December. There is no other month of the year that casts light and dark upon our lives as starkly as this one. As the winter solstice closes in and darkness enshrouds the greater part of our waking lives, Tradition encourages us to seek light elsewhere. In the midst of these darker days, it has set one aside specifically for the chance to basque in the warmth of hearth and home, soak in the solace of lighter days to come, and indulge in some guiltless merrymaking.
In theory, it’s a wonderful idea. In practice, the variance in human experience means that it doesn’t play out that way. For many, the season of comfort and joy becomes an endurance act in a pantomime of tinsel, fairy lights and Mariah Carey on loop. For others, it becomes a one-person show compounding loneliness, loss and lack of hope.
I was aware of this when delivering a ‘Seasonal Arts & Crafts’ workshop at St. Mungo’s New Street last week, worrying that I was thrusting more festive sparkle on people who really only wanted to escape it for an afternoon. It wasn’t until I stopped to admire the work of David Marks, one of the Wellbeing College’s regular attendees, before I was reminded of the power of creativity even in the context of a simple card-making activity.
“Wow, David,” I said, “That’s a beautiful drawing of a robin.”
“Thanks,” said David. “The glitter is its brain being blasted out. That’s why I’m writing ‘merry bloody Xmas’.”
I believe in the art world they call this “subverting expectations.”
David continued, “You see, I’ve started to approach my diagnosis in a different way – through humour. Instead of seeing it as something bad, or as a reason to feel bad about myself, I’m recognising how my diagnosis is part of my individuality, and learning to make fun of myself through it.”
David explained that being able to express this darker humour through art has played a huge role in his recovery over recent months. Not only has it motivated him to take up screen printing, but has also inspired his next steps: to facilitate workshops for young people on using humour as a tool to overcome the dark hours of a mental illness, as well as for people who work in services where they make contact with those experiencing mental health issues.
“My hopes are to break some of those stigmas that are unfortunately attached to mental health and impart on those that are struggling some tools and guidance for better emotional wellbeing.”
The essence of David’s message is timeless as it is vital, that laughter is the best medicine. The problem is, like sunny weather in December, it’s not handed out on prescription. Hard though it may be, sometimes, as David demonstrated, we may be surprised to discover it in a pack of felt tips pens, and a bit of glue and glitter.
Wherever your humour lies this festive season, the Wellbeing College wishes you plenty of laughter (and a little light) to take you into 2019.