Inspire Women: Strength in Storytelling.
This project, part of the Change Your Mind anti-stigma campaign, showcases the amazing work created by a special group of women from Inspire as they tell their stories of strength, struggle, recovery and hope.
Using photography , creative writing and storytelling through conversations, they share a unique and personal insight into the lives of women living with mental ill health or addictions in Northern Ireland today. Some of the women are comfortable with using their own names but most have enjoyed the freedom that anonymity has given them to share their stories. In the conversations part of the project the stories have come directly from the women and are recreated by wonderfully talented actors. This project is all about telling the stories of women’s lives without shame or stigma.
Some of the stories, particularly in the conversations section, refer to suicide, abuse, addiction and racism. If these issues are upsetting or triggering for you please be aware that help and support is available. If you are in immediate distress or despair Lifeline is there for you 24/7 on 0808 808 8000.
Inspire Women: Strength in Storytelling
Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the creative light that is and always has been in each and every one of us. Sometimes we all need just a little help switching that light back on. Sometimes we all need to be reminded to get out of our own way and just to BE present. That is exactly what the art of photography is- it’s painting with light and the decisive moment.
You are about to view the eight inspiring pieces from the lovely women of there group accompanied by the beautiful textured layer of their voices and the stories that go with their moment. We came together on a computer screen as compete strangers and became very quickly stitched together like old friends. Our individual boxes began to be like a patchwork quilt.
I have been so privileged to get to work with these women and to guide this ‘magical mystery tour’. Delighted and humbled that they trusted me and one another. These inspiring women were also incredibly brave to take on the challenge of tasks I set for them each week with their film cameras. Most of the participants had never even picked up a camera before and when we would reconvene the following week to discuss, it was the authenticity were the real MAGIC came in. We were getting out of our own way, not even certain if the photo came out- It did not matter, this was not the point. We are all so wonderfully unique, just like the patches sewn together on a patchwork quilt. We celebrated this every week and looked forward to meet up and share again. Even though all of the women were not sure that any of their photos would come out. I was sure! These eight inspiring women surprised themselves after seeing their films developed. They all did more than well, they all have done outstanding! And how lucky and inspired was I to be get to witness firsthand each and every one of their creative lights switched on and realised! – Kelly Morris, Photographer and Facilitator
“I have gained so much confidence since starting this group. I have been inspired to lift a camera again! But the thing I will treasure the most out of this experience is meeting all the other women. Inspiring one another!”
inspire women: storytelling in photography
Inspire Women: Strength in Storytelling
STORYTELLING THROUGH CONVERSATION
The storytelling through conversation project was just that. A series of relaxed, low key chats without agenda, where the ladies participating could get to know me and, if they chose, to tell me stories of family, friendship and the various aspects and experiences of their lives.
It was important to me that everyone feel safe and comfortable as we got to know each other, initially talking about our memories of food and family over a hot drink and some homemade biscuits! – Elaine Duncan, Facilitator and Performer
Some of the stories, in this section refer to suicide, abuse, addiction and racism. If these issues are upsetting or triggering for you please be aware that help and support is available. If you are in immediate distress or despair Lifeline is there for you 24/7 on 0808 808 8000.
Inspire Women: Strength in Storytelling
Back in November, a group of four women started meeting on Zoom – to write. Some were trying it for the first time, maybe since school. Others already had a writing practice and wanted to start fresh and stretch their words into new shapes. Christmas Covid and caring responsibilities variously threw things off and made it impossible for some of the women to carry on through all the months; the spirit of that starting group was fizzy and funny and brave and inventive though, and it’s carried through to now.
We’ve experimented with new ways into language and our own stories, making surprising discoveries about what love looks like, what safety and danger mean, how voices from a certain street sound, and how writing can look like anything from a recipe to a sewing pattern. I hope this beginning spins off into new directions for these writers, and inspires other people to write about things – and in ways – they never expected to. – Emily DeDakis, Facilitator
Below is a virtual book of our inspiring women’s creative writing. make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy their stories.
Inspire Women: Creative Writing
Turn the page to read stories created by our Inspiring Women.
