Well, I am just about recovered from our amazing exhibition @ BLOC Projects and I wanted to say THANK YOU to a bunch of people and organisations who have made this year wonderful ❤

Thank you –  National Lottery Big Fund for awarding us funding that meant we could pay for a nice, cosy space where people were able to keep their work and come back to it in the following weeks. We were warm and always had space! It meant we could keep refreshments stocked up, invest in materials and pay some awesome local creatives to design sessions and it allowed me to work part time on it and cut my hours in hospitality. I can’t explain how much better it was not to have to balance a full time job and sessions and life!

CADS – for being a great support in acquiring funding, providing us with space and a chance.

Creatives – Kelli, Ellie – Handmade Cinema, Laura – Doodle Monkey, Hannah, Lisa – D.o.S, Rebekah, Anna, George, Charley, thank you for sharing your skills, time and hearts with us. you helped us stitch, stick, draw, paint, record, marble and collage our war through about 45 sessions! (Free hand has run over 100 in total)

Hannah and Tori – Amazing additions to the Free Hand team! Thank you for sharing the load and investing a piece of yourselves into the project, you’ve help make Free Hand what it is today.

ALL the people who have attended sessions, well… it’s even harder to put into words how much you all mean to me that you came to sessions, made incredible artwork and let me be a part of that process, it’s been heart warming and and inspiring. Thank you for allowing me to get to know you all and in some cases become friends. We have laughed and cried together and it means so much to me. Two and a half years and you are the stars of the show! I’m so glad we’ve been able to put on this exhibition and so others could see the amazing things you’ve made, have a peek into your worlds and find out more about mental health.

BLOC Projects – For believing in us and providing us with a beautiful space. In honesty finding a space wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I felt so downhearted before meeting with David at BLOC, I was met there with interest and enthusiasm. BLOC have been amazing to work with, check out their upcoming exhibitions and show these amazing people support.

I’m so grateful! Thank you everyone who has contributed in any way, shape, or form. It means the world to me. I’ve connected with people on a deep level through creating and its the reason why I believe, community art is one of the most important ways of expression and feeling connected.



F%*k Depression / Make Stuff – a Free Hand Exhibition

Free Hand poster + logos
Join Free Hand for ‘F%*k Depression / Make Stuff’, an exhibition we’re hosting at BLOC Projects in Sheffield from 5th – 8th July, launching on the 5th with an open event from 6pm-8pm so you can get a first peek at what we’ve been creating for the past year!

The exhibition will follow our explorations into what can happen when expectation and reality meet. Take, for example, a time when your anxiety convinced you to expect going somewhere would be a horrible and scary thing to do, when instead the reality was that, once there, you had a wonderful time. Or, when you expected something, such as help or support, to make a huge difference, but the reality was that you’re disappointed with the result. Our explorations took a deeper look into the impact of these perceptions of expectation, and their consequences, on our mental health, and how they play a role in affecting our narrative.

Pieces displayed will show the outcome of our delves’ into perceptions of self, comforting space, the familiar, and the strange. There will also be pieces for the audience to contribute to, allowing us to advocate our belief in the importance of community art – in aid of expression, and communication – and to show everyone just how important being a part of, and contributing to, something is for one’s mental health.

In addition, we’ll be holding sessions on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th, from 2-4pm, for those interested in joining us to create their own piece or to collaborate with us to add further displays of expression to the exhibit.

If you wish to enter a piece of work into the exhibition before its launch, you can fill in this form. Space is limited, but we’re keen to display individual’s concepts as well as our own, in your medium of choice.

If you have any questions, you can email charlyfreehand[at]gmail[dot]com

We’re looking forward to having you join us in July!


