I’m back again to discuss Day Two (Saturday 28th May) of Normal: Festival of the Brain which was held in Folkestone at The Quarterhouse theatre.
Like Part One, I’m just going to mention that this blog post may be potentially triggering. I don’t think there’s anything in here, but I just want to warn you just incase… Particularly for the bit about: The Ship of Fools. (Please don’t read if you feel unsafe, thank you)
The reason why I’m writing about the event in a couple of posts is because of the way that writing it all down is making me feel. Just keeping myself safe! (And hopefully you guys too!)*
So, Day Two…
Today I would be visiting Folkestone alone. I didn’t know if anyone I knew was going to the festival so leaving the house was a challenging one. “I have all these tickets! I can go! I can do this!” I had to keep telling myself. It felt weird leaving my Wife at home, I’m still baffled as to why she didn’t want to join me. Still, she could see the progress I’d made, even just by booking the tickets for one! Now it was just a matter of getting there. I’m on my way thinking about how the day could be, if there’s going to be anyone I know and how I will manage if there isn’t anyone I know. After all, it’s not just for an evening, but practically an entire day!
I arrive with about 10 minutes spare. I’ve filled up my water bottle and made sure I’ve this time brought a notebook with me. My iPad is in my bag so I can make notes too.
I feel as though I’m tiptoeing around, trying to find where I need to go. I’m lost and have to ask a member of staff. This wasn’t what I’d imagined. I had to ask where the “meeting room” was as there was no sign in the lift, only “1st floor: cafe, 2nd floor: staff only and 3rd floor: restricted access only” (Either that, or something similar, I didn’t write it down!) So either way, I was lost!
The member of staff was really friendly and made me feel comfortable for saying I was lost and had no idea where I was going, as well as being trapped in a small lift with her as she directed me to where I needed to go. In the lift, I explained I didn’t know where I was going and how unclear it was, and we laughed at the sign in the lift which had no mention of the “meeting room”.
Next year, I think a little sticker needs to be placed for the event to let us know, so we don’t find ourselves tiptoeing around worried we’ll end up somewhere we shouldn’t be! It wasn’t until we go to the 3rd floor that arrows appeared to direct us to the room. The member of staff was issued with a thanks from another team member who’d been preparing to direct people, and I too said my thanks, and quietly made my way into the room.
WORKSHOP: Music & Emotion
I sat on the only different colour chair in the room, about two seats away from the front but with enough distance to see what was going on around me. We would be sat around tables and it felt a bit like a school class. To be honest, it was quite exciting as I have absolutely no idea what was going to happen. The man was sorting out the paperwork and laptop on his desk, and I placed my iPad and bottled water on the desk. I soon realised I’d left my notebook in the car and set up my iPad to “Notes”, so I could type away.
The room began to fill up a couple of minutes before the session was due to start and it was then when I noticed a couple of familiar faces!
One of whom was the lady who’d been on her own the night before sitting behind me for Byron Vincent’s show. We’d discussed an arts and social network myself and a therapist are hoping to get started and she said she would be interested and handed me her card so I can contact her when we’re a bit more developed with the idea. (I’ll have to let you know about that another time!)
I was excited and relieved to see my friend V and she gave me a hug and said hello. She took her seat next to B, the other familiar face. I know V and B from the therapeutic community. I said hello to B, and I’m anxiously thinking “what does she think of me?” and “oh gawd…”, all because we clashed and had our fair share of arguments in the therapeutic setting. Still, we’re in the “real world” now, and I’m on my own and I know we can do this. “Lets put the hard work into practise!” I say to myself, and then the lesson begins…
We went around the room saying our names. Arike is first to speak, an experienced counsellor and artist is the one leading the session. A couple of people in and I say my name, and we go round the table until we get to the end. I’m already starting to feel awkward, I have my iPad out and everyone else has notebooks, or grabbed blank pieces of paper which have started going round the table. I grab a couple myself and decide it’s more polite to take notes with pen and paper, like everyone else than it would be rude to type it up.
We’re given several types of music to listen to. As each orchestral piece was almost 30 minutes long, we listened to the introduction for about 2-3 minutes each, and noted down how the music made us feel. If we wanted to we could read out what we’d written. There wasn’t a time when I did, but I am going to share here (I only noted down a few of the musician/composers, I’m afraid!):
- Terry Oldfield: Spirit of the Rainforest – Reminded me of being alone and wandering feeling confused and out of place, no sense of belong. Trying to find peace and ease.
- Duke Ellington: In a Sentimental Mood – Starting with a piano, I notice how the other instruments all gently join in. It’s a calm and relaxing melody, creating a bluesy atmosphere, and I’m imagining smokey rooms and an evening of entertainment.