Hot Scones in the Oven
Tired from my Saturday night antics of a sleepover with friends getting only 2hrs sleep! But it’s a Sunday morning and that can only mean 1 thing: horse-riding!! Woohoo!! Even though I am out with my pony most days after school a Sunday morning was my favourite time as it was always just me and him! I could see the sun glister through my skylight window which filled me with happiness as the beauty of riding with the sun shining is just like being in a world where you are care free and have a completely different life to what is the reality!
I jumped out of bed, pulled on my jodhpurs, grabbed a banana and into the car. I lived less than a 10min drive to the stables where I kept my pony and I always smell the molasses and the hay as we get close, with my baby boy greeting me as he always did, ears forward, a big neigh, and his head down to give me a hug! An apple he gets, a quick brush, saddle, and bridle on and we are ready to go.
The sun is still shinning with a touch of frost on the ground as we make our way up the country road from the stables. At the end of the road is a field with 2 horses that have become our buddies everyday we stop to say hello. They get an apple and we have a chat in horse language as they stand tall by the fence, one a gorgeous brown with white socks on all 4 legs and almost a blonde mane. The other one I believe a racehorse, strong and muscular in looks, black in colour with a white star on his forehead. We say our goodbyes and trot on.
There are many hacks and routes we can go but our favorite spot is the Beechgrove, which feels like a magical place near the grounds of a stunning hotel and a local cricket club. There is endless beauty all around with nothing but the sounds of the streams and rivers as we meander through the forest as well as lots of grassed wasteland for us to have a good canter on and sometimes a gallop, which my boy loves to do! For both of us it’s the feeling of being free, to be worry less for just a short time, being able to forget and to have that chance to be normal, and just be a kid even if it only for a wee while.
Another spot we love to go over as we ride out of the beech green is the Iron Bridge, an old very big rusted bridge over a part of the River Foyle. The noises as we trot over the bridge are my boy’s feet as he prances across the bridge, again ears forward, almost knowing what is coming next, with the sound of the fast flowing river in the background and the crunching of the crisp Winter leaves.
As we come off the bridge up the lane we hit the noise of the traffic as we then approach the main Derry to Belfast rd. I almost have to come back to reality to keep us safe. As we approach the main rd my body and brain click into gear, the danger zone, as we have left the safety of the forest where I was able to let my guard down and relax! But now we are in the midst of danger and with that comes responsibility. My pony always senses that too. He pricks his ears forward as I gather my reins as we both move into fight or flight mode, feeling that rush of adrenalin as our bodies prepare, a feeling I am all too familiar with! But in a strange way a feeling that needs to and should happen to keep us safe and prepare us both for what is coming next! Yet while most peoples fight or flight response keeps them safe mine has been almost numbed and silenced a bit like my voice.
At the safe side of the main rd is a grass verge wide enough for a canter for about a mile, yet very risky and dangerous being so close to the main road, especially if your horse was to unexpectedly spook! But we do it all the time, knowing that while the risk and the thrill of danger is there, this is balanced by knowing the trust is there. Trust is something that doesn’t come easy for me but the bond I have with my pony is allowing me to start trusting the world again!
A local village we hit next, on the outskirts of Derry, where plenty of the locals stop to say hello! My boy just loves the attention and the odd Polo mint as well. It makes me feel so good inside knowing he gets something back! As we ride more into the heart of the village there is always something funny we encounter sometimes strange! We pass the local village shop with most people coming out with their Sunday morning newspapers or a carton of milk until we see a wee woman, chubby and small in nature, with very much the look of the farmer’s wife in the film Bade!! As she puts the bags down to open the car door a box of Xmas crackers falls out of the bag (I think my pony was hoping for an apple; he watched with disappointment). I jumped off and went and picked up the Xmas crackers, as she came running towards me apologising, thanking me and all. She said, “Thank god, I can’t go home without the crackers for our Xmas dinner,” and ran to her car. I stood there thinking why is she having a Xmas dinner? It’s February!!
