Podcast Episode: Write to recovery
Category: Mental health
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
LG - Linda Gillard
RR - Robin Ross
AC - Ashley Campbell
JC - Jim Campbell
SN - Sandy Nisbet
SB - Simon Bradstreet
JM - John McCormack
MD Write to Recovery, a website designed to support people affected by mental health problems on their journeys of recovery, was launched on the 11th of June 2014 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. The launch forms part of the Scottish Recovery Networks 10-year anniversary celebrations. Iriss.fm went along to chat with the guest speakers, acclaimed ‘Indie’ author, Linda Gillard and Robin Ross, both of who have used writing on their own journeys of recovery.
LG I started writing because I couldn’t find the sort of books I wanted to read. I was recovering from a breakdown and doing a lot of reading, I was doped on anti-depressants and really wasn’t up to doing anything very much, other than reading and sewing. And I did a lot of reading, and I couldn’t find anything that I could really relate to as a middle aged woman, as a middle aged broken down woman, I felt I was on the scrapheap, I had lost my job, I lost my mind, and I started writing the sort of book that I wanted to read that was a sort of alternative autobiography for me, it was about a woman a bit like me, but not actually me, a woman my age, which was 47, and a woman with my mental health problem, which was bipolar affective disorder. So I thought I would try and write my story, but a better story. It was therapeutic writing, I think, and I quickly found it addictive, I got such a buzz from writing and enjoyed making sense of all the nonsense, so much that quickly I was writing simply because I loved it, I absolutely loved doing what I was doing.
MD You are obviously a talented writer who was drawn to the creative. Do you think that some people will struggle, feeling that they are not creative enough to write?
LG I suppose so. I think it’s best not to think about being a good writer. Eventually I learned that what was getting in the way of writing, and it kind of gets harder, I have written 7 books now and I have started my 8th, it never gets any easier. I think one of the things that gets in the way is the critic that sits on your shoulder saying, you know … “this is rubbish, what’s the point of writing this, what makes you think you have got anything to say …” and I think the way I liberated myself from that was to stop worrying about good writing, I just tell myself, tell the story, Linda, don’t worry about writing well, just tell your story, tell the story, whatever book it is, and if you aren’t worried about writing well, you will just tell the story and that will make you write better because there’s nothing getting in the way that’s that internal critic, the person that says you can’t do this, you just want to speak to someone, like I am speaking to you now, it’s just getting across what you want to say. Saying what you want to say in the way that you want to say it, and that, in my opinion, is good writing, I don’t see how writing can be any better. If you’ve said what you wanted to say in the way that you wanted to say it, that’s good writing.
MD So you then feel that the Write to Recovery website is a really empowering thing, because it’s filling that gap almost, an encouragement to write?
LG Absolutely, it is giving you the encouragement, but you can also say what you want to say in the way that you want to say it. It’s showing you lots of different ways that you can tell your story, say whatever it is that you want to tell other people, you can pick a way that will suit you, little short bits, which is how I started writing. I just wrote almost in paragraphs really because I was so ill, so I would just sit down and write a paragraph and then maybe the next day I would do another paragraph, and it didn’t have to follow on, it was just pretty random really, and later when I was feeling a lot better, I was able to put it back into some sort of sense, you know, put it together. So I think the website will help people, at whatever level really they want to work at, if they have got a whole story they want to tell, they can do that or they can just go in and do a quick burst of … this is what I want to say, get it out of my system or I have to tell you this … like you might post on Facebook, almost, you know, … I have just got to get this out there and tell someone … you could use it that way if you wanted to.
MD And do you think there’s some value in using fiction over the personal sort of life story, if you like, what are the advantages of that or are there any?
LG That’s a very interesting question. I’ve written fictionalised autobiography and I have written fiction that’s nothing to do with anything I have ever experienced, it’s just making stuff up, but I think what’s happening now, I hear in medical circles, is that medical students are being encourage to read fiction in order to understand various conditions, the side effects and how they affect relationships and so on, and GP’s are developing little libraries, so that if someone’s got something they have got to come to terms with, like, say bipolar, they say if you read this book it will give you some idea of what it’s like living with this illness or cancer or something like that. I think there’s a big difference reading the facts and reading a story and I know when I got my diagnosis and it came as a terrible shock, even though my condition is mild, I was stunned to find I’d got this, and I started trying to find out information, and all I could find was sort of medical text books and, as somebody said earlier this morning, there was very little about recovery, there was very little positive stuff. And I couldn’t find any novels, or anything really, that tackle the subject of living with bipolar and the effect it might have on family members and relationships and so on. So that was one of the reasons why I started writing the book, was I needed to see a story that had a happy ending, really, a story like mine and I hadn’t lived the happy ending yet but I thought if I wrote it, then it would give me a kind of a goal, you know, something to head for, this is possible.
