Looking for a safe space in Penrith

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I was gave Janice a lift up to Penrith and had some time to kill before picking her up again so I headed into town with the idea of doing a couple of test broadcasts using my iPhone on 3G to see if it streams ok. I was full of cold and definitely not at my best so I parked up and had a wander round the charity shops – scored DVD of 80’s classic BBC thriller Edge Of Darkness for £1.99 for you fellow scavengers 🙂

So after this and feeling not so great both with a pounding head, runny nose and starting to feel a little anxious I decided to find some safe spaces to broadcast. My first port of call was St Andrews Church.

You can hear the brief broadcast of the fantastic clock in the foyer here

The recording was interrupted by the sound of Karen Carpenter, which was strange till I realised there was a funeral happening. I quickly left not wanting to interrupt the sharing of these moments and not wanting to be disrespectful. I thought I could go back later and try again.

After this failed attempt and feeling a little sorry for myself I decided food would be good, a nice warm in a cafe and to do some work on an application I needed to send in. With feeling ill, tired and anxious it took me a bit to find somewhere I felt comfortable entering – one place was empty, another a bit crowded, one had no menu outside, finally I found one that did pie and chips and that had tables I could have a bit of space at and there was a relaxed feel to it. Sounds complicated to non social anxiety sufferers? It is, my fellow anxious types will know the feeling but I eventually settled down ordered food and did a little work. I started to relax after eating, I think my blood sugars were dropping, which makes me hyper and nervous, so I decided to do a broadcast as a good cafe with good food is a very safe space for me. I think the place was called The Lemon Tree and the staff were lovely and it had a nice family feel.

Listen to cafe ambience here

After getting near normal, jam roly poly and custard can sort many problems I find 🙂 I set off for the church again but noticed I was passing the library. I love libraries, I don’t ever borrow from them but like cafes they are a good safe haven in strange towns, especially if you’re a little frazzled. The main benefit of them is that they are free and you can read the paper, read a book, surf the net or just keep warm and not be bothered by people. I popped in and did a little broadcast here and discovered they sometimes aren’t as quiet as we think, mainly because Of all the technology they have and that I set up near the photocopier.

Listen to the library here

Finally I got back to St Andrew’s now empty. I sat in a middle pew and started the broadcast. The church was very still and is beautiful. I do love churches, I especially love playing in them, they are great places to be in. I’m not religious at all, a life long atheist with agnostic leanings as it goes, but there is something to the architecture of these buildings that is just right, both aesthetically and aurally. The stillness was broken by the sound of talking and laughter coming from an antiroom, muffled but happy sounding, adding a nice human element to the space.

Listen to St Andrew’s Church here

I left the church to head back to the car but was taken by the beauty of the churchyard and had an idea of playing a little live set on iPad from a bench there. So using Audiobus running Samplr, Kaossilator, Live FX and Echo Pad I played from the iPad speakers into the iPhone mics, all a bit rough and ready with no headphones to monitor myself well but I was pleased with the quality of the broadcast listening back to it at home.

Listen to churchyard jam here

So despite a cold and not feeling my best I had a really good day of work, some interesting results with the technology working well and my mind focussing on what I actually think of as a safe space. Not so much specific places I love like Conishead Priory or Williamson’s Park in Lancaster, Barrow Cemetery or my home but where I am drawn to in a strange town when I’m feeling anxious. Places of stillness definitely, but that have a sense of community. Like the library you are around people but there’s not a need to interact, you can just be and that makes a good place for contemplation.

The other is for me based around comfort eating I guess, feeling rough I craved carbs so had pie and chips and jam roly poly, meals very reminiscent of childhood meals. I tend to like homely cafes with a family feel. Again it in retrospect feels like I search for the comfort of familiar things, which in this case is a feeling of childhood safety somehow. In these type of places no one looks at you, at what your wearing, what you’re up to. Everyone seems generally at peace with themselves and happy concentrating on their food and their company, so an excellent safe space for me.

So I’m now getting very excited about more live broadcasts, both of environmental ambiences and live performance in unusual places. Here’s to more of the same and please if you would like to contribute to the up coming radio show send me recordings of your safe space, or you talking about what helps you feel safe, maybe a poem or a short piece of you playing some calming music? All contributions will be used as part of a one hour live mix in March. More details coming soon but contact me at info@shaunblezard.com for more details.

FON Air – A Safe Space radio show

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I have been commissioned by the Octopus Collective to produce a sound art radio programme about the notion of safe spaces. This will be a one hour live show on 27th March 2013 and will be a sonic exploration of these spaces.

If you would like to be involved I am looking for audio recordings of or about safe spaces – it could be a field recording of a space you feel safe and secure in, or a snippet of you playing music that you think conveys this safety. It could be a poem, you talking about how you relax, what you do to feel safe. It is a very open brief, I only ask that you donate your recording under a Creative Commons licence and that you are happy for your work to be used as part of the project, both on the show and in future versions of work. I will of course credit people for work used.

