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Immerse Yourself

With International Forest Bathing Day falling on 12 September, I thought I would explore this intriguing idea, which for many people has become a way to improve wellbeing.

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The expression “forest bathing” is memorable and striking, but could also be confusing. Not only is there no need to get wet, but you don’t even have to be in a forest. The expression is used to cover different ways of connecting with nature and the outdoors. Thinking about bathing, I think of words like cleansing, immersive and soaking. So maybe this is an opportunity to feel your mind “cleansed” as you “immerse” yourself in the natural world, and “soak in” the sights and sounds of a forest, a field or a single city tree. Unlike a shower, where the focus is on speed, bathing is more about slowing down and going deeper, absorbing: as is forest bathing as a form of nature connection.

And why forest bathing? Forests do have a particular place in popular imagination. They are hushed, places of stillness, a world of their own. They enfold you in their shade. So again there’s the idea of an immersive experience of nature – but as we know, that’s in no way limited to forests themselves. I used to walk regularly in a wood. There was a hush, a feeling of being enclosed, away from the open fields which surrounded the wood. Walking there regularly I got to see it in all different moods and times of year. But now that I live nowhere near a wood or forest, I still immerse myself in nature all the time.

Founded two years ago, the Forest Bathing Institute is working to develop forest bathing in the UK: running forest bathing gatherings at places like Leith Hill, Kew Gardens and the RSPB Sandy reserve, and training people to become forest bathing guides themselves. Another important aspect of their work is cooperating with six UK universities on research into the impact of forest bathing. Lived experience and testimonials can be powerful, but assessment, monitoring of measurable impacts, is needed if forest bathing is to gain the recognition and funds it deserves. To this end, the UK’s first peer-reviewed research paper into forest bathing’s health benefits has recently been published. It reveals clear impacts on mood, emotions and also heart rate.

And forest bathing is growing rapidly. Organisations like the National Trust & Forestry England promote and explore forest bathing. Many Forest School programmes in different locations draw on forest bathing. With forest bathing videos on You Tube, you don’t even have to be in nature – instead you can try immersing yourself in the natural world from your desk or chair.

The more forest bathing grows and the more research is done, the more questions will be answered. I wonder if people who live in urban areas benefit most from forest bathing, as a welcome contrast to their everyday? I wonder if forest and woodland will be proven to have a stronger impact than other natural settings?

Thinking of forest bathing reminded me of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire: trees planted to form the shape of a built Christian cathedral. As in a built cathedral, this becomes a reflective, contemplative space, somewhere to think what matters.

Do you have any experiences of forest bathing to share, or thoughts or questions? It would be great if you’d like to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Spice Of Life

What could art, music or nature possibly have to do with struggling against an eating disorder? Recovery through rock art, rap or riding a bicycle?

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In the face of life-changing conditions like eating disorders, art, music and nature could be dismissed as trivial, distracting, unlikely to address or resolve the deep issues behind the condition. Talking therapy or CBT may be preferred, alongside diet or eating plans and maybe medication. And all of these can be vital, life-giving and liberating. So many eating issues have roots in experiences and challenges which might seem unrelated. Exploring what may have sparked the condition is so important – maybe to uncover suppressed trauma, or focusing on feelings already out in the open and trying to lessen their power.

Specific art therapy can be a way to do this exploring, and to express feelings through colour and line. But the arts can also play a part in other ways, not only as specific therapy.

In her book “The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite”, Laura Freeman writes how learning, stimulus, taking up an interest and pastime, can be the best way to get through. For her, this was books as she lived with anorexia. In another passage, she writes that therapy is important – but that as time went on, she needed more than therapy, new thoughts to free her and to open up life once more.

This is one way that art, music and nature can help combat eating issues. Stimulus is what they are all about. Colour and light and sound and rhythm and trees and flight. Art is productive and absorbing. Music lifts the spirits and can express more than any amount of words. And nature creates such a different perspective on issues which may dominate our minds but which do not even figure in nature.