The great majority of people — about 90 percent — are resilient after something frightening or tragic happens, like a car accident or the death of a loved one. They are left with a bad memory or with grief, but they have perspective. Yet about 10 percent of people generalize the fearful memory or the grief or the danger. Their brains continually get cues that the bad or dangerous thing is still happening, and their bodies respond accordingly. I am that 10%, fight or flight but without the reaction or need to keep me safe and that is what my fear of the world is like. It has become a black hole of emotion for me
My mind is incapable of facing it and seeks an escape from it to my safe places that are also fearful and dangerous which sees me living then a life of contradiction. A life of contradiction brings more fear, more conflict, and all the complexities of existence. Sometimes it’s hard for me (and everyone else!) to understand my fear, and the contradiction I live, as fear breeds my illusions, images and triggers and makes my mind dull and non reactive! Being in what I consider to be one of my safe places yet faced with fear and danger is a scary place for me to be! When most people are faced with a life or death situation the fight or flight response kicks in and they react by running or fighting back. For me that fight or flight response may be there but it’s a response that instead of fighting back stimulates complete and utter terror, and messed up thinking that doesn’t allow me to keep me safe!
Why should I have to run from my safe place, the beach that I know so well, the landmarks, the feel of the sand under my feet and the peaceful tranquillity that surrounds me that allows me to stop and just breathe. The sound of the waves as they crash against my surf board, the brain freeze I get as the waves break against the back of my head, that makes me feel alive, and the freedom I feel when I surf or swim that just allows me to be me! Why should I have to run from that!
While I have my places of feeling safe I also have some very happy memories I treasured as a kid that help get me through the tough times! Some of those included excited to be starting primary school, playing in the snow in my brown duffle coat, making lots of mud pies in my makeshift kitchen, going to Summer Schemes that we make up ourselves with the kids on my street, playing Kerby, 123 you are free, annoying the neighbours with endless cricket balls being whacked into their gardens, out on our bikes, summers in Portrush at my granny and grandas caravan where they would have taken me to the bouncies and the 2p slot machines, going on the swing boat in the play park at our caravan site and being allow to stay up late and get the nicest chips from the mobile chip van near the caravan!
A safe and happy place my granny and granda’s house, I felt protected, loved, and safe where many of my happy memories were created. I remember their house so vividly – the smells, the sounds, the colours on the walls, my bedroom upstairs for the weekends and holidays I stayed over and all the quirky wee things they used to do!
Being both teachers they were very set in their ways and had the same routine most days. My granda would go every morning to get his newspaper, the Daily Express, with the morning coffee at 11am. We all sat down around the kitchen table and started to do some of the puzzles from the newspaper, our favourite being the 9-letter word! A grid of 9 letters with the middle letter you had to use in every word to see how many words you could come up with! It was never really a competition but secretly I think we were all a wee bit competitive, and with both my grandparents being teachers, I was never getting as many as them but I still loved the challenge of trying to beat them!
I spent endless hrs with my granny in her sewing room with her teaching me how to sew, I helped her make soft toys and we would have eaten endless bags of hard-boiled sweets that she hid in her top drawer. Again all these memories I treasure, so much so that I can remember every detail from her sewing room, with the net curtain draped over the patio door, the cream-colored carpet that now looked a brown it was there so long, her wooden dressing table with a very old fashioned mirror against the wall with all her sewing accessories some very expensive jewelry and the smell of the room was just like my granny! She spent hrs teaching me all the like tricks of the trade she picked up over the yrs and also did my granda, who made wooden toys. I remember him teaching me how to sand a piece of wood to be as smooth as a baby’s bottom! Not to mention all of the tips and strategies he used to give me from his days of playing rugby and what to do to get an edge on your opponent when in a rugby scrum! Hrs upon hrs I spent with them both creating magical memories that I will never forget!
My granda also, like me, had a love for horses and every month would always have got me my cod liver oil for my pony as well as endless bags of apples and carrots. He came to watch me horseride and also show jumping at Eglinton Equestrian centre. Knowing that it brought him so much happiness and pride I could see in his face, I treasure so dearly!