If this sounds ok and you would like to donate a recording to the project send audio files to info@shaunblezard.com and I’ll add them to the sound stocks 🙂 feel free to ask for any further info.

I will be using these files plus my own recordings, including the series of live broadcasts I’ll be producing over the next couple of months – these will be broadcast quite randomly on Spreaker and will include music, chat and field recordings from places I think are relaxing and make me feel safe.

If you would like to be involved in a live broadcast please contact me with your idea – if you want to have a chat about mental health issues and what you do to help recovery, broadcast a place you find safe, play some music etc please let me know. I can travel locally to me (Cumbria or North Lancs) or I can try and sort something out via Skype.

I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to do this show and to start the creative journey with he support of such a great arts collective. I hope you will join me on this first small step of the safe space art adventure. For an idea of the kind of thing I produce see my work for the project Cumbria Remixed.

Oh and just to be clear, I can’t afford to pay anyone for contributing to this show, but don’t let that put you off 🙂

Using tablets to make music and more live radio

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I did the next test internet radio live broadcast using Spreaker a couple of days a go. It was a live broadcast of improvised music by myself (Clutter) and Phil Powell (Sleepy Gumbo) doing an ambientish set using iPads and streamed from his mac.

We hit a few technical issues so we had a few drop outs in the sound, but all in all a good experiment in 1. Using tablets to make live improvised music and 2. Being able to play live to whoever would want to listen.

It’s now available to listen again – listen to the broadcast here

I have been jamming with Phil for a bit now, both being geeks and interested in what technology can do so we started an ipad duo to test some things out. The first couple of sessions were mainly using thumbjam and locking the 2 iPads and an iPhone together so everything sync was together and we could both add loops to the mix. We created some interested ‘doom jazz’ type sounds and were quite happy with the possibility of a band of tablet players. Our sessions usually involve having a good chat about the possibilities of where the technology could go. There’s the obvious avenue of midi and using backing tracks but we’ve been much more interested about using a tablet surface live, like a combination of instrument and effects rack.

I’ve been using an iPhone as a core part of my live set up for around 4 years now and enjoyed the physicality it can give to my playing, something sadly missing in most laptop based work. I was then given an iPad and at first thought wow, this is great I can use all the apps I have on the phone but with more control. So the duo with Phil started.

We have now had in the last few months a wave of highly usable and quite simply amazing apps coming out.

First we have the real game changer – audiobus is a simple but very powerful app that creates a signal chain for apps to run audio through each other. You have an instrument slot, or more, this runs into an effects slot, then into an output slot. Simple but now you can add effects to that clean sounding thumbjam harp….very exciting, very easy to use and works very well so far, the odd problem with apps still running in the background if you drop them out of audiobus, which won’t be a problem once it’s more practiced.

Then we has samplr – a loop sampler with audiobus integration that is made for iPad – I won’t go into details and do a review but if you like messing with live looping, sampling and such like this and audiobus are worth buying an iPad for. It really does up the game for sound manipulation. We’re still getting to grips with these tools and then added to the mix there is liveFX – any fan of kaoss pads will love this 4 channels of xy pad effects with filters, delays, distortion and much more with recordable movements to add more life to the mix. Last super mention goes to Echo Pad – a great dub type delay app for really adding that dub echo sound to your productions – wonderful stuff. I now have as my preferred choice samplr in audiobus, running through LiveFX and then Echo Pad, Phil has been using a similar set up but with added drumjam for loops.

So the live broadcast was using these tools mainly which gave a much looser, organic feel to the sound, just decide on tempo and away we go, we started to pull together some interesting ambient dance type things together, not unlike The Orb etc.

It really is an exciting time to be using this technology, with new avenues opening up on a weekly basis. We’re both looking forward to seeing what comes next. The developers are having amazing ideas but the really interesting things are coming from small teams that are listening to us the musicians and moving things forward very quickly.

Guest Blog – Alex

Drawing by Alex BottenWhen I first told Shaun I’d try to write something for his blog I intended to describe my experiences with depression, and outline how my music and art had helped me overcome some of the worst aspects of the illness. But the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t do that.

 Why?

Well, it’s not like that for me. I wish I could tell you all an uplifting tale of triumph over adversity, about how my darkest moments have been bathed in light by the act of creation, or of the times I’ve turned the all consuming void of despair into some of the greatest art ever seen. But I can’t, because it wouldn’t be an accurate description of my situation.

My situation…..my situation is one where depression and anxiety has stripped me of confidence and robbed me of opportunity, where my relentlessly messed up brain chemistry has convinced me that everyone thinks that every single thing I do is shit.

I’m cursed with an exceptional memory for perceived slights, able to recall with vivid clarity the way I felt when, 23 years ago, on the afternoon before my first band’s first ever gig, my best friend at college suggested that he should sing for us that evening instead of me because ‘you can’t really sing, can you?’. I recall every single demo rejection from the days when that kind of thing seemed important, and I’m incapable of dismissing all the times I’ve been told that I’m not good enough, or that the music I made was ‘unsuitable’ for this or that venue, or event. Yes, I also remember the successes, the labels that wanted to put my music on vinyl, the Peel plays, the two appearances at T in the Park, the positive reviews (including having my guitar playing described as ‘inspired’ by Melody Maker, and Thee Moths’ second album being dubbed ‘lo-fi magic’ by NME), but those mean nothing to me. They seem too few and far between, and increasingly vanishing into the past.

