in my new home. A place where no wool is pulled over the eyes, yet a place of warmth, cuddles, and safety, with a Dolly Booooooooooooo Peep to make sure no one gets lost.
'Only in art will the lie-in, lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without the thorn.' That's Martin Amis, paraphased by me.
Tracey Emin, eat your heart out - you didn't have sheep!
My madness is sometimes a beautiful thing. It occasionally shows the world through x-ray eyes where all you see is love. And sometimes you look through the world with x-rated eyes that terrorises you into silence. Art does the same. It is such the twin of madness, they are almost conjoined. I don't know if I can separate them without one of them dying. What if it is the art twin that dies, with madness alone and feeling it has lost something?
Today I have created two conceptual pieces looking at the pain of madness. I have said many times medication does not cure abuse, racism, homophobia, loneliness, poverty or the damage done by this current government.
Today my mind feels like it has been bent beyond its limits. I know this feeling will pass. Sometimes the origami of thought can produce interesting shapes. I know my mind can make connections that most 'normal' minds would struggle to create. Sporadically it aims to create free birds but ends up making cages.
It makes a cage within a cage. The bigger cage is this fucking government's oppression of disabled people. The to-do list of an insidious genocide of disabled people through cuts, benefit changes, assisted dying, etc is already 2/3 done. Enough to make any nazi proud. The cage I have created is my fear and depression in response to all this, making me easier to bend and control.
With a smile, fuck you, and a heart stronger than ever, is the way to be. Bent but not broken. I am cellotaped with glitter and stars. If you touch me, you will just see how much I shine.
One thing they don’t tell you about the recovery model is that it will lead some people into no man’s land.
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.
My passport is stamped with lands no one has visited. I cannot return to the homely tyranny of psychosis, even though I still think in that language. I have become a stateless person, not accepted in my new land, normality’s refugee. Too many people do not want me to be part of their home, their culture. I can’t give them what they want. My mind is too strange to pay the adequate amount of taxes. My soul is too hurt to accept any more bullshit. My dreams do not belong in this world. I can’t say society is meaningful and that I am happy to be part of it. It is very ugly in places, and I am not supposed to get upset by that. That’s life, I am told, and life’s not fair. I know that, but why does that mean human beings should forget to try and be fair?
I can’t return to where I came, and I don’t like where I am going. No man's land is land that is unoccupied or is under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. Historically, no man’s land is a dangerous strip of land, or a place of execution. Where can I go to explore a place that is mine? Will I bump into others straying into this lost part of the land?
No man’s land is unowned, unclaimed. Time to claim it as a land I must create myself. That is why I am an artist.
I remember one of my amazing interviewees of my documentary 'Greenhouse of Hearts' saying something along the lines of that the language of art is truer to humans, to madness than psychiatric language would ever be.
This got me thinking: how would psychiatry view or cause some experiences in art. Here is what I came up with.
Psychiatry, you will never know my heart. You can tell lies about it. You can section my heart into little pieces and not put them back together again. But you will never, ever know it.
It has staggered me that I have not contributed to my blog for nearly a year. The first year on my Occupational Therapy degree has been a hard slog, due to my difficulties with sequencing, attention, and memory, leaving little mental energy to write beyond that. But now my studies are more or less over for the summer, I can concentrate on other stuff. I will start by catching you all up on the work I have done this year.
My latest collection of poetry 'One More Ghost' is out on kindle through Amazon for 77p.
I created another website that looks at the flippancy of reality through the concept of time.
I have a lot of exciting collaborations coming up, with Bobby Baker, Julia McNamara, and Interweave Arts in Tasmania. I am also contributing to the Vacuum Cleaner's Mad Love project. Here is an article about it with some of my ideas.
Lastly some visual art to fuck with your mind but always loves your heart. Some more art will follow in separate blogs.
I don't know if you have missed me, but I have missed you.
I was at the Short Circuit event at the lighthouse in Brighton last week, as part of the Brighton Digital Arts Festival.
Short Circuit is an Arts Council initiative that brings together disabled artists and digital twiddlers to collaborate on a range of projects exploring this interface. The project is curated by Jo Verrent and Sarah Pickthall.
My idea was to put an internet site through the experience of psychosis. It came from doing my Barbican-commissioned film, where I made a film about the subjective experience of psychosis, and wondering how it could extend to other art forms. What if a song became psychotic, and no, One Direction doesn’t count.
What if you were a dancer and you were dancing to both music everyone hears and music only you hear. Friedrich Nietzsche already thought of that when he said: "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
Then it hit me: what if the Internet was psychotic? The internet can make us mad, Justin Bieber is on there, men wearing nappies are on there. But what if it was mad itself? What if it was paranoid? What if it heard voices, what if it thought it was Jesus?
