Mental Health Awareness Month

Exhibit A

In celebration of our new blog, I want to share with you something about my own personal story and how it relates to my creative life and what we do as a band. This blog is where we will go more in-depth with things for people wishing to explore what we do. Above are three snapshots into my life thus far.

I was 17 when that second photo was taken – a self portrait. Two and a half years before that, I was admitted into a psychiatric unit in Birmingham for young people. I never returned to school. There are a great many stories from that time, some of which eventually evolved into songs, the true meaning of which are buried deep in layers of lyrical surrealism and magic realism. Songs such as Jar of Fishes, Girl Interrupted, Naked Bones and more to come.

I want to take you back for a while. It's 1995 – the year after Kurt Cobain's suicide. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album is riding high in the UK charts. We don't have the internet or mobile phones. I'm sat in an art lesson at the little hospital school. My art teacher is called Pat. The impression I got from him was that he did more thinking than speaking. When he did speak, it was always with purpose and conscious. There didn't appear to be much chit-chat with Pat. Later, I made connections between creativity and communication. Using music and art as a voice is something that can evolve when you have your own voice stamped out, cut off or ignored. In my own childhood and adolescent experience, I encountered the great wall of silence – a topic I later explored through the writings of Alice Miller, a specialist in childhood trauma and it's effects.

Mental Health Awareness MonthI had never met anyone like Pat before. In his studio, pictured, he had made a space for people to show up and be seen through making art and listening to music. This is why I wholeheartedly believe in the power and value of being creative. It allows us the opportunity to be seen – not just as the creators of the work but the people receiving it too. It allows us to locate something of our true selves and build our identity. This can be said for many creative media – film, theatre, dance, movement and more. They are all alternative languages keeping us human. This 'turn up and be seen' idea is something we practice in our band rehearsals – there's room for all of us there. All our ideas. We can all be seen.

It was a few years later that I put my living skeleton back in it's closet. I didn't need it anymore. Going out into the adult world was a turbulent business, though, and even though I had newfound confidence (sometimes arrogance) through creativity, I came to understand that I still didn't have much in the way of emotional intelligence. It took work, time, real life experience and growth to unlearn disruptive, inherited emotional patterns. I had to learn to really listen when my body and my emotions spoke to me. I also had to call into question the type of work I was making, why I was making it and to transform it into something conscious and 'grown' if I wanted it to be bigger than myself and where I started from.

After I left the young persons unit, I spent a short stay in an adult hospital in Solihull – an experience which I describe as 'terrifying'. Nobody had a clue or seemed to care. It was like a zoo for the unwell, somewhere out of the way to put people. All the patients were much older than I was at the time. I had a real horror-show feeling that this is what might become of the young people I had previously met, if they didn't manage to break free of whatever was causing them to manifest their monsters and find their truths. Monsters and rainbows... this strange world of contrasts.

Even though all this happened a long time ago, it doesn't take much for my thoughts to head back to those days, not because I'm stuck there or digging up the past needlessly. Somebody might share an article on Facebook about funding cuts to arts in mental health services for children and I think of my time with Pat in his studio and how utterly lost I would have been without that experience.

Somebody else shares an article about the tradition of child brides and forced arranged marriages in Asian culture and I'm reminded of a 15-year-old girl from the unit in Birmingham who was going through exactly that and trying to scream out about it through self harm. I've been standing in the kitchen with my boyfriend, eating toast and laughing at cat videos on YouTube, when a radio programme comes on about a boy who was sectioned for having ADHD. In those moments, it's as if someone has pressed rewind on the cassette tape of my life and – all of a sudden – I'm 14 again. And I think to myself, 'I remember a boy like that...'

I believe a lot has changed and is changing. We have the internet as a brilliant tool for us to share information and stories. We have lots of people speaking out about abusive and neglectful systems of hierarchy through parenting and government. We need to keep going if we want to bring down the great wall of silence around these things. Not just to talk about what's going on but also why things happen. We need new stories and narratives which honestly reflect our times and what it means to be alive today in this world. As artists and musicians, we can use our voice to do this. We can find the people who are attuned to the message and, together, we can make a difference for the time we are here.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from the foreword in Alice Miller's 1990 book Breaking Down The Wall Of Silence:

People whose only experience has been the wall of silence cling to the wall, seeing in it the solution to all their fears. But if they have once glimpsed an opening in it, they will not endure it's illusory protection. The idea of ever again living as they once did, bereft of their new-won consciousness, becomes unimaginable as they realise that what they once held to be life was, in truth, no life at all. Part of their tragic fate was to have had to live for so long without that realisation. Now they wish to save others from the same fate, as far as is possible. They wish to share their knowledge of the causes of their suffering and how it can be resolved. They want to let others know that life, every life, is far too precious to be ruined, squandered or thrown away. And they want to say it is worth feeling the old pain, never felt before, in order to be free of it – free for life.'

Scraps of souls and naked bones... Ria xx


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