D.O.S and the Radio.



Lisa from D.O.S and myself were invited to speak on BBC Radio Sheffield about our creative sessions and workshops. I was really nervous but feel very pleased that we got to speak about mental health and what we offer on this platform and reach people we might not have otherwise.

Before we went in we were talking about how anyone can start something just as we have. If you have an idea you want to share, you can just set it up and go for it! If anyone is interested in running sessions or trying something out please get in touch with Lisa or myself. We are very lucky to live in a city where the venues and people have supported us. As I said in my last post, I owe a lot to the people at CADS for giving me time and space to develop Free Hand.

Designing Out Suicide’s next workshop is  Pot and Plant on the 5th March at Theatre Deli. I can’t wait, I enjoy having plants in my home. It’s strange the sense of peace they create, I love being outside and if I can bring the outside in that makes me very happy. Come and join me and pot some plants. I will be the one covering EVERYTHING in glitter!

I hope you enjoy listening to us speak – be part of the conversation, you’ll be surprised by how many people understand what you feel!


Toby Foster: (…) We started talking about mental health concerns on Monday, and the phones just rang of their hooks. It’s something that’s really resonated with lots of people – and of course it would! We never tire of saying it on here – 1 in 4 of us, 1 in 4 will have to deal with mental health issues. Why we don’t talk about it every day is beyond me.

Yesterday we heard about a project in Doncaster who helps people get and retain work. Laura Nylon talked to us from Big Ambitions, a social enterprise.

When Lisa O’Hara from Sheffield decided to set up a created project for other women suffering with mental health issues. She’s here with Charly who we’ll speak to in a moment. Lisa – what was happening to you – you were faced with the threat of losing your job weren’t you.

Lisa: Yeah, well this would also mean that I would lose funding for university. This would obviously change my life quite significantly so I kind of came to terms with the fact that I would lose my job and there’d be a chance that I wouldn’t find another. At the time the project that I was working on at university was about vulnerability. So I kind of threw myself into that and in response came up with a project themed around suicide. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of men in the UK but suicidal ideations and suicide attempts are much higher in women which I feel kind of adds to the idea of a stigma…

Toby: Just tell me how you got to ‘suicide’ were these feelings that you were having?

Lisa: Well I guess it’s quite a big thing to say on radio, but it’s absolutely something, yes, that I’ve thought about before. I think it’s something that’s overlooked quite a lot with mental health. It’s something that can pass through your mind if you are feeling really low – it’s quite a common thing that people think about – even daily.

Toby: So tell me what you decided to do?

Lisa: I spoke to my friend, who is a mental health nurse, I kind of was trying to gauge if there was a call for this kind of thing, she said that would be really positive thing to set up the peer support element of it. Also I spoke to LaDIYfest who is a feminist activist group in Sheffield to see what their response was. They were really amazing and helped me put the first call out to for responses to a zine.

Toby: And what kind of response did you get?

Lisa: I got a massive response really, the people in that initial meeting were positive about this kind of thing existing – there’s actually another zine for men that exists called CalmZINE which is brilliant and I’d recommend anyone to take a look at that, but yeah the response to that meeting really gave me the reassurance I needed to go ahead with it and progress the project.

Toby: So what are your workshops like then? Designing out suicide – what is it that you do?

Lisa: We kind of just get together over a theme, it doesn’t have to be creative but that’s just the type of thing that I am able to set up for people, like a platform for this creativity to occur, creative responses to anything at all. The idea of it is just ‘come along, have a chat, have a cup of tea and do something creative whilst maybe talking about what problems you’ve been having and share your experiences.

Toby: We’ve been doing something on voluteering and we’ve been going down to a lunch club at St Mary’s on Bramall Lane, this is for the over 50’s, and people who just want company. They just go along and chat and make christmas cards and the like – isn’t amazing how sitting down and doing something and chatting can really be a catalyst for all sorts of stuff. With us also is Charly, of Free Hand Creative, tell us what you do Charly?

Charly: So I run weekly sessions that have themes, so the last one were all to do with sewing, ones before that were printing – so I try to have a general theme. I run them every week for 6 weeks and have 1 week off. And then go back into them. It’s a similar thing to Lisa. It’s sort of peer support through creative activity. When people are focussed on doing something in front of them. It’s less pressure on you and less focus. In peer support groups, if you have anxiety it can be quite daunting. I’ve been to them, it can be quite difficult for people to speak, they feel like everyone is looking at them and it can cause them to panic. So if you’ve got something to do it’s a lot easier to not have everyone staring at you. it’s a lot less of an intense experience. But it definitely is cathartic.

Toby: And are these sessions born out of your anxiety?