So with the help of Peter Pavement of Surface Impression and sound artist Jon Adams, I created a website experiencing psychosis, which hears voices, thinks it is being spied upon, and that it is Jesus. It does two things: reflects my own experience; but also asks: what if the internet experienced madness, what would it look like, would you ever return to it, would you bookmark it, would you share it, report it, what does it feel to vicariously experience psychosis? Virtual reality may not exist, but what if it didn’t exist twice removed? Or what if the psychosis makes it more real?’ It asks the question: is there are malfunctioning in the programming or is it reacting quite appropriately to the system that it finds itself in?
I wanted the original website page to be boring, generic, corporate, and to show the journey of normality, thinking the government is spying on it, that because of trolls it is going to get hurt, it struggles with paranoia, begins to experience psychosis, gets forcibly restrained, sectioned, medicated, it escapes from hospital, decides what recovery is and whether it will use the recover programme provided by a society that judges it, or whether it should make its own meaning, and finally ending with the acceptance of its difference.
But fundamentallly it asks: What if the screen of your being says: ‘No soul to be found. The soul you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable. Maybe psychosis is the programme that wants you to find your soul. Normality is the Microsoft of reality, it has the monopoly, but it’s not the only programme there is.
John O’Donoghue wrote a cool review of the whole event at http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/short-circuit
Exorcise the word,
The page -
a terror so beautiful,
Your fear's sweet dream
And your pain's only way home.
Today I will be part of an event at the Dragon Cafe exploring archives and heritage around mental health. This stems from my involvement with the Mental Health Recovery Archive developed at the Wellcome Trust. I am putting my story in the archive to counteract and challenge the fact in most health archives, including the current Wellcome one, the voice of lived experience takes up less than 10% of mental health archives. It has been a challenge, because I want my story to be both honest and hopeful. I haven't pulled back from criticism of the mental health system but I am also sharing what has helped me in my life.
One of the sticking points is the word 'recovery' itself, so I wrote something for the archive about it. Here is the first draft:
The problem with the Recovery Model is that it is a medical concept and term, and is expected to sit safely and warmly in the medical world. The recovery model says you need to look beyond the symptoms and see the person. But the whole relationship between service user and professional is regulated by the symptoms, depending if your symptoms go up or down, decides what treatment you get, if any at all.
It is also assumes that there is an illness to recover from. It minimises the fact that mental and emotional pain can sometimes be a very human and very appropriate response to trauma, and for it to be pathologised and turned into a sickness insults and negates the person’s story. If that wasn’t enough, it then puts you in a system where your candle is blown out or taken away, and then you are asked ‘where is your light?’ You won’t find a better example for catch 22 than in psychiatry.
I came across the idea of recovery before I came across the model, and it didn’t need to fit the model because it was truly personal, it was deep, meaningful understanding that I had the power to change things for the better. I had hope before the recovery model, it can’t claim it as its own, it shouldn’t steal my thunder or my accomplishment; the system had nothing to do with it, and in fact has made my journey harder not easier.
There is a lot to say about the Recovery Model, as it misses the point in so many places. For example, work is seen as a goal in recovery, but the model does nothing to look at stigma and discrimination in the workplace, or trying to change that. Is the world or workplace going to welcome with open arms someone who says: hello, my name is Dolly and I have got schizophrenia? The fear around mental health is still there, and the recovery model has done near to nothing to tackle that. The problem with the recovery model is that it puts all the responsibility on the service user and none onto society. YOU can change your life, but can you change how people respond to you?
Is recovery about being well enough to be thrown into the world of sharks? I can see how some people don’t want to ‘recover’ because they are suspicious of rejoining the world that hurt them or made them have a breakdown in the first place. Where is the recovery model for the society of sharks? Or is the aim of recovery to turn you into a part of a judgmental, venal cruel society that hurts you and so many others?
So is recovery the right word? Depends if it has power and meaning for you. It doesn’t for me, finding the dollyness of dolly is not a medical phenomena, it is an emotional and spiritual one, it is a human one, and humans were discovering and healing themselves long before psychiatry came along.
I have just come out of the Impact Arts Fair with a nice number of sales and a feeling of inspired invigoration. Now onto my next project, which is part of Short Circuit, a place where digital acumen and disability artistry collides, and will be platformed at the Brighton Digital Festival in September. I have been commissioned to give the internet a psychotic breakdown. I aim to create a website, with the help of Peter at Surface Impression and with sound provided by Jon Adams, that will go through several different states: such as ‘normal’, stressed and asking too many awkward questions; feeling isolated and paranoid; then the creeping up of psychosis; full-fledged psychosis; restrained and forcibly medicated; sectioned; rebellion; recovery; acceptance of difference; and peace of mind. It will be the psychotic stage that will be shown in Brighton as a prototype.