- Gabbro Faren – It was a little difficult to listen to this piece as there were children screaming and playing outside. It may have added to how it made me feel. It reminded me of feeling sadness, sorrow and joy. I pictured people coming together and celebrating a life.
- Bartók: String quartets – This piece made me feel anxious and nervous. It made me feel of uncertainty, unsure. Feelings of creeping around an abandoned building, trying to be brave by peeking behind closed doors, and moving through the darkness, and embracing the empty spaces.
- This piece of music made me picture a couple on a balcony enjoying a glass of sangria, as they watch the sunset over the sea, and the walkers are in the distance walking hand in hand on the sand. It felt peaceful and relaxing.
- This piece made me want to dance. It made me feel as though I could grow and be alive.
- A fast and energetic set of strings, try to get people up to dance the tango. The music was also paced out, which I could imagine people deciding whether or not to get up and dance.
- Jan Garbarek: 12 moons – The piano made me feel sadness and sorrow and when the saxophone makes an entrance it becomes the poignant part of the struggle and disbelief. The drums sounded like footsteps, which adds to the eeriness of the piece.
- Astor Piazzolla: Tango Remix – This was the last piece we listened to. And probably the happiest or cheekiest of them all. The plucking of the strings made the piece feel cheeky, sneaky and suspicious. A couple of us pictured an Inspector searching for clues!
At the end, someone asked if it was a conscious decision to choose all instrumental pieces of music. Arike said that he didn’t want to have music with words because words can define, or his word “prescribe” how we are feeling, whereas music doesn’t tell you what the feeling/emotion should be. If words were to be an option then a foreign language would have been used so they weren’t understood and we wouldn’t be able to tell how it should make us feel.
It was a really good session and it really brought back memories of sitting in the classroom studying for my AS levels! For some reason, that brought sadness to my mind and I was able to distract myself from those thoughts by joining V and B on the next event, which I hadn’t initially booked.
I headed downstairs to the box office and asked if there were any remaining tickets for the “Food and Mood” talk. Fortunately, there was ONE LEFT!
TALK: Food and Mood
B and V saved me a space and I was so grateful for letting me sit with them. I’d be spending more time with them and would begin to see how different communicating outside of therapy would be.
Now, one thing I’ve noticed during my time so far at The Quarterhouse is, I’m not very good with “big words” used in mindfulness, psychology and mental health. Especially when it comes to the chemicals in the brain.
I’ve tried to note down what tried to go in my brain at part of the Food and Mood event, and here’s what I think I’ve learned.
Thanks to Dr Legumes who prepared all the food which we were all lucky enough to try out, and for Helen Sharp from the Wellcome Trust, who explained the sensory system and food as well as the nutritious approach to eating…
As you can see by the photos above, they look so healthy and nutritious, that once upon a time they would have been foods I’d have avoided. (There’s one missing as I “downed” the cup of fennel tea before remembering to take a photo! Whoops! – It was good by the way!)
This was the audience lunch sorted today…
We started with a ginger shot made of lemon, ginger and ginseng – which would help keep us alert (so really, I shouldn’t have forgotten to take that last photo!), followed by passionfruit and lemon gel WITH a pansy on top (can’t say I’ve ever eaten an actual flower before… At least, not one I can remember!), which was made with natural sugars and although it reminded me of frog spawn, actually tasted pretty nice!
There was a discussion whilst we were indulged with the above foods, so I’m not entirely sure what these next notes are about (I’m easily distracted!):
The thinking layer is linked to the emotional layer, and it’s about keeping both “happy”. The chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline etc all need to be “fed” to keep the body healthy and happy. We were told that the nervous system is developed in the womb, so it is crucial to what the mother eats, for the best start of a babies life. This is why pregnant women have to take folic acid, and all the vitamins and minerals to boost a better start for the child as well as aiding to her own health.
It’s been proven that 200mg of selenium a week alleviates depression, which you can easily get by eating lots of nuts and seeds.
That’s when we tried the most delicious taster… It was considered an “earthy dish”, but I really liked it. It was made with sage, sesame seeds, soya mince, kale, shiitake mushrooms and pickled walnuts in a little pastry dish.
We then were told that we need to have a good blood flow to the brain (I am sure anyone could have told us that), but this can be done by consuming sources of magnesium, such as chickpeas, and the lovely omega 3s and 6s which can be consumed on a 1:1 ratio, again, more seeds!
Our next taster was walnut and hemp seed smoothie. Oh, my! Now, I’ve been slowly giving up dairy (I no longer have it in my tea – If I can help it, and opt for soya milk instead), and having tried all different types of alternatives I was worried about giving this a go. I was surprised to find my glass empty as I sipped away surprisingly quickly realising that actually, it was very nice!
