Life On the Periphery: The silence is over
I awoke entangled in my twisted bed sheets, head pounding so hard it feels like it’s going to protrude through my skull. I try my hardest to remember, but everything is blank. It’s happened again.
I grabbed at my wrists, there was stickers on them, there was a metal pin stud attached to them. What were the for? I reach down to my ankles, there were more of these button stickers. I peel one back, and read the writing, it read: ‘Skintact’. I’ve never seen anything like this before, it must be medical. How did I end up here? What happened to me? I feel like an alien experiment, why can’t I remember what happened? Where is Rodney? I search through my phone, for a clue, anything to know what happened to me. No texts, no missed calls, nothing. Fuck. My heart is beating so fast that that I think I’m going to be sick. Think, Lauren, think. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut, where did it all go wrong? The last image I can see, I’m on the train home, with Rodney then it all goes dark. Nothing, an internal void of blankness. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Over the years blackouts have become increasingly more prevalent. The only way I can describe it, is as if the lights are on but no one is home. To anyone who know’s me, it may seem as if I’m functioning normally, I can talk, walk, shout, scream, laugh and cry. But in this altered state, I can’t form any memories that are accessible when in a normal state of consciousness. This is dissociation, a coping mechanism my mind has adopted to protect me from emotional distress.
I am a victim of trauma, but, like many trauma victims, I have repressed and buried these memories so deep into my consciousness that they are completely inaccessible. Large chunks of my timeline are missing; I don’t know what happened to me. Or rather, my brain doesn’t want me to know what happened. I initially embarked on this project as a result of a mental health assessment. In 2016, after years of repression and self-silencing I thought it was time to pursue mental health assessment. For years and years I was told that these symptoms and experiences I was having were just a phase, a passing blip. Yet, as I became older and the more I spoke about it, the more I realised that these experiences we not typical and landed me in some very dangerous situations. I had been given the diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, (previously Borderline Personality Disorder, yet due to so many cross over traits from other personality disorders, the diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable PD is more fluid). With traits from Borderline, Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive compulsive and paranoid personality disorders, this plunged me into a world of self-discovery. I know that many people find the labels we give mental disorders can be quite damaging and isolating. Despite this, receiving names for my traits and symptoms helped me categorize and put names to experiences I was having. I was finally able to start coming to terms with who I am and why my brain works the way it does.
Once my assessment had been completed, I was sent away without the prospect of psychotherapy. I was made aware by the therapists that their assessment concluded that group psychotherapy wasn’t an appropriate method of treatment at this time. I was refused psychotherapy on the basis of my paranoid traits, apparently due to the severity of my paranoid thought patterns group psychotherapy would amplify the symptoms without giving me any real benefit. I was however sent away to try and use methods such as mindfulness and meditation, with very much a ‘do it yourself’ attitude. Leaving the service in this way made me feel even more alienated, it took so much strength and determination to get to the point I was at to be turned away. Was I an untreatable patient? Was I beyond professional help? I began this process to seek understanding and comprehension of personality disorders in the hope of behavioural therapy to retrain my brain to combat my already established thought patterns.
Throughout the process of the mental health assessment I was encouraged to revisit small trauma’s that I could access, this led to the increase of night terrors, flashbacks and periods of dissociation, all symptoms of personality disorders. This awakening of memories stirred something in my subconsciousness that has triggered this response from my brain. To then be sent away by a service that is meant to help vulnerable people address their trauma, made me feel like my journey of self-discovery had only just begun. This ‘do it yourself’ attitude really echoed the idea of the neoliberal subject that we had discussed on my Masters module, Rose (1996:160) writes:
‘the self-steering capacities of individuals are now construed as vital resources for achieving private profit, public tranquillity, and social progress, and interventions in these areas have also come to be guided by the regulatory norm of the autonomous, responsible subject, obliged to make its life meaningful through acts of choice. Attempts to manage the enterprise to ensure productivity, competitiveness, and innovation.’
It seemed to me that, if I was not a danger to anyone but myself, then it simply was not in the interests of the service to help me. Being advised to research personality disorders and meditation practices really relinquished any responsibility the service may have had for me. By transferring the responsibility of my care and therapy from the service to myself gave me autonomy. It became apparent very quickly that mindfulness and meditation simply was not going to work for me, having all these invasive thoughts and feelings, I had to find a form of therapy that I would direct.