Art and craft can become endless treasure troves of creativity and challenge. Music can transform mood. Nature opens up sky, space, air. They might all help you think less aout eating and more about the richness of the rest of life.

So all these things can become a treasure trove, but also far more – a tool, a form of self-expression to give voice to what troubles or torments you maybe. Paint in colours you feel express what is inside. Draw symbols (a wall maybe, or a dark sky, or glimmers of light). Try journaling regularly. Sing along to songs. Try percussion to express anger or relieve tension. Focus on the elements on a walk, feeling the wind blow against you or blow you along. Dig and clear soil to clear your mind. None of these things take the place of therapy, of medical help, of eating more or less. But they might let in a shaft of light.

Maybe food has become an ally, a haven, a refuge – or maybe an enemy, a barrier, a threat. I’ve read the writer Jennifer Rees Larcombe’s experiences of seeing food as a substitute for love. It’s impossible to generalise, but binge eating can have roots in feeling a lack, maybe isolation and loneliness, or inactivity and boredom. Eating becomes a way to spend time, to feel “full”, to seek fulfilment. But creativity too can satisfy and fulfil, as you complete a painting or colouring or drawing. It can also boost self worth, which can be an issue in anorexia in particular. And it can help create a feeling of agency in your own recovery, of being active, not passive. Everyone is different, and an eating disorder is a highly emotive and personal experience. Within that experience, art, music and nature might open up some space – as too could faith.

I would really like to hear any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Together Or Alone?

When people share how art helps them, they talk about feeling absorbed and focused, shutting out issues, entering a world of their own. All this conjures up quiet, private creativity. But many art for wellbeing initiatives run as groups, in public. So do people benefit more from art for wellbeing as part of a group, or when they try activities as individuals? These are questions I’ve been reflecting on ever since I began not only running projects but also leading an art and craft group.

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Inevitably it is group participation which is far more likely to be recorded, surveyed, monitored, so there’s far greater awareness of its benefits and impacts. If someone starts experimenting with art for their own wellbeing, even if it is at someone else’s suggestion, it’s likely to go unrecorded. In this way, arts for wellbeing initiatives might only tell half the story.

While every group will be different, in most groups the opportunity to spend time with others is uppermost. It’s a chance to share a common interest, and this in itself enriches the activity as people pool ideas, interpret an activity differently or add a new twist. For example, some people might follow an idea to the letter, while others might add different media or materials. In many groups, conversation is key. People might spend so long talking that they run out of time to finish their artwork! I feel this is a positive. The actual art and craft might be overshadowed, but this highlights what it is that participants want and need. Creativity for them may be a way in, common ground, even an activity which relaxes them so they find it easier to talk and share. The impact is more about the experience than it is about the finished product.

Any group’s dynamic depends on far more than the leader. Participants who are happy to contribute and share enhance the experience hugely for leader and members alike.

Trying art for wellbeing as an individual has clear benefits all its own – freedom and flexibility. You are free to try whichever artform or craft you like, whenever and wherever is possible for you, with little or no commitment. This could be entirely positive. Time to yourself might be particularly precious, a haven away. But what helps one person will not suit another. People may struggle with motivation or ideas, or fail to find time if there’s no specific event to attend. Then again, for some art needs to be private all the more because they use art to express very personal feelings or thoughts, maybe by journaling.

In a way the art for wellbeing projects I run feel like a halfway house, combining individual and group elements. People take part in their own time from home, receiving a weekly email resource with example images, but also have the chance to join a private Facebook group for each project. Around 50% of participants join these groups, and judging by their comments they seem to welcome the opportunity to share artwork, to compare, to see how others interpret the theme or idea. Sometimes the group can be a sfe space to share an issue they’re facing, or how art helps them.

Do you find art helpful as an individual or as part of a group? I would really like to hear any experiences in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Showtime

November can be a dark and dreary month – the very opposite of musical shows, which explode with rhythm and colour and life! So this November I’m sharing a suggestion each day of a song from a musical to listen to (in a Facebook group) – just go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/557385639483426/

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Life-enhancing would have to be the first word that comes to my mind when I think about musicals. Any play or film could be life-enhancing, but a musical show is super-charged. At any moment in the show, music might strike up and performers burst into song. At once the mood changes. Music, song and dance can lift the mood, or cast a shadow, excite or quieten the audience. They might build suspense, move the story along, build drama to a crescendo or create an interlude. A musical show is diverse and varied. There’s stimulus on all different levels, which is known to improve mental wellbeing. Time flies.