Charly: Yes, definitely. I suffered / lived with depression since my early teens. I self harmed and got better. When I started my masters, out of knowhere, I began having panic attacks. The process of doing my masters and the creative process really helped me, to put all that into something positive and I felt really good about myself at the end of it. I realised that it was that what I wanted to provide for other people.

Toby: one of the things I think we’ve tried to get across this week is that people need to realise what they have is a mental health condition, or some kind of condition. Some people just think it’s the way of the world. Well look at you two, to me, an old , you look like two young confident women. Who have not only have you come on the radio and spoken but you’ve also set up your own enterprises, you’ve got the bull by the horns. THere’s no way that you could be depressed or have social anxiety but of course you are and you have and this is everywhere and that’s what people don’t realise. People can be very capable and may also be dealing with this.

Charly: I think the more that you talk to people, I’m really open about it now, but as soon you do open up to people about it you do get people responding with comments like “yeah, me too” and you sometimes you just would never think it of people. It affects everyone really.

Lisa: It’s so common. I think it’s really surprising that there is this stigma still today. The amount of people who really really do suffer find this talking about it so much more useful.

Toby: The official figure 1 in 4, the amount of people who bottle it up probably means it’s much higher. Lisa and Charly, thanks for coming in. Thank you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!

I know people think and feel differently about today, but to me it is what you make it. Today is about celebrating all kinds of love and happiness. This includes self care, self care has been a phrase I’ve seen so much recently. I have written about the guilt I have felt and after while I realised that me giving into pressure and saying yes to things without thinking it through was crippling me, I know, I know, SHOCK! Really though the guilt of saying no, or letting people down outweighed how I felt so heavily. My ‘self care’ advice, If you find yourself unhappy and weighed down with things you don’t enjoy, write everything you do down. Take a look at what you can completely stop if it’s not making you happy and anything you have to do but don’t enjoy minimise it. This advice is paraphrased from this video:

Next, if you are put on the spot learn to say no, and if you are put on the spot, say you need to check your diary, it will buy you the time to really think about if you want to do it or not!

I just wanted to say even if you feel alone, sad and isolated, there is love out there waiting for you! I hope Free Hand provides love and support for even more people this year.


Here are some great articles about what REAL self care is:

Is Self-Care Selfish? How to take care of yourself and not feel guilty!

Never Too Late for a Bit of Reflection.


Free hand had its first birthday a few weeks ago and I can’t believe how far Free Hand and myself have come.

It started as an open arts space idea and it currently to planning sessions, learning and showing people new skills. It’s lo-fi and relaxed but it works! I have participated in events and workshops with some frankly wonderful people. In the summer of last year I did a workshop at a Girl Gang Sheffield event, since then I’ve been lucky enough to become more involved and have created workshops and exhibitions for their immersive cinema screenings. I have CADS to thank for so much, thank you for giving me a chance. They have given me the space to create and grow Free Hand and have always been there to help me along the way. Without them I would have struggled to start! Thank you to everyone who has been involved and attended sessions, you have meant the world.

On a personal level I’ve grown so much the last year. I’ve become more confident and comfortable in my own skin. Negative things have become easier to shake off and I’ve become better at dealing with things in the most positive  way. I owe this to the people I have found myself surrounded by. I have found motivated, positive, complicated, loving and very often tired people who hold me accountable, that disagree with me, that pick me up and make me feel alive. I feel truly blessed. Through Free Hand I have made some new friendships and we have travelled this year together making bunting and littered the way with origami animals.

Moving forward, I’m trying to keep things interesting and explore more varying mediums. The next set of sessions start the week beginning 22nd Feb. These are all themed around making your own materials from house hold things. So you can come along test out and make your own art materials, then take them away to use at home!

The times and days of workshops are also changing, this is to fit better with people’s needs and hopefully we will be able to reach a few more people by doing this.

One last thing, I would like to introduce you to Tori.
She is an amazing human who came into my life late November last year, and in a short time has become a close friend. She is (luckily for me) very social media savvy and actually remembers to photograph things! She has recently joined me at Free Hand to run the social media and keep me on track! So everyone wave hello!


Shame Pt 2.

Trigger warning: Self harm

Many things can fall under the umbrella of self harm. In this piece I’m concentrating more on the reaction to it rather than the types.

From a personal perspective reactions I’ve had haven’t been great. I can now completely understand that those what were in my eyes, extreme reactions, to my self harm. I know that people weren’t reacting to the cause, or me but to the effects. It was as though I’d been attacked by someone, I guess I had, me. I didn’t see it as a violent act against myself, it was how I was trying to cope. Crying and shouting were the most extreme things I’ve been met with, getting called a psycho, I can comprehend these knee jerk reactions, but I’m writing this to say that we need next to step away from those reactions and listen to a person who is reaching out.