MD And that book you speak about, Emotional Geology, isn’t it …
LG Hmm, that’s right, yes
MD … the title, that was your first novel, and you have seen that have quite a big impact on people.
LG Yes it has … it’s strange, I wrote it just for myself without any idea at all of getting it published, I didn’t think it would have any wider appeal other than for me, but I was encouraged to publish it by my writing group, and the amazing things is, well it’s 9 years old now, and it does seem to have had this sort of ripples in the pool effect that … people read it and they talk about it and they show it to their friends and many, many people have got back to me telling me how the book has had an impact on their life. Sometimes, in a few instances, people have said the book has saved their life, reading the book has … yes, and I don’t know whether that would happen if you saw a documentary about bipolar or if you heard a radio programme where people are talking about it. I don’t know if that would have the same effect. I think, the thing about fiction, the thing about stories is they transmit emotion, I think … I have been a journalist as well, and a teacher, and in both of those cases I was transmitting information, handing over learning to children and to adults as well, and the way I see fiction stories, what you are transmitting, trying to anyway, what you are transmitting is feeling and I think if you want to get a message across, about anything really, then the people who are listening to your message, you want them to feel what you feel or what the characters feel, and I think if you can get people to feel that, to empathise, to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, then I think that really goes home and that really goes into peoples hearts and that is something that can change people. So I suppose if I wanted to get the message across about stigma and mental health and so on, I would say, you know, put it in Eastenders, put it on The Archers, put it in Coronation Street to get people watching the story and feeling for the characters, rather than say, you know, front page news story in the Guardian, I think that’s … people could just forget that, it won’t go into their hearts the same way story does.
RR My Story, well as I said, I am 54 years old now, but I was born in Glasgow and I was kind of like a scientist kind of person, I started off as a lab technician in Glasgow University when I was 16, but I have done loads of other things in my life, I’ve had jobs, and I have got quite a strong education, I have a … I was a trained psychiatric nurse, as I mentioned earlier on, I also have a BSC in Food and Consumer Science, and an HND in Horticulture too, so I am pretty well educated, but I found dealing with my mental health was something which takes a different thing than just knowledge.
I’ve had, I would call it serious life challenges and not all were mentioned, my life challenges that I faced were really the death of my Mum and Dad, but also the break up of the relationship with my partner and my daughter, who I still don’t see, 3 years later I still don’t see my daughter, so …
MD That’s hard
RR It’s hard, but it’s something I have to live with, there is no getting away from it. Well, I have another choice, but I choose something else, you know?
I have a diagnosis of Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, which means I don’t just go through one or two changes a year, when I was first diagnosed, I was cycling up and down, hourly almost, I was going from lows to extreme highs, many changes in a day. At that time I think that what happened, I couldn’t concentrate, I had no concentration, I was argumentative all the time, I was irritable all the time, I also suffer from … I have arthritis, so I am dealing with pain quite a lot, and I am Diabetic, so the Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder and the Diabetes in particular, can really make you quite, quite dizzy and confused and that’s really where, what I have been talking about today, about writing really helps you to be able to concentrate on things and work your way through things.
I was invited to write my story down, I had been ill for quite a lot of years before I actually, you know, had done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and I found it difficult to understand, I didn’t get it, but I would never say it wasn’t useful, I would say that it was put in at the wrong time in my care. I was asked after I had done my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy … I was asked to contact a Social Inclusion Service because I was isolating myself from lots of other people, and at the time, I was actually having problems speaking to people, which sounds remarkable really in many peoples eyes when they see me up on a stage. I am up on stage, I will do these things, and I hadn’t talked, I mean there was a period in my life where I didn’t actually say one word for 3 months, to anybody, I couldn’t, and that’s what I mean by ‘I let others speak for myself.’ I just simply couldn’t speak and I suppose it was depression. But there are times when I can be highly elated and I am … and nobody will understand what I am saying either, you know? So, all these things are factors …
MD Yes, is why you decided to sort of write, rather than …
RR Yes, but mainly the reason was, I was actually asked by someone who had also had their own mental health issues, and you need to read my story on the Scottish Recovery Network, because there was a person in there, I phoned up an organisation called Penumbra, and Penumbra got me to see at that time I had to take responsibility for my own wellbeing, and writing my story was actually part of that experience of writing my story, it’s my story, so it’s me being engaged with me, you know, and I think that’s one of the most important things that I have learned, it’s not just about engaging with there, sometimes it’s about engaging with yourself, being honest and open with yourself.
