It is funny isn’t it, the lies we tell ourselves. Or rather how we want to portray ourselves to others. I’m conscious that I have a persona online, in this blog, in social media. I guess I try to make sure I appear professional, sharing perhaps, but accessible too. In control, that I know what I am doing, throwing a bit of self-deprecation into the mix. My Facebook friends might think perhaps I can be funny, that I am having the time of my life, exploring this new world I am in as a weaver and an artist. But there is something about myself that I’ve never really hidden but up until this evening, as I sat down to write this post, I didn’t realise that I am in fact ashamed of it. It has been a bit of a slap in the face.
I do quite a bit of voluntary work with folk with mental health problems. I’m a hospital manager under the Mental Health Act, for Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust (BDCFT), sitting on an independent panel to which folk who have been sectioned can appeal their detention. I’m also an Appropriate Adult, supporting vulnerable adults who have been taken into custody. I’m also one of the trustees of a local charity, The Cellar Trust, that helps people with moderate to severe mental health problems back onto their feet and into work. And it was in their corridors that I saw a poster on a noticeboard asking for entries for an exhibition organised by BDCFT to be held at Salts Mill and open to anyone with experience of mental health problems.
It was on my doorstep, the venue rather prestigious, and I worked for the Trust, so off I sent my application, proffering them my voluntary roles as justification of my experience of mental health issues. In the blurb that accompanied one of the images I submitted, No Longer Mourn, (below) I made reference to the fact that I had had a period of depression after my brother was killed in 2000, that the tapestry was of a fractured figure sinking into the blackness but emerging from it too, it was an image of hope, not despair.
Happily the tapestry was picked to be included. No Longer Mourn has been on show at the marvellous Weave exhibition, and it was touch and go as to whether I would get it back in time, but it arrived today and I took it down to the Trust HQ based here in Saltaire.
I mentioned the exhibition on my Facebook page when I learned I had been accepted, giving as an excuse for my inclusion my voluntary roles, but as yet have failed to update my website page. Why? Perhaps, secretly, I didn’t want people to know I was doing it. People would wonder what I was doing in an exhibition aimed at people who have had mental health problems.
This was supposed to be a blog post about my amazing holiday, an unexpected fabulous time in Whitby with my aunt and uncle. I was going to throw in at the end a brief mention of the exhibition as I ought to do, but I was going to mention my voluntary work alone. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable, and that was when I realised how embarrassed I was, how ashamed I was to say, I have had a mental health problem. I am one of the 1 in 4 who will be affected by mental illness, a statistic from which the exhibition takes its title. The utter ridiculouness of this is astounding to me, not least because I have alluded to it before, here in this blog. Friends and colleages know. And I’ve had no qualms about making public the generations of women in my family who, rightly or wrongly, ended up in lunatic asylums as was, and who have provided an endless source of inspiration to me as an artist, thank you very much. And yet, I could not type, could not confess to people who do not know me, to people to whom I suppose I wish to portray myself in a certain way, that I have had depression, that I have had a mental illness. And not just once. I had depression too when I was a teenager, no idea why, even tried to take my life, a call for help I suppose, rather than serious intent.
I am exceptionally well now, have been for fourteen or so years, and in the last leg weaving has been a massive part of that, I know who I am in the world, I know what I was built to do, I know where I am heading, I have amazing opportunities before me. I do struggle with anxiety and self-esteem, I don’t perhaps give the attention I should to my well-being, but I live, I am forceful for others, I have goals, I am more than able to work. And I work with people in desperate, awful situations, people, who despite that, want to fight, have the will to fight and I have nothing but massive admiration for them all. Yet here I was trying to sweep under the carpet that I myself was once lost, was once ill too. Perhaps I feel it is ok to confess I have had depression, it can be read a number of ways, it is common enough, I was grieving. But perhaps to say I have had a mental illness, which of course it is, made me wonder if folk would think that I was somehow not in control, that I am not a professional, that they might think less of me. The aim of the 1in4 exhibition is to break the stigma, is to get conversation going, how could I possibly take part if I was from the outset trying to fudge why I am part of it, to maintain that stigma and to stifle the conversation?
So go and see the exhibition, Gallery 2 Salts Mill here in Saltaire, West Yorkshire, 6-10th October, coinciding with World Mental Health Day on the 8th. My name is Chrissie Freeth, I am a tapestry weaver, I work with people with mental health problems, and I have twice suffered with depression, I have had a mental illness. It happened, it wasn’t my fault, and I shan’t be ashamed. Would I be ashamed of a physical illness? No. Except that one time I dropped a loom on my foot and ended up in A&E..That was totes my fault.