Illumination 13 – Jasmine York

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Jasmine York, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name is Jasmine, I’m a graduate and I’m currently spending time adjusting to post-student life. I’m blogging quite frequently now, mainly about what it’s like to live with a physical chronic illness, but also touching on other things like mental health and relationships.

I’m driven by empathy. I openly write about my mental and physical health and the responses are so enlightening and empowering. The awareness I’m spreading allows others in my situation to feel less alone, but it’s so therapeutic for me to be able to vent and for someone to engage in that.

I’ve recently explored illustration and painting, mainly because I’ve realised I need more outlets for my emotions. I’m struggling, but trying nonetheless, to find multiple creative outlets that can be calming, diffusing but also engaging. Sometimes I want these outlets to be private and others public. I’m experimenting at the moment and I’m viewing this experimentation as an act of self-care

I’m struggling with depression and anxiety, and a psychiatrist I met with has flirted with the idea of saying I have a mild personality disorder. I suffer from intrusive thoughts very regularly, and often have battles with myself about self-harm. This is where my creative outlets come in. I need them to be as fulfilling, relentless and distracting as self-harm.

I feel emotions intensely and this is the main thing I struggle with. There is no grey area. Either I’m unequivocally happy or inconsolably sad, so when I switch from one mood to the other, which can happen quite rapidly, I end up undermining and invalidating both sensations.

This happens mainly when I’m happy. If I experience a rush of happiness – because that’s how it is, it’s never just contentment, it’s always a rush – then I talk myself down. I try to calm it to a manageable level of happiness in order to control the inevitable crash. It never works.

I need to do something productive every day. It’s easy for me to get into a cycle of depression, spend days in bed and function on auto-pilot. But this is dysfunctional and usually allows tasks and errands to pile up, and this only adds fuel to the fire. Making lists to keep a track of things that needs to be done helps a lot. Talking to myself and ensuring that I’m allowed to make mistakes is also very encouraging.

Things like blogging help me a lot, mainly because the support I receive from it can be encouraging. I also reflect on my behaviour a lot. It’s easy to stay in bed all day and tell myself, “it’s ok, this is self-care.” But sometimes it isn’t. This awareness of the subtlety of depression is very important to me, and challenging it helps my recovery.

Summoning this awareness can be very powerful, even if I don’t act on it. Just the realisation that I’m going through a tough time, or a relapse, empowers my mind, and shows me that I have some level of control.

Another thing that’s helpful for me is trying to understand the problem. What is making me upset today? Is it because I am fed up of being chronically ill? Is it because I have to live at home, depending on my family? These questions are loaded, but they are helpful on two levels.

Firstly, identifying the problem can be reassuring. This helps my anxiety – “it’s ok, brain, I’ve found the problem” sort of thing. The second level follows this. Once I’ve figured out what the matter is, I can then try to think of solutions. Maybe I won’t act on it immediately. Maybe I’ll understand what’s making me sad but I don’t have the strength to confront it that day. But one day I will.


My mental health definitely has an impact on my creative process. Sometimes when I’m overcome with emotion I can get on my laptop and furiously bash out a blog post about how I’m feeling. I overheard a conversation about domestic abuse which was quite triggering for me. I left the room and wrote a poem in 3 minutes. It’s my favourite poem I’ve ever written.

I think depression, depending on how you look at it, it either slips up or grants you access to some of your most suppressed emotions. I’ve said it before, depression can be an unstoppable force for creativity. It can be such a drive.

A lot of my anxiety is unexplained. I genuinely have days where I’m so on edge I can’t leave the house. I’ve missed shifts at work. I would get so close too, sometimes right to the front door, and then collapse. Sometimes it’s like a hidden trapdoor beneath me opens up and if I’m lucky, the magic door leads me into a long and lovely creative process. My friend often says “it’s a story” when something crazy/upsetting/challenging thing happens to me. It’s true. “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Don’t stop creating. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that tells you your creativity is invalid, or that you aren’t good enough. Harness what you’re battling, utilise that intense emotion and try to express that somehow.

It doesn’t have to be something you’re proud of, but whatever you create when your mental health is suffering, is an example of strength. Be proud of your creativity and what you can achieve. And most importantly, be creative for you. You deserve it. // @junoyork

How to help a friend who’s going through a shit time with their mental health

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Unfortunately, mental health is still surrounded by a great deal of stigma and misinformation. Poor understanding of mental health problems leaves sufferers feeling isolated and too embarrassed or apprehensive to seek help.

Statistically, every single one of us will know someone who suffers from a mental illness. If you’ve got a friend who’s having a hard time with their mental health, it’s often difficult to know what the best thing to do is.

