Writing ourselves back together: self-care and self-discovery during a pandemic year

I’m Kate Steel Jardel from Write Mind.

As a child I would sit and watch my mum, a school secretary, while she typed, wide-eyed with fascination at the blank pages being transformed right in front of me.

Fast forward through a life woven with words, and post-graduate study of Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, and now I use a range of creative writing activities, based on research and evidence, to give people the time and the tools to nurture their emotional health and wellbeing. Whether it’s a group workshop, a 1:1 session or something in between, all my work shares a strong focus on resilience, reflection and restoration.

Creative writing is amazing. With proven links between the act of writing and our wellbeing, the simple act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) can do so much.
It can help us face up to the big things or appreciate the small things. It can give us ways to feel grounded or to lift ourselves up. It can help us build our resilience, find our voice, bring us closer together, capture memories, find a spark, summon peace in a busy world – or simply have some fun.

But one thing writing couldn’t ever do was predict the enormity, tragedy and upheaval of the events we’ve all experienced in the past year.

On a practical level for me, this meant quickly adapting workshops that I had conceived as face-to-face to make them as accessible and enjoyable as possible as an online experience. I had to develop my own practice as I learned how to ‘hold’ people safely and productively in a group space when they were actually all in different places.

As well as becoming well-versed with Zoom’s charms and foibles (other platforms are available‚Ķ) I learned a couple of really important things:

There is often an intangible magic that happens when a group of people are gathered together in a room, sharing words in public, with each other, and in private, with the page in front of them. My fear that this would dissolve was quickly laid to rest after just a couple of online workshops. Those lovely moments when people ‘catch’ each other’s words, or discover they’ve unknowingly conjured the same image, still happened, and people were still warm, open, honest, funny and willing – it turns out that humans are so good at connecting with each other that dodgy internet connections and poor video resolution couldn’t get in the way (no matter how hard they sometimes tried).

I also learned that there are great benefits of people joining together from their own space. As well as the great advantages of technology for enabling us to make workshops more practically accessible, with subtitles for example, I also observed that participants were often more at ease when working online. Whether this was because they no longer had to worry about finding the venue, or because they were in the safety of their familiar surroundings, the social restrictions that were keeping us apart gave people new confidence in coming together.

My other fear was that I would feel isolated as a practitioner. Actually, the opposite was true. I soon found that many others were facing the same conundrum as me: how do we make sure we continue to bring something of real value to people despite the potential barriers? This was a common challenge brought me together with other practitioners and I gained lots from their generosity, including the fearless work and sage advice of blogger, writer, facilitator and arts activist Dal Kular. I rediscovered the joy of sharing ideas with someone to develop my own practice and design new, exciting workshops.

I’ve gained so much from my collaborations during the past year, and for this year’s Creativity and Wellbeing Week I’ve teamed up with the immensely talented artist Emma-Jane Richards from Mamalovescraft to offer a blended writing and crafting workshop. Participants will start by thinking creatively about their wellbeing and by the end will have some practical techniques to bring their thoughts to life in a beautiful keepsake pocketbook.

The session – as, in fact, all our joint sessions are – is infused with this year’s festival theme: care. Whether it’s rooted in art and craft or writing, our practice is united by a desire to help people tap into their creativity, however far it is from the surface, to find strength and practice self-care. Taking some time out to be creative can be a really effective way of giving ourselves permission to look after our own wellbeing, when usually we are looking out for others.

There are many things to mourn and bid good riddance from the last year, but finding new ways to join people in their self-care will be one of the silver linings I’ll always remember. Writing has soothed many a soul throughout history, and I think it’s shown itself to be fully up for the challenge of what’s just been and what’s to come. It will help us process the magnitude of what will hopefully soon become our past, and look to a positive future. If you’d like to chat about how writing could help you do that, please get in touch.

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