EXAMPLES OF ARTWORK THAT ADORNED THE WALLS OF COPIOUS FOR THE EVENING. CREATED BY AN ANONYMOUS ARTIST LIVING AN EATING DISORDER. PHOTO CREDIT: LAMAR HENDRIKSE
By Tyler Hearing and Lamar Hendrikse
Edited by Aaron Carchia, Mariam Said, Aidan Emmons, and Harpreet Singh
Two UW Bothell students who have close friends and relatives living with mental illness go to the Head and HeART Walk organized by NAMI Seattle, to discover how people who live and have lived with mental illness and their allies are coming together to create fun and inclusive group healing events and experiences.
It was May 13th, a warm Monday spring evening in Old Ballard. Tucked between Bop Street Records and Secret Garden Bookshop was Copious. Copious is a performance art cabaret where the Head and HeART walk was being hosted by ERC/Insight and NAMI Seattle: two organizations that provide help and treatment for those living with mental illnesses.
Upon entering the unassuming door to Copious, I walked down a small tight flight of creaky wooden stairs into a plain white hallway that reminded me of an old high school. Down the corridor, the second door to my left contained a more fitting entrance into a cozy little getaway. Doused in purple, roofed by colorful red beams, and filled to the brim with flowery and avant-garde furnishings for audience members to sit on, this was Copious. The first things I noticed when I walked in was a jubilant staff member who welcomed me and the smell of a full spread of meats and cheeses near the center of the room, which deliciously enticed me the second I walked in. There was a big open space for what served as a stage, facing bleachers lined with chairs and tables for more guests to sit and relax. It wasn’t as loud as I imagined it normally might be, it was relaxed but the quiet was not stifling. I heard people chatting and laughing, but I had no trouble understanding anyone or talking to fellow attendees. This was because tonight, instead of being a place simply for entertainment, it was also a place of solidarity, understanding, and empathy.
For one night, instead of performers and acts, real people would be connecting with feelings and personal histories with mental illnesses all channeled through art. Many of us, and if not us, then our friends, relatives, or neighbors live with mental illnesses. Often times those invisible ghosts and those intangible struggles can be tough to express or articulate through words. Art can be a great way to express some of these tough to explain feelings, and it can help us heal. All across the walls were pieces of art detailing the stories, struggles, and victories of people living with mental illnesses. These personal narratives on the walls, and the heavy stories they bore, some about insecurity, some about anxiety, some about fear, some about depression, some about completely different things.
The seriousness of the content contrasted heavily with the lighter atmosphere of the delicious food and drink offered by NAMI Seattle. A full spread of meats, cheeses, crackers, cookies and even some salads adorned the center of the room, along with a full-time bartender. To me, this contrast was what made this event so special. This room had been for a night transformed into a welcoming, comforting, and optimistic place to think about things that are normally intimidating, nerve-wracking or terrifying. The contrast allowed me to engage with ideas and feelings I normally am too afraid to approach because I knew I had a group of people who understood at my back. For once I felt secure and safe as I explored the ranges of emotions that were on display on the walls of Copious.
The artwork on display in Copious was not limited to paintings, there were drawings, audio files, a projector displaying all of the forms of art on exhibit for the night, hanging physical pieces, and even community artwork on the floor, which anyone could add too. On it were sunflowers, phrases, cute letters, serious scenes, and names of beautiful, honest survivors and their friends. Besides the wonderful space, full of friends and allies, there were also activities to engage in.
The events of the night consisted of two separate workshops: stream of consciousness writing and origami.
I first attended the stream of conscious free writing workshop led by Maddy Noonan, who is on staff at NAMI Seattle and at Copious.
The workshop started with Maddy leading us in a series of warm-up exercises that consisted of stretching and making various noises with our mouths in order to achieve “comfort within our bodies” while surrounded by strangers. Maddy explained the goal of the stream of conscious writing workshop was to bring to light the seemingly insignificant thoughts that run through everyone’s heads in a judgment-free way in order to reach a state of creativity free of stress and anxiety within the mind. The aim of the stream of consciousness writing is to continuously write down whatever thoughts came to mind for 15 minutes straight.