We often talk about our depression like it’s another person. Me and my depression, because at times it does feel like another person following you around. Like other person inside your brain, like someone else’s internal monologue constantly interrupting your own. We get so used to referring to it as a separate entity, that catches us off guard, that tricks us, that bullies us, that controls us and that is where i find that narrative can become problematic. While obviously we, I, am not completely able to control my anxiety and depression, otherwise they wouldn’t exist! I am however responsible for my actions. Making depression and anxiety a separate person which we don’t control can mean we no longer take responsibility for ourselves and believe me I’ve seen people use that excuse, ‘ that wasn’t me, it was my depression, I’m better now though.’ Totally disregarding others feelings because we were ill, it’s a hard line to tread, I’ve flaked and ducked out without saying bye, when I was younger I hurt people’s feelings in order to get attention, escapism, a peak in my self esteem, I was incredibly depressed. That didn’t mean I wasn’t accountable, though raking yourself over the coals isn’t helpful either, being accountable and present can help you figure out the why’s and move past things. If we blame THAT person for letting people down or acting out, if we refuse to hold ourselves accountable for the thing WE have done, it gives depression and anxiety all the control. We are giving up our accountability & responsibility to an illness. I spent over a decade playing the same record internally;
‘you are not good enough, why are you trying? Everyone hates you, you do not deserve love, letting someone use you is the only reason they will stay you are a bad person and don’t trust anyone!’ They didn’t all come at once but slowly the track rounded out to this cacophony of thought on repeat, at times louder than others. I spent most of my life building bad habits and coping mechanisms. I had to change the entire way I viewed life. I’d like to say it was like flipping a switch but it’s wasn’t.

I think it’s why I personally have such difficulty with some of the language used when referring to mental well being.  I understand the use of word illness, honestly no matter how bad I’ve been I’ve never liked the word illness. I, on the other hand have never had trouble with the word weakness. Depression and anxiety are powerful, crushing things, I gave in to negative thoughts and patterns, weakness and vulnerability are human, I’m not ashamed of my mental health, of the depression and anxiety, but taking ownership and facing my darkness has helped me become stronger and happier. I understand too the point that people without experience of these things need to know it is as incapacitating as a physical illness but I think sometimes it can take away accountability and therefore the motivation to get help and improve.

Are there any terms you prefer or dislike?

Spirit of the Rainbow Heron

Spirit of the Rainbow Heron – The Late Night Mental Health Cafe

The team at Rainbow Heron have working away to create and fine tune, this wonderful idea in loving memory of Dora Daniel. Inspired by Dora’s community spirit an her love for all things creative Rainbow Heron was born.

This week Patricia took to the Sheffield Soup podium and brought the house down! Rainbow Heron is going to be a weekly late night cafe, that will run until 2am. A place where people can go if they are having a hard time, unable to sleep, need a place to relax or are in need of some company. Everyone that is part of the team is kind and passionate about providing something that could prevent people from feeling isolated and slipping further into depression.

In the heart of our city centre a haven for if you are struggling with your mental health, come get creative, play games, read or just sit and have a nice cup of tea. Like Free Hand, Rainbow Heron are not a replacement for therapy but a support around it. Young people (self defined) can go to the cafe at night and know they have understanding and supportive people around them.

The project is due to launch early next year and I just can’t wait. So many of us are affected by mental health problems and to have a hub late at night in our city is going to be amazing! If you want to know more please check out their website here, lots more information about events coming up and what’s going on.

The Rainbow Heron Small Grants Fund also commissioned Rad Miller, Director of Pocket Projects, based in Leeds, to make our original art film, based on a French poem,  which will premiere on 15th October 2016, as part of Sheffield’s Off the Shelf 2016 Festival of Words

Hope to see you there!


Summer round up!

We are back next week after a two week summer break! I thought I’d show you what we’ve been up to the past few weeks, we’ve been working with fabrics and have some had some wonderful results.

Fabric Manipulation – Different techniques to create texture and 3D shapes within fabric. These can be used in quilts, artwork or incorporated into garments. These work quite easy once you get a hang of the stitch sequences.


Draping – I cut out these half sized stands from a huge block of foam, they aren’t accurate measurement wise but great for trying out different ideas on a manageable scale. Draping shapes on to the dummy in this way can be a great start to making full size patterns. We also took existing garment and pinned away manipulating them into an entirely new outfit!


Trimmings and decorations – If you haven’t used a pom pom maker before I can highly recommend it! They are fast, fun and super easy, you can also use scraps of fabric and plastic bags to make some interesting textures and patterns. The flower combines a couple of techniques making a ribbon flower  and attaching fabric petals on top. Making brooches, bunting, jewellery, sew on to a tote or make it into a cute creature like the spider below!


Twiddlemuffs –   The silliest name for a wonderful thing! We made these as donations for people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, they help patients feel calm and keeps hands busy and mind occupied. pixlr_20160727211010434.jpg

We’ve had a great seven weeks of fabric fun! Next couple of weeks are dedicated to the art of collograph. Sign up to our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with our sessions, events and other mental health/arty things.