When I used to stay over at weekends and holidays I remember my granny readingme stories and poems to help get me over to sleep. One of those poems my favourite I only remembered the last line which was “ And miles to go before I sleep”. I have since discovered it was a Robert Frost poem called Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. My granny was also a fantastic cook and a baker and used to make the most amazing sconces! When she put the scones into the oven, all you would smell was the comforting homely smell of the oven and the sweetness of the raisins as me and granny bounced about the house singing our song “Hot scones in the oven” so we wouldn’t forget about them! “Hot scones in the oven” was our own song we made, that made us both smile, and for me brings a tear to my eye, and a warmth to be heart when I remember those happy times! Another quirky thing she did which she told was what her mother did was she never washed her frying pan after using it. She just put it back in the cupboard as apparently washing ruined the flavour for the next time you were cooking with it. I found that strange, but that’s why I loved her and my granda so much – for just being them and allowing me to be me.
If only they were still here! Both of them passed away 12 yrs ago, only 7mths apart.my granda, despite us all being called for and only being given hrs to live, one night rallied around and survived another 3 weeks. The importance of that being he passed away on their wedding anniversary: 53yrs married they were the day he died, and had only ever been apart for those 7mths! I miss them so much but treasure the memories I have!
When people talk about the journey someone goes on, moving from victim to survivor ultimately I want to get to that place where I can feel freedom for the first time in my life, let go of the guilt, to find my voice and have a voice, to just be me without worrying what others think, to talk if I want to talk without worrying that I am talking too much which is how I have been made feel recently, and to enjoy my hobbies on the beach surfing and listening to my music, out horseriding and playing rugby without stressing that those safe places will become dangerous!
My safe places that keeps me mental well can be and have become dangerous. That has seen me having to continuously walk on eggshells, looking over my shoulder to make sure that everything is ok, or trying to convince people that my story is there to be believed. I see the girl I want to be, riding bare-back, care-free, along the shore! If only that someone was me jumping head-first, head-long without a thought! How I wish it could be that easy! Yet for me that journey has had many roads and side roads that I have had to go down and likely to continue to go down. Only then do I feel that I can do what I want to do and be who I am, to write many more happy songs like “ Hot Scones in the Oven” and create many more happy memories– but more importantly, to help others who are where I have been and either be their voice or help them to find their own voice!
Granny Vicky's Bliss
This is how I remember her on those nights when it was just the two of us, Granny knitting, me reading, enjoying some home cooking and eating. The harder the rain fell outside, the more we appreciated our bliss.
Rain clatters on the cobbled street and a skipping rope languishes, forsaken in the squall.
She touches taper to wick, humming along as the gaslight dances to the wireless thrum.
The turf shifts in the hearth, oily smell and hissing heat commingling with the aromatic sausage and onion stew.
Flickered in shadows, legs measled from the fire,
her needles clickety-clack, hands like fuffled birds after worms.
Intricate patterns emerge from their woolly umbilical cord,
soft sculptures brought to life, her breath in every one.
She nods a soft smile at me, all crinkles and dark blue eyes,
‘Tea-time,’ and the knitting is laid down.
Tea brewed, tatey-bread scorched on a fork, buttered and dunked in a bowl of stew, sooked and chawed, satisfying and familiar.
Later, we turn the wireless up, then arms outstretched,
I hold the yarn while she tummles it into a ball,
ready for the rig and fur.
Janice Pollock, 2022
Margaret; My Other Granny
I’ve written mostly about my mother, Shirley & her mother, my Granny Vicky, so this is a poem about my daddy’s mother.
Margaret had a tough life after her husband Samuel, who was in the Merchant Navy during World War 2, was murdered whilst on Shore Leave when his vessel docked in New York in 1944.
He somehow became separated from his Shipmates, and wandered into a dangerous area where he was attacked……
Granda died that night, still a young man, leaving behind his wife Margaret and three sons all under the age of 10 years old. They never got to see him again.
Soft hands belie her years, defying
crumpled folds around bird-bright eyes.
Silvery-blue hair illuminates her face,
a tightly curled halo exquisitely drawn
Cheekbones rouged and powder-puffed,
reveal filigree lines on rice-paper skin.
“Ruby Red” on Movie Star lips,
ode to an icon, disenchanted with dour.
Voice of a steam train, demanding, decreeing,
shushes and softens for fairy-tale time.
Patchouli and peony, on pulse points and hanky,
a glass-stopper droplet of “Youth Dew”
Enveloping arms long and loving,
rationed rationally, afraid to indulge.