In my previous work, I have always used autoethnography as a method to tell stories, I thought that if I could use autoethnography and my subjectivity in combination to express these symptoms I was enduring, it might lead to a better understanding and acceptance. I wanted to look at art therapy in relation to trauma, creating an artefact that I could use to express how I had been feeling and create awareness of these symptoms. I decided that I would create an experimental narrative film that would use visual metaphors to show how invasive, repetitive and how quickly these anxious thoughts could come and go. The making of the film would require me to capture footage that I myself would find the most visually repulsive or would physically and mentally challenge me. Along with the thoughts of anxiety, I also wanted to capture the brief moments of peacefulness when I dissociate, like daydreaming. I wanted to use evocative autoethnography in a therapeutic way to find out the benefits of art therapy in combating trauma.
Evocative Ethnography and Subjectivity
In Bochner and Ellis’ book ‘Evocative Autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories’ (2016), they mediate autoethnography as a method and look at the potential of using this method in a scientific context whilst also challenging the ethical limitations. In this passage Bochner and Ellis (2016:52) summaries Taylor (1985) and Bruner (1990) on how we use storytelling to make sense of lived experience.
‘Human beings are storytelling animals, […] and thus a human science ought to understand persons as ‘self interpreting animals’ ( Taylor, 1985). The narrative turn pointed enquiry towards acts of meaning (Bruner,1990), focusing on the functions of stories and storytelling in creating and managing identity; the forms of storytelling that individuals used to make sense of lived experience and communicate it to others; the relational entanglements that permeate how life is lived and told to others; and reflexive dimensions of the relationship between storytellers and story listeners.’
I think it’s important to note that one of the symptoms of personality disorders is the instability of identity. During dissociation sometimes one cannot even recognise the reflection in the mirror. In an article released by Elements Behavioural Health (2013) it’s noted that:
‘Identity diffusion is one of the characteristics that sets borderline personality apart from what experts term “neurotic personality organisation,” and is perhaps the part of borderline that makes it most confusing for those who suffer from it. […] When we are young children, we have a large, even extreme idea of “who I am” and who others are. Mother is alternately Good Mommy or Bad Mommy. We see ourselves in relation to this extreme mother as Good Child or Bad Child, for example, depending on our behaviour and how our mother may be responding to us. As we develop normally, we come to understand that we and others are more layered than our early black-and-white notions of self and others allow. […] With borderline personality disorder, however, these black-and-white distinctions of self and other remain. “Good” and “bad” self in relation to “good” and “bad” other are the limited variables through which the borderline personality has to view oneself and others. Because someone with borderline personality maintains such limited and extreme distinctions, splitting occurs. Splitting is the tendency to swing from idealisation to devaluation of self and others.’
This fluctuation between idealisation and devaluation in oneself and others creates a hazy turbulent view of the outside world. Until this point I can categorically say that I have never known who I was, I lacked a fixed Identity. So I argue that this process is as much about identifying oneself as it is about understanding. Ellis (2016) ‘I felt a powerful desire to own up to the experiences that shaped me-for good offer bad- to reconstruct, reinterpret, and make sense out of my family history from the vantage point of my present situation (2016:245). I would argue that the main cause of this disruption in my formation of identity is due to the lack of coherence when it comes to memory. Our memories and past experiences affect who we are as people, without memory it takes away our very personhood and what it means to be ourselves. Our subjectivity as individuals is our very being in defining our tastes, likes, dislikes and beliefs, if one were to take away our memories, how could we know who we are? Bochner and Ellis(2016:92) write that:
‘Our only view of the past is the present-in hindsight (Freeman, 2010) Since the present is itself a passing moment, vanishing swiftly into the infinite past of memory, every look back is a gaze from a different moment, a different perspective, a different remembering self. We live in-between, perpetually moving forward into experience and backwards into memory. Still, our stories keep the past alive. What we don’t know or can’t remember can be considered dead. To have a memory of something or someone is a kind of resurrection of the dead (Ricoeur, 1980)’
The process of engaging in autoethnography to ‘resurrect’ repressed traumatic memories could act as a therapeutic method to understand the self and reform broken or damaged identities in trauma victims. When I speak of ‘resurrecting’ repressed memories, I do not mean in the sense of hypnotherapy or psychoanalysis. Unfortunately these methods are beyond my means at this time, the deep traumatic memories are out of my grasp. What I do mean is to discuss memories, which can be accessed but perhaps haven’t been remembered before which I will refer to as ‘small traumas’. The idea of ‘resurrecting’ small traumas and addressing them in retrospect can help one come to terms with their lived experiences. Bochner and Ellis (2016:245):
‘When you experienced such moments, you face what I call ‘a narrative challenge’ in which you contemplate the possible meanings of a past relationship or a traumatic period in your life. In search of a narrative in which you can live more ably, you give voice to the previous and spoken stories and feelings that help you inhabit a region of emotional truth about your life. Clearly, this is not a varying-facts region of Truth. These truths are not literal truth; they’re emotional truths. Your concern is not with better science but with better living, and thus you are not so much aiming for some goal called ‘truth’ as for an enlarged capacity to deal with the life’s challenges and contingencies you are facing’
Although these emotional truths can be distressing, approaching this in an artistic way can be very therapeutic to the self but also to others experiencing the same emotional truths bringing new perspectives and representations to raw emotionality.