I have had endless conversations with people about being called an ‘attention seeker’. I think this term is what holds the most shame for me, and other people I’ve spoken to, about being cast as this weird adolescent stereotype. The fact is even if this was just a cry for attention, it’s a pretty extreme step to take. It’s time to think about why someone is using this to cope and not just at what they are doing. Also, this is a huge contribution to feeling ashamed because the person saying it is usually using a diminishing tone, implying its weak. We aren’t weak, we were trying to cope, yea I didn’t pick a rational way of coping, but in all honesty at the time I thought it was helping. Little did I know I was taking a step further down the road to self sabotage and self hate. I had lived with depression for a year or so and was on medication, after I told people. I got to a point where I was breaking thing to hurt myself with, and then it finally sunk in. I was in a destructive cycle that would never end unless I chose to end it. I found other ways to cope, some a lot healthier, some not, I probably slipped up and it took a long time to undo negative thought patterns and stop sabotaging myself in different ways, I’m still undoing that. Now I have positive and helpful coping mechanisms in place but I fear they would have never come about if I hadn’t found those few people willing to try to understand why and support me.

“I’m not even sure why I care. Maybe it’s the idea of being pigeon-holed as an adolescent self-harmer, or even being an attention-seeker in some way. Like they’ll think, “If she didn’t want us to know about it, then why’s she wearing something that shows the scars?” It’s really complex, but I think it does boil down to shame and embarrassment, even though I feel so much empathy for the person I was when I scarred myself.” – Anon

It can be incredibly hard supporting someone who self harms, don’t forget to look after your mental health in the process. Showing empathy and understanding, being someone to talk can make all the difference. There is lots of support to be found online:

7 cups of tea is a great place where you can go to talk anonymously about things troubling you.

My personal listener link is here if you want to talk to me anonymously.

Lifesigns – has some great fact sheets that deal with both sides, telling people and what to do after being told someone self injures.

Hopefully this, understanding and supporting, will stop people falling into pro self harm communities and being encouraged to harm instead of being listened to and finding other ways to cope.

Now my scars are for the most part clearly visible, I still catch people staring. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of them particularly. I feel quite comfortable talking about my anxiety and depression but if someone brings up my scars in front of people I will admit I still feel that sinking feeling, that I have to try to find words to explain what my scars are from. I often just say ‘ They were my terrible way of dealing with things’ I do feel awkward talking more about it. In summer, I become more aware that they are there, but I don’t cover them anymore.

I’ve not worn a sleeveless top in public (unless I’ve been going out somewhere dark, where people will be too drunk to notice) for twelve years – even when I’ve been at fitness classes or whatever – because of the scars on the top of my arms. – Anon

It’s complex and it is difficult to approach from both sides, but I think if awareness is raised and conversations are approached with empathy and understanding we can work towards dissipating the shame surrounding self harm.



Show Some Love

Firstly, I want to be a professional cuddler more than anything ever!
Secondly, at the risk of sounding like a hippy, I think we forget how important touch and affection can be. After a breakup I felt awful was panicking and crying outside my yoga class, but I went in and at the end of class laid down relaxing. I felt much better, my teacher came and moved my shoulders so they weren’t tense and pulled the blanket up to my neck and I cried, for a happy reason this time. I was nice to feel affection and to feel cared for.

So give someone a cuddle today! It might mean more than you think ❤

Crushing Creative Block

This year we kicked off by showing that creative block whose boss. Over the holidays you can be time poor and your creative exports can fall by the wayside.

For the session we just did some simple things that encourage freedom and experimentation and try to push past the pressure of perfection and for me particularly, I can find it difficult to create without specific purpose. I guess that’s the designer in me!

In the beautiful setting of Roco Creative Coop we sat down and let go of stress and pressure and made some ‘useless’ art. I thought I’d share some of the things we did incase you wanted to give them a whirl!



This is something pinched from Tim Brown’s ‘Tales of Creativity‘ TED talk. His talk is about the importance of play. During the talk he asks people to turn over a page and gives them a set time to transform the circles into something else. This task can be a struggle but it makes a wonderful point, it makes it clear the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to create something ‘good’ instead of being free.

‘…one of the things we tend to do as adults, again, is we edit things. We stop ourselves from doing things. We self-edit as we’re having ideas.

And in some cases, our desire to be original is actually a form of editing. And that actually isn’t necessarily really playful. So that ability just to go for it and explore lots of things, even if they don’t seem that different from each other, is actually something that kids do well, and it is a form of play.’ 

                                                        – Serious Play 2008 · Filmed May 2008 · 27:58

2 & 3. Finish the Sketch & Make the Shape


I clumped theses two together as they are pretty similar. Finish the sketch pages started life as just outlines of scenes and Make the shape pages started as painted shapes. The task is then to basically just fill in the outline and add outline to the shape. In doing this, the pressure of perfect has been removed as the pages already has marks on it. It also needs you to be creative to solve the problem that is an unfinished image.