No, my memory seems to disproportionately expand the negative events, and downplays the positives as if they were no big deal – hell, even writing the above caused a voice in the back of my head to start grumbling ‘stop being a boastful bastard’!

So I interpret someone having not noticed that I’ve got something available to listen to as a direct ‘fuck you!’ from them, I read ‘it’s not really the kind of thing we’d use’ as ‘you’re a worthless piece of crap, and your work is shit’, and I imagine that all my artist and musician friends see me as the talent less wannabe at the edge of their scene – the deluded hanger on who hasn’t the wit or self awareness to just pack it all in. Fuck, I even felt aggrieved that hardly anyone had noticed my birthday on Facebook! How messed up is that??

And I keep on making things, churning out more and more work, in many cases more in a single year than many artists make in a lifetime, as if quantity will make up for a self-assumed lack or quality, or the sheer weight of created things will cause people to pay attention…and then I get bitter and upset when I’m not hailed as the genius part of my ego thinks I should be praised as, even though a much larger part of my super-ego is simultaneously telling me that I’m rubbish and will always be cursed to obscurity.

Maybe moving to another city will help, as Birmingham is an absolute drag to do anything in. Maybe someone helping me out as a booking manager would be good, as I loathe having to deal with venues and promoters, whilst always being desperate to play as many shows as possible. Or maybe telling people what’s going on in my head will allow them to better understand me, and so lead to more opportunities from those who may have mistaken me for someone confident, someone in total control of his ‘career’. Maybe, or maybe not.

At the heart of it all is a mental illness, a depressive disorder with an anxiety component, which has whispered ‘you’re shit’ in my ear for 25 years, which would like nothing more than to see me give up creating altogether. Whether I do or not might ultimately depend of the levels of support I get from my peers and friends…help I feel unable to ask for. So, screwed if I do, screwed if I don’t. Yay,

So what’s the message from all this? Depression is a horrible thing to live with, and makes the standard struggles of artists into a bitterness inducing series of mis-interpreted reactions and imagined slights….and that’s not great for creativity.

Anyone want to be my manager?

music/visual – alexbotten.co.uk

blogging – athingadaybyalex.wordpress.com

writinghttp://www.lulu.com/shop/alex-botten/hanging-around/paperback/product-15055607.html and https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/hanging-around/id443746821?mt=11

t-shirtshttp://www.mysoti.com/designer/theealex

more arthttp://www.gigposters.com/designer/11753_Alex_Botten.html

Dance, dance, dance to the radio

20130115-235945.jpg First off, let’s get this straight….the title was obviously a reference to Joy Division but there won’t be a right lot of dancing going on. It was nearly called the Internet killed the radio star or some such nonsense so let’s just run with it for now and not over analyse it…..

A Safe Space is the blog but it’s also an art project, or more to the point I’m building it slowly into one. I’m not sure the direction I will take with it but the first step was to start writing the blog and start researching how I can use music/sound art and technology to help my recovery from depression. Or if not that at least give me a creative output for my emotions and a way to maybe help others in the future. At this stage all I know is that I want my career and my illness to be more respectful of each other, hopefully they can become friends and help each other. They have a history of fighting, but I’m trying to get them to see eye to eye, even if it’s just a begrudging nod of the head to each other when they pass on the stairs? We’ll see….

So I’m writing, but I’m also talking to other creatives about how they deal with mental health issues, including the start of guest blogs: you’ve already seen one’s from Beth & Jim and there’ll be one tomorrow from Alex. The future holds making art with people and how this can help recovery, I think maybe it will be very much a personal journey as if I try and create work for everyone it ends up being too bland. (See quite a bit of community art) Already I know from starting to put a playlist of calming music together that it is very subjective. I find some suggestions really grate on my nerves, mainly the modern pop ballads, the likes of Westlife and Boyzone really put me on edge. It just doesn’t resonate with me, I’m not particularly snobby about mainstream music – I quite like Take That, loved some stuff by All Saints, think Kate Bush is a genius but the Modern pop ballad, sorry no. Not for me. We’ll leave it there for now, it is something I’m very interested in though, why people like certain pieces of music, what pulls at them? Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

My first piece of work outside the blog is a commission for a sound art radio show for Octopus Collective. A brilliant music and sonic arts collective in Cumbria. I have won a commission as part of their FON Air series – radio shows looking at space and art radio. I am doing a live broadcast in March using the concept of the safe space, where we go to feel better, that could be a loved place that calms you, a place in your head you go to get away from it all, music you listen to that helps. I will be asking for recordings of these safe spaces to use as part of a big remix for the show. Keep a look out for more details about this soon.