By taking 900mg of Omega 3 for 3 weeks will increase memory and learning. I’ve just come across this website which give you all the long words I was on about not being able to remember: Omega 3
Helen Sharp said “Can we eat ourselves happy?” and the straight answer is “No.”
It’s probably a given that if you eat an unhealthy diet you are more likely to be depressed, than if you ate a healthy diet, such as a Mediterranean diet.
The fewer foods in your diet mean the more likely it is you will suffer with depression, yet the more foods in your diet helps with having a “better mood”. I find this interesting because I know far more people who have a healthy, mixed diet who have depression and/or anxiety. I guess this is all on average though.
There’s a biological link to the gut and brain. The gut bacteria produces chemicals which influence the brain, and converts carbs into fatty acids such as butyrate, which enter the brain and determines which nerves cells live or die. At least, that’s what I understood anyway!
Probiotics and Prebiotics reduce cortisol which affects memory. So it’s good to make sure you you intake your pros and pres!
We then tried another tasty treat, which meant instead of getting probiotics from dairy, it was from pickling. Shallots, carrots, beetroot, tofu all on a, what I think is, rye bread.
When we are depressed, you made find yourself reaching for the chocolate. This is because back in stone age times, we relied on a fat reserve when food is scarce. So now when stressed we reach for high calorie foods. (Though I know many of us also end up with the opposite effect!)
Low serotonin = Anger and depression,
If you eat a lot of carbs you may find yourself getting quite fatigued. However you could introduce SMART CARBS to your diet and they will help you with fighting that tired feeling…
We got to try a delicious curry made with pearl barley, sweet potato, butternut squash, turmeric and other spices and coconut and spring onion. (As I’v started making my own curries instead of buying readymade sauces, this is one for the books!)
We ended on trying a vegan brownie, and I’m so proud I tried this as the first sound of the word “beetroot”, and I turn my nose up at it… I gave it a go and I was surprised to find it was perhaps the best brownie I have ever tasted. Maybe that’s because I knew it was “guilt free” as it didn’t have any processed sugar and it was all natural ingredients: avocado, blueberry, coconut, beetroot, pecan. All I can say is – YUM!
And then to wash it all down we finished with a Fennel Tea, which we were told helps with digestion.
The end was summarised by saying that alcohol is a depressant, as is caffeine but could be a separate talk on its own.
Mood is influenced by many things and when stressed try not to opt at eating junk food, instead take some time out and if you’re still feeling stressed try healthy foods to help you with your energy and eventually it will make you feel better.
V, B and myself were going to be attending another two events together, so we spent the time between events socialising, and we looked at an installation called “Ship of Fools”, all I can say from the short clips we saw, it was quite humorous!
WORKSHOP: Singing for Wellbeing
We made our way back up to the “meeting room” for the next event, which was already filling up quickly. We took three seats in the corner of the room. It was set out differently to the Music as Therapy workshop, and had the tables collapsed in a corner. We sat with Arike who’d presented the earlier workshop.
I LOVE singing! I sing a lot. But not as much as I used to. This was a great workshop! And we learnt some of the lyrics on this page:
It really made me feel like I “belonged”, I love singing and it made me want to join a choir I’d left a few years ago when things started going horribly wrong in my life. (I mean, things had always been going wrong, but 2011 was a very, very terrible year for me!)
After being brave and asking about putting a harmony to one of the songs –
I wanna sing it, I wanna swing it with you,
I wanna sing it to a world so blue,
So let’s get singing, we’ll soon be shining,
The world in harmony.
(I could hear it in my head) and asking B to work with me on it, and of course I swear we failed at it, but somehow it worked, I decided that it was time for me to get back to singing “properly”, I’m clearly “out of practise”, so I text my friend who’s still a part of the choir and asked when the next rehearsals were. Go me! Now its just a matter of turning up, and after this weekend, I’m sure I can do that?! Funnily enough, after speaking to Sadie Hurley who ran the workshop, I found out she too attends the choir I was a part of, so I’ll be seeing her again, and hopefully she can teach me a thing or two!
Once the session ended, V disappeared on her phone so me and B were left together. We’d been getting on quite well, and it was nice to see how different we both were considering we’d once clashed in group. We watched a series of films which were running throughout the afternoon, as part of Film as Therapy. It wasn’t a big space, nor an event you needed to book for. So we perched on the benches, and watched for 20 minutes. Each film showed different stories relating to mental illness. It reminded me of my short experimental film I made when I was at school for my AS level. I’d like to say I have come a long way, and that then makes me realise how troubled my life has actually been. I still find myself easily drawn into “darker” things, so I have to be careful not to trigger myself. I use my art to express myself, and it’s much easier, for some reason to do this when I’m feeling down, than when I’m in a good place. Then again, writing this now – I feel okay, just a little spaced out.