‘[to] Return to the scenes that tarnished us, the ones hovering in our memories awaiting an opportunity for us to take a pen in hand and write ourselves into a moment of transcendence, however fleeting. […] I have tried to place the contingencies of life on the page- it’s unknowability, uncertainty and mystery- in a form that bends and blends- as it must- fictions, fantasies, meditation, ethnography, confessions, and self-consciousness about what it means to be alive.’ (2016:68)
The human experience is such a personal and subjective experience, writing from experiences and using autoethngraphy to creatively reaccount memories can be such a valuable tool to give us more insight to the human experience. I would argue that we still do not know enough about the human experience in relation to trauma and mental disorders. It could be said that if more people would engage in autoethnographic practices we would have more access to personal accounts that do not shy away from the raw emotionality that it is to be human. Bochner and Ellis argue that :
‘Autoethnographers would compose stories that fused social science and literature by merging the methods of interpretive human science with the aesthetic of the Arts and humanities (Benson 1993). In autoethnography, we combine the systematic, ‘scientific’ methodologies of ethnography with the evocative, creative, and artistic elements and forms of storytelling.’
Autoethnography in it’s practice should not be limited to literature, this practice can be used in poetry, performance, cinema etc. As autoethnography is about storytelling and engaging the reader/consumer with the story. I wanted to use my experimental film as a platform to engage the viewer with my reality. Using disjointed narrative as a tool to provoke the viewer to feel as I feel, to see as I see and transcend them into my world. Similarly to how Bochner and Ellis describe Speedy(2015) experience:
‘Jane Speedy (2015), has written a beautiful text filled with poems, visual images, and Fragments of experience that serve to bring readers into the chaos, confusion, and repetition of a stroke and it’s afterlife. her book is an aesthetic performance and montage of her fragmented and disjointed experienced as she stares at the park near her home. Through this amplified experience, she realises that ‘the linear narrative [she] has been living’ and the sense of the ‘perfection of able bodies’ were just conceits(p.13). Her text resists narrative coherence as she tries to bring her experience to life as she lived it (p.14) and bring that experience to life she does! sometimes artistic fragmented text needed to convey disconnected and messy experience. ‘ (2016:209-210)
Despite the benefits of using autoethnography for the self, I think it is also important to address the wider issues. Telling our personal stories provokes the reader to feel and identify with our stories, this can then create awareness of the issues that we deal with.
‘When you read autoethnography, you become a witness to the narrative context of another person suffering. autoethnographers expect the readers to become deeply involved and drawn into the predicaments of their stories. The reader’s life is implicated in and by the text and the life it depicts. Reflexivity is a charge not only to the writer, but also the reader, who is not just a consumer of the story but also by implication of character within it. When auto ethnography works, it evokes not only a sympathetic response and a reflexive questioning of the connections of one’s own life of to the story, but also desire to correct the injustice(s) depicted (Barry and Patty, 2015).’ (2016:70)
It should be noted that it took me over six months to be able to be granted an appointment for a mental health assessment on the National Health Service. As a carer, I am only too familiar with the current state of the NHS with regards to the cutbacks of adult services and lack of funding. Luckily the symptoms I was experiencing were considered to be less serious than some. But it does make you question the exploitation of vulnerable people with regards to access to services. Psychosis is very real to those experiencing it and if it took me over six months to be granted an appointment then how can I not think about others who have it more severe. Six months is a long time if you’re having paranoid or suicidal thoughts, vulnerable people who need instant care and attention are turning to the police who are not trained in this sector. This is something I will discuss more later in the article. If using autoethnography in an artistic way can bring about any form of attention to state of them mental health services in England then that in itself is an achievement.