I had a brilliant meeting with Andrew from Octopus today about the show and talked about content, threw some ideas around about what makes it radio in the Internet age? About digital culture and the ways art can help with mental health. Very energising chat and one that I’m sure we will carry on. Is it radio if it’s on the Internet? If the show is pre-recorded is this radio or a podcast. Does it need to be live? Does it need to come through an analogue radio? My feeling is it must be live, there must be a chance of something going wrong, even if it’s streaming digitally. So I’ll be improvising the show live on the day. I talked to Andrew about the apps I have downloaded to do live audio broadcasting on iPad/phone and the idea of broadcasting live from safe spaces. Not like a radio show but just broadcasting environmental sounds, a 20 minute live broadcast from the beach say. Then this collection of live events will become source material for the radio show.

Excitedly I did my first of these broadcasts tonight, a 15 minute broadcast called Live from the kitchen (click link to hear it) which was the sound of my kitchen. Starting with a boiling kettle, then dying down into just the ambient sound of the room. The buzz of the freezer and the chugging and creaking of the fridge. It was a great test run for the concept and worked well, with thumbs up from Andrew who listened in live 🙂 next I will look at coming off wifi and try and do a live broadcast using a phone and 3G to see if that works. Really excited to see what I can do, will try some live music also from different locations.

For all you technology types you might be wondering how you had the chance to hear my freezer live on the air? I’m using Spreaker on my iPad. There’s a great free app to get you started really quickly, you can use the built in mic plus also 2 ‘record’ decks linked to iTunes if you want to play tracks. There’s also an iPhone version , won’t broadcast on my old 3G though, you need a 3GS at least, and an android app. Look at their site for more details. I loved it and can’t wait to try it on 3G to see how it handles that. Check it out, or one of the other apps that do similar things. I only went with this first as it is the only one to load on my phone, then still not broadcast able as I said. (Getting near time to get a newer phone I guess).

So stay tuned for more transmissions and do let me know your thoughts – it might be a little arty farty for some, if it is please tell me why. Art becomes alive in these bits of conversation, and good discussions promote better work. Any ideas for further reading or research on the boundaries of mental health, creativity and technology greatly appreciated.

Guest Blog – Beth (My Experience of Post Traumatic Stress)

20130113-210746.jpgI’m not right. I’m just not right. I don’t feel right. I’ve been saying that to everyone I meet for the last 12 months just incase someone could help. Anyone! Anyone? Wise men? Wise women?

I had been to the doctor so many times with a list of concerns each time. And so many things I didn’t bother to say cos I knew he couldn’t help. He couldn’t sort a return of my childhood allergies to dairy and gluten. He couldn’t help a new allergy to Sulphites. Maybe he could help the raggedy state my voice was in? ENT specialist said he’d never seen such a small stressed space and couldn’t believe I was making any sound let alone free improv!!

Surely my doctor could help with the endless bowel trouble? Maybe the cronic indigestion could be helped by my cranial osteopath..it was…mostly. Maybe reiki could help the endlessly imposing and loud and endless thoughts getting in the way of communication with my kids, with getting out of the house in the morning, with working with anyone I didn’t feel 100% sure of! Surely the Master Homeopath and Naturopath would help stop all my hair falling out…when is that going to stop? Could he stop the terrible and traumatic night sweats where a change of clothes and bedding at 3am was a must?…paracetamol just doesn’t do it! What about a full nights sleep? Will I ever have that again? Sleepy teas and herbal tablets dont touch that either and just leave me more tired when I need to work! Then what about the bizzare vomiting, middle of the night, anytime after eating at other places other than the family home? I couldn’t go away anywhere. Couldn’t stay over! Couldn’t eat out anywhere! I also stopped being a good judge of temperature. I overdressed when out walking because I felt cold all the time. I had lots of covers on my bed but woke up shivering!

As my period approached I screamed “Not that as bloody well!”

I came off caffeine, maybe that’s the trick? Stopped drinking 2 years ago, wouldn’t that help? Less meat? More walks! Meditation and reiki…all helped. But the longer I sat still and waited and breathed… the worse I realised I was! The less work I took on the more I could hear my body shouting at me! The deeeper the release work I did the more I realised my body was out of control. I realised I’d been poorly for years and found some super coping mechanisms but underlying and ready to tip at any moment was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!

I watched a program on Shell Shock in September ’12 and it all fell into place. All these things were one thing. Acute anxiety! All basically the same thing but I could pin point a starting point so that makes it post traumatic stress. A rubbish cocked up caesarian 9 years ago with 2 years of horrid flashbacks and a complete collapse of my previously great health!

So I chose my doctor carefully and went with my hypothosis. I was immediately on antidepressants and a waiting list (a year long) for Cognative Behavioural Therapy! A year! I have to wait a year to be right again…aaaaargh. The anti-depressants worked a treat after the dose was increased. Sleep and peace, Phew!

