Posted on Tue 13 Feb 2018
Look ok, feel crap
Pretending to cope and sometimes not being able to understand the rules of spaces and social interaction.
The last time I was down at the studio it was christmas. More than that, it was the christmas party. Put me in a group of 2 and I am generally ok, or one to one, or in front of 250 and I'm fine. It's that intermediate state. Being in a room without a structure, nothing to ground me, no role to hide behind, you know - situations like openings or parties - perhaps the christmas party at the studio. Yes! The christmas party at the Studio, that's it.
Bear with me - this IS going somewhere - just the preamble is necessarily a bit longer than usual.
I knew I would feel uncomfortable. I have been coming down to the studio nearly a year now. I have met a few people to talk to, know some by sight and others that we have missed the length of time between clocking and speaking and that mid ground awkwardness has crept in. Well we just couldn't speak now - that would be too weird. A bit like realising you have been standing talking to the person using a wheelchair slightly too long so sitting down or crouching down or amending my posture will draw attention to the fact that I have been standing too long and now I feel awkward and self concious and very very aware of my seeming unawareness of disability protocol.
It's no coincidence that I am obsessed with weather and the rich source of metaphors it provides as far as wellbeing and mental health goes. The highs, the lows, the depressions which come blowing in, the sunny personalities, the frosty shoulders, the clouds we live under, the little rays of sunshine, the floods of tears, or the myriad others. I didn't dream of being an artist, I was content being a therapist till I had heard so much trauma I became traumatised myself.
The studio is an incredibly codified space. On the surface it is exactly like it says on the can. However the longer I am present the more I realise the space is extremely codified and I don't fully understand the codification. Sometimes I can cover for myself and some times I can't. I, like many people are on a spectrum of being incredibly high functioning and totally non-functioning. Depending on how well I am, I mask accordingly. So on a day I am feeling really well and someone asks me 'How are you?' or some derivative of that question I know that the expected answer, the social normative behaviour would be to say 'fine, thanks, how are you?' and I comply. When I am stressed, or at a lower functioning level then my social filter may not be working and I may say exactly how I am feeling. This may include how badly I have slept, or nightmares or remarking on how anxious I am....that kind of thing.
I struggle with the social norms and challenging stigma. I am not a mental health denier, and nor do I think it should be force fed to people. The largest killer of our youth is suicide - and as someone who experiences often persistant ideation - I do not want to gloss over it but also know it is a massive taboo and no one wants that answer when you ask them how they are. Imagine how happy I was to have a 'normal' matter of fact conversation about it, without it being 'weird' - and at the christmas party.
Of course masking doesn't just relate to that first introductory social filler. As someone with an enduring and severe mental health condition it permeates every area of life, every moment sometimes, so that you may come across as looking okay but really feeling totally crap. It's that public containment and holding things together and the private collapse. Over the last year my cognitive processes have become more and more neurodiverse - or less and less neuro-normative.
However, I find Pervasive Media Studio one of the spaces where I feel comfortable. It does start with Sookie on the desk - and I am not going to list people and embarrass them - and I apologise (slightly) for mentioning you but you make a massive difference to my experience and how I can engage with the space - but the fact I can just give Sookie an accurate and true emotional barometer reading when I come in is useful in that not only does it convey some sense of where I am at but also I get a chance of checking in with myself. It allows me to take the next step into the room - in the past that has been impossible for me and even when I have arrived at the door I have had to turn around and go home.
The strength of the studios' accessibility is that it is not obtrusive, it is almost invisible. Yet it is so responsive. It is a space that allows me to be me as much as possible, it has been a space where I have been able to find the right conditions to undertake research, to learn and develop - both professionally and personally. It is a place where I feel I have been able to be an artist and whether I identify as disabled or not has largely been irrelevant although not unimportant.
So actually, the christmas party was not as uncomforatbale as I had imagined. I managed to play the odd game and talk to some people i hadn't spoken to and firm up other friendships over a dram or two.
My next visit is my last under this residency and funding. As someone who has spent an awful lot of time travelling I have found somewhere where I want to be more, somewhere that feels a bit like 'home' inside. So I have my next funding application in and my fingers and toes crossed.