This writing activity was designed to cut down on all the stress and anxiety we all face from day to day. We go about our lives crowding our brains with busy and stressful situations but rarely do we stop and reflect on all the random thoughts our brain produces. Getting to sit down and take your mind off of your problems and issues makes for a very calming experience.
After the warm-up, my writing experience started out dwelling on upcoming tasks for the week like presentations and sitting in traffic. My thoughts eventually transitioned into candid thoughts like, wondering what music was playing inside the venue, what I would be eating for dinner that night, thinking about how cool origami is. The experience was very liberating. As a college student, my writing has to be very formal and polished. I have to carefully craft essay papers, memos, and emails most days. In contrast, this activity was a great platform for creatively writing down my thoughts without worrying about being graded – an activity I rarely find myself engaging in these days. Being immersed in writing whatever I wanted completely stress free was immensely liberating. I felt so free and light afterward, like the burden of unspoken thoughts I had been carrying all day had been lifted.
After the writing workshop, I attended the origami workshop. The ostensible goal of the workshop was simple. It was to learn how to make an origami butterfly. However, this simple objective achieved such wonderful things. We were guided by a NAMI Seattle member, Faarah Misbah, who encouraged us to get in touch with a childish side of ourselves that most of us have all but forgotten. Children can get so excited, so focused, and so intently motivated to do even the simplest things. We were told that sometimes there is nothing more relaxing, nothing better for our emotional and mental health than just focusing intensely on creating something beautiful.
This concept definitely seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. I found that getting in touch with yourself by paying attention to nothing but the task at hand can be an excellent way to let go and free yourself. I think that in the past, whenever I did things like folding, I treated it as means to an end (laundry!). When I accepted that the only goal was to focus, I felt like I was letting go of some sort of adult inhibition. I felt as though I had almost been ashamed to try too hard to fold something well or to make mistakes in the past.
TWO BUTTERFLIES MADE BY THE AUTHORS IN THE ORIGAMI WORKSHOP.
PHOTO CREDIT: LAMAR HENDRIKSE
Here at Copious, I took a lot of time to make sure every fold was neat and clean, something I normally skip over. I made plenty of mistakes, but now every mistake felt like something that would eventually be resolved since my only goal was to focus and just do my best. I was focusing on myself, and my own movements, by focusing on the paper.
I never thought a piece of paper could cause such a calming and self-centering experience. And to top it all off, I got a butterfly too! That exercise wrapped up a wonderful night of art, friendliness, and healing. A handful of attendees stuck around to view the art they had not yet gotten to, while a handful of others made their last contributions to the community art poster. Organizers of the event handed out goodie bags to attendees as they left that evening, offering lunch boxes, coloring books, pencils, and self-care products.
CREATED BY AN ARTIST FOR A “SHADOW PLAY” CHALLENGE IN RELATION TO SELF-EXPLORATION.
PHOTO CREDIT: LAMAR HENDRIKSE
I walked out of this cozy, inclusive, purple den with that butterfly, a renewed spirit, many new perspectives, and so much more as I ascended those creaky wooden stairs back into that cool spring night.
Events like this are great for those in recovery, or those currently living with mental or emotional health issues. Even people looking to broaden their perspective or simply seeking to be an ally could come. If you would like to know about upcoming events you can learn about NAMI Seattle here, and you can find a calendar of their events here. NAMI Seattle hosts various mental health-themed events to benefit the local community and specifically those in the community living with or recovering from mental illness.
Tyler Hearing, Lamar Hendrikse, Aaron Carchia, Mariam Said, Aidan Emmons, and Harpreet Singh are students in Professor Laura Umetsu’s Spring 2019 business writing course at UW Bothell, where they participated in a community writing partnership with NAMI Seattle.