Despite benefits of writing subjectively, it does not come without it’s problems. In a book by Ellis and Flaherty (1992:1-2)‘‘Katz (1988) con-tends that many sociologists feel repelled or threatened by the unruly content of subjective experiences’’ Ellis and Flaherty contests that ‘Subjectivity can be both unpleasant and dangerous: unpleasant because emotional, cognitive, and physical experiences frequently concern events that, in spite of their importance, are deemed inappropriate topics for polite society (including sociologist); dangerous because the workings of subjectivity seem to contradict so much of the rational-actor world-view on which mainstreamed sociology is premised.’
I cannot help but think that although these topics may be ‘inappropriate topics for polite society’, silencing or not giving a true emotional account of lived experiences in effect is just reinforcing ‘the good life narrative’ Berlant (2011). We cannot keep living in a world where victims of circumstance are silenced, why must we silence those who’s stories need to be told? Surely the only natural progression is to identify what is wrong with current structures and give voice and reason to those who need it most. ‘Researchers who write about their own emotions risk being seen by colleagues as emotional exhibitionist. One reason for this is that researchers, and the colleagues who read their work, typically have been males from upper-middle-class, Angelo-american, professional background where emotions are suppressed or, at most, viewed as private experience. (rosaldo 1987)’. (1992: 3-4). We need to relinquish suffering as private experience, surely the more voice we give a subject the more people have to listen? Yes one may be deemed as an ‘emotional exhibitionist’ but if there is no emotion and no feeling, how do we expect anyone else to realise there is a problem?
Mental Health and Austerity
‘What’s up with you now?’
‘You’ve got a face like a fizz.’
‘You have a face like a smacked arse.’
‘You’re only depressed because you have too much time on your hands.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with you, you look fine.’
I have been living a lie the majority of my life. I recall my cousin telling me that I should just be myself, that there is only one of me and I should just be myself and people will like me for it. I always felt so offended when he would question me on my identity, I was so sure of who I was and I just wished that everyone would get off my back about it. But in fact, I was just being who I thought I should be. I had become such a master of mimicry and hiding my pain and suffering that as soon as I was on my own I would sink into a deep wave of depression, anxiety and other feelings that I still don’t have words for. I was so empty, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t even recognise the person staring back at me. As soon as there were no more eyes glaring, as soon as I didn’t have to keep up my mask and my facade I would completely dissociate. I’m sure I would be still wearing my mask if dissociation wasn’t so alluring and hadn’t become so prevalent. I began living in my dreams because it was so much more appealing that the reality I was living. The line between fantasy and reality became more and more blurred as more symptoms started to show up. I was 19 when I started hearing voices in my head. I had been at a party, that night, with people who ‘liked me’, they thought I was cool. Walking home in a typical altered state of consciousness, the voices began…
Look at you, you fat disgusting mess. You know we’re only friends with you because of her. Why are you still here?! Can’t you take the hint? No one fucking likes you anyway. Had I been missing the hints, did I outstay my welcome? Do they really think I am that disgusting? What is even real anymore? The more and more I tried to battle with my perception and the voices in my head the more confused I became. The paranoia would feed the anxiety until the line between fantasy and reality had become so blurred that my perception of what was real and what was not was so inconsistent, suppression kicked in. Was this paranoia? Was this Psychosis? What was this and how the fuck do I turn it off?!
