At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.
I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.
I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.
Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.
Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.
A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.
Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.
And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.
And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.
My last post was meant to be my last post of 2020.
But I saw something that I wanted to share with you.
I took someone to St. James’ hospital in Leeds the other day. Specifically, the Bexley Wing. Which is actually more like a hospital within a hospital rather than a ‘wing’.
What struck me initially is that they have an art gallery space in the atrium. Obviously, I took the opportunity to peruse the stunning work on display.
What was a little bit awkward was the fact that someone deemed it a good idea to place chairs all along the gallery wall. So, I often found myself standing directly in front of a healthcare worker, (who was taking a well earned break), gawping over their head.
I decided to take a few photos for posterity. And soon realised that the juxtaposition of the art on display and the resting workers/visitors oblivious to it, was art in itself. (Well, it was in my head, anyway.)
I think the fact that the majority of people are on their smart phones adds a certain amount of 21st century irony to the pictures. With the art behind them screaming “Look at me!”
Some people may know how passionate I am about the arts and their ability to help in the healing process. Whether that be mental, physical or general wellbeing.
Anyway, the atrium gallery is amazing. The work is amazing. The staff are amazing. And the NHS is amazing. So, all-in-all, well done, and thank you to everyone at St James’ Hospital, Bexley wing. (You are amazing.)
The purpose of this, and my previous five posts, was to see if the type of art I have been producing during lockdown is markedly different from the work I was doing last year when I was suffering from poor mental health.
The first point to consider is the reason for my improved mental health in the first place. This was primarily, (but not exclusively), due to me giving up alcohol. I am 413 days abstinent at the time of writing. And I have never felt better. Both physically and mentally.
Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly become an anti-alcohol evangelist. Alcohol, like lots of things, is great if you use it properly. I didn’t. I misused it. I used it to self-medicate. To anaesthetise my perceived problems. The worse things got, the more I drank. The more I drank, the worse things got. In hindsight, it’s not difficult to see the trajectory of this coping strategy.
Now that I have given up drinking alcohol my mental health has soared. The first thing I noticed was my motivation to do things. (Which was sadly missing for the previous eight years or so.)
As a result of improved motivation, the second thing I noticed was just how prolific I was being!
But just because someone is producing a great quantity of work doesn’t mean that any of it is of great quality.
This goes back to the original question about the correlation of the type of art I am producing now versus last year. Yes, it has changed quite significantly. Has it improved? Well that is debatable and extremely subjective.
There is a lot of energy, emotion and raw power in some of the work I produced last year. You can see it here on Adieu 2019. But I am far happier producing the work I am today.
One of the questions I have wrestled with is not ‘is the art better?’, but ‘why am I doing it in the first place?’ The simple answer is – because I love it!
Since volunteering at Arc, I have learnt that the emphasis is on the act of doing rather than the end result. For me, creating art is about losing one’s self (or finding it) in the experience of manifesting something that didn’t previously exist. Being present. It is meditative, it’s cathartic, it’s therapeutic. Sure, it’s great if what you are producing turns out to be a masterpiece, but that isn’t the point of it. Also, I’d like to emphasise the ‘for me’ part. As I’m sure professional artists have a very different point of view to this. I am not trying to make a statement, merely channeling what I perceive to be my unconscious.
So, to summarise the summary:
Has my art changed since last year? Absolutely.
Has my productivity improved since last year? Ditto.
Has my mental health improved since last year? Immeasurably.
But, as previously mentioned, that is down to several factors: giving up alcohol, CBT, medication, art therapy and an amazing support network of health professionals, friends and family. Unlike the name of this blog, there has been lots of cavalry to the rescue.
And the most important question on your lips, I’m sure – what’s the significance of the illustrated symbols?
Well, they’re prophetic messages from an ancient alien civilisation dictated to me through my dreams.
Only kidding, I was just doodling.
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).
If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.
If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft
I am planning three further ‘Reflections on Lockdown’ posts, which will then give a clearer picture as to the correlation between art and my mental health.
I guess the reason for all this preamble is that if we just looked at this post in isolation, you would be forgiven for thinking that my mental health has not improved at all! As a lot of this work has its roots in a style I developed over the past couple of years when I wasn’t very well mentally.
I have stuck with it, and developed it, not because I am unhappy, but because I like it! I find it very expressive.
Like I say, we can have a look at the bigger picture once I’ve posted everything I’ve been working on this year.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this instalment of ‘Reflections of Lockdown’.
Well, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least.
I’ve been doing a lot more visual arts this year, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month, blow-by-blow, pictorial representation of my year. (Lucky you.)
Actually, the reason behind it is to see if/how the images/moods have changed over the course of the year. And how that might correlate to my mental health.
