Academy for Creative and Healing Arts for
People with Mental Health Challenges
A Dream Whose Time Has Come
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
Listen to audio here:
Academy for Creative and Healing Arts for
People with Mental Health Challenges (ACHA)
I have a dream! It is to co-create a facility where people with mental health challenges can take part in an array of creative and expressive arts and healing modalities in the downtown core of Victoria. Creative expression is what makes our spirit soar. It is innately who we are; we are creative beings. We are born with the gift of imagination. Images and ideas spring seemingly from out of nowhere and there are no limits to where our imaginations can take us.
Creativity is the opening for the human heart to meld pain and anguish and convert it into brilliant paintings, musical scores, landscaped gardens, outstanding novels, photographs, plays, sculptures and every other art form imaginable. Doing one’s art often transforms suffering into beauty. In doing so, it prevents a person from dying (too often literally) with their song still inside them. When we lose our impulse to create, something inside of us slowly begins to die. People living with mental health challenges often lose this part of them when their illness takes hold. Some never get it back because they have stopped believing in themselves or they don’t have someone in their lives to inspire and encourage them or somewhere to go where their innate gifts can be nurtured back to health.
Now imagine a centre located in the heart of downtown Victoria, The Academy For Creative and Healing Arts (ACHA), where people with mental health challenges are welcomed by trained staff (called “friends”) who are caring, respectful and encouraging and who foster the creative potential in every participant they work/play with. The Academy offers an array of art forms where each person’s gifts and talents are cultivated and nourished. Through this process, people’s lives are transformed. Through this process they move from mental “illness” to mental “health.” For the past two decades, I have watched therapy clients as well as students of my The Artist Way support groups and writing workshops transform themselves from depression and resignation to joy and self-respect through creative self-expression.
Ten years ago, after a clinical depression, I did the same when I used the processes that I had been teaching to create my play, Madness, Masks and Miracles. Co-writing the play, writing the lyrics to the songs, and playing the leading role brought me from a place of feeling powerless to a place of excitement and new found hope. The act of following my creative impulse to seeing the physical results of a dream that could make a difference on how mental illness is viewed in our society, in spite of the many challenges that accompanied it, was a wondrous achievement. That experience and for countless other reasons are why I believe that an exciting facility like The Academy for Creative and Healing Arts can change people’s lives dramatically.
Along with the many programs in creative expression, there will also be an array of healing modalities of mind/body and spirit. Tai chi, yoga, healing touch, massage, and workshops on food for optimum health will be offered. There will be a quiet meditation room for people to simply “be,” somewhere to be contemplative, silent and still. The Centre will have a natural foods cafe that will also host evening entertainment and open mike events. As well, there will be an auditorium for staged productions and inspirational movies and talks. The vision goes on and on. Part of that vision includes a song. Yes, a song.
Do you remember the song, We Are The World, We Are The People? It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985 as a benefit for famine relief in Africa. That one song travelled across the globe and united people from all cultures in wondrous ways. It is my intention to have an original song written by a brilliant singer/songwriter who has challenges with his or her mental illness that is going to rock the world in the same way. The song will be sold to raise money for the Academy, and watching the video will illustrate the joy that bursts forth when stigmas are shed and are replaced by kindness and love.
Although we will need substantial funding, I know it is possible–I know that there will be countless sponsors for this kind of project and there are some fabulous fundraising activities already planned. The dream is endless, and together we can make it happen. One person at a time. With the Grace of God, with inspired commitment by other visionaries who hold this dream in their heart and working together, we can’t help but be successful!
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REQUESTING VOLUNTEERS. We are looking for enthusiastic people to volunteer their love, time and talents to help make this phenomenal grass roots project soar! The Academy is taking on a life of its own and as such, we need a group of dedicated volunteers, who feel as I do, that The Academy of Creative and Healing Arts is beyond a doubt, A Dream Whose Time Has Come, and you feel called to be part of it. If this describes you, we would be delighted to hear from you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and in the subject line write, “Academy volunteer.” Be sure to leave your name and contact information so I can reach you. Thank you!
“Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source.
As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity”.
Enjoy this video.
Remember Then and Imagine Now!
The Philosophy Behind the Academy
Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level. Yet people living with a mental illness are frequently victims of a society that often shows little tolerance for their illness.Increasing public awareness and education will create a community with greater understanding, cooperation and support for those living with a mental illness. A supportive community will offer a new sense of safety that will have countless benefits for everyone concerned.