R.D. Laing wrote that ‘Insanity — a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.’ Which is essentially what happens to victims of trauma. But many believe that symptoms of depression and anxiety are collective and are a reaction to the conditions we live in. To quote Elizabeth Wurzel (1994) ‘Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in a Prozac nation. The United States of Depression’. Ann Cvetkovich argues that ‘Depression should be viewed as a social and cultural phenomenon, not a biological or medical one.’. (2012:90). Depression is seen to be affective, in the sense that it is brought on by the surrounding environment. As someone who has had bouts of depression through out my life, I know that it is because of the personality disorder that I have. Despite the correlation between personality disorders and depression, one must question the surrounding factors. Due to the unavoidable growing rates of austerity in the United Kingdom, house prices are rising, the job market is becoming more fluid and with massive cuts to health and social care and disability services. It seems as a country we are regressing as opposed to having any form of progression. The United Nations released a report that accuses the UK government of breaching the UN convention in it’s treatment of disabled people. In an article written for the independent, Bulman quotes disability organisations by stating that ‘The Government will claim we’re world leaders in disability rights, but actually things have gone rapidly backwards in the last 10 years,’. I come from a long line of carers, all of my family on my mothers side have always been carers for adults with learning disabilities. I was born into a contemporary situation where adults with learning disabilities live within the family home, similar to foster care. As I grew up living and caring for adults with learning disabilities just became second nature. They were like uncles and aunties and really integrated within the family. Growing up in this context really provoked a caring intuition in me and I think this has been so valuable to me growing up. This form of care is the cheapest and most rewarding, I’ve seen institutions and the affect of institutionalization on service users and it’s quite simply heart breaking. The care industry is one of the fastest growing, with people living longer and having better access to medical care the demand for carers will be ever increasing. Over the years, we’ve seen more and more cutbacks to adult services, particularly in Coventry. Closure of day-care centres, cut backs to transportation services and even threats that the disability living allowances could be stopped. Not to mention the increasing number of articles in the newspaper claiming the suicide rates in the UK are increasing due to austerity.
In a program for BBC4, ‘Mental health parity: progress or pipe dream?’(2017), One father talking about how his daughter ‘was just a number, and how much that number cost and they were trying to do it the cheapest way possible.’. A psychologist goes on to explain that ‘What we do know along with the rest of the other health services, and the rest of the country, is that our rate of admission of patients who are detained under the mental health act continues to increase’. So one would think that there would be improvements to hospitals to cater for the influx of patients, wouldn’t we? ‘The new beds are actually going to be replacing our old beds, so it’s not actually going to be improving the situation. Because our current wards are really, pretty appalling, they’re not really fit for purpose, I mean they don’t have on suite bathrooms the have three or four bathrooms for 19 beds. They’re just completely unsuitable environments for anyone to be in.’. The UK government is failing to make any changes in relation with mental health and social care and this is putting vulnerable lives at risk. How many people have to die before any changes are made to the system? When is society going to wake up and realise that is affecting so many people?
Two months ago, I received a call. My dear friend Jazz had finally done what we all knew he would. Jazz was constantly on a cocktail of medication for all his different ailments. What we didn’t know at the time was the severity of the symptoms he was experiencing. Jazz was frequently at the doctors but no doctors, no friends, no family realised the severity of his case until it was too late. Jazz was hearing voices, he used to post about it on social media regularly which I always thought was so very brave and endearing. Still, despite his regular updates we could have never been able to comprehend just quite how bad it was for Jazz. Jazz killed himself because his human experience was that unbearable. Jazz was my friend, he was honest and open about his experiences, but no one listened. This is just one case, how many other people might have a chance if they receive the right care and attention?
Elizabeth Wurzel, wrote that, ‘Mental illness is so much more complicated than any pill that any mortal could invent’(1994). Which I completely agree to be true. Ann Cvetkovich makes the observation that ‘Whether popular or academic, and whether medical or cultural orientation, a remarkable number of studies use as a touchstone statistic about the rising rates of diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment that make a global public health epidemic.’ (2012:91). It’s common knowledge that more and more people are seeking treatment due to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. It’s also common knowledge that antidepressants are being overprescribed. As someone who takes SSRI’s (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), I think it’s a tricky topic. There is a growing conspiracy that the rising rates of SSRI’s being prescribed is just making customers out of patients for the pharmaceutical industry, which is a huge industry with lots of job’s and incomes at stake. I would argue that the rise in people seeking treatment is due to the normalisation of mental health dialogue. The problem with antidepressants is that it simply masks the symptoms with out addressing the route cause of the issues. Unfortunately, access to talking therapies on the National Health Service is becoming harder and harder to access. However antidepressants are being handed out to so many people who may not even need them. The use of medication in conjunction with talking therapies is a much more productive form of treatment, particularly for trauma victims. Yet one must question, if mass groups of people were to recover from their mental disorders and no longer require antidepressants then that leaves the pharmaceutical industry out of pocket. We require more safe spaces for people to be able to address their traumas, worries and conditions without judgement. We also need the UK government to realise that free healthcare is a right and not a privilege.