As some of you know, I volunteer for an arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), which works with people with mental health issues. I am an ardent advocate of the arts as a medium to treat mental health, and wellbeing in general.
Many years ago, I visted the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and you could see the gradual decline in his mental health through his work.
Whilst I’m no Van Gogh, I am trying to see if there are any similar patterns to my own work.
Let’s have a look, shall we?
And before I forget; Have a Happy New Year and an absolutely spectacular 2020.
Oh dear… that’s not a good start.
That’s a bit more positive. Birthday trip to Haworth, West Yorkshire, (home of the Brontes’), with my daughters.
Pros: Part of an Arc exhibition. Cons: Became homeless.
Ee, it’s grim up north. Charcoal sketch of an L.S. Lowry.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
Think I can see a pattern emerging.
I guess a lot of things are obvious in hindsight.
The road to recovery.
Signs of improvement.
Apart from my volunteer work at Arc, I started facilitating a Creative Writing Workshop at The Wellspring homeless charity in Stockport.
There are always reminders.
A change of outlook.
As you can see, it’s been a tumultuous year.
I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the last day of it. That would not have been possible were it not for the actions of my dear friend, Siobhan Costigan, over in Australia. Her, and my friends, family, NHS, Stepping Hill Hospital, Pathfinder, AA, The Wellspring and Arc have all played their part in saving my life and helping me to recover. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
As of 31/12/2019, I am 140 days abstinent. I feel completely blessed that I have been able to experience 140 days on Earth with my daughters, family and friends that I might not have been able to. I am truly a lucky man.
I wish you all a magnificent 2020; may the forthcoming decade bring you everything that you hope and dream for.
If you, or a loved one, are going through a difficult time, there are organisations out there who can help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you have managed to hold on this far. And remember, if things get so bad, go to your nearest A&E dept., they will take care of you just like any other patient.
I’ve been torturing myself about whether to write this post or not.
The primary reason for not posting it centres around ‘not airing one’s dirty laundry in public’, and hurting people close to me whom I love. Whilst the main reason for writing it is that every health and art professional I’ve shown my drawings to thinks I should.
For me, what it boiled down to is whether it will have a positive impact on people or a negative one. Particularly, those people who are suffering from that terrible physical and psychological illness – alcoholism.
I went into Smithfield detox centre in July of this year for 8 days, 7 nights. The staff there were amazing. And I came out of the place fully cured of my physical addiction to alcohol. (The problem upon leaving such a facility is coping with one’s mental and emotional addiction. But that, and a quite catastrophic relapse, is for another post.)
The following are a series of drawings I made when I was there to try and capture my emotional state each day whilst going through alcohol withdrawal with the aid of librium and a few injections in the bum! They are not self-portraits as some people think, just a reflection of how I felt.
I must add that not everyone’s experiences are the same as mine. For example, some people don’t have hallucinations.
Anyway, to any readers who are, (or think they might be), suffering from alcoholism, I would highly recommend a detox, so please speak to your GP or NHS alcohol service to see about accessing one.
Also, please feel free to message me privately if there is anything you would like to ask/tell me and I’ll do my best to help. My email is: email@example.com
As of writing, I am 98 days sober and I feel like a new person. Four months ago I didn’t think a new life was possible. I had resigned myself to my fate. But, through the incredible support of friends, family, Arc, The Wellspring, the NHS and AA, I have a brand new, positive outlook on life. And, I can honestly say that I am happy.
A huge thank you to Pathfinder Stockport; Arc Centre; The Wellspring; Smithfield Detox Centre, Manchester; Pennine Care Trust and NHS Stockport.
…Thank you for bringing me into this world. And thank you for keeping me in it.
Thank you for resetting all of my broken bones. And thank you for sewing me back together.
Thank you for operating on me when I needed fixing. And thank you for sending an ambulance when I couldn’t make it there by myself.
You have saved my life and patched me up more times than I care to remember. Without you, I would surely not be here.
Most of all, thank you for bringing my two daughters into this world. Thank you for taking care of them when they were sick and for vaccinating them from deadly diseases.
To all the nurses, doctors, GPs, clinicians, technicians, auxillary nurses, dentists, paramedics, ambulance technicians, call handlers, midwives, radiologists, cardiologists, pharmacists, oncologists, scientists, anaethetists, surgeons, psychiatrists, counsellors, psychotherapists, physicians, administrators, managers, secretaries, receptionists, cooks, housekeepers, porters, Nye Bevan, the Labour Party and all the other staff of our National Health Service who I have forgotten to mention –
Happy 70th Birthday!
And, thank you.
(Have yourself a slice of cake. But not too much. Don’t want you getting diabetes.)