I would say to you that I was talking in my story there about editing your story, and editing, because when you write, you just write, and you write frantic and it’s ideas that come out rather than real words, you know? When you edit, I mean you have got a story there but it might not all be suitable, especially if you are writing about your mental health, and it is about you and you are giving you away, you know? Believe me I didn’t talk about the more personal parts of my story, but I write about them, but I write poetry as well, and I paint a bit, but I write again and again, and it’s important, but I don’t always publish these things because they are personal, deeply personal.
MD Is there a therapy for you involved in the writing?
RR This site that we are talking about today, I have one criticism of this site … in that they used the word ‘therapeutic’ in the literature. I know it’s therapeutic and everyone who experiences it will know it’s therapeutic, it just is … it just is, getting anything outside of yourself is always going to be therapeutic. Getting it out in the open, for me, has been therapeutic. But I think, myself, that I am the type of person that I would have been turned off by the word therapeutic, because I am an ex nurse, it’s medical speak, it’s medicalising me again, and I would prefer not to be medicalised again, if you get me? If you medicalised me again, you are putting that back into somebody else’s control, and I would rather take … for myself, I would rather take control for myself, yes?
MD So would you agree that the Write to Recovery website is a very empowering tool?
RR Very empowering, very empowering, I think it’s … having tried it because I was part also of the process of looking at the website and using it a bit, so I was invited to do that because I had published my story.
MD Do you think that people need to be creative to write?
RR No, listen, I think that everyone is creative anyway, when you say creative, you are assuming that people in general are not creative, and that’s what people do, that’s the stigma that people have of themselves, they don’t believe that they are creative. I spent 40 years of my life not believing I was creative, I believed I was a scientist, but Linda, the other speaker today, and I, were talking about this and we both agreed that we find that in our writing, we do talk about science issues and it’s an academic type of … and we both agreed that we were both analysts, and me, as a scientific analyst, but it actually aids you in art … it aids you in any art form to understand science, because let’s face it, when you are painting you are using lots of different techniques and lots of different chemicals and lots of different dyes and lots of different things like that, and when you are writing, you’re still using the knowledge that you have.
MD What would you say to people who are maybe afraid to write, or are thinking, well writing has never been for me, maybe they dabble in a bit of painting … do you think that painting is as beneficial …
RR Try painting a word, try painting a word on a painting and see the effect that that has, just try it. At the moment … I have a painting at the moment, I am doing it right now, and on the bottom it’s got the word ‘THINK’, that’s what it’s got, right, just try doing something like that and see what happens, see what happens and tell me then if words are not powerful and don’t change peoples attitudes.
MD One final question, what do you hope that the Write to Recovery website will achieve for people?
RR As I was saying earlier on to yourself, a chap came in off the street and he heard me speak and he said to me, “I have a mental health issue and I have never said that to anyone”. That’s what the Write to Recovery website has got, is the power for people … to let people know who they are, without actually, they don’t have to use their own name, they don’t have to use anything, all they need to do is write a few words, and that’s what I was trying to say in my speech, just write a … start somewhere with one word and see what happens after that.
MD We also had conversations with attendees at the launch. We hear some of their personal stories and the role writing has played in their lives.
AC I am Ashley and I am a peer mental trainer in the Dumfries Recovery and Wellness College. I help with training and to set out the courses that they do there. I am an ex heroin addict, I have been clean for 10 years and I have been clean off other drugs for 6 years. I am also an ex self-harmer, and when I got off the drugs I had made myself not very well by cutting myself off from people, trying to be clean, and I ended up making myself really not well and depressed and got admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Over time I’ve got better, and now I am trying to put a lot of what I got back by working with the Dumfries Wellness and Recovery College and also Kaleidoscope, which is for people with mental health problems and dementia. I start college in September for health and social care, so some sort of field in that I would like to do.