Although it will be as though the internet is experiencing psychosis, I am using my own experience to draw ideas from, including using the time I though I was Jesus. I am not knocking religion in this project but it is reflecting the psychotic experience of thinking you are someone else. Remembering that time is both painful and funny. For example, I did try to turn a bowlful of macroni cheese to feed the five thousand, and used a vacuum cleaner attachment as a biblical staff. I can't use that for this project, but I can create a webpage that thinks it is Jesus. I had my first meeting with Peter this week and something made the cutting room floor because of time and financial constraints, which is what would Jesus' Internet browser history would be. I am disappointed that it won't be in it, but here it is to consider.
One day I will write and make art about pretty things and being middle class, but I have still some terrors to release and some ghosts to make even more invisibile. I am having some therapy at the moment so I am able to make phone calls, and thankfully there has been some improvement. Yet at the same time I am creating art like this, where the compulsion to doodle wants to the rip the world to pieces.
Making phone calls is really difficult for me because it is a huge trigger; it's also hard to discern the phone speaker from voices and invasive thoughts, and when I am really unwell, I am convinced the phone steals my thoughts.
This consiousness that walks on coals and sleeps on nails has a lot to answer for. The mind is a strange instrument. It receives endless messages of pain. But the horrible thing about it is that it’s sometimes the sender, too – not unlike making dirty and threatening phone calls to yourself.
The short documentary film 'Greenhouse of Hearts' came out of a commission from DAO and The Royal Academy.
When I met with Kate Horbury, the then access officer of the RA, she said you have to go visit Portugal Prints, a mental health arts charity, who collaborate with the Royal Academy on a regular basis. So I did.
The first thing that hits you is the warmth of the place, you are instantly accepted as family. So I decided to make a film exploring the heart of Portugal Prints. I could have done a straightforward PR type video, a little advert of the organisation, but I wanted to go deeper than that. When it comes to anything to do with mental health being represented in the media, the heart is totally ignored, people want to see the ‘broken brain’ but sorry here you will see and articulate and compassionate people.
That’s why it is called ‘Greenhouse of Hearts’, because when I first went there, someone said off-camera that their broken heart was learning to grow again at Portugal Prints. That’s the way I feel about ‘madness’, that psychosis has more to do with a broken heart than a broken brain. In a world that tells you your heart should shrink, Portugal Prints wants to let that heart grow. All I did was film it. I wish I had better technical resources to have made the film, most of it was filmed on a £199 camcorder from Argos, but I am very happy with the story and ‘heart’ of the film.
The film took longer than expected to complete as my mental health this year has not been good, the worst it has been for nearly a decade in fact. Though I have a passion for film making, unfortunately it is not the art form most conducive to psychosis.
Earlier this year I made another film about the subjective experience of psychosis called 'Outside', which was shown at the Barbican, as part of a showcase of films made by people with psychosis. One of the other filmmakers there had written his dissertation on ‘mad’ film-makers, well, the lack of them. You have your mad writers and poets, so many in fact, you can fill half a library with them, and the same goes with painters and artists. But cinema has very few filmmakers who regularly experience psychosis.
I think this is true due to several reasons. Psychosis is chaotic and confusing at times, so the less barriers the better, and writing and painting is immediate. When you paint or write, not even your skin is a barrier – you become one with your words and art. Film making, on the other hand, has many barriers, both physical and mental. The physical being a profusion of equipment, like cameras, microphones, lights, etc; and other human beings, as filmmaking involves other people. It is the other human beings that are the bigger obstacle: interpersonal stress; the reality that no one around you sees, hears, or comprehends the world as you do; and people and paranoia don’t tend to get on.
In addition filmmaking is a logical process, full of schedules, linear editing, and linear conversations with the people around you.
But the love of film is still there, even if I can’t do it as a day job because of its challenges. Film needs more ‘madness’ behind the camera then maybe the representation of mental health in front of it will be more truthful.
You can also see 'Greenhouse of Hearts' without subtitles too at http://youtu.be/m4RVA3B-nsU
Yesterday I went to ‘Open Circuit’, which is part of http://shortcircuit.org.uk/ Short Circuit is a strategic action research project commissioned by Arts Council England, South East designed to put digital acumen and disability artistry together – it’s not about short circuit meaning malfunction, it’s about a short circuit to create new possibilities through a path of least resistance.