Then a wise woman introduced me to another wise women…tried many in the past…but this one specialises in Eye Movement Desensitising and Reprogramming Therapy or Eye Movement Therapy to you and me. She makes my eyes move from left to right and follows my brain round its thoughts, catching them, reprogramming, copying the healthy processes of REM sleep. She unsticks the stuck thoughts and moves them on into the right bit of the brain…the past! I know its more than that, but that’s the best way I can describe it.

So here I am. My peace and sleep all broken again as I dream weird dreams and wheeze like an old boiler in the process of trying to mend it all properly and perminantly. I dream of being well again, healthy again.

How many mad mums? How many traumatic births? How many stuck memories? How many bodies feeling like they are still in fight or flight though the lion has gone and won’t ever be back?

Beth Allen is a creative voice specialist. To find out more about the amazing work she does visit her website

The Comforter – Laughing Stock by Talk Talk

An interesting band Talk Talk. I remember them being a synth pop band, they were OK, quite liked Such A Shame and even bought Talk Talk the single, then kinda forgot about them. Then sometime in the early 90’s I was introduced to the later albums, Spirit Of Eden & Laughing Stock. Sometimes music just hits you right between the eyes and both these albums do, especially Laughing Stock. I’m listening to it now and it still sounds as warm, soulful and full of wounded wonder as it did 20 years a go.

It’s hard to explain the sound of Laughing Stock, a post jazz, minimal, melancholic, smoky vision of another life, another world. It hazily passes by with no real choruses, the lyrics are abstract and convey only illusions of narrative. But it feels so alive. Every note is just perfect, it washes over you in waves of emotion, pulling you in to it’s heart, on the verge of joyous tears, knowing every passage but discovering new sounds every play.

It’s not an album to stick on at a dinner party, it’s one for late night contemplation and meditation. It has atmospheres that fade in and out but that demand your full attention, drifts then swells into forceful passages that leave you giddy before drifting away again.

Laughing Stock has become my favourite album. I never get tired of listening to it. It’s seen me through some dark nights, it’s deep humanity keeping me going when my depression has made me very vulnerable, pulled me back from stupid actions a couple of times. I’m very much not religious but this takes me as close to the spiritual as I get. The music is enough, it’s pure human spirit, fragile and unsure and angry and at peace with itself.

It also has been a massive influence on my own music, the search for that drifting sense of nostalgia and humanity. I’ve not come close to the majesty of Laughing Stock or the genius of it’s leader Mark Hollis but that’s what keeps me going.

So turn the lights down low and take a wonderful emotional journey to the heart of the human spirit.

Slipping back to old ways

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When do you start being aware of a relapse? Indeed when does it become a relapse? One of the worst aspects of my depression has always not being aware of it creeping back until it becomes obvious, but then the lethargy and self hatred can be so strong it pulls me in for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally years.

I’ve been doing really well with getting myself together over the last few months, until Christmas came along. I’m not quite sure if it was a seasonal thing or other factors that started me off on the road to relapse, but I ended up feeling like the work I’ve put in over the last few months was for nothing. I had a complete meltdown one morning and ended up in tears and very confused. I didn’t know why I felt so bad, I know I was tired as my insomnia had come back over the previous couple of weeks. I ended up going back to bed for a couple of hours and felt much better for it. I’m still not sure what caused me to feel so bad but I thought it might make more sense to me if I wrote about it. So where do I start? The signs of slippage I think.

As I’ve been getting to know myself, my triggers and how they impact on my life I have started to work out how to stop some of the worst aspects of my condition, and to start to stop them having as great an impact on me emotionally.

The first one is sugar. I turn to chocolate and pastry when I’m upset, well to be honest I eat anything but my preferred binge foods are chocolate, chewy sweets, junk food and pies in that order. I am getting it under control, I’m eating much healthier now than I ever have, but I still go to chocolate now and again. Social situations are particularly bad for pushing the cravings. Talking with my therapist I realised that I have bought a bar of chocolate within an hour of seeing her every time. Even if I have a good session and feel happy there’s a kind of body memory that shouts for sugar. This is hardly surprising as I have been binging on chocolate since I was a kid, thinking about it I have self medicated with food for nearly 40 years. No wonder the body still wants it even when my mind is focused.

The second is anger at other people’s perceived success. Social media is a real bugger for pushing this one, seeing that person going there, this person doing that, all so very happy? Sound familiar? It’s one of the things that finally pushed me to going to the Doctors in the summer. I was fixating on what others were doing for weeks, to the point of not being able to concentrate on my own life. I would just turn over in my mind, for example someone got a gig in a cool venue, my mind would start with – how did they get that gig?, why them not me? Well they’re rubbish anyway, I wouldn’t want the gig anyway, why don’t I get offered stuff like that…..you get the picture…..I’d end up in such a tizz, on the verge of tears and prone to what a good friend termed ‘Shaunie Rants’ made much worse if alcohol was involved. I started getting relief from this horrible cycle with a combination of being prescribed Setraline, exercise and blocking out the worst of it by repeating ‘Everyone’s doing their best’ over and over in my head, sometimes whilst cycling furiously till I was exhausted. I since worked out that this is mainly anger at my depression, at my own inability to engage in public and the sense of isolation that I had got to. I wasn’t really that bothered about what others were doing, but that I wasn’t doing things, that my condition was holding me back from getting the most out of life. Sounds so simple writing it down now, but in the maelstrom of anger and confusion it didn’t seem at all obvious. The medication and therapy has really helped me as has telling people on social media how pleased I was for them, a small thing clicking like, but I found it did really help me start to feel more positive about things.