Twenty minutes late already. I watch the clock as the second hand ticks by. My appointment should have been at eleven. Well I’ve waited over six months so far so I guess another twenty minutes shouldn’t matter. I can’t stand being in the out patients waiting room, it’s so clinical, so blank. There’s nothing to read, no one to talk to, so I just look at the floor and try and wait patiently. It’s so hard to be patient when you’re waiting to find out which direction your life is going to be taken. It’s even harder when that decision is completely out of your hands. After I finished at the personality disorder unit, I was referred back to the hospital to conclude my assessment and see where to go from here. Another five minutes passes. A man walks past with a supermarket shopping bag with the word ‘fruitcake’ written on it, I couldn’t help but smile. The stranger caught my attention and expressed that all the best people were ‘fruitcakes’. It reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland (1865), ‘“have I gone mad? I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”’
I walk into the consultation room and sit in the large cold pleather upholstered chair. The doctor tells me I have one hour to tell her about my symptoms and family history. This caused me so much distress as the personality disorder unit had written an in-depth assessment about me which should have been in my file. I already had the diagnosis, yet the doctor presumed that this was a new assessment. I explained that, as a trauma victim it was going to be very distressing for me to talk through all this again. I expressed my dissatisfaction about being passed from pillar to post with no consistency or help. After several requests, my assessment letter was finally brought into the consultation room by the receptionist. The initial notes the doctor had for me were a year out of date, how can such an admin error take place in a hospital such as this? I was so angry that my assessment letter had been left in a pile of paper gathering dust for several months. No one had read my assessment, no one had any clue why I was even here. I wasn’t even sure why I was here. I feel so let down by the service and it’s incompetence in dealing with trauma victims. What angers me most is that if it’s happened to me, I can guarantee that it’s happened to many others. The doctor told me the admin errors are due to a new system that was put in in 2014, that’s three years ago! It seems as if mental health services are completely down on the pecking order when it comes to funding and attention. Surely a service that specialises in the treatment of vulnerable people should be using great care and attention when dealing with such cases. Yet, this has not been my experience when using the service. The national health service is a wonderful thing and free healthcare is imperative in this day-in-age, hospitals are struggling, budgets are tight and this is affecting the staff and patients. As a nation we really need to prioritise our budgets and spending otherwise more people are going to suffer.
Art therapy and Self Expression
In a book written by Frances F. Kaplan (2000) ‘Art, Science and Art Therapy’, Kaplan explains that:
‘art often depicts the outer world along with the inner, and science not only investigates subjective experience but also, as science writer George Johnson (1995) has extensively documented, provides abundant indications that objectivity is a goal that can never be completely realised. Subjective and objective viewpoints, then, exist on a continuum along which art and science approach each other. This suggests that the underlying cognitive processes involved in art and science are more similar than otherwise’ (2000:15)
Using subjectivity to compliment the objectivity of a subject can really enhance it’s meaning and affect. To return to Bochner and Ellis (2016), they summarise Ursela Le Guin (1986) and her work on ‘the native tongue’.
‘Ursela Le Guin (1986) refers to the third-person voice as the ‘father tongue’, a high-minded mode of expression that seeks and embraces objectivity. Spoken from above, the father tongue distances the writer from the reader, creating a gap between self and other. Autoethnographic writing resists this kind of emotional distancing.
“What is missing from social science is ‘the mother tongue’ Le Guin (1986), a binding form of subjective and conversational expression that seeks and covets ‘a turning together’ of writer and reader. Communicated in a language of emotion and personal experience, the mother tongue exposes rather than protects the speaker through medium that can bring author and reader closer together. The absence of a mother tongue reflects the conventions of disembodied writing that extol the virtue of objectivity. As Le Guin (p.151) notes, ‘People crave objectivity because to be subjective is to be embodied, to be a body, vulnerable, violable.’ The real discourse of reason, she claims, is a wedding of the father to mother tongue, which produces a ‘native tongue’. (2016:82)
The concept of ‘the native tongue’, using both third and first person voice can be used not only as a form of self-expression but also self-understanding. Having the capacity to study the self whilst also expressing the self and lived experiences can be such a powerful tool. Using this ‘native tongue’ in a creative practice can also prove to be very rewarding. For instance, being able to create an artefact that expresses my symptoms of dissociation, nightmares and flashbacks has been very valuable to my comprehension of the symptoms. In being able to replicate something physical that is created in the mind is beneficial in being able to express and explain the symptoms in a more linguistic way.