When we treat each other with kindness, every day miracles occur. When a person feels understood, appreciated and valued his or her self-esteem grows This often sets the creative juices flowing from which wonderful things can occur. One kind act sets in motion another and another.
Writing and performing one’s personal stories is a very courageous and empowering endeavor. Through this process the actors and writers will achieve much healing and strengthening. Performing these stories publicly goes beyond the personal and demonstrates to audience members how their stories are universal. They go beyond the actors and the stage. They are our next-door neighbour, the people we see at work and on the streets and they are you and me.
With compassion and understanding we can begin to let go of our fears and take down our walls of shame and separation. As we do this, we begin to recognize that underneath our fears we really are all the same. Together we can begin to build a community of faith, co-operation and mutual respect. This is the core vision of my play, Madness, Masks and Miracles.
Common Myths and Stigmas about Mental Illness
Myth: People with mental illness are violent and dangerous
People living with a mental illness are no more violent than any other group. They are far more likely to be the victims of violence.
Myth: People with mental illness are poor or less intelligent
Studies show that most mentally ill people have average or above average intelligence. Many of them are brilliant authors, painters, musicians, etc. Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class and income level.
Myth: Mental illness is a personal weakness
A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness and has nothing to do with being weak or lacking willpower. Although people with mental illness can play a big part in their own recovery, they do not choose to become ill, and they are not lazy because they cannot just “snap out of it.”
Myth: Mental illness is a rare, single disorder
Mental illness is not a single disease but a broad classification for many disorders. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders, and organic brain disorders can cause misery, tears, and missed opportunities for countless numbers of people.
People who live with a mental illness are often ostracized by family, friends, employers and the public at large. A supportive, compassionate community will empower them by offering a new sense of hope which will, in turn, instill the courage and strength necessary to make healthy and sound decisions.
I have been a psychotherapist in private practice and certified life skills coach since the early nineties. When I was nineteen, I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness (now called bi-polar affective disorder) and have lived with its debilitating setbacks sporadically ever since.
After a hospitalization for clinical depression in 1998, I was inspired to gather together a team of writers and actors, who also had mental health challenges, to write and perform a play that described some of our experiences. I wanted to use theatre as the educational vehicle to help dispel some of the myths and stigmas associated with mental illness. It was my hope that by presenting an honest account on stage, audiences would begin to see the humanity behind the illness.
This became a reality. Feedback, both oral and written, from audience members stated that watching the play took them into their own lives, reflecting upon their own issues of shame, pain or denial. It went beyond the actors and the stage. What they experienced was a closer look at what could be a relative, a next-door neighbour or the people they see at work, on the bus or in public office. It was you and me. There was no longer any separation.
The play brought out the greater truth that, although mental illness can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income levels, people living with it are frequently the victims of an ignorant society whose responses are based on fear rather than facts.
Increasing public awareness and education creates a community that fosters understanding, cooperation and support. A supportive community offers a sense of safety that has countless benefits for everyone concerned. When we treat each other with kindness, every-day miracles occur. When people feel understood, appreciated and valued, their self-esteem grows in leaps and bounds. Healing follows.
With compassion and understanding we begin to let go of our fears and take down our walls of shame and separation. As we do this, we begin to recognize that underneath our fears we are not that much different. This awareness builds bridges and communities of faith, co-operation and mutual respect. This has been the core vision of Madness, Masks and Miracles©.
The process of writing and performing the play was both healing and empowering to the team who created it. It helped each of us clearly identify our strengths instead of the limitations often borne out of the labels and pathology attached to our illness.
I no longer identify myself as my illness. I have an illness and I am so much more than that.
By finding my voice to write this play, I freed myself from a lifetime of shame and pain. I no longer need to hide the madness, confusion, helplessness and hopelessness that comes and goes. And that is one of the greatest miracles with which I have been blessed. It is my vision that others living with mental health challenges will find the same.
Because underneath each of our masks, we are all innocent and loving beings. And it’s only when we feel safe enough to shed these masks and speak authentically from our hearts that the madness ends and the miracles begin.
Listen to my interview with Marina Ormes about authenticity and price we pay for wearing masks.
And this interview with Lynn Thompson, host of the Living on Purpose radio show.