Another bad trigger is taking stuff to heart really badly. Sometimes a simple comment that the food I’ve made is a little bland that day can put me in complete meltdown for hours, historically it could see me binging for days and completely letting myself go, beating myself up over it, then cycling back to relapse. I still have problems with this, I’m much better than I was and am able to take things in a much calmer way 🙂 still have my moments but CBT has really helped to push me to a better thought pattern with such things. I’m feeling much better at being able to deal calmly and analyse what people are saying more instead of getting really negative and either withdrawing or getting really angry.

So, anyway, I was talking about slippage. Sorry if it went a bit off track there, I though it was good to establish a few things before looking at my latest relapse. I’ve never been a great editor so tend to just write so if you can go with it we’ll get to the point I promise.

Slippage then. I have had a lot of relapses over the years. It tends to work along the lines of cycling between not looking after myself at all and doing a whole ‘my body is a temple’ routine, which in the past has contributed to my relapses. I’ve put too much pressure on myself and a couple of small slips have knocked the whole deck of cards over and then I feel like I’m back to square one. Over the few years I’ve been working on being gentle on myself, this has been working pretty well. I gave up smoking 2 and a half years a go by not worrying if I smoked or not, which took the pressure off so much I found it pretty easy to not smoke. Much better than smoking a couple and then hating myself so much that I thought I might as well smoke heavier than I did before. There’s a hell of a lot to be said about being gentle on yourself, can heartily recommend it.

Cycles of trying hard, getting puritanical about health, then months of severe self loathing and binging and lethargy. I can kind of laugh about some of it now, sleeping on my sofa for 6 months because my bed was covered in stuff (when a friend came and helped me out it only took about 10 minutes to tidy, but I was in no mental state to tackle it without help) and getting so I had bars of chocolate next to my bed so if I woke up and felt bad I could eat some before falling asleep again, I’m really glad I’ve stopped this as a number of times I did wake up covered in chocolate…..like I said I can laugh about it now 🙂

This stab at recovery has been much healthier. Since the summer of 2012 I’ve been cycling for 30 minutes most days and not trying to do more each day. This has meant I don’t get to a point where I can’t do enough so I give in. Food wise I’ve researched nutrition quite a bit and am eating much healthier and smaller meals. I have found out just how hard it is to remove sugar from your diet, that sugar is hidden in so many ‘healthy’ food products. I now use an iPhone app called myfitnesspal that I log my food and exercise in. This means that I’m mindful of my food intake both calorie wise and how much sugar and carbs I’m having. I try and cook from scratch as much as possible, with let’s of veg and pulses. I’ve lost 4 1/2 stone now in just over a year so going well, well it was until…….

……relapse……I was doing great, hitting December and I was feeling pretty fit and healthy, much more connected to people and myself. I’d made some breakthroughs in therapy so was feeling good about myself. I was eating well, getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting up early, doing my stretches and exercises. Thinking back the first sign of slippage was chocolate. I started having a double decker every now and again when shopping as a treat. Then I started to get cravings back to the point of going out to the shops as an excuse to buy chocolate. Chocolate started creeping back into the house and I’d eat it if it was there. I’d had a couple of mini binges over the previous few months but this was creeping back into eating chocolate everyday, then getting a couple of bars, or a big bar and eating it in one sitting. I started to feel on edge after I ate it and started worrying that I was relapsing, which started small shocks of self loathing, which made me eat more. My partner noticed that portion sizes were creeping up at meal times. I started to feel angry with myself so started to feel a bit withdrawn and sulky, which made me feel worse. Still nothing too bad, I was exercising so wasn’t going over my calorie limit too much, then we hit the Christmas period….

I’ve not liked Christmas for a long time, I find it a really depressing and stressful time of the year, but I’d decided to try and embrace it more and to try and enjoy it, but that didn’t really work. I don’t really engage with it bar cooking the Christmas meal and enjoying family time on the day. My ideal Christmas would be token presents not more that £10 spent on each other and then a lovely meal eaten at a slow pace and nice conversation. What I hate is that so many people start getting stressed out by late November, the worry about that perfect Christmas, the presents, the food, who’s going where. I can feel the tension mounting for weeks leading up to the day. Everywhere gets busier and there’s more aggression by the day. People are snappy with each other and get sucked into this horrible, capitalist black hole of going into debt to buy things people don’t really want. So all this definitely ramped up my stress levels, even with some survival tricks I’ve built up – the main one is financial and it’s asking for money off people then not buying myself anything with it but just paying off the bill for the presents I bought for people. Think I might have even broke even this year 🙂

With it being Christmas I also started to have a glass of wine here and there, and a little tequila, then the Christmas chocolates arrived so ate too much of them. I then started worrying about my calories so rather than cutting back I stopped filling my food diary in, and then I missed doing my stretches in a morning, just today I would tell myself, but then the next day the same again. But then the increase in sugar and alcohol, the general stress of Christmas and a couple of rough months emotionally started catching up with me. I started not being able to sleep, then getting up late, needing caffeine to get going, then I got to the point of stopping up all night to try and get back into some sort of pattern. Then I had my mini breakdown. I just completely couldn’t cope with anything, I was in tears and upset, couldn’t explain what was happening. Luckily this didn’t last too long. I slept for a little while post cry and then had a few lethargic days before starting to try and get back on track.

