Shaun BlezardA Safe Space is a blog looking at mental health issues and how recovery is helped by creativity and the use of technology. I am a self employed musician and digital artist working in the community and this is an attempt to live a holistic life, where work, home life and illness are more in tune with each other.

I live in Cumbria and I’ve suffered depression and anxiety pretty much since I can remember. I earn a living making music, filming, doing graphic and website design along with other sound work. I have worked for many companies including the BBC, Sound & Music, The National Trust, Creative Futures Cumbria and Barrow Borough Council. I have done this since the turn of the millennium after being made redundant from a much hated office job.

After leaving Barrow shipyard in 1993 – I made nuclear submarines – I had a series of McJobs; shop work, biscuit factory, offices etc, before deciding I couldn’t cope with all that. I started working for myself so I could choose the life I wanted, I could try and cope with depression whilst earning a living and move towards being happier about myself. It kind of works but it is hard to push your business when you are feeling low, and especially when my social anxiety is at its worst. I have kept my head above water though and have lived pretty well in this time, even when it has been a struggle. I earn decent money when I do work so it levels out well compared with so many jobs I have done, which gives me more time to look after myself.

I’d been fairly OK over the last few years until my mother died 5 years ago, which started my off on a bad spiral – I put on so much weight through binge eating that I went up to 19 stone and even though I carried on, and in this time met the most amazing lady, who I have lived with for 4 years now, I was really struggling. By June 2012 I was really low and one day I woke up and phoned the doctors and made an appointment.

I was prescribed Setraline and have been taking it since, plus I have seen both a CBT therapist and the therapist at MIND on a regular basis. I have been slowly trying to put my life back together, with medication, therapy but also diet and exercise – I am now 14 ½ stone and getting much fitter. I am really looking at how to get better and try and stay better. I was at a point where I couldn’t have carried on for much longer.

So this is how A Safe Space came to be – I have been using music as a tool to help my own head for years, both as an avid listener and as a player and started to think about how my illness influences my creativity. I wondered how other people used art to help their recovery, and also how technology can help people with mental health issues. I started working out a plan to put in for some arts funding to look at these things in more detail, but also to start to incorporate my illness into my business and life choices more. My good friend Steve Lewis encouraged me to start writing a blog before I got funding after we had a conversation about how hard it is to get funding when you suffer from my illness, he thought the whole journey would be of interest, so I have taken the plunge and started.

So I will be blogging about my illness as honestly and openly as possible, about how it effects my business and home life and the ways and means I find to improve my mental health. The first step of this was to ‘come out’ as someone with mental health issues. I thought if I am to do work around the issue I needed to be honest about myself, so I started by telling friends on Facebook….I wasn’t sure how this would go down but I have since had so many positive responses and so many people have shared their own struggles with me that I’ve not regretted it so far. I’m sure I’ll get people shying away from me and not wanting to deal with things I want to talk about but I want to not have to deal with the stigma and to hide my condition any longer – basically you can know me as I am or you can walk away, your choice. The stigma of mental health is something I’m sure I’ll cover a lot – I will be writing about issues that come up both good and bad.

I have been told it’s a brave thing to tell people about myself and to start this blog, but I don’t feel particularly brave at this point, more a sense of relief at getting it out and letting everyone else deal with it instead of trying to look happy around people all the time.

I also think it’s partly anger at the present Governments demonization of the vulnerable in our society. They seem to be happy to make us all hate each other; they want us to think the other is a shirker, a skiver, living on the backs of the rest of us. This makes me so angry. Whilst we all pay for the mistakes of bankers and politicians, they want us to blame the disabled, the poor, the homeless, the immigrants. Well I’m sorry but I can’t, I blame politicians along with their banking and corporate friends, their greed for money and power and how they don’t care how it hurts others. It feels like the right time to share my views on my own illness, to put my little bit in the hat to help stop social stigma for mental health issues. I guess even if it doesn’t make much of a difference to anyone but me then that’s fine. I’m not a shirker, I’m also not greedy, I want to be able to live a life at ease with myself and my community, to live in the great little house I live in with my partner, to carry on doing work I love, especially the community and school work I do. Not asking for much is it?

I am not a health professional so anything written on this site is my own or a guest bloggers personal views. If you have any mental health issues please contact you GP, or a service like MIND, CALM, SANE or The Samaritans, maybe confide in a friend you trust? We all need to find our own way through the maze but I do hope this blog helps in some way, even if it’s just a spark of recognition and that you know there’s someone out there also just doing their best. I have been told the blog is helping to speak out for the people that have to keep their condition a secret at work, that they wish they could do what I have done, which I guess is a good enough reason as any to be doing it – I hope to live to see a time when suffering from any mental health issues is looked at by society as nothing more than a broken leg, a virus or some other normal everyday illness. It’s not scary, you can’t catch it, be gentle.

Thanks for reading

Shaun xx

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