We need your help if you have attended a session before, even if it was just once please fill in our survey and tell us what you think, help us make Free Hand better!


Support & Distraction

With the help of my friends, we’ve put together a support and distraction list. Here are some services, websites, apps, poems, playlists and programmes that have got us through hard times, distracted ourselves from intrusive thoughts or helped us support & understand people better. Sometimes support can be difficult to find, we hope this helps, please let us know of anything we’ve missed!


Mindfulness – A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World

A look at mindfulness and how to use it within your life, help with being present and breaking routine.

The Feeling Good Handbook

This book helped me while I waited to find a counsellor, it teaches cognitive behavioural therapy through examples and exercises. It helped me to recognise my negative thought patterns and start to talk back to them.


Designing out Suicide – A collaborative zine fighting stigma and giving women a place to express themselves freely.


Collage & Doodle


7 Cups of Tea – Online support, chat anonymously, work through exercises focused around your chosen topic or find distraction. I’m a listener on this site so if you’d like to talk to me anonymously click HERE.

You app – Small steps to a healthier happier you! ‘Stick with us for one minute per day, and we’ll help you live a healthier, happier life.’

Calm app – Mindfulness meditation app

Mood Tools – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy based aid, diary that records distortion of thoughts, helpful exercises and a test to see how severely your depression is affecting you. You can also create a safety plan, list distractions and right reasons to life to refer to in crisis.


Help & Information

Bipolar UK – Sheffield Group. This support group is for people with bipolar disorder and their carers.

CALM – Support for men living with suicidal thoughts and ideations. Their aim is to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call line open 5pm – 12am, Nationwide: 0800 58 58 58 London 0808 802 58 58. You get also use webchat, same hours or check out CALMzine.

Depression Alliance, find self help groups in your area. Information on depression, treatment and resources.

Harmless. Help, information and support with self harm.

Samaritans. contact them if you are in crisis, if you need someone to talk to they are there 24/7 365 days a year.

Distraction and fun.

The Quiet Room is a place to escape and relax for a minute or too. If you are having a stressful day or feeling panic setting in go to the Quiet Room and let go.

Pixel Thoughts, a 60-second meditation tool to help you clear your mind. Put a stressful thought in the star and watch it fade away.

Crunchyroll, a free streaming site to watch anime.

Free online jigsaws, click on an image no need to join and solve a puzzle!

Weird drawing toy, Shout, talk scream and watch it draw.

Be Picasso. Click and drag to make your own Picasso portrait.

Cartoon Hangover, free excellently adult and weird animations!

Blog Posts

The Mighty Blogs list of mental health blogs.


Mental Health Podcasts, free downloads to aid sleep and wellbeing.

Non-online suggestions

Turn your music on and up and dance.


Make a brew!



Watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Google tiny animals.

Do Yoga.


Find someone to be with, talk to, sit with or get silly with.


I’m currently writing a safety plan to help me stop the spiral before it circles too many times, I will share it once I’ve finished.

See anything you think that should be here? Comment below!

Stop saying sorry…

…start saying thank you.

By this I don’t mean never apologising for anything again, but when I get anxious I find myself apologising for people acts of kindness towards me. For example, if I feel anxious or lonely and then find it in myself to reach out and tell someone I’m struggling, if they offer support I start to overthink. Even though this person has offered out of kindness, I find myself feeling like a burden and constantly apologising for what I’m tell myself is putting them out. But I’m not putting them out, they are my friend and a person with free will – they didn’t HAVE to offer, they chose to. Sometimes you might really need a friend at 3am, or someone who will pick up the phone or drive to see you, or cancel plans to be by your side. That might be inconvenient at times, but you don’t need to apologise. That person has made that choice. Similarly, if people aren’t able to rush to your side it can be easy to forget that people care and become a cycle of isolation.

I’ve been on the other side, too, and it feels quite sad when you feel good that you were able to be there for someone or support them in some way and they keep saying sorry, or apologising, when you made the choice to be with them. It feels like you’ve somehow made them feel even worse, or are a burden.