Now I’m back in work mode I’m feeling much better. I’m back to setting the alarm in a morning, try and do my stretches and get breakfast before turning the iPad on, now read the papers, check social media for good things my friends are doing, check emails etc before cycling and then getting on with work. I’m still eating too much chocolate but it’s getting better and back eating well again. The thing with slippage is just that it’s slippage and not a full on drop. It’s small things pushing you the wrong way, then more small things till you end up back where you started. I’ve just learnt to not be too hard on myself, to look for the positives in the situation, to learn from it all and get back up again and try again. I think I’ll never fully recover from depression, in that relapse is never too far away, so I need to make each day count that I’m well, head in the right direction as best as I can and to remember….

EVERYONE’S DOING THIER BEST!

And now there’s a little nagging doubt that this post is far too long and rambling, but you know what, I’m going to leave it as it is because it’s helped me put the last few weeks into perspective and that’s important isn’t it? Thank you if you are still with me – gold stars all round 🙂

Xx

Guest Blog – Jim (Depression & Photography)

SunriseMy name is Jim and I’m a long-term sufferer of depression, going back to when my Dad died when I was 12 (I’m 53 now, 3 years younger than my Dad was when he died. For a coalminer, he didn’t have too bad an innings). As life has gone on, the depression has ebbed and flowed, but never left. I’ve occasionally been deluded enough to think it had run its course, but it always comes back to haunt me in many varied ways. Sometimes it has obvious and evident causes – relationship breakups, a few severe physical traumas, unemployment and so on, but now and again it’ll catch me unawares.

I’ve had most of the modern antidepressants – I started on the lovely Amitriptiyline, which I now take in a much lower dosage for nerve pain, but they won’t allow me to use it as an antidepressant anymore. I don’t get on with any of the SSRI’s I’ve tried, so I’ll only use them as a very last resort. The last one I tried was Citalopram, which seemed to have less side effects than the rest, but it still increased my anxiety levels to beyond the pale.

Anxiety has been a constant companion for the past 20 or so years, following an unprovoked attack in which I was stabbed and almost killed. I was on diazepam for 5 or 6 years, but came off that cold turkey after hassles with psychiatrists. I’ve also used Beta blockers (propranolol) for lengthy periods of time. They’re fine if you can live without adrenaline.

I’ve undergone various therapies, mostly in vain. 2 equally disastrous attempts at psychoanalysis has left me with a healthy contempt of analysts. Counselling helps, but only up to a point. A course of CBT worked well, but I felt it was a bit too short. I still use tricks I picked up there to help now (but at the end of the day, they are just tricks).

I’ve kind of drifted around from job to job, quite successfully at times. After school I lounged around on the dole for a bit before going to Art College. Prior to Art College, I’d met up with an Art Therapist during a period of hospitalisation, who remains a good friend to this day, and he had kickstarted me into taking my artwork seriously. College was a bit disastrous, really and undid all the good he’d done. When I left I never wanted to paint again. I did gain some experience of photography and darkrooms, though, and a love of photography has remained with me ever since. I never did get the chance to build my own darkroom, but it was always a plan until digital cameras came along.

During student life I did as many others did and worked in bars and restaurants to keep myself solvent and drunk. When I left, I kind of stayed with it, finding a sleazy late night place I liked and taking on the kitchen duties. I was the chef, interior decorator, menu designer, and promoter of a small but select back street dive with a late licence and live music every night of the week. Life did not get much better. When managership was offered, I took it, along with becoming the sole licensee of the premises when the owners moved on to bigger and not necessarily better things around the corner. It wasn’t to last. (see 3rd paragraph, I don’t want to talk about it)

I lost about 5 years or so to Post Traumatic Stress, lived on benefits, became a recluse… that kind of thing. While I’d been running the venue, I’d used my “showbiz” contacts and had a good run as a “performance poet”, doing regular gigs on my nights off from the club, self-publishing a couple of books, recording cassettes and so on. That all stumbled to a drunken halt too, though some friends did get me to record a CD with some funding they procured. I didn’t promote it and it didn’t serve any purpose, really, except as a vanity project.

I met my wife around this time, and when she became pregnant with our first child (we now have 4!) it occurred to me that I should quit my low down lounging ways and get back into the world of work.