By now musical shows have a long and hugely varied heritage. There are nusicals set all over the world, performed on stage and screen, in all different musical styles. Dance styles vary too, such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ stand-out tap routines in the Thirties. Some shows create a fantasy world – think of The Wizard Of Oz, or Mary Poppins flying through the air. You could say there’s an element of fantasy in all musicals, because we don’t go around singing in everyday life. Maybe we should!

Music’s unique part in mind and memory is still emerging. It is known that when people’s menory fails through dementia, musical memory can remain. I wonder whether musical shows might prove particularly memorable, combining as they do words and melody, story and score? Maybe hearing again songs from the shows could revive an entire experience and mood, if only for a little while. We build our strongest musical memory before the age of thirty, so the songs most likely to revive that memory will depend on the age of the hearer.

Sometimes, music, song and/or dance are integral to the story itself, as in the musicals Cabaret and Dirty Dancing, and The Sound Of Music, where Maria teaches her charges to sing. But even when they have no specific place in the plot, they may express far more than could words alone, powerful though they are.

Musicals may be inspired by books and literature, like Oliver, based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, or by legend, like the musical Camelot. Musicals can be outbursts of life and joy, but they can also cover important and thought-provoking themes. Oh What A Lovely War explores the horrors of conflict. Even The Soung Of Music, an idyll of singing in mountain pastures, is set against a backdrop of war and escape. West Side Story never hides the struggles of the immigrant experience in New York. And Andrew Llod Webber’s Evita focuses on the life of Eva Peron and the controversies of Argentinian politics. Far from being a dose of escapism, then, musical shows can shine a light on the darkness of human experience as feelings run high. So they are rarely remote from real life.

A lot of negativity has been directed at musicals. Some find them melodramatic, pretentious or farcical, or feel the music detracts from the plot. Many prefer opera in the grand tradition. I feel there’s space for musicals, opera and spoken-word drama alike. As they say, variety is the spice of life.

Turning A Page

Maybe you enjoy books. Maybe they transport you to another world, absorb you, inspire, uplift or entertain you. I know that for many people, sometimes, books can boost wellbeing more than anything else – more even than art and craft, music or nature, the themes this blog more usually highlights. So Shared Reading, an initiative I heard about recently, sound s agreat possibility.

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Shared Reading is run by The Reader, which focuses on “the power of literature and reading aloud to transform lives”. Their work sounds so very positive and helpful. From their headquarters in Liverpool, The Reader oversees a network of small Shared Reading groups across the country, in different locations, as well as online alternatives. Each group is run by a volunteer, who will read aloud a book, poem or short story. Attendees can do some of the reading aloud themselves, or they can contribute to conversations about what they hear – or they can simply enjoy listening and taking it all in. It sounds very flexible, which is obviously important when people are all so different. I’ve read feedback from people who have attended, saying how Shared Reading has really enhanced their lives, easing isolation and boosting their confidence.

The initiative is supported by various funding bodies, such as the National Lottery Communities Fund and Arts Council England, which clearly recognise its strong impact on participants. I heard about Shared Reading through Prescribe Arts, a new online arts & health platform. As social prescribing grows, demand for groups like these will only grow too.

Storytelling has a long heritage as an oral tradition. Communities would gather to invent, share and pass on stories or ballads, sometimes down through the generations. Before the printing press, and when fewer people could read or write, telling stories was largely unconnected to the written word. People gathered to tell or to listen, so that stories became an opportunity to connect, to bond, to react together. It was built around community. Very different to the more private, individual activity that reading has mainly become.

While many people like book clubs, these groups seem different as the actual reading is done together, in a group, aloud – whereas most book clubs gather to talk about a book already read.

