Andy Hollinghurst is one of D31 Art Galleries founding members currently exhibiting several pieces of art work in the 'Togetherness' Exhibition.
Andy tells us about his struggles with mental health and his road to recovery
A Journey to Recovery through Art
We are often defined by what we do, not who we are.
Sometimes you wonder how low you can go and if you have been at the top of your profession it’s a long way down. I used to be a head teacher.
Over the last year or so when asked what I do, I say I am Andy Hollinghurst, an artist, who campaigns for mental health organisations such as Time to Change, Mind and Mental Health First Aid.
Now, I am a’ Head Teacher,’ a teacher of heads, but fundamentally Andy an artist, check out www.andyhollinghurst.com . I have changed my talks recently, they follow my progress towards recovery, through my art. People don’t want to hear, ‘woe is me, wasn’t I hard done to!’ well yes I was, but let’s use what happened to me as a lesson for change, hope and recovery.
The ravages of a small school take their toll, especially for a person with anxiety. Can you imagine the variables of disaster that could lurk within a school, staff, pupils, buildings, parents, advisors, dinner ladies? When you have anxiety you try to prevent problems, cross every ‘t’ dot every ‘i’ and pre-empt potential pit falls. Impossible in a school. On the surface I was Mr Congeniality, always calm, in control, pleasant, efficient organised. In my head I was slowly burning out. Being the ‘Proud Man,’ I did not ask for help, after all I had my family to support, a weak person throws in the towel, admit they are struggling, not me, all the clichés I now bandy about in my talks.
A psychologist said to me once, ‘You had no choice but to be ill!’ on reflection she was right, it was only being ill that would stop me as I would have carried on until I could carry on no more and that is what happened to me, and that is why I am such a passionate campaigner for wellbeing and reform in the workplace, where it is ok to struggle and be supported when you do.
I don’t intend going into detail in this blog about what happened to me in words but with my art hat on and in illustrative way, this is what happened to me.
Painted a couple of weeks after I became ill, as a teacher you have 6 months to recover, from where I had gone it took me ten years, now I manage very well most of the time, recovery is possible but more possible if you don’t fall too far.
It can be a lonely place and I had the support of my family. When you have a deep depression it isolates you and makes you insular, turned in on yourself and this can be a struggle for your loved ones. It’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach an unease, a need for ‘Deep Rest,’ yet you can’t sleep or find solace. This sadness puts pressure on all around you, like a storm brewing over the sea and it can have consequences in your relationships
Janice and I where asked to make a film about depression for M.H.F.A. and during the filming I listened and heard for the first time the consequences of my illness on her, I felt sad and humbled that she had stuck by me, combined with a guilt that I held her back, yet we both agree we have emerged stronger.
So it is when you begin to acknowledge that something needs to be done that you eventually find the way to start climbing out of this sadness, many, most do, so don’t despair, its knowledge that is the key and the right kind of help and support. I, having tried SSRI medication somewhat reluctantly and self help finally went to ‘Mind’ and received some counselling of the highest quality. As I began to crawl through the causes, things began to make sense to me. For me, unresolved issues in childhood over my fathers death when I was 14 and the 30 years following that, without any understanding of how this could affect my ability to be resilient and rational.
I was left feeling angry at my ignorance of ‘Mental Health,’ but also with a passion to support others. There was beginning to be light appearing over the horizon.
Reaching for the light, 2015
I feel blessed that through Mind, as an ambassador during the General election 2015 I could have some influence on the changes that are now beginning to take place. I have been on the radio and television both local and national, made training films for ATOS, regarding care of mental health sufferers during assessment for benefits, spoken to National Health England, The Royal College of G.P.s, Bradford university and many more, reflecting on my experiences, and being open and honest about how depression and anxiety have affected me.
More importantly how knowledge and understanding is the way forward.
So last year I stopped chasing here, there and everywhere and as a consequence doors are opening and I am able to offers my story and knowledge to others.
I feel I have a greater confidence in my artwork and the light is certainly getting brighter.
So what next? I have a story to tell and I am sure that my story could help people to seek help when they need it. I gave a talk in Leeds a few months ago and a chap came to me at the end and said, ‘ I wish my friend would have heard you talk, he would still me here today,’
What else can you say, life’s a journey and you may have noticed the lightness in my work. I have always been inspired by light in painting and firmly believe that the darker the shadows the lighter the light, it is only through the cracks that the light can shine through.