Say sorry when you need to be accountable, but I urge you to stop saying sorry when you reach out. You are incredibly brave to reach out a hand at your lowest. Sometimes it can be hard to remember people care when they can’t respond immediately. I have just started writing a diary of gratitude where I try to write down three things a day that I am grateful for. This may be spending time with someone, connecting with friends, or simply a few minutes of calm and a brew. It is helping change my way of thinking and when I feel low I can read back and be reminded of the good. It also gives me something positive to focus on daily. I never thought about safety plans until I downloaded an app called Mood Tools and it asks you to create one. Reading the gratitude book would be one of my steps to feeling better and on my safety plan. You can do this in the app or use this website to help you write one.pixlr_20160707215306438

The first step is recognising the warning signs; start to make a list. Add coping strategies: you can learn what strategies work in different situations by writing this down. These could be a list of simple things – doodle, make a brew, go for a walk, watch a tv programme, practice yoga or meditation, for example. I would make notes on which work best for you by rating them. List reasons to live – aim for ten even if they seem small. Have a list of contacts you can reach out to just for a chat or tell them you are struggling, other numbers could be support services. List good distractions – healthy things that take your mind off of others. I was always worried distraction was bad but it can help bring clarity. The app is very helpful in describing how to carry out each stage and it’s free!

Create a plan, help yourself, reach out and stop apologising when you need or gain support!

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week!

This year the Mental Health Foundation  are focussing on relationships, it can be challenging at the best of times to maintain and develop meaningful and open relationships. Our mental health or the lack of clarity on what mental health conditions actually are or affect can cause unintended friction and misunderstandings. Every person is different, but some of the ways we act may become clearer if the symptoms of conditions (argh, hate the word symptom, that’s a different blog for a different time) were better known. For instance, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often misrepresented and actually very little about them is common knowledge. Whether you are diagnosed with a mental health condition or not the relationships we form are a huge part of what adds up to our happiness and wellbeing.

It certainly took me a long time to understand what a good relationship was and when people were bad for me, or relationships were toxic. We all think we know an abusive relationship and we’d never end up in one but it’s harder to recognise sometimes, especially if you are clouded in self doubt and low self esteem. There are people that will intentionally manipulate you and sometimes it can be people struggling with mental health issues themselve but dealing with it, by not dealing with it. That can lead to following someone down a negative or destructive path. The latter are the hardest to be around at times, it can feel like a betrayal to realise you can’t get better while holding someone’s hand that’s pulling you towards things that don’t help you. That doesn’t mean you have to let them go, you can still be there for that person, but you don’t have to follow them down the rabbit hole to do that. The best way is to take care of yourself while trying to remain open and honest with care.

In my teens I was truly blessed to find a few angels walking on Earth and these few unwavering friendships helped me through some of the hardest years, they helping me stop cutting, they helped me to see myself in a positive light, they dug me out of wishing I wouldn’t wake up, they taught me to hold myself accountable but to show myself love and forgiveness and I am forever grateful that I still have a couple of those people in my life to this day and they are still teaching me all those things (sometimes I forget). I am loved unconditionally and I try my best to show others that same love, hopefully they feel that. Empathy and compassion even for, sometimes especially for those, who we feel wronged by can help us grow and have more meaningful relationships in the future.

When I set up Free Hand it was with the idea of support through art and creativity or alongside it. Now, I guess it’s more focussed on the value of creating together, conversation, support, and being a constant presence. People have created some amazing work and I hope people feel they’ve learnt a new skill or found a new technique, but more so I hope they’ve found a friend in me and the other people there. I hope it’s meaningful because of what we’ve created together. I’ve laughed and cried and met some incredible new friends. I hope that continues.

More info on Mental Health Week HERE

Warning signs HERE

Mental Health A-Z HERE




For anyone that doesn’t know, I’m also part of Girl Gang Sheffield. This month our sisters at Girl Gang Manchester launched #SeeMySelfie. The project focussed on starting a conversation not only around the idea of the selfie, but how we see ourselves and the self we portray to others.

