Following a traumatic car accident in 2001, and subsequent attempts to recover, I suffered severely disabling illness in 2004, with rapid onset Rheumatoid arthritis and Fibromyalgia.
There have been times since 2004, when I have experienced profound depression and frustration at the lack of adequate care and support available. But through mindfulness and a sense of spiritual connection I have always known myself to be more than my illness.
As a creative writer I have continued when possible to write poetry and articles addressing immediate topical issues and commenting on wider health and social concerns.
In October 2009, I listened to a radio programme called ‘Metaphor for Healing’, (Radio 4), presented by Doctor Phil Hammond, exploring narrative based approaches to primary care. His comment at the end of the broadcast, that there should be ‘room for a little poetry in healthcare,’ echoed my own growing conviction that I had something of real and enduring value to contribute in this area, through my own personal narrative and poetry.
In 2010, I became a member of SureSearch, an organisation for mental health service users and their allies who wish to become involved in health research, education and training. During recent years I have established a wider role for myself as a service user researcher/consultant and narrative practitioner.
Since 2011, I have been involved with developing ‘Recovery focused’ services in Health and Care Worcester NHS Trust. I co-edited and presented the Trust’s Recovery Vision and Pledge document to the Board of Directors and was involved with designing and developing the HACW Recovery website and the Recovery Newsletter. I also edit the Newsletter. Some of my articles, including ‘Why I Still Have Hope – Illness and Spiritual Growth,’ ‘Reflections on Health and Care’ and ‘Creative Ageing in a Consumer Society,’ have been published on the Recovery website and in the Recovery Newsletter.1
I am currently involved as a service user consultant and project team member, with an AHRC large grant funded Research programme entitled, ’Creative Practice as Mutual Recovery – Connecting Communities for Mental Health and Well-being.’ 2, 3
Many of my poems and articles, including, ‘Recovery, Resilience and Wellbeing,’ (HACW Recovery Newsletter, winter 2013), contain similar insights to those expressed in the BBC News Blog of Vidyamala Burch’s story (see below) – and also in the quotes from the BBC news article and broadcast by the political philosopher John Gray, which follow it.
‘Vidyamala Burch lives with chronic pain having acquired two spinal injuries at an early age. At the age of 25 she experienced a major physical breakdown. While in intensive care she was introduced to meditation by a hospital chaplain. During a lengthy period of rehabilitation she tried different relaxation techniques and eventually found that one, called Mindful Meditation, worked well for her.
In 2000, now ordained as a Buddhist, Vidyamala Burch started a social enterprise called Breathworks, where people with chronic pain take an eight-week course to learn how mindfulness could help them cope better with their physical symptoms. The programme has been taught to thousands of participants, in over 20 countries. Burch is now a leader in this area and her company also trains practitioners. She sits on an all-party parliamentary group to incorporate mindfulness meditation into the NHS.’ 4
In my own articles, ‘Why I Still Have Hope – Illness and Spiritual Growth,’ and ‘Recovery, Resilience and Wellbeing, mentioned above, I have stressed the need for recognition and acceptance of a wider spiritual purpose and social contribution in life for some people with long term health conditions. This goes beyond a total emphasis on immediate social function and economic considerations alone.
The following extracts are from the BBC programme, ‘A Point of View,’ by John Gray, political philosopher and author of ‘False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism.’
‘Belief in the supreme importance of being active is so embedded that we can hardly imagine any other way of living. Yet our exclusive concern with purposeful action crowds out a vital part of human fulfilment…. When we set aside our practical goals – if only for a moment – we may discover a wealth of meaning in our lives, which is independent of our success or failure in achieving our goals. Struggling to change things around us, we forget that another kind of change is possible – an inner change, through which we can enter a richer and more spacious world that was there all along.’ 5
Participation in Arts and health initiatives, including creative writing and reading for wellbeing, can change the way we view the world and may help to turn adversity and traumatic experience into an opportunity for creative growth.
Tony Devaney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Service User Consultant
Fellow of The Institute of Mental Health
For more information, see:
(2) See also details of local research project at: www.wlv.ac.uk/connectedcommunities
(5) ‘A Point of View, The Doors of Perception’ www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22648328