In a sense, then, reading aloud returns storytelling to its roots. It enables participants to share. Some people who might rarely think to read alone, or who don’t easily settle to concentrate on a book may find they absorb a story more when they hear it spoken or if they read aloud themselves. Some find reading too passive and receptive, but reading aloud makes it productive, as you enable the story to come to life. Moreover, when isolation is known to be so damaging to wellbeing, reading with others becomes a great way to spend time in a group, sharing an interest so it feels natural and unforced. Reading aloud groups could be helpful for people with partial or total sight loss, who miss reading for themselves. And people who have dyslexia may enjoy an opportunity to experience books without struggling to read them.

If you’d like to learn more about Shared Reading, go to www.thereader.org And it would be great if you would like to share any thoughts or experiences in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Art Meets Nature

Have you heard of the Singing, Ringing Tree? It is an outdoor sculpture on the Wayside Art Trail, on moorland high over Burnley in Lancashire. Hearing about it recently for the first time, the Tree really captured my imagination. What a unique way to draw together art, nature and music in one structure. The steel pipe sculpture resembles a tree, and as wind gusts over the Pennines it makes its own music.

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I wonder where and what you would sculpt if you were given the opportunity to create and place a sculpture somewhere outdoors? Would you site it in your owwn gardem or in a local park, or in the countryside – on a roadside verge or in a wood or in a nature reserve? And what would you sculpt? That might depend on the site. Many outdoor sculptures tend to be large, to catch the eye in a landscape and command the view. Think of Henry Moore’s imposing solid sculptures, on display outdoors in the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire and at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. But of course there are no rules.

As with so much creativity, there are endless possibilities. Outdoor sculptures use all kinds of media and materials, from found materials to bronze or natural materials. They can be earthbound, fixed, rooted as it were, or displayed off the ground.

If creativity expresses something of ourselves, of what matters to us, then outdoor sculpture places our own imprint on nature and on open spaces.

Sometimes the sculptures depict subjects from nature itself, such as Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures of horses, which I have seen in two very different outdoor settings. Sometimes outdoor sculptures take nature as their starting point but interpret it in a more abstract or imaginative way, just like the Singing, Ringing Tree. Some abstract sculptures echo the shapes and forms of their outdoor sites. Others depict figures, linking people to the landscape. Antony Gormley’s figures on the beach at Formby in Merseyside would be a memorable example as they seem to stare out to sea. And some sculptures commemorate particular events, or traditions, or local industry, trade or farming. Sculptures can link present and past, outdoors & indoors, nature & community.

Most outdoor sculptures become a permanent part of a landscape, either as single artworks or as part of a sculpture trail or park. But other outdoor sculpture is temporary, like an art exhibition, such as the Raveningham Centre in south Norfolk’s annual sculpture trail, which takes a new theme every year.

Outdoor sculptures can become another way to interact with the natural world. They draw out a response and could make the viewer think more about a place or space. In turn, nature itself can alter the way the viewer interacts with the artwork. An outdoor sculpture may look very different through different times of the day or year, as light plays over it or it is cast into shadow, or as rain soaks or leaves fall. Seeing art in nature can make you observe colours, light, shape and form in new ways. Writing this, I have just seen a spider’s web suspended outside my window, evenly and intricately spun. What is this but outdoor sculpture of a different kind?

It would be great if you’d like to share what outdoor sculptures you have seen, or what you think about art in nature, in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Move To The Beat

What comes to mind when you hear the word “dyspraxia”? This is Dyspraxia Awareness Week – 10-16 October – so I thought I would explore dyspraxia in this blog, and see how music, nature and art might help.

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While dyslexia is now a well-known term, focusing on issues with literacy (spelling, reading and writing), dyspraxia on the other hand is still far less familiar. And yet 5% of the poulation has dyspraxia.

Issues with co-ordination are central to dyspraxia: issues with what is called “gross” and “fine” motor co-ordination, from mobility to using a pen. Dyspraxia can also sometimes impact speech and/or organisation and time management. Degrees of severity vary.