‘We imitate reality, first only by producing mental images, pictures-in-the-head, nebulous structures that are in their fleeting existence are able to spawn more images. When man learned to externalise images and place them alongside reality, he had taken a giant step. The great Palaeolithic cave paintings are mental images stored in pigment, thought frozen onto stone so they can we called at will or re-examined. (Harth 1993, p.168.)’ Kaplan(2000:65)
Using creative practices in a therapeutic way is not a new method, art therapy has been studied for many years but after reading, it seems as if the subject is perhaps preoccupied with the concept of what the output means without focusing on the process. ‘Cathy Malchiodi (1998, p.82) […]‘Why has the field of art therapy spent most of it’s energy conducting research on the meaning of images rather than the process it takes to make them?… it is imperative for the advancement in the field that we amplify our efforts to include explorations of the art-making process’ Kaplan(2000:26). The process of making this artefact for me was the most rewarding, perhaps even more rewarding than the artefact itself and I would love to be able to observe this process in other people to see if it has the same effect. As people, we are forever growing and changing, but I have learnt more about myself over the course of this project than I have in my life thus far and it has been an integral part of me coming to terms with who I am. That is not to say that the artefact itself isn’t of great value, I am very proud of the film I have created and I think that me being able to admit that in itself is an result of the improvement of my confidence and self-esteem. Kaplan (200:65-66) ‘although it might seem obvious that artistic accomplishment bolsters self-esteem, Sylwester (1997, 1998) provides us with a biological understanding of why this should be so. He explains that fluctuations in the amounts of the neurotransmitter serotonin impact both the quality of movement and the level of self-esteem. High serotonin levels are associated with self-assurance and controlled movements while reduced levels result in irritability and impulsive behaviour. Sylwester notes that human life depends on mobility and that, consequently, awareness of effective and graceful movements produces feelings of satisfaction’.
‘For life is not lived realistically, in a linear manor. It is lived through the subjects eye, and that eye like a camera’s, is always reflexive, non linear, subjective filled with flashbacks, after-images, dream sequences, faces merging into one another, masks dropping, and new masks being put on. In this world we call reality, where we are forced to react, and life leaks in everywhere, we have nothing to hold onto but our own being. ’ – Denzin (1992:27)
Initially I wanted to create a film that would impose feeling onto the viewer, I wanted to create awareness of mental disorders and their symptoms by making the viewer feel how I feel, however fleeting that may be. Throughout the planning, I acknowledged that I had to be very careful about how I would do this. As someone with a personality disorder, in mental health communities one has to be respectful and sympathetic not to trigger someone else’s symptoms. To try and avoid any ethical implications, I wanted to use visual metaphors without being too explicit. One has to be aware that talking about and dealing with trauma is a sensitive issue, to combat this I would plan on filming subjects which would perhaps have a metaphorical meaning or that I fear. For instance, to portray the loss of innocence, I wanted to distort footage from a fun fair, making the colours very loud and bright that would feel overwhelming to the viewer. This was a very embodied process, for every image the camera caught, I was behind that camera in the moment. I challenged myself physically and mentally to capture the footage I wanted to use. I use the analogy sometimes that I feel ‘lost at sea’ or like I’m constantly treading water with the thoughts of drowning. I thought that this could be very thought provoking in its meaning, to capture this I had to immerse myself within the cold water and almost feel like I was drowning. In that sense the footage is all very authentic to my irrational feelings and fears. The process led me to confront some of my very irrational fears in a direct way, I have never been able to touch raw meat or even go into a butchers. Although I still have not touched raw meat, to be able to capture the footage that I did required me to be very close. The smells were very overwhelming and made me feel physically sick, but I knew this is something I have to do. I have been very honest with myself over the course of this process and wanted to challenge myself to be able to acknowledge things about the self that I have probably never noticed before. I knew that the combination of footage and sound is very important to constructing meaning. To replicate the way in which a mind works with a personality disorder I wanted to construct the images in an invasive way, fast paced such as the anxious thoughts. I also wanted to play with repetition; similarly to mimic the obsessive compulsive thought processes that occur with personality disorders. In order to do this, I selected a dark sounding fast paced techno music with a high bpm (beats per minute) to edit the footage to. I consciously decided not to edit to the beat of the music but slightly off beat, I thought that this would lead the viewer to predict when the footage would change images and confuse them when the editing didn’t fit the rigid pattern they were expecting. I thought that the unpredictability of the film would really portray the instability