Open Circuit was the first event of Short Circuit, where artists, technicians, coders, creatives and collaborators had a chance to meet. We were shown the raspberry pi, which is a credit-card-sized single-board computer that can be programmed so many imaginative ways. Other things talked about were live streaming, the multi-media platform Popcorn on Mozilla, and how we can use digital means to expand our art.
My interest in it stems from the fact I create a lot of my work digitally but need ways to go further. But also it touches me on a fundamental level. Psychiatry says my world doesn’t exist. In a strange way, the internet allows me to be more real; as the real world has taught me to be a virtual human being, an identity programmed by faulty reasoning and fear. For example, I Googled ‘Dolly Sen’ It told me who I was. I Googled ‘Where’s my soul?’ It didn’t have the answer I liked, so I will invent one and put it online.
Digitally I can question normal reality and identity. I can create things that don’t exist, as in this 10 second clip.
Personally I would like to explore the age old concept of madness in digital form. Can an isolating, alienating experience be know collaboratively? Can it be expressed digitally or shared artistically? I would like to ask unique questions, like can the binary code have psychosis, can the internet have a breakdown? Can you forcibly medicate or question the sanity of the digital world? I will aim to find the answers in my art.
The event planted some seeds, and an idea for one exciting collaboration has come out of it. But the strongest impact the event had on me was my conversation with Rachel Gadsden http://www.rachelgadsden.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/, the hugely gifted artist, because I said in my wee presentation that although I paint, I am scared of holding a brush, and need the distance of digital to feel safe and in control. The paintings I have done are purely representative and don’t really tap into what’s inside me. Rachel and I talked about it later. When I told her I am terrified of what mental and emotional doorways that it will open up, she talked of that unlocking of the subconscious that painting can achieve, and how she sees it repeatedly in her workshops. The broken heart can drawn onto the canvas like a magnet, wrenching what the mind doesn’t want to think about with it. Dreams deal with the process, but they paint with invisible ink – you don’t really see it in the morning. Painting forces you to see it. Rachel said ‘You have a story to tell’. These stories our souls want to tell us but we do not want to hear. But the soul must do so to heal. When Rachel does her next public workshop, I will be there.
Testing for semantically transmitted diseases
A film about the subjective experience of psychosis
I got an email from Colin a few weeks ago with a few questions as to what value I got from Disability Arts Online. I typed a few short answers, as I was hyper and couldn't dictate my own voice as it was swallowed up by many others, and poor Colin would have to have decipher it like lost words in a word search.
My brain is a bit calmer so I can give a fuller reply to the importance of DAO
As a person within the disability arts scene and Mad Pride movement, I question identity and societal discrimination and oppression within my practice, as to why I expected to assume the role of pathetic burden. Instead I laughed at the stupidity of oppressive thinking, by parodying discrimination by turning it back on itself where these views can be shown to be as ridiculous as they are. There is no apology for being myself needed.
A lot of culture and society wants to put us in our place, to fulfil the role as ‘the other’, as tragic, brave, a burden, or ugly. The arts, especially disability arts, is in the best position to question, highlight, critique, or force the issue around the oppression and creating our own identities and agendas. And as an artist myself, it is great opportunity to celebrate my difference. It is the right arena for beautiful subversion, to show how oppression is pathetic, cowardly, and a self-defeating burden to itself.
I see disability arts as an opportunity to develop ways to reclaim identity from a mercenary, judgemental world that has abused it.
Being part of Disability Arts Online, I see a systemic refusal to assimilate into a broken, degrading process. Asking us to be normal is asking too little of us.
Every political action, personal and social identity development and celebration, needs a history and a voice created by the people living it. As that well-known African proverb states: ‘Until the lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.’ DAO is part of that necessary journey, a megaphone for the voice of the lion.
The aim can also be to ask questions, the more awkward the better, and in that way connect some isolated dots on the disability arts landscape. Where is the relationship the strongest, and where is it the weakest? Can disability arts be absorbed into a model? Should it be absorbed into a model? Doesn’t creativity function better as an organic, free process rather than having to bat against the walls of some model? How effective is the affirmation model within the context of disability arts? How effective is disability arts at effecting change, or influencing disability theory? How many people with the disability arts world are aware of disability theory? What is it about some aspects of disability arts at its most political that doesn’t apologise for being different, and what can be distilled from that to inform disability theory? What power do these artists have within a disabling society?
Hopefully DAO will help inform and inspire what is next in terms of the future of disability theory and disability arts. Identity is fluid, what is the river we are being pushed down, what arrests the flow, where will we end up? We don't know what is around the corner, but I for one, will be its fellow traveller until I finally walk into the sun.
DAO provides the backing music, we as artists must provide the dancesteps to make it a graceful union that inspires the world to move into the direction of equality, till our song is the song of humanity and not feeling pushed away from it.