Dyspraxia and dyslexia alike are related to autism and other forms of neurodiversity.

Running Medley, my online arts for wellbeing initiative, I’m always looking to learn what specific wellbeing impacts there could be for people with particular issues. I’m also committed to combining art, music and nature wherever possible, so I’m wondering here how all three areas might impact dyspraxia.

The theme of this year’s Dyspraxia Awareness Week is Get Moving With Dyspraxia, highlighting the need for physical activity to boost physical and mental health. Sometimes people with dyspraxia have negative experiences of physical activity, maybe from schooldays. They may be embarassed by their co-ordination issues, or fear injury. Fewer than a third of people who have dyspraxia take the recommended amount of exercise for adults, compared with 61% in the general population. So this is an important theme.

I wonder if music could help people with dyspraxia to “Get Moving”? Exercising to music can be enjoyable, motivating, natural and instinctive, as a song with a strong beat makes you want to dance, or clap, or stretch. People could do this at home, to get used to movement and dance away from prying or judgemental eyes. And music is so mood-boosting that it could make exercise a more positive and uplifting experience. Instead of overthinking exercising, you could focus more on your response to the music.

Connecting with nature too might encourage physical activity. Going for a walk in a park or in the countryside to see birds or trees could be a way to get outdoors and exercise while, again, taking the focus off the exercise itself. You’re enjoying time in the fresh air and watching nature – and getting active along the way, with no pressure. Nature can also be very calming, which might relax someone nervous about taking exercise.

Art may not help with physical activity, but could still be liberating and relaxxing for people with dyspraxia. It is all about experimenting. That’s the essence of creativity – no rules, no set limits. There are so many different possibilities to try that issues with fine motor co-ordination need be no barrier to many art forms.

Do you have experiences or thoughts and ideas to share? Do share these in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Or to learn more about Dyspraxia Awareness Week and resources, go to https://dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk/awareness-week/

Stable Sense

I see two horses several times a week on my walks as I climb the hill next to their field. While I have never ridden or spent time with horses, as I’ve always lived in rural areas they’ve been familiar sights, part of the background of my life. And I particularly like donkeys. Many people find being around horses or donkeys to be relaxing, uplifting, soothing and restful. You might enjoy grooming a horse, riding along a bridlepath or simply watching horses over a field gate. Rural views can be calming anyway, but seeing animals in the landscape adds life and movement. Horses convey athleticism, grace, power and strength. Even now that we no longer depend on horses for transport or farming, most horses live closely with humans.

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A few months ago I heard about a riding stable setting up Equine Assisted Therapy (or E.A.T.), and I wanted to learn more.

Equine Assisted Therapy builds on this instinctive, natural affinity with horses and donkeys, transforming it into a specific form of therapy. It can be helpful for people experiencing all different issues, physical and mental alike. When I first heard the term, I assumed it would be all about riding. But in many cases, there’s no actual riding involved. It’s more about time spent with horses or donkeys, the opportunity to interact with them, to tune in, connect and share. Maybe the key is in the word “Assisted”. This is therapy – led by a therapist working together with an equine expert – where a horse or donkey plays its part. Like many other forms of therapy, it began in the USA, but came to the UK some years ago and is gradually growing here too.

For many people, time set aside to be with animals is calming and refreshing partly because they are non-judgemental. They don’t communicate verbally, which may help not only people with speech or hearing issues but also people traumatised by arguments, by hostile speech, taunts or insults. What makes horses stand out in particular is their empathy, their sensitivity to human mood and emotion. This is integral to Equine Assisted Therapy – throughout, interaction with the horse or donkey may become a way to think differently or change perspective.

I recently re-read “Down Among The Donkeys”, Elisabeth Svendsen’s memoir of setting up The Donkey Sanctuary and then its Slade Centre for disabled children. The impact these donkeys could have echoed their role in Equine Assisted Therapy, although E.A.T is a distinct and specific therapy all its own.

