By Samuel Moradbakhti and Siyi Cao

Edited by Ty Chapman, Divij Vispute, and Heather Agun

UW Bothell School of Business

In the second of a two blogpost series, two UW Bothell students who have friends and relatives living with mental illness (one of whom is candid with peers about his own mental health diagnosis) 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 a gorgeous sunny May evening, and as the sun was setting, a performing arts theater in old Ballard started to light up with various forms of artwork. NAMI Seattle, ERC Insight, and Thrivent Financial hosted an evening filled with workshops, artworks, and a free draw mural. There were two workshops attendees could participate in an origami workshop hosted by Faarah Misbah. The second workshop, hosted by Maddy Noonan, focused on the stream of consciousness free writing. Even though both workshops are not traditional forms of art such as painting, drawing, and sculpting, they still engaged with creativity.

Samuel: The first activity Siyi and I got to participate in was the stream of consciousness free-writing workshop hosted by Maddy, NAMI’s Communications & Outreach Manager. When I think of writing, I imagine sitting down behind a desk and writing on paper or typing on a computer. When Maddy asked us to stand in a circle, I was slightly perplexed. Maddy had a reason for this though, and she asked us to think of the last time we wrote something that was truly raw. What she meant by “raw” was something that didn’t need to follow guidelines, something that we could write without being wary, or knowing that someone else was going to read it. It became apparent that no one in the group had written anything without a structured and supervised reason behind it.

Maddy didn’t rush us into writing immediately. Instead, she wanted us to break down our barriers and be very open and vulnerable in our writing. She eased us in with various forms of yoga and exercises. The goal of these exercises was to relax and let go of any tenseness or barriers that might inhibit us from engaging in true free writing. After the exercises were completed, we sat down and wrote for ten minutes. I wrote about my busy day and my partner Siyi wrote about her recent trip. Once our ten minutes was up, Maddy asked us to stop writing and to get back into the circle, where everyone shared how they felt. Most of us, myself included, felt decompressed and relaxed. Letting down my guard allowed me to enjoy and express myself even more into the next activity.

Siyi: The second activity Samuel and I attended was the origami workshop hosted by NAMI’s volunteer coordinator, Faarah. After a brief introduction, Faarah showed us how to create an origami butterfly. She explained that a butterfly, through metamorphosis, grows and changes over time. We began by writing something that we personally improved upon within the past year on the origami sheet. The meaning behind the origami butterfly made the improvement we each wrote down on our origami paper more symbolic and special. As we progressed in the creation of our origami butterfly, I hit many roadblocks. Some of the folds were confusing and difficult. However, I never felt far behind as the other attendees always jumped in and helped me out. I felt a great sense of teamwork and unity. By the time we had finished, Samuel and I felt very relaxed and at peace. At the end of the session, we got to keep our little butterfly as a memento for the night.

Samuel: I live with anxiety myself, and also have friends with various mental illnesses. We have always found art as a source of relief. I believe workshops like the Head & HeART art walk are crucial and very resourceful in bringing relief to individuals with mental illnesses. In my opinion, art is one of the few activities that offers a judgment-free outcome. Whether your art and craft skills are terrible or amazing, you won’t be judged by the outcome or quality of your artwork.

I think that Head & HeART was truly an amazing event filled with a group of individuals going through similar situations who got together to have fun while creating something special in the process. I can say well without a doubt that I, and many other individuals left that night feeling more creative, positive, and relaxed thanks to the workshops.

Samuel and Siyi: We want to extend our gratitude for Maddy, Faarah, the Eating Recovery Center, and NAMI Seattle for hosting the entire event.

If you would like to learn about and participate in similar workshops and events hosted by NAMI Seattle, visit their webpage to find details regarding future events.

Samuel Moradbakhti and Siyi Cao are UW Bothell business students in Professor Laura Umetsu’s Spring 2019 business writing class participating in a community partnership with NAMI Seattle to write humanist stories about NAMI Seattle community leaders and events.