Andrew’s Lockdown Story
One Creative Directions participant tells us his story
Creative Directions is for Doncaster adults with experience of mental health issues. The project supports the development and maintenance of good mental health, enables people to make connections and to build confidence long term. Regular positive activity, support and signposting responds to individual need.
Andrew (not his real name ) first came to the regular Creative Directions at The Point around two years before the Covid-19 pandemic. He first heard about the group through his nephew who had previously attended before becoming a mentor for Mind. Andrew said:
I was virtually agoraphobic. I stood outside for ages before going in, I was petrified – I couldn’t look at anyone, couldn’t talk to anyone. My nephew then introduced Jamie and I chatted for a little bit and things went from there.
Andrew’s nephew came with him initially and then someone from Mind supported him for twelve more weeks:
“After those 12 weeks I ummed and ahhed – can I take that first step? I pushed myself. My son said I had to do it. I did and I thoroughly enjoy it. We’ve done some amazing stuff – wood, stone, paint and so on. I live with anxiety and depression, I’ve got a great lot on my plate. Some people don’t realise as it’s not visible, even family, though I’m not looking for sympathy.”
The first lockdown began in March 2020. darts staff contacted all of the participants by telephone and found that those with existing mental health issues, or who struggled with isolation, felt much worse as a result of having their regular routines disrupted and not being able to see other people.
Andrew told us:
It was awful having Creative Directions taken away from me because to be honest it’s the only thing I’ve got apart from light sabre-ing. To have it all taken away – I became a vegetable. At the beginning I just slept, 18 hours a day on the sofa. No motivation.
In October Andrew found out that there were going to be some regular Creative Directions Zoom sessions and he got in touch. He told us that he was really pleased that he was able to start coming along, and it was important because it gave him a purpose – something to look forward to throughout the week.
“Initially I’ve enjoyed the music side of it – I love music– Gary and Moony are absolutely amazing – Moony can put stuff together like no one can, and no one can beat Gary’s percussion. When you said you were moving to more drama based activity I was put on my back foot. I was put out of my comfort zone but I gave them a whirl and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them and I participate as much as I can.”
Andrew says that he looks forward to the Zoom sessions immensely, logging in and setting his camera up early so that nothing is missed:
“Looking forward to it isn’t a strong enough word – I feel really hyped up. I like the routine, but mainly I like seeing other people and doing the creative stuff.
Coming in person; if I come on the bus it’s painful, taxi is too expensive.”
What makes the Zoom sessions work?
Andrew told us that it’s a mixture of ingredients that make the Zoom sessions important – the routine, the camaraderie (both with artists and participants) as well as the ‘homework’ that the artists set. This is additional activity for the participants to do outside of the Zoom session that gives extra focus and a sense of achievement between sessions:
When I’m not doing things for me; when it’s for the artist, so it has a deadline. It gives me a poke up the backside to do it. I feel really elated when I’ve done it. When you’ve done something you can look at it and think ‘I’ve done that’. It feels great – what you’ve done can be crap but you feel great that you’ve done it. You create it with other people as well you know; the way Moony puts thing together, and that guy from Barnsley [Ian McMillan] – he’s a funny guy that guy. How Luke can make the music up from the top of his head is brilliant – absolutely superb.
Andrew told us that the artists leading the sessions have been able to recreate the most important elements of the face to face sessions and create a space for people to socialise, have fun and be focused and creative:
“It’s infectious. If other people are happy, it pulls you up – you might be having the crappiest morning in the world but you come onto the Zoom meeting and by end of it you’ve forgotten what you were having a bad day about. It’s a pleasure – a good distraction – like a pleasure button on your brain.”
After a Zoom session
One of the things that people told us they missed during lockdown was the post-session buzz that kept them going for the week until they could get together with the group again. Despite the fact that Andrew has been attending sessions virtually, he told us that he is still left with the same post-session sensation:
I feel fantastic after a session – I go on and do other things – e.g. polishing, washing up – things that I wouldn’t normally do, but I can potter around for an hour, rather than sit on the sofa. It like gives you your natural endorphins, and you just feel elated.
Achievement and challenge
Artists leading Creative Directions sessions design activities around the interests, ideas and input of the individual participants involved. There is always an element of gentle challenge however, pushing each group member slightly out of their comfort zone so they become gradually more confident and feel a greater sense of achievement. Andrew told us:
“I’m proud of what I did in the Monday sessions, it’s something I wouldn’t normally do. Monday’s totally out of my comfort zone – to make rhymes up was just brilliant. I read the words and made everyone laugh – that made me proud.”
Not only this, but Andrew has also begun changing his behaviours positively as a result – giving himself new strategies for focusing and coping:
“I have started rhyming in my head to be honest! It makes me chuckle. It can take my mind off what I’m actually doing. The biggest change is that I’m not on the sofa all the time. It’s fantastic for my mental and physical health. Before, I was going down that slippery slope where I was thinking ‘What use am I?’.”
As restrictions begin to be relaxed and life starts to return to some kind of normality, darts has started to think about how to take the best of the learning from the pandemic and make sure that the needs of Creative Directions participants are still being met. Andrew gave us some ideas for future activity:
I would like and prefer it if there was some Zoom activity – maybe fortnightly if weekly is too often. It gives me something to look forward to and gives me homework to do. The more things I can get into the better - it’s an exercise for your brain.