We started Write to Recovery yesterday at Dumfries with John and he asked to come up to help, and my life would be a movie with different parts in it, from like beginning, middle and end, so I quite like the idea of writing all your problems out, and I suppose, like getting the issues that have made you not well and the issues that have made you better by writing them out and seeing where you come from and getting it all down on paper.
MD Did you sort of start writing by yourself then, as a result of lived experiences you had been through, or was it prompted by somebody else or something else?
AC I actually fell pregnant and I decided to stop it, nail it all on the head and try and get better. I had already done a big chunk of it, it was really the end and writing all these down, and I used a lot of CBT as well, and I had charts to do things and make myself better and reach these goals and by the time I was 6 months pregnant, I was off every single tablet and I was doing really well and my wee girl is my blessing … but I also have got lots of pictures in the house, I take pictures of anything that makes me feel happy, sad, things like that, so I like snapping with my phone and stuff, but it’s the arts and crafts part and the writing that interest me really.
MD So tell me a bit about what you do now with the peer mentoring in Dumfries?
AC Right, well there’s 5 of us and we have all had different experience in mental health and overcome different problems, and we help … there’s always a mean person that does the course, like for the alcohol and drugs, there was a mental health lecturer that had worked in drug services for years, so she mainly done that, but we input, so obviously with me, I input my personal experiences of coming off drugs, what it was like to be on drugs, you know, when talking about them to different people and people were asking me questions and things like that, and you have got other people that are carers, that had experience from their loved ones that have been not well and everybody has got a different experience and a different role where they can help form these courses and help to give their experiences, and it’s a lot easier for somebody to say, well I think you should maybe try this or I think you should maybe … oh, how do you know, have you been through it … yes I have … You know, there’s nothing worse that somebody trying to tell you to do something and they have not done it, so yes, so we are just trying to … I suppose help people, and if we can help one person leave that course with, well I might try this … and it might work, then yes, and if we also can clear things up for people as well, because we get a lot of professionals, lot of parents, then yes, I think we have ticked a box, from my point of view anyway.
MD The actual process in writing, do you think that’s slightly different to maybe the likes of taking a picture or …?
AC Yes, because I feel that you, with writing you get your … personally, I get your demons out and you can … writing is better than, not better, but you can write more, you can use all different language and you actually think more about what happened and about all these different things, and talking is good, you know especially talking to somebody, you know if you are recording it or on the phone, but writing, you can be more creative, I suppose, and in more depth and you can sit and think and, personally.
I like the fact that the Write to Recovery website has got different links, you know to view your movie and so it gives people that forward thinking and the idea, and then they can start off their journey of writing, and it’s also, it is therapeutic, I think, you know and there’s nothing better than discovering yourself on a bit of paper with a pen, or typing on the computer, but some people are not keen on computers, so writing on paper is just as good.
JC My name is Jim Campbell and I work in lots of different capacities in fact, but I work 10 hours a week my main job, in employee basis, is the project development worker at the Dumfries and Galloway Wellness and Recovery College, which is the first in Scotland … where we put on courses for anyone in the community in Dumfries and Galloway. My role is partly to develop the whole college and the other part is to support the volunteer peer trainers, these are people who have got their own lived experience and mental health problems, who come along to help put courses together, plan and deliver, which is referred to as co-production and co-delivery, in words as such. So, yes, so support in whatever capacity you need, and I suppose for them it’s very powerful, what I hear from their stories is that, for them, a lot of them are using the mental health services maybe for a while or are quite new to it, or just a few years and they are finding that the colleges is a way of them, an alternative I suppose, giving them a choice to do something which is helping with their recovery and their wellbeing and their wellness, which is not just using a service, I suppose, so it’s helping them as an alternative, which I think is very powerful.
I have got my own personal experiences, mental health problems and I do some work around that, so I was abused as a child and I wrote a book a few years ago, from my own experience attributes and I do sort of try and do workshops and lecturing and stuff around that, I have also trained and worked as a mental health nurse, so I can draw on those experiences as well.