I’ve heard and seen how people’s experiences of therapy in general differ enormously. Therapy can be a real positive, but it can also seem a real hurdle in itself. For some people, it is too great a hurdle even to try. I for one would be wary of organised, structured therapy. I like to feel free, independent. But obviously sometimes overcoming these kind of doubts could open up new possibilities and make a real difference. I wonder if Equine Assisted Therapy could be particularly attractive to people who might steer clear of other forms of therapy? Even the outdoor, rural, more informal setting could be more relaxing and natural than a more clinical, indoor room might seem.

Would you like to try Equine Assisted Therapy? Maybe you have done so already, or know someone who has. Do share any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002

Empowered

Art and craft can enhance life in so many ways and all the time I’m discovering new possibilities. Focusing as I do on how they can improve wellbeing – personal change – I’m also seeking ways they can fuel and fire wider change, as through craftivism, creative activism, using art and craft to challenge. I’ve recently started hearing about dementia craftivism, mainly through the #dementiacraftivists tag on Twitter, and this has opened up another area, and one which interweaves personal and wider change.

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What stands out about craftivism as a whole is its ability to empower. Helplessness, powerlessness in the face of global, national or personal issues can be deeply depressing, sapping energy and hope. People become passive. Apathy grows. This can be true with all kinds of issues such as illness, or inequality, or climate emergency and species loss and pollution. Activism refuses to be silenced, to be passive. It says no, change is possible, and even where change is unlikely, we still need to be heard.

As a unique form of activism, craftivism takes creativity and uses its many possibilities to share, to react, to connect or to fight. It’s empowering because it is expressive and productive.

Dementia craftivism has its own focus. As people who have dementia experiment with creativity, they experience art and craft’s power to absorb, to calm and to express. And they use this creativity to connect with others – to encourage and enable other people who also have dementia to take part themselves, and to share their experiences of dementia with people who do not have dementia. Either way, this can be liberating, restoring confidence, purpose and motivation and creating support.

Creativity can also reinforce identity, which could be fundamental for people living with illnesses like dementia which can impact cognition and personality. Creativity is also very flexible and varied: when there are over a hundred different forms of dementia, this too is empowering in enabling people to create in diverse ways as their own illness allows.

Dementia has become far more common than it once was, and improved awareness and empathy have made great strides. But stigma still hovers in the background. Dementia craftivism can help shine a light on the real experience of living with dementia, dispelling more of the shadows.

The other day I discovered Dementia Creatives, an initiative “supported and hosted by Innovations in Dementia” and funded by the National Lottery Communities Fund. On their website (https://www.dementiacreatives.org.uk) you can see gallery pages showcasing dementia creatives’ work – in painting, papercraft, textiles and wearables, woodwork, clay and modelling, poetry, performance…Such diversity. The Painting Gallery itself is so varied, ranging from self-portraits to abstracts to cartoons to painted glass plant holders, all using different art media. There are also audio and video features to share and encourage, and opportunities to get involved.

All craftivism is inspiring or thought-provoking or driven in some way. Dementia craftivism is all that and more. Over time, it could help drive change as it lessens stigma and informs relationships and debate. It can also change specific personal experience as it enables people to contribute. And it all starts with a paintbrush or a needle.

It would be great if you would like to share any thoughts or experiences of craftivism, or dementia craftivism, or dementia and art, in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Unlocking Memory

National or global themed awareness days follow another all through the year, more and more all the time. I like the way they help highlight particular causes, issues or situations, and every now and then I hear of a new one which really strikes me. One of these is National Playlist Day – 22 September – designated by the charity Playlist For Life.

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“Playlist” has become an everyday term, literally part of the soundtrack to our lives. Even just lately following the death of the Queen, radio presenters have talked about using wind-down, reflective or solemn playlists. Where once we might have recorded songs off the radio or off CDs or tapes, now creating your own playlist is a different experience as the sky’s the limit to what you could stream.

Integral to the idea of playlists is choice, individuality, the freedom to hear exactly what you want to hear, no more and no less. I actually enjoy the serendipity of radio, where you don’t know what you will hear and where a song you might long have forgotten (or never enjoyed before) may suddenly resurface. But obviously the opportunity to craft your own playlist is special.