I guess you are thinking, what on Earth does this have to do with mental health? Actually I think image and perceived self affect our mental state greatly. I took part in a mini trial in April and it threw up some interesting things. I don’t really take selfies, I do this weird thing where I think, oh, I don’t really look like that anymore, I should take one. I kind of feel obliged, it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not a documentor. I’ve been trying to remember to take more pictures or film little bits of things so I remember, so I can look back, but taking photos or documenting in any way is not a natural call to me. I received and email each day with my prompt/inspiration and would take the picture and send it to the other girls with some commentary attached. The photos I found hardest to take were ‘best angle’ and ‘full body’, I don’t feel ashamed of my body but I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing with it. When it’s static anyway, posing and the mirror are awkward things for me. Don’t that I can’t bear to look at myself but it feel too vain too indulgent, I say to myself ‘urgh, self important no one else cares what you look like.’ I put on my make up and outfit I love and I don’t look at myself I just go out. I look fine, I know any picking a part is all part of my mood. If I feel sad, I feel I look bad, that used to stop me going out! It doesn’t now. I found the ‘worst angle’ and ‘silly face’ ones easier… I guess self deprecation comes far too easily, but I wasn’t worried about sharing them. I thought yea, sometimes I do look like that, sometimes people will see me from that angle but so what? Did it matter?

I thoroughly enjoy the trial and I’m doing the full project along with over 200 other people!  If you want to join in or want to add to the conversation please do, comment below or contact Girl Gang Manchester and sign up to the mailing list.

‘Cos I Want it all or Nothing at All!

Not only a line in a song from the most perfect 90’s boy band, O-Town, (discard the Westlife cover) but it is also one of the main ways we can distort thoughts and events. All or nothing thinking has been, and still is, my biggest enemy along with guilt.

It often comes with magnifying – saying things ‘always’ or ‘never’ happen. This way of all or nothing thinking is very engrained in my thought patterns and habits. For example, as I’ve been thinking what to write, I said to myself, ‘with me it’s ALWAYS complete open book or I’m on lock down’. This statement isn’t, and can’t possibly be, true. Humans are complex beings, and I know I experience gradients, but when I’m talking to myself I say those things, this is how / what I am.

While there are some benefits to being this way – throwing myself completely into a project for example – it can be very harmful to both my productivity and relationships. Speaking artistically, it definitely halted my development and ability to accept and adapt to criticism both constructive and not. This is a vital part of growing, being able to hear criticism, pick out the truths or useful parts, decide if you believe it’s important, and then move forward with those words as weapons for improvement and development. Immersing yourself in something isn’t a bad thing: keep in mind I’m talking about the extreme ends of the scale. I would believe what I’m doing was 100% perfect, unquestionable – it would blind me to mistakes, harden me to change, leaving me unable to adapt, and become fiercely defensive. Creatively I was dead in the water. It would mean if someone offered even very polite, helpful critique I would react in one of two ways: 1) decide they were mean and horrible, shut down on them or 2) write off my work completely. None of it useful, mostly resulting in me and another person feeling terrible.

This is also something I experience(d) in my personal life. I used to wear my heart completely on my sleeve, be an open book to anyone willing to read. This lead to an awful lot of heart break and unrealistic expectations. After feeling so crushed more than once I developed this, ‘one strike and you’re out!’ mentality, making me difficult to be honest with because if someone was, and I was hurt, I dealt with it by completely shutting them out. I stopped seeing gradients in others – they were either good or bad, no in-between.

I had done this for a long time while being depressed, and strangely my panic attacks were the thing that made me aware of this behaviour. I started to read about cognitive behavioural therapy, and the ways we distort reality and build negative thought patterns. I realised I could identify heavily with a few. I will add my first reaction wasn’t a measured or rational one, it was to not care too much about things, to actively not connect fully, and to become indecisive, second guessing myself at every stage, entering everything nervously and half-heartedly.

I am much better at recognising when I’m starting to become intense and immersed, or disconnected and shut down, and responding to that it a more measured way. It took a lot of writing thoughts down and talking back to them like I would to someone else, and pushing though the fear and awkwardness and talking it through with another person, before I got better at it. I’m still learning now. I still pull the shutters down when people become aggressive or raise their voices – protecting me, but often worsening the situation because I’m unresponsive.

On the plus side, I now (mostly) enjoy and seek out other peoples input (I changed the way I see critique) when working. I have a stronger sense of who I am and what I want my work to be so I don’t just abandon things. Same with relationships, I feel more comfortable in myself than I’ve ever been. It’s made me more understanding and adaptable but at times able to be completely unapologetic for good decisions I’ve made.

I’d be interested to hear if any of you identify with these thoughts or feelings, or have no experience of what I’m talking about. Charly x