Yes, I suppose I got into all this because I trained and worked as a mental health nurse and I was very frustrated with the system and I suppose that touched my own personal experiences, things that I have happened to me and my whole struggles with life. I didn’t really feel that the person was seen, it was more just a label and the symptoms, and we weren’t really seeing the person and it was probably about 6 years ago that I decided that I was going to ‘come out’, so to speak, to be more open that I have my own mental health problems, or I have had my own mental health problems and used mental health services and that I have worked as a mental health nurse. When I trained it was very much, you don’t disclose your own personal stuff, so … So yes, I do that, and I am also just recently qualified as a counsellor as well, plus as a counsellor I do a bit of work on that as well … people say I have a portfolio career.
MD So why the interest then in Write to Recovery?
JC So Write to Recovery, I mean I am really interested in stories and language and I suppose from my own experiences, from the book I wrote, which is around my own recovery and how that’s really helped me, and I just think about the times I have done a lot of, delivered a lot of … talked at conferences or delivered courses or training where I have told parts of my own story and I have found that really powerful for me, and how the story changes over time, so it’s very healing, each time I tell the story, then it’s a different place, I am doing it at a different point in my life and I might be focusing on a different aspect of it, maybe it’s about my identity or my recovery or different areas … and be rewriting the story over and over again or think about where I am at now is really helpful for my own recovery and my healing, and also when I brought out my book, which was a really hard thing to do, I had a lot of shame, it’s very common when people who have been abused, have a lot of shame, which brings a silence and so a lot of people who have been abused don’t talk about that they … what’s happened to them, and me bringing that book out was very, very powerful for my recovery and my healing. Because people, instead of being disgusted with me, which is what I thought they would be, actually have a lot of respect and they are very proud of me, and so I suppose stories, I think are really important, are really powerful things and about how language can reconstruct our realities, I suppose.
We are running a course at the moment around Write to Recovery, which is so people start thinking about what they, about writing and recovery, and so, yes, people came along from far afield with stories they had written and they wanted to share parts and I think there’s a lot of people who write and want to get a share of that, and that gives a capacity or people to start thinking about, you know, how they can share or think about their own stories.
Writing down what happened to you, maybe the stuff you have a lot of shame around and you feel uncomfortable about, all those things we don’t really share with anyone else, that is hard to do, yes, maybe we are asking people, anyone who writes about more around their mental health problems and their issues and maybe their childhood, before you even get to the positive … you know the more, the recovery journey, then that is hard for people and I think it’s finding the right time when people want to go into all that, and certainly when I wrote my book, I had to find when it felt right, the right time for me, rather than just doing it. And I tried to do it a few times, it just didn’t happen, quite literally, honouring and respecting is obviously not happening for a reason. But then obviously the more the positive side of it, then obviously you may have 3 phases, you can have the childhood part of your life, and the middle part when you are in … wherever you are, I mean really hard to tell, God knows what’s going on, and then you have got the really positive, like things are changing. And the story, just for other people to hear, is so powerful, as well, you know? Like today, Linda was talking about her stuff, you know, that was … I mean I haven’t been diagnosed with bipolar, but I could really relate to a lot of the things she was saying and you could feel it in her heard, couldn’t you, that passion in what she was talking about … yes, it brings a realness doesn’t it and the real … so from the heart rather than from the head, which I think, in mental health services, is what practitioners need to be more out working from their heart rather than their head.
SN Well I am Sandy Nisbet, I am not actually professionally involved in any kind of mental health thing, but I have had experience of it in the past, and something that I have been fully recovered from for a couple of years now, so I am really grateful for that. But I guess looking back, I have been thinking that telling my story could help other people, and so I have written a couple of pieces for various websites on my experience. One for the Scottish Recovery Network and one for the Charity, OCD UK as well, and so it was as a result of that, that I was invited along to this today.
MD I asked Sandy about the value of Write to Recovery.
SN I think it’s really important, especially for it to exist on the website, because it’s very hard on the internet to find positive stories about mental health and recovery if you … a lot of people, their first point of call is to go to support forums, but they can be very … they do serve a purpose, but they can be very, very heavy and lots of people with their problems, rather than positive stories about how they came through them. And I think to have, for people to have an outlook, a place they can go to get some encouragement and be uplifted and think, yes, this person has made this achievement today, I am going to try and do that as well at some point, I think that’s really important.
MD Do you think there’s a risk that there … I mean there might possibly be some negative stories on there too, no doubt, is there risk of that having a detrimental effect?