4. Collage Haiku


For this task we picked three words from a bag of cut out words from magazine and placed them into a line of the haiku. Haiku’s are traditionally about nature, but we skipped that rule to make it a bit easier. The restrictive nature of the 5,7,5 syllable poem and the already picked out words allow you to be a bit silly and push you to be more innovative. This was my favourite tasks! The above I can’t take credit for unfortunately, it made me giggle.

I hope some of those give you some ideas, I’d love to see your creations if you use any! I’ll try to upload some shapes and outline for you to download!


Happy Holidays


No matter where you are, if you celebrate or not, I hope you are safe, healthy and happy! I’m preparing for the year ahead. 
Thank you for the love, support, conversation and attendance. This has meant so much to me and has helped me grow and relax. I’ve met some wonderful people through Free Hand and can’t wait to spend more  time making mess this coming year.
Thank you again and happy holidays. 

Shame pt 1

20151122_140946-1It has been a struggle to write this, to find the right words, to not disappear off on a tangent. I’ve started at least three times and deleted everything I’ve written. I’m not sure whether I just don’t have the words to explain how it feels, or it’s too entwined in my own experience and that’s making it difficult.

Guilt and shame played a huge part in my mental health story. Though, like any ‘negative’ emotion they have their uses. They are a guiding power for our moral compasses, but in excess they can be completely destructive. Shame is a powerful force,  if you are interested in reading more about experiences with public shame I’d recommend ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed.’ by Jon Ronson. It’s a brilliant read and, he clearly depicts the role shame plays in our society through time and to this day.

There are some specific things I’d like to share, hence the part 1. Shame can be the reason we don’t talk, the reason we don’t reach out because we are ashamed, because we feel weak or  our acts are stigmatised. I’d like to talk about two acts in particular, suicide and self harm.

Continue reading


I’ve been in hospital (don’t worry I’m fine) and changing jobs, as well as curating the exhibition for Girl Gang Sheffield‘s The Craft event.

I’m not entirely sure what is going to happen in Free Hand’s future because of my new job but hopefully when it settles down I’ll be able to be more flexible and offer you more!

I’ve been putting off writing this post, I’ve also been trying to write a post about shame, mostly around self harm and suicide but I’m just stuck. I’m not sure why I’m struggling to get it right but I’m hoping in time the right words will come.

Last week we made dream catchers, it was a workshop offered at The Craft event, as I was in the exhibition area I didn’t get a go they looked amazing!


It’s a relaxing thing to do, lots of wrapping and twisting, it’s also really easy to do at home. I hadn’t realised that I had felt quite stressed that day. Doing this didn’t require 100% concentration but it still felt like a form of escaping my brain and the stresses of that day. On my way home I had a little cry. I felt a wave of relief and it was happy tears but just completely unexpected. I would advise it get some scraps of fabric, wool and beads and make anything you can get your mitts on into a dreamcatcher!

I’m going to try and push through the block and write the blog on shame because I think it’s a powerful and important thing.

Expectation vs reality

I mean, we see this portrayed all the time in films, sometimes quite blatantly (500 days of summer)! It’s the concept behind the phrase ‘never meet your heroes’ and as a kid, I felt like toys were a constant source of disappointment because what I had imagined set the real thing impossible goals. It’s usually thought of as expectations being set too high and reality failing to meet, but it does happen the other way. We can expect little of people then they surprise us, that’s always great! There are dangers in viewing life like this, too far either way can hurt you or potentially those around you. I do like to think I’m good at matching my expectations with reality now. I tend to not actually worry about what to expect when going to new places or travelling, trying to live more in the present moment than worry about things that haven’t happened yet. When it comes to people though sometimes I think I’m a bit tough, I can put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and take on too much. It’s also difficult when you love people sometimes it’s easy to forget they are human when you’ve, maybe unintentionally, put them on a pedestal. Other people are fallible and so are you. I guess the key is managing the disappointment and your expectations so the gap between expectation and reality isn’t so jarring.

This often happens artistically as well,to me anyway, I often have an idea of the finished product in my head that I just blindly work towards. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to work my way out of, and allow exploration and process to inform the work not a rigid predetermined outcome. Allowing yourself to make mistakes or explore starts to break down the fear of failing and creating something bad. After all just because it’s bad doesn’t mean it’s not been useful!

I’d like to show you an example from a workshop yesterday. Yesterday was origami, the reality in the picture was often difficult to achieve. We were attempting an origami toilet, yup! Expectation = origami that looks like a toilet. Reality = giving up at step 27 and having an origami earthworm.


I’d love to hear about your experiences with this, please comment below.