Me and My Anxiety Monster

Aug 26 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Darkness, like a slug floating in outer space. Illustration by Justin Cliffe

One of the highlights of my pandemic experience has been getting to work one-to-one with a fantastic array of artists, facilitators, therapists and researchers over Zoom, through my Creative Consultancies. It's been such a joy to guide people's creative and therapeutic explorations and I intend to keep this string to my bow. I’ll be opening up for new clients this September.

For this blog, I wanted to celebrate one of the amazing individuals I worked with from September 2020 to January 2021. I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to share what happens in the Creative Consultancies as they are private and confidential, but as this project had many public facing elements, I asked the artist for her permission to share this blog and she agreed!

Allow me to introduce you to the artist, Hazel Anderson, a wonderful street performer and family theatre maker who received funding from Arts Council Wales for her project 'Me and My Anxiety Monster.' The project was a chance for Hazel to explore her own mental health and to consider the potential for creating a one woman performance about living with mental health conditions at some point in the future. 

We met on Zoom for two hours, once a fortnight. Our sessions took many forms and my role shifted between facilitator, dramatherapist, project planning consultant and peer. In the initial stages, we got clear about the project aims, developed a working agreement and plotted out the different stages of the project, making sure there was flexibility built into the plan. 

We then launched into a creative exploration of Hazel's mental health. Through conversation, visualisation and embodiment, we discovered a cast of internal characters and found out what their needs were. This thread continued throughout our time together.

Hazel was keen to open up the mental health conversation to others, in order to explore the universality of her experience and learn from other people, so we devised a survey to collect people's creative impressions of their own mental health. Questions included; If your mental health condition was an animal, what animal would it be? If your mental health was a style of music, what would it be? How would you describe a “good” day? How would you describe a “bad” day? What is your favourite self-care strategy? We shared the survey on social media and had over 60 responses.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The Dance / poem constructed from the survey data by Hazel Anderson / Illustrations by Kirsty Harris

We sifted through the data and discussed the positive impact of hearing other people's mental health stories, which led us back to pondering on what Hazel might like to create from her own story, to share with others.

For her first creative response to be shared in the public realm, rather than making an autobiographical piece, Hazel’s instinct was to explore the universal themes that bubbled up in the survey. We dived into the data and began workshopping some characters based on the respondents’ animal descriptions of their mental health conditions. From this exploration, Hazel created a short performance piece and performed it at a cabaret night on Zoom.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Hazel after her cabaret triumph!

The cabaret performance gave us a chance to put Hazel's creative process under a microscope in our next session. We looked at how she'd gone about creating the piece, how she'd liaised with the booker, how she'd prepared on the day, how she felt during the performance and what happened to her after the show. This allowed us to also reflect on Hazel's past creative projects and explore how she might like to develop her creative process to better support her mental health in the future.

Hazel then followed her flow towards creating poetry from the survey data. She collaborated with two artists to illustrate the poems, bringing them to life for readers everywhere. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Coming Up For Air / poem constructed from the survey data by Hazel Anderson / Illustrations by Kirsty Harris

Hazel also approached musician / composer Tom Elstob to collaborate on creating two original songs, inspired by the data. The following song, "On a good day" uses verbatim lyrics from the survey. Hazel made the video.

The theme of connection kept popping up in our sessions. As Hazel and I agreed that connection is an incredibly important component of maintaining good mental health, we explored different ways that she could invite creative connection with others through this project. I helped Hazel prepare for a series of one-to-one walk-and-talks using the survey questions and data as a starting point. Hazel recorded these conversations to make into a podcast. We also developed an idea for a Zoom Playful Connection Lab – which we piloted together along with some special guests. Each of us brought a playful connection activity for us all to try. Afterwards we discussed how we’d felt and what had aided or hindered our connection.

In our final one-to-one session, Hazel and I looked back over the whole project and charted our discoveries. From this, Hazel cast her intentions for the future and we celebrated our time together with a classic Zoom dance. 

Throughout this project, I was inspired by Hazel's bravery, energy, irrepressible force of creativity and depth of inquiry. I really enjoyed the length of the project and the depth that the regular contact allowed us to access. It was an absolute honour to guide Hazel’s journey, moving fluidly between the roles of facilitator, dramatherapist, project planner and peer. 

If you have a project you’d like me to work on with you, check out the Creative Consultancies page to find out how it all works. I'll be back on Zoom from mid-September onwards. 

If you'd like to find out more about Hazel click here.

To check out more of Tom Elstob's music, look up The Idol Rich.

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