SN Good question, I think my main thinking is that overall it will be a very positive thing, there will be negatives and there will be ups and downs, but I think in the space of the internet, there are far too many downs and I think there’s a good opportunity for people to put more positive experiences out there and help each other through it and that kind of thing as well.
MD How easy on the website is it in terms of encouraging people to write?
SN Yes, the way that it’s laid out is very intuitive, in a way it kind of gives you inspiration or a starting point to write and is very … it’s very well thought out. I mean I am not creative in the slightest, I am a computer scientist, so everything is logical for me and that kind of thing, but …
MD I think a lot of people would say, you know, but you are creative, I think that everybody has a level of creativity, it’s about getting that discipline that you speak about …
SN I suppose so, yes, but I never considered myself a writer, my sister is a writer but I am not in the slightest, but I found that when I came to write my own story, I found the words flowed very easily and was very … I think I reconsidered my stance on that after actually coming to write my own story and realising it isn’t actually so difficult and what I’ve written has actually helped a lot of people and people are getting a lot out of it, and I got a lot out of it myself. So I think that, yes, it’s not about writing something that’s going to win an award, but it’s about the process of writing and kind of writing something that can, I guess make you realise things as you are writing, and also for other people to maybe get something out of it as well that they hadn’t thought about in a different light.
MD So what do you hope then that Write to Recovery will achieve?
SN I think I can see a kind of network appearing out of it, like a kind of group of people that can encourage each other on and that kind of thing, but I think it has a potential to … if it becomes pretty popular, then there will almost a database of stories for people to draw from and I think it could be a very positive tool in other peoples recovery.
MD Simon Bradstreet and John McCormack from the Scottish Recovery Network, give us an overview of the Wright to Recovery website.
SB Write to Recovery is a new website from the Scottish Recovery Network that is designed to support people in the process of sharing their experiences, which is often a key part of recovery.
MD And why set up a website focused on writing, as opposed to say digital stories or visual stories?
JM Well, in the research in building up to launching the website, we did a lot of study into what actually works and what has got a proven track record in helping mental health improvement, and writing has got a phenomenal track record, it goes back more than 30 years now of robust research, showing that writing improves your mental health, but the funny thing is, nobody can actually explain for definite why, it just does.
SB We knew, from experience, that the process of actually writing and organising your thoughts in such a way as it could be helpful to you was a useful process to go through, because it allows you to take control of your story, because we all have a story … we all have different stories when we tell ourselves, but we also have a degree of control in the way we tell those stories that, actually getting it down in words can be very helpful for, because it allows a degree of ordering, and that sort of taking back of control is in some ways, more straightforward when you can actually get it written down, it’s not maybe for everyone, some people might prefer to use other formats to do that, but in our experience it’s worked well, was another one of the reasons we went for this approach.
JM On one level, ostensibly, it’s a creative writing opportunity, and it is, people can just be stimulated by the various prompts and the various icons to get into a story, but I think it operates at another level, whereby the actual prompts are also designed to give people a different perspective, and maybe create a shift in perspective without you necessarily knowing what’s happened … or not necessarily having to fully understand the sort of psychology or the science behind why imagining yourself from a problem free future, looking back, why that is a good thing. But when people do it, it will actually create some kind of shift in perspective, allowing them to say … ‘hey the story doesn’t have to go in the direction I thought it was going, it could actually go off at a tangent here.’
SB And we see that, we see that even when we talk about it, I mean I was at a session this morning and I brought up the website and the whole general approach and one of the prompts on the site is Your Life As A Movie, so these are things that help people to get going, to think about… because it’s difficult to do that, like what’s my story, how do I write my story … but if … My Life As A Movie, oh right, I can see that, because my … you know I would probably be played by Charlie Sheen or, you know, as soon as you start having that conversation everyone engages with the discussions, … oh right, that’s an interesting way to think about it, if I was a film, what sort of film … or if I was a superhero, what sort of superhero would I be … and it raises a smile, it makes people think in a slightly different way, and I have .. on the converse of that, when people share things they have written and share experiences, whether it … in whatever format, you often see, in an audience, people switch, it’s almost as if you can see people switching to a different part of their brain, because it’s a different type of interaction, you have got the person who comes along and does some … does your speech and tells you about something that you need to know about and everyone listens politely and nods and accommodates that, and then someone says, ‘and this is what happened to me and this is why it’s important’, and people almost lean in, they connect in a different way, so there’s a real magic to story and narrative, which makes it all the more interesting that we don’t really know exactly what that magic is.