Her mind is sharp, a knife in the turmoil,
memories of him have become Film Noir
Carapace burnished, she shines like a beacon
in armoured Twin-Set and bulletproof Pearls.
Janice Pollock, 2022
No-one is Totally Alone
Isolation at some point during Covid has hits us all
Having no one to talk with apart from my neighbour Paul!
It can mean different things to everyone.
But the one positive thing during lock down number 1 was that we have had the sun!
We all might feel very alone right now,
But we do have people around, to help if we allow.
Isolation can make it hard to ask for help,
Too proud to reach out or embarrassed we felt.
Long days, with no one to see
Missing our families, locked inside when we just want to be free!
We don’t everyday have our normal routines,
Not seeing our sons or daughters along with their teens!
So how do we cope with being on our own,
No one about to hear us moan.
New skills and hobbies we have tried to do
I have learnt to cook the perfect stew!
Netflix and Disney become my best friends,
Watching endless boxsets that I got as a lend!
Baking and cleaning I have really excelled at doing,
A bit of gardening, home schooling, DIY using lots of screws!
Exercise is what I really wamted to do,
But home workouts are hard to get threw!
Hopefully the end of isolation is in sight,
Otherwise I think that I will lose all my fight!
We hope to come out the other side soon,
And then our economy will have such a boom.
Waiting in hope signs that the lockdown will end,
Our isolation will be over, and we can go back to being friends.
Don’t let isolation pull you down,
We need to keep smiling and try not to frown!
Hope this helps people to know,
That isolation is there but we plenty of get up and go!
Having hope and reaching out
We will get there without a doubt!
I’ve had a complicated life which I absolutely believe comes from how I was made/formed from a very young age. I was gifted the ‘Enneagram’ book a few years ago and found it to be a fascinating read. I’m looking forward to developing this poem into the story it harbours.
Cynicism can be difficult to live with, its DNA evolves in one’s youth,
Gestates, mates, gangs up to make sure you can’t escape.
When truth is lacking,
backing up against a wall is all you can do to survive.
Striving in a place of violence and lies,
Trying to believe that there is a better life, kinder people,
that only a fraction of the world is loathsome,
that someone out there will be wholesome and benign.
You know love, you learnt it from your mother and her mother too.
Genetic make-up spilled across the years, hiding fears,
feigning adulation even when it’s wasted.
You’ve never tasted a reciprocated act.
Eventually you learned – unconditional love must be earned.
I share myself sparsely, aware that divisive begats the derisive,
striving not to drown in the fear of being hurt.
Anxiety beats me hard, knows the coward that I used to be.
So, I make time to reflect, expect the best. I’m putting life to the test.
Janice Pollock, 2022
The idea for this piece came from a prompt asking us to write about an unusual place to set a story. I think there is a story in the idea of living under a Flyover, the chance to have diverse characters with interesting back stories. I’ve written this from the point of view of the space beneath as the observer, sort of a bricks & mortar conversation with myself.
It is written in the style of Circle Poetry.
Always cold in here.
Dark, stinky, and you’re too good for this.
Under a bridge is nobody’s home of choice, your voice goes unheard in the noise of no-one cares. What?
A deafening whisper inside your own head said, find a place to stay, lay your head on a bed of broken boxes, broken glass,
filth and false hopes, smell the fear under here, you’re too
good for this place. There’s no sunlight, you will freeze
to death or worse. There’s a curse on these walls –
you can’t see the graffiti of the ones who came before,
what’s more there’s no vigil ever held for those rainbow sprayers, prayers for the empty cans? or empty lives?
Go and ask your God for deliverance, don’t bother lighting candles. Faded tags like bags of dreams, that scream for recognition, without ammunition, are gone,
pull the pins from the dolls and the walls fall down.
Fighting demons is a cinch compared to this hovel,
get a shovel and dig for freedom but mind the bones of those who came before don’t trip you up.
You can ignore what I’m saying, it’s just advice, trying to be nice,
not listening is the same as not wanting to know, pitfalls and people line up to watch you crawl, so
get a spade and tunnel out of here, go! skeletons rattle inside your own head, I can hear them from here.
Janice Pollock, 2022