Yesterday I attended a free taster session that was hosted by Cardiff University, as part of UK Disability History Month. The session was titled ‘Creative Writing for Mental Wealth’ and was led by Briony Goffin.
I didn’t quite know what to expect but the session was recommended to me by a friend, who has Briony as a teacher, and I believe in having direct experience of as many activities as possible that Making Minds could help to deliver or refer people to.
Writing for health has a representative body in the UK, in the shape of Lapidus and while Briony is involved in delivering a 10-week creative writing course at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, she is particularly interested in facilitating workshops for vulnerable adults, including those with mental health problems.
During the hour-long session, we were given an insight into how ‘creative writing for mental wealth’ isn’t necessarily about what you write, but more about the process or journey you go through as you write and how you feel once you’ve written a piece.
I was reintroduced to the concept that there’s no right or wrong way, when writing in this way. It was not about one person’s piece being better than anybody else’s. There was no such thing as someone’s work not being good enough. This came as a relief to me, as my spelling, grammar and use of punctuation are far from perfect. It was writing for writing’s sake, or art for art’s sake.
It’s not necessarily about writing about your mental illness, although you may end up doing so. As you’ll see from Briony’s profile, she has recently been involved in a three-year creative writing project at Whitchurch Hospital, the results of which are due to be published in the near future.
Briony went on to explain how she brings items or props into the classroom and gets her students to write a piece, inspired by them. For example, it could be a large sea-shell. For some, that would lead to stories about visits to the beach. For others, it could be about an ashtray that their grandma used to have – the scope is as vast as the human imagination. As well as the physical object that people could touch, there might also be an audio track that could stimulate other thoughts and memories. I found this interesting, as I had only previously associated this kind of multi-sensory experience with activities that are developed for blind and partially sighted people, those with hearing loss and people with learning disabilities, not necessarily for something that could have a specific bearing on mental health.
That said, Briony was clear about her not being a therapist and that creative writing is the only art form that isn’t currently an accredited therapy. Briony went on to say how any one individual’s story doesn’t have to make linear sense to anyone else, but that the writing can feel ‘alive’ and ‘resonant’ and that it can be about the texture and sound of words.
In mental health circles, Briony said the creative writing process can help people to realise that they’re not alone, as they share their stories with each other. To protect privacy, the writer’s story should always be viewed as fiction, so that any ‘personal’ details are not seen as that. Self-esteem can be boosted, as the writer’s work is viewed as ‘valuable’ and ‘rich’. In terms of self-development, the writing itself is a development tool that can enable the writer to become more specific over time. Briony added that there’s also self-awareness in this form of writing, which is increased through peer feedback. The work and feedback is usually kept within the group, not shared openly on something such as a blog.
As a group, we then experienced what it was to write mindfully. We were invited to close our eyes. We were given the scenario of being on our front doorstep as we were about leave the house to begin the journey to the taster session. Briony asked us to think about the colours that were present, the sounds and smells – writing as if we were ‘in the moment’. We had five minutes to come up with something that we then shared with the group….more on that in a moment.
Briony talked about the value of keeping a journal and touched upon blogging. She had asked each of us about our backgrounds and whether we had indulged in creative writing previously. I mentioned the beginnings of this blog, my background in journalism, my current experience of marketing and PR and of the future hope that is Making Minds. I will definitely be making contact with Briony in the future, as not only was I alerted to the potential for creative writing as a meaningful activity within a mental health setting, but I was also reminded of the link to mindfulness which was timely having recently completed a mindfulness course. I would certainly recommend the experience of ‘creative writing for mental wealth’ to anyone.
Anyway, if you’re wondering what I wrote…here it is.
The bright yellow and white sun and blue sky are like that found in a child’s painting – pure and bold.
Standing between two rows of busy traffic; no-one making eye contact to indicate that I can walk through.
I wait patiently and calmly and cross onto the squelchy, rain-soaked, muddy grass to my car.
In the car, the cold air-con and soothing music spark memories of the weekend just past. They are welcome and help me to wake up. I’m on my way.