MD John says more about the prompts on Write to Recovery, that support the process of writing.
JM They’re all, in various ways, designed to try to allow people to have a different shift perspective, so some of them are just fundamentally like seeing things as if you were … your future self, as your 80 year old self, writing back to you but giving yourself some wise words, and of course the funny thing about that is that people already have put some of those letters on from the future to themselves, but the bit that they don’t fully necessarily notice is, it’s them, it’s the wise part of their own selves from the future that’s writing back to themselves just now, so they are tapping into some wisdom that they actually already have, but don’t normally articulate, and it says things like, … ‘relax …’ you know the letter from themselves in the future, it says … ‘relax, take it easy, don’t sweat the small stuff, enjoy yourself …’ and so people are getting in touch with aspects of themselves that they don’t normally notice.
SB Yes, and we don’t really encourage people to think about these things, do we … we are all very busy in the now and dealing with the immediate challenges and problems that … that people aren’t questionably inexperienced when you are living with a long term mental health problem, this is a difficult thing to do, so you are very much … you can be very much in the moment and almost consumed by the difficulties you are experiencing right there, and a letter from your 80 year old self is a completely different perspective on your life at this point, and it’s very potentially empowering.
MD Do you think it opens up the opportunity for reflection as well?
JM I think that’s the key thing, isn’t it, it’s very much about reflection and there’s yet another way in which it works too, because sometimes the reflection might start off with people noticing some wisdom from themselves, and then also then in the process of the story going on to reflect on very, very difficult distressing experiences, where it’s real pain, real distress and they write about that too, and then come back to the present time, publish it, and of course the business of publishing it allows other people to see that distress is a real thing and that somehow people survive, somehow they thrive, and I guess it’s a feeling of community empowerment, where you being to notice that you are not alone, that other people have been through tough stuff as well as you, and there’s something empowering about that on its own.
SB: Which is another kind of bi-product of the site, really, isn’t it, because what it … it’s generating hopeful content and hopeful and useful information for other people and information that does make people feel more part of a community and more part of a movement and the collective endeavour, so not only does it offer people the opportunity to actually share and frame their experiences, but it also provides a huge amount of content for other people to see and to have their interest peaked. It’s amazing how often I have read recovery stories or recovery experiences, where people can really point at …’ it was the one thing that … it was the day that this happened … sometimes it is about … ‘it is the day I read, or was the day I heard someone saying …’ that changed my perspective and where I could be in, where I could go.
We also think it’s got great potential as a group tool, for use in groups, and we have already been working with it in that way, because while there are tools in there that help people get going if you are a bit stuck with how you share your experience, which, lets face it, something we don’t necessarily do in life is sit down and write about our lives, even with the prompts and the helps to get going, it can still be a difficult thing and a challenging thing to think about, so we have run some groups recently with people with experience of mental health issues and others to support them in thinking about story sharing and what their story would look … and then we use the tool as part of that process, and we are definitely going to be developing materials and more tools to make publicly available for anyone to use the site as another tool for promoting recovery and wellbeing.
JMC: We’re running some, very much, kind of pilot groups just now and we have got one running down at Dumfries and Galloway just now and we notice that people bond around story sharing, before they actually get onto the computer itself and the website and actually put the text in, they just bond around sharing stories and people like to talk to each other about different aspects that the prompts bring up for them, for example, we talked the other day about how we can often be our own worst critic, and there was enormous enthusiasm within the group for discussing why it is we are our own worst critic and how you might get a shift in perspective in that, and how you might write a story to yourself as though you were your own best friend or as though you were somebody who actually loved you, and you were putting the same facts but with a different viewpoint on it. So it does bring some common … it seems to bring up, in group settings, some common factors without it becoming a group tool, because then you go off on your own and do your story, you have been inspired by what other people have been saying.
MD Simon says a few final words about the potential of the site.
SB: It’s got potential to do a lot of other things. The basic idea is a very simple, clean idea, the potential development with the site are enormous, I mean I think, for example, we could be looking at well what’s happening when people are using this site, what’s going on for people in terms of the way they view themselves and what’s the outcome of using the site, so it’s potentially quite an interesting research tool apart from anything else, but these are all down the line, what we wanted to have at this stage was something that is easily accessible and easy to use, to get us going.
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