What to do though? I’d had enough of restaurant and bar work, but there wasn’t much else I was any good at, so I ended up slaving away in a string of call centres just to bring a wage home at the end of the week. It made me desperately miserable, but I had a potential family to support, so I gritted my teeth and answered those phones as cheerfully and helpfully as I could. As soon as one job got too much, I’d move on. That kind of work was plentiful, once you had your foot in the door, and most places had a high turnover of staff.

Once we had a baby or two in our arms, it became clear to us that city life had lost its attraction, and when a chance came up to drop everything and move to rural Wales, we did just that. I scrabbled around taking any work I could get for a while, while trying to live as simple and uncomplicated a life as possible. I gave up car ownership when my Transit van was leaking oil everywhere and due to fail its MOT. I started to use my bicycle, which I’d always had, as my primary mode of transport. I got a job in a bike shop. I went to work for a cycling charity. I now teach safe cycling and general road safety to children.

I bought one of the first waterproof and shockproof digital compact cameras, and still have it. I took it everywhere with me. It fitted nicely into my pocket, and didn’t fall apart if I fell off my bike or dropped it, or wandered into the sea with it. Having a bicycle and a camera is a magical combination. Driving along and seeing something magnificent is frustrating if you can’t stop to get your camera out. On a bike, you nearly always can. Having a camera gives you an excuse to look at things, and to look at them again, from another angle. It gives you an excuse to lay down on the floor an look closely at a beetle or a flower. It gives you a reason to look outwards from yourself, which is sometimes very difficult if you’re in the grip of a deep depression. A camera is something to go for a walk with. You don’t need another person (though another photographer is always perfect company – they won’t talk you to death or walk too fast!).

Through posting my photos online I’ve met many like-minded people, some have remained online-only friends, some have become firm real life friends, just because we both enjoy taking and posting pictures.

I learned a lot from other bloggers and my own photography took on new dimensions. This wouldn’t have been possible without the interweb and digital cameras. I briefly joined a sketching club many years ago, and I’ve been a member of too many writers’ groups to know that an Amateur Photography Group who meet at the local fishing club headquarters every other Thursday would never have benefitted me in the same way.

I bought a DSLR, thinking it would open new doors, give me more creative control, but it wasn’t the right size, and it didn’t sem to do a great deal more than my compact does, so I let it gather dust for a year or so before passing it on to my wife, on condition that she buy me a new compact. It’s even more shock, water and freeze proof than my old one (which my oldest daughter now has) and will soon, when I’ve got a cradle for it, be heading skywards attached to the string my kite. KAP, or Kite Arial Photography is something I’ve wanted to try since my online friend Joker posted some photos…

I’m deeply depressed at the moment. I broke my wrist in a cycling accident about 3 months ago, and the lack of physical activity coupled with the general trauma and pain of a badly broken bone has sent me into a downward spiral. I love my wife and children more than anything in the world, but home is a bit claustrophobic at the moment, and `I must be a right pain in the arse to live with just now. The dreary wet winter weather doesn’t help, but even when I can’t get out, I can find something around the house which will make an interesting subject. My camera can captivate me like nothing else can, but capturing the image, perhaps tweaking it a bit (I used to be a photoshop obsessive, but beyond a little light cropping I don’t retouch or manipulate at all anymore) is only half the process. It’s not “done” till it’s been posted online.

Last year, my friend’s mother attracted my attention by creating a blog called “Silent Sunday” which consisted of a single photo, taken during that week and posted every Sunday, with no words or title or caption or anything. I started one, but it fell into disuse. I’m resurrecting it this week. It’s here

My camera, it’s window I can look out of, wherever I am.

In search of a superhero?

I’ve been playing with my iPad a bit over Christmas, partly to try and push the winter blues away through being creative and partly to see what apps would be good to use in mental health settings.

I will be writing a more detailed blog about audio apps, I have found some great things but need to look at them more closely before working out how I can use them to make music.

So just a shortish post looking at a couple of little fun art/creative apps I have been playing with. I’ve never been that great at drawing but have always been interested in comics and graphic novels and have had great fun with this –

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Buddy Poke is a 3D avitar maker where you can create a comic version of yourself easily and then pose it for photos, change clothes, make little films. Great fun and I can see it being great to use in workshops. This is myself and how I want to approach 2013, feeling good and upbeat 🙂

The other app I have played with is Comic Life a comic making app that uses templates to easily get a comic built using photos and putting your own words in – here’s my first attempt. Setralineman was an attempt to tell a serious simple story using images I had on my iPad. I think this kind of simple easy to use app shows real promise to work with people to express themselves through art, without having to be scared of drawing etc. you can concentrate on the narrative and what message you want to get over.

Will look forward to getting stuck into it more and making a longer form comic to try and tell more of my story and to find ways for others to do the same.

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I will be writing much more about such things but will say again I am not a professional mental health worker, I am a community based musician and digital artist with mental health problems, so this is very much a personal journey for me, both emotionally and creatively. If you suffer from any mental health issues please go and see a professional, go to your GP, go to MIND or another like minded organisation, all the comments on this blog are about me and are personal observations rather than anything else.