Today was a sad day, after what was a monumental effort to even leave the house, I arrived at art therapy and received the news that due to lack of funds the Teacher/Therapist was being made redundant in two weeks time, voluntary, well that’s if you call not enough hours to live on if you don’t, voluntary. It is the right thing for Zoe to do and we all support her decision. Such is the common occurrence of redundancy nowadays it is almost viewed as a job change, unplanned. But this one has been viewed differently by the service users, much to the credit of Zoe herself.
My own story started two and a half years ago at a suggestion by my then mental health coordinator, a gateway as it were to get me involved with a community. I originally chose the art group with the idea it would be quiet and private, never suspecting the group would end up being such a big part of my recovery and wellbeing.
The welcome was warm but the room was something to be desired, Brighter Futures who runs the groups have bought two former pubs and converted them, the art group had drawn the short straw at the Observatory and had been allocated the cellar. Steep wonky stairs made there way down to the musty smelling room, the light source coming from the florescent tubes running the length of the centre. Art was stacked up along one table at the edge of the room with finished pieces adorning the walls in places. The standard was high, I feared my own attempts would fall far short of what appeared to be expected.
To my surprise there was no expectation placed upon myself or my work except for my own, and the group was anything but quiet, Headphones became an essential piece of kit. Josie is the voice of the group, generally the first to greet any visitors and explain what goes on in the absence of Zoe, with Josie, Dibs, quiet for the most part but missed when not present. For six months I went every Tuesday, speaking when spoken too, never having the courage to initiate a conversation, observing and learning who had similar interests until the day I was ready to begin a conversation. Jo, I suspect, nearly keeled over with shock when I spoke to her. The conversation was short and sweet, but a start. Now I can rattle away like one of the girls, even if Ange lowers the tone.
The Tuesdays changed to Thursdays and to location number Two (the American), this room was a conservatory, bigger, brighter and no musty smell. The group of people pretty much stayed the same with the addition of Anika, Richard , Page and Tina.
I haven’t been back to the cellar since and quite frankly if I go back to the ‘Obs’ I will stay upstairs in the cafe. Many more faces have come and gone, and come again, each with their own set of problems. You see we can leave the issues being faced at the door, It’s OK to laugh, there is no judgment. Nowhere else can you talk about pink rabbits crossing the road carrying elephants without the fear of being locked up, this of course is an exaggeration, maybe; but the principle’s the same. Weird shit is normal in this art group!
There are staff on hand to help with what they can, even if that is just a chat with a cup of tea, but Zoe has managed to create such a safe place, sharing personal problems within the group IS part of the therapy. This is coming from someone who has a host of coping strategies when in public and has an increased distrust, maybe even paranoia, of peers, real or perceived. She is also there to lend a hand if struggling with the art, Non artists (in their mind) can have a picture drawn for them onto the canvas by Zoe for them to paint. It’s surprising how many Non artists can paint.
Zoe also managed to get funding for small courses, taught by herself, to encourage all who wanted. Tasters in Lino cutting, metalwork, clay and drawing to name a few. The courses where meant to be fun, informative, boundary pushing. The figure drawing course was that far outside my comfort zone it was described by myself on the ‘thought bubbles’ as “My eyes feel like they want to bleed,” emotionally I was shattered, Physically I hurt like hell. It has yet to explained how a mental problem can cause physical pain in a way I understand. I could not have felt anymore exposed if I was hung and skinned, but I trusted Zoe, so carried on, pain and all.
Zoe has had probably the biggest and the best therapeutic benefit to my mental health out of all the therapists I have seen. Genuinely caring for the members of her groups, wanting to help were she can in improving our lives. This may sound idealistic, and in some ways it maybe, but too many times the mental health service has left one feeling like the goal is to get one to accept what is broke is broke, and here are some tablets to do that. A bit like breaking a leg, being told to accept its broke and here are some pain killers to numb the senses. Some of us, after not being listened to, but medicated more for not knowing the correct terminology to explain what is happening, remain silent. Zoe gets us to talk again.
There is a good chance the group will be run by another member of staff who may be a good Therapist, or a good Artist, heck they may even be good at both, but they won’t be Zoe. Some are going to stay away in protest, showing, in their minds, their support for Zoe. For me the art group is my social life , my anchor, letting Zoe’s work fade because some bureaucrat who has no idea the positive impact the therapy has on a range of problems would be failing her legacy. I am extremely anxious about starting afresh with someone new and if I thought that staying away would help Zoe keep her hours I would, but realistically it will make no difference to a decision past. The only thing positive I can savage from this is… now there is a chance of Zoe the therapist becoming Zoe the friend.
I once heard that at the end of life we have two questions, Did I matter? Did I make a difference? Zoe does, Zoe will continue to, its what Zoe does.