of moods that people with personality disorders deal with. In the film, I have played with fast flashing images, to show how invasive flashbacks can be to victims of trauma. Along with this, I also wanted to use images that one would see in an every day situation, but to assemble them in a way that would perhaps resonate with nightmares. Although visually what you can see in the film appears to be quite dark and scary, I wanted to shoot this in a visually appealing way to appear very vivid and real, again this was to replicate how vivid nightmares can be to a trauma victim. To mimic the symptom of dissociation, I wanted to transcend the viewer into a space that completely contradicts the fast paced-ness of the majority of the film. Dissociation is when the mind completely leaves the reality behind and to show this I wanted to capture very visually appealing footage in a sort of ‘dream sequence’. To completely contrast the editing in the first segments and to portray a change in consciousness, I used more ambient music with no beat but that grew progressively to enhance the feeling of the viewer. The ambient music teamed with ‘dreamy’ footage creates a much more relaxed atmosphere which is in complete binary opposition to the other symptoms I wanted to portray. Instead of quick, random, impulsive jump cuts like the first part, the dream sequence uses much longer clips that overlap and merge into one another, creating a very sensory appealing space, much like that of the dream world.
I think it’s important to note the way in which I shot this film; it was very therapeutic to use every day items in a way that brings new meaning. For instance, the final clip I use in the film is simply a macro shot of a LED light reflecting in some bubbles, the way the bubbles reflect the light and colour is so stunning. As aforementioned, I live with adults with learning disabilities, and shooting this film at home in my own time meant that I could engage them in my process. One service user took a great interest in my creative process and wanted me to show him how to use the camera. Being able to engage others in my process allowed me to share this method with others. One service user has since taken up the hobby of editing after engaging in my practice, it’s so very rewarding to be able to see him express himself in a new creative way. This engagement has made me perhaps think about continuing with this practice, yet instead of looking inward, using it in an outward facing way.
To conclude, I think using autoethnography in a creative practice is very rewarding to victims of trauma coming got terms with their lived experiences. Although I am only one subject it has been a very rewarding process for me. To understand better how autoethnography in creative practices works in helping victims of trauma it would be better to study this process in a larger collective group of people. This is something I would be very interested in continuing, to combine my passion for the arts in relation to trauma victims seems like a very rewarding subject. If given the opportunity, I would think it valuable to integrate this process with the community, perhaps holding free photography workshops to victims of trauma to help them tell their stories. I believe that the increase in trauma victims telling their stories in this very emotional thought provoking way could be key to changing peoples perceptions of trauma victims and relinquish the stigma that we live with day to day.
Although I’m very happy with the artefact, I had a huge catalogue of footage that I collected throughout the research period. Without wanting to complicate the artefact, I choose to leave some footage out. The rewarding nature of making this film makes me think that perhaps in the future I could use the collected footage to create a series of films that portray symptoms of mental health in a very visceral way. To be able to create a series of different artefacts would hopefully increase the value of my work, as more people would be able to identify with the films. Although I haven’t had chance to exhibit my film, I would be very enthusiastic in exhibiting the film in a sensory space. Exhibiting the film on a big screen would be very beneficial in being able to see the reaction of the viewer in relation to the context. One problem as a filmmaker is that you never get to visually see the response to your film, I hope that I have achieved in what I set out to by provoking feeling from my audience.
Overall this whole process along with the mental health assessment has been a very poignant period in my life. I can finally understand how the brain reacts to trauma and why certain symptoms are apparent than others. Being able to visually display what I can now comprehend will be very beneficial in trying to explain these symptoms linguistically to family and friends. Before this process I struggled to be able to put the symptoms I was experiencing into words, but surrounding myself in academic literature and embracing the symptoms have really helped me understand my brain a lot more. My engagement with creative practices has also improved greatly; I worked along side some colleagues on their projects over the research period. Creating a music video that tackled difficult issues such as domestic violence and another short film that was a dramatic monologue about suicide. Working along these projects has made me be more aware of how visuals can be interpreted and made ethics of paramount importance in relation to the creative process. My passion for social justice and social realism has become more or a yearning than an interest and I look forward to more of this work in the future.
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