And online there are so many different playlists to enjoy. Never in history has there been so much music to hear on demand, to hear for the first time or again and again. Music’s immense importance for many people is deeply rooted, and now technology has given it wings and set it free.

National Playlist Day is far more than “just” a celebration of the age of the playlist. It’s all about raising awareness of the importance of playlists for people who have dementia, who are the focus of the charity Playlist For Life. With music and memory so closely interlinked, playlists can revive memory for people living with dementia. Music can enable communication, as the power to sing or to recognise music can remain even when people struggle to talk or seem totally withdrawn.

Ahead of the inaugural Day, Playlist For Life has been asking people to share what songs we remember down the years, what might stand out for us or transport us back in time. It might reawaken a specific memory, or conjure up a particular phase of your life, like schooldays, or an era like the 1960s or 1990s. Sharing playlists can give other people ideas of songs they might enjoy.

Music has so many possible impacts, which playlists can unlock. Music can be there at all times, to soothe, calm, excite or cheer. One playlist could do all this, or you migh tlike to have different playlists for different needs, times and moods. Music therapy and group singing are very helpful for people with dementia – but only take place from time to time. A playlist becomes a constant, music to turn to whenever you want to do so.

I wonder what might be on your playlists? How do particular songs make you feel? What memories do they stir? Do share any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 And to learn more about Playlist For Life, go to https://www.playlistforlife.org.uk

Art As Tool

The more I experiment with art for wellbeing, the more possibilities emerge. I’ve written before about “art as refuge” and “art as tool” – the two distinct ways I feel art can help wellbeing. Art as refuge is the more familiar of the two to me, and I still think this has immense impact by absorbing, calming and focusing people’s minds away from issues. But through Medley I’ve also started to seek out other ways to use art and creativity as a tool, to express specific feelings more directly.

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Journaling is one possibility, using art to enhance a journal through the use of colour, image, decorative writing or scrapbooking. But I’m looking still further. I’ve experimented with a few drawings and paintings using imagery to represent and express feelings – a thought tree (where I painted a tree, then added thoughts wriiten on leaf shapes) and an umbrella picture (colourful umbrellas each reresenting something that shields us from pain or the negative, just as umbrellas shield us from the elements). But I’m still searching…

A while ago I came across an initiative which intrigued me and seemed to open up another perspective on expressing yourself through art. My Illustrated Mind is run by Kathryn Watson, an artist and researcher who first trained as a doctor. Her main aim is to enable “honest conversations” so that people feel less alone and mental health is more understood. A successful Kickstarter campaign crowdfunded My Illustrated Mind back in April 2021 and card decks were produced. You can see examples on the Gallery page of the website and they are so striking. Each set has a main “character” embodying a theme. There are human and animal characters, and as I myself particularly enjoy drawing, painting and observing wildlife, I focused first on the snow leopard character and its theme of mistrust and social isolation. It was memorable how the illustrations and words alike explored human experience through this character, conjuring the snow leopard as a “wounded animal”, cold and hopeless in remote mountain lands – and drawing immediate parallels with human feelings of isolation.

My Illustrated Mind is powerful because it is deeply rooted in individual, personal experience and yet is entirely transferable. This is someone exploring and sharing her own experience of mental health issues such as low self-esteem and isolation- and so enabling others to visualize and vocalize their own experiences. It’s also powerful because the cards open up opportunities to share, to talk and discuss and pool ideas and thoughts and reactions. People will all respond to the cards differently, maybe identifying with particular characters. They also help you think about what links different feelings. I might not have connected social isolation so closely with mistrust before, but these cards really brought out how one can fuel the other. All the cards differ in style too. Some echo graphic art, so they are particularly expressive, and words themselves become part of the images. These reminded me of the inner dialogue we can have, and of someone I knew who told me he was always losing arguments with himself.

Learn more about My Illustrated Mind at https://www.myillustratedmind.com and it would also be great if you would like to share any responses or thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group focused on art and mental health, Think Art – just go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/244072321150998 Thank you