Storytelling Tales of Mental Health

What do storytelling, reverie and mental health all have in common? Enough to warrant unquestioned faith in the roles that stories play-out through our lives. Stories. They explain our befuddled musings and become vessels for sharing experience. They are not limited to language but are as expansive as photographers, musicians, dancers and clowns dare to translate them. They take shape through reverie and can re-shape our wellbeing. I’m struck by the civilisations we have built on stories, noticing them everywhere I look, listen and feel, appreciating the informative and transformative potential they retain.

If we are to try and understand each other better – as is the case with supporting someone through ‘mental illness’ or what I like to describe more accurately as psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges – then we would do well to ask, what’s your story? before assuming the punch-line with a diagnostic twist.

Sharing our stories is a natural motivation. We build bridges for intimacy and collect connections as stories reveal and unravel through translations. I’m not surprised to see the craft of storytelling making headway in community endeavours to approach the underbelly of mental health and wellbeing. I applaud it!

A quick brainstorm of my top 10 favorites demonstrate this ancient healing art of diversity and stimulation:

1/ How about Michael Leunig, the cartoonist who frequents The Melbourne Age newspaper with sketched commentary on current affairs. Leunig is famous for encapsulating the human condition in self-reflective authenticity in response to ideologies of the epoch. His illustrations cartoonify his very own words about human existence: ‘A complete life is one that encompasses the full emotional spectrum – we can’t expect to know happiness if we avoid somber emotions’. Keeping it real, Leunig, even if it is a cartoon, are the kinds of stories our newspapers need.

Leunig Cartoon

2/ Talk about commitment to collating and creativity in the name of suffusing mass media with stories that shine! The innovative online project, This Place is Yours, is a not-for-profit media project to enhance mental health, social inclusion and social change. Founder Seraphina Reynolds is a smart woman, making wise usage of  technological delights, to ‘connect one another and have conversations that we otherwise never have.’ The website provides multi-media space for people to tell their stories their way about their mental health. Stigma won’t last long with this groundswell of honest dialogue. Launching on May 26th in Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art, along with a book to purchase and treasure, I’m looking forward to this paradise of storytelling free-for-all available on the web. I believe the silence has now been broken.

3/ Mindshare – an initiative of the South Australian Mental Health Coalition and the Media Resource Centre. Fantastico! Even the government recognizes the value of storytelling, inviting people to creatively express their life experiences. Join this vibrant online community and upload artwork, photography, film, blogs and all things artistically narrative!

4/ The Dax Centre’s current exhibition, Reverie, has won my heart with its exploration of this dream-state in view of its therapeutic and healing qualities.

 Curator Emma Last notes that, ‘Freedom to think and feel is a constant theme of reverie. This is pertinent to the field of mental health as our thoughts and emotions are commonly restricted when we are affected by internal distress. The intention underpinning therapy is to open our mind, to talk about thoughts and be with our feelings’.

In the same way, so do we relax into a flow of expression when we share our stories, entering states of illumination and articulating thought revived from memories. Sometimes we just don’t know our own truth until we say it! This exhibition highlights artwork from the Cunningham Dax Collection to remind us that, as artist Emma Anna explains, ‘the power of the imagination offers us poetic sanctuary in an otherwise hostile world’.

Renee Sutton, No title, 1959, gouache on paper, 42 x 33.5 cm, The Cunningham Dax Collection

5/ Log into TedX and log onto a world of ‘ideas worth spreading’ as proof of humanity’s interest and reverence for storytelling. Stimulating dialogue through 18 minute presentations, TedX-style, is enough to galvanise an audience into action towards the greater good of humanity, or, at the very least, open your heart, applauding, as you witness someone who has achieved significant change by putting an idea into action. We’re talking big change, like derailing sex-traffic trades in the name of sisterhood. Check out my friend, Atira Tan’s efforts to do such an honorable task here. What a woman! What a story!

6/ Even though I have only read one Arnold Zable novel, I know too well that this sage is taking storytelling where it’s needed most. Zable is indicative of how storytelling is changing the world. A human rights activist who delivers workshops on narrating stories of tragedy and trauma to promote healing, Zable works in prisons and alongside immigrants and indigenous members of society to do just that.

7/ Journal To Save Your Life is a revolution underway born from one girls story of transformation! In order to do this project justice I’ve cut and paste from the website itself. Sensational!

It is the life, mission, duty, and purpose of Journal To Save Your Life (J2SYL) to help address America’s dearth of mental health resources.  Through education, research, and a free mental health program, we aim to alleviate the devastating intra and interpersonal effects experienced as a result of anxiety and depression. J2SYL is for at-risk, adolescent females aged 12-18. J2SYL is a free, online mental health program made up of 52 weekly, therapeutic installments called “J2Gifts”. These J2Gifts integrate rational emotional behavioral therapy (a form of cognitive behavioral therapy), narrative psychiatry, therapeutic art, education research, and the transformational learning model.’

8/ Facebook and Blogging; need I say more? We can’t help but want to express our tiny stories. We can’t deny the good feelings that come with a good share. We can’t help but feel connected and valued when others ‘Like’ or ‘Comment’ on our truth.

9/ This week I sent my first book to be published to the editor. It’s called Rhymes for the Recently Dis-Eased and it’s a Dr Seuss-inspired, epic poem of a memoir I’ve been trying to do justice for 5 years. Now, free of the sculpting and weaving it into form, I can see that by applying myself to the telling of this story – the psychological, emotional and spiritual crises that re-defined my life – I now understand the old author’s adage that you primarily ‘write for yourself’ before lending your story to an audience. The kernels of wisdom unearthed from this adventure have brought understanding and meaning to a time in my life that I now see as empowering, simply because I unearthed its true meaning by myself.

10/ The DSMV: Will we ever live without it? At a distance it is epic and never-ending. From the inside it tells a tale of every twist and turn of human behavior. It is narrated by the mind and written for the mind. It is one version of how to look at the human condition, and unfortunately, it’s the kind of story that has spread so far, that in some circles it’s beginning to ring true.

 Share your story. Investigate your story.

Be greater than your story.

Never under-estimate the power of a good story, especially as a gift during times of need, to explain your challenges and to speak your truth, in search of an empathetic and non-judgemental ear.

Love always,

Charlotte Claire

The Babyfacedassassin



2 Responses to “Storytelling Tales of Mental Health”

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