This was a hilarious approach to expressing/discussing mental illness. Of course it did have its serious notes (Please excuse the pun), and addressed a variety of difficult illnesses, particularly OCD and Tourettes. Written by Anna Braithwaite, she’d composed a delightful musical sketch for each illness, with words and music based on interviews.
We could sit anywhere in the auditorium, so I followed behind V and B, and tucked into a row several rows up. We were on the end of the isle, not for a quick escape, but more so because the room was already filled with a lot of people.
Of course, it was dark when we arrived and although we’d been handed the brochure, there wasn’t time to read before the show started. Had I’d read the brochure beforehand, I may not have been brave enough to ask a question…
Listening to the music reminded me of a composition I was part of in year 9 called “Songlines and Longlines”, written by Barry Russell and Tony Harris, and those of us in year 9 for Canterbury Festival… This was back on 12 October 2001! (I have the CD which I have dug out for a listen!)
I was also reminded of a show I’d recently been to see. Tourettes Hero: Backstage at Biscuit Land. I’d met Jess Thom at the end of her show and told her I was so inspired and I wished I had her confidence. She told me I could do it. So… One day… I’m still dreaming several months later!
It was the tic “Biscuit”, which made me have Jess in my mind. Jess says “biscuit” a lot. I cannot remember how many times a day (which is so frustrating for me), but it is a LOT.
During the Q&A at the end of the show, people seemed to be asking questions with ease. It wasn’t the first time I had questions rattling around in my brain. I’m usually too scared to ask as I stutter and forget what it is I want to ask! I thought I’d give it a go, and as soon as my hand went up, my heart started to thud against my chest. The microphone was placed in my hand, and I could feel myself beginning to have an anxiety attack, the feelings of your heart pounding so much, that your mind feels like it’s going to explode, that you can’t breathe properly, but you have to keep yourself looking calm in the moment so those surrounding you can’t see the panic, and BAM! It was my turn to talk. I couldn’t hand the microphone back now or back down, I’d look like an idiot for saying I couldn’t do it. I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded but I needed to talk now or “forever hold my peace”. “Hi”, (oh gawd, she’s still talking). I’ve interrupted! I wait a little longer and then I get my chance to ask again. Of course, when the words start to flow and I can hear myself through the speakers, I speak with ease and confidence, my heart slows down and I feel relieved that I’ve managed to ask a question without stuttering. “I was just wondering that with one of the tics you chose, was you inspired by Tourettes Hero?”, “Biscuit”, she says and yes. (Remember that I’ve not read the programme yet either!) Anna Braithwaite says that she’d interviewed Jess about 6 years ago and had also had permission to use some of the tics which Jess uploads to her website. Ah-ha! I felt so relieved I’d managed to get an answer to the question I’d been almost-literally-dying to ask, and my friend V kindly said “Well done” as I breathed a sigh of relief!
V and B weren’t going to be watching the next theatre show, so I had just under 45 minutes on my own. It felt like the night before where I was hovering around wondering what to do with myself. I’d started to feel more at ease, but then I ended up with an erratic-crazy-woman saying “I saw you yesterday, are you having a good time?”, “Are you excited to meet the guru?” Err, yes… Yes I am??
Little did I know that this was the beginning of what would be a bizarre, chaotic, crazy and entertaining, full-of-energy show!
THEATRE: Karla Shacklock: The Happiness
When I wrote my notes about this show, I simply wrote:
Lots of newspaper!
Creative and chaotic way of expressing Happiness!
When I saw the piles of newspaper, I had an incling as to what was going to happen… More so when you see a large broom also as a prop. Ah-ha! I felt all “giddy” inside and frustrated I didn’t have anyone I knew with me to share the experience with. It wasn’t until the end of the show where lots of newspaper was thrown about, that they offered the audience to participate in rolling around and throw the newspaper about. As I was sat in the front row in the middle, I asked the lady sitting next to me “Please will you do it with me?”, she double checked I wanted to, and took hold of my hand and we went in together and rolled about, being the first to experience the amazing feeling of what rolling in newspaper felt like! It truly was, pure happiness and I drove home with a massive smile on my face and felt a bit like an idiot in doing so, but in those moments I DIDN’T CARE!
THIS WAS ONE OF THE BEST MOMENTS OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!
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Tweet me at: @ghostwithinme
To contact Normal: Festival of the Brain, or for more information/join the mailing list please check out: Folkestone Quarterhouse, Folkestone Fringe, @BrainFestUK
Also, click on the thumbnails for more information of the talks, theatre shows, workshops and events which took place this year!
Thank you for reading!
love Erica x