I’ve created this list in the hope that it could be helpful because I’ve been let down and abandoned by friends, bullied by a group of people I thought were my friends and I’ve felt completely alone with my mental illness. There are ways you can help a friend who’s struggling without putting your life on hold or inadvertently making things worse for them.

Listen to them

This really is the biggest thing you can do to help. Sit down with your friend, open your ears and listen. If they want to talk about how they feel, listen without judgement or blame. Mental health is not the fault of anyone. It doesn’t matter if they make what you consider to be ‘bad choices’ or they use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. No one brings a mental illness upon themselves.

Ask them what you can do for them. This is important because they might have specific things they need help with that you may not have considered. It’s often better to ask them if they want you to offer them advice, rather than coming out with unsolicited suggestions that they might already considered.

Preaching, rehashing mistakes you think they’ve made or saying ‘I told you so’ are all very unhelpful.

Don’t leave them alone unless that’s what they’ve specifically asked you to do 

This can be a tricky one, but as a general rule of thumb, if your friend feels abandoned or like you’re punishing them for struggling with their mental health, it’s going to make the situation indescribably worse. If you don’t know what to say, just listen. If you don’t know what to do, ask them. Feeling awkward or confused or scared is totally normal, but if you end up giving someone who’s suffering the cold shoulder because you feel a bit weird about the situation, it’s not going to help anyone.

Obviously, a lot depends on how much you can personally cope with and whether you feel that being there for your friend is negatively impacting on your own mental health. This is particularly pertinent if you also suffer from mental health issues.

Boundaries are important in any healthy relationship but you should be clear about these. For example, if you can’t take a day off work to look after a friend, tell them so, tell them why and arrange to see them in the evening once work has finished. You’re still being there for them, but you can’t be available 24/7.

Suggest low-risk activities.

Whether it’s watching a happy film (a comedy or a kids film is often a good choice), getting a takeaway delivered and eating together or sitting down with a cup of tea, ask them whether any of those options take their fancy.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid crowded places and alcohol. However, some people find it easier to open up about what’s been bothering them over a drink. It really depends on the situation, your friend’s mental health history and the severity of the crisis they’re having.

Make yourself available for errands and boring household tasks

One of the most helpful things when people are struggling is to offer to do a couple of chores for them. This can be washing up and wiping their kitchen surfaces, walking their dog or going to Tesco and picking up comfort food if they’re not feeling up to leaving the house. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, the prospect of blitzing your home or doing a shop can seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

I ended up hand-washing a bath full of my friend’s clothes because her washing machine was broken and she was having a really tough couple of days. Chores and responsibilities were piling up and seemed completely overwhelming, but because I was able to get the washing out of the way for her, the other tasks she had to complete seemed more manageable.

It always helps to have a living space that’s not completely cluttered or full of takeaway boxes – for many people, a messy environment just reminds them of how they’re not coping at full capacity and reflects their headspace.

Don’t gossip about their mental health or the situation they’re in to other friends 

It’s tempting to do this if you want advice or need support. Try asking your friend first. If they’re comfortable with you seeking advice from one other person, that’s great. But if they’re not, don’t tell your mates about what they’re going through.

No one wants to feel like they’re being talked about, and if you’re really struggling, your mind can go to dark places imagining what people are saying about you.

There are lots of great online and phone resources you can access if you’re caring for someone else, including Mind, YoungMinds, the 111 number, Rethink and the Samaritans.

If the situation becomes more serious and your friend is threatening to harm themselves, has self-harmed or is planning to commit suicide, ringing an ambulance, the NHS crisis team or the 111 number is often the only thing you can do.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Most of us (myself included) are absolutely not trained in mental health support. We’re just trying to do our best in the situation that presents itself. You should always encourage a friend to access mental health services, whether that’s making an appointment with their GP, making an emergency GP appointment, going to an out-of-hours GP service, attending a therapist, ringing the Samaritans or the crisis team or, in extreme situations, going to A&E.

Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’

If it was that easy, they already would be over it! Mental health problems don’t have quick fix solutions. You don’t decide to me mentally ill and you don’t decide to not be mentally ill anymore. Directives like ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘snap out of it’ are useless and damaging. They really won’t help, as much as you might want someone to change their mindset and stop feeling so bad.

Remember that they’re still the same person

There’s nothing weak or weird about someone who’s struggling with a mental health problem. Your friend hasn’t become a different person. You still share your good times, your memories, your in-jokes and your experiences. Treat them as your friend. Don’t ‘other’ them.

By bringing normality into this situation, you show the person that you still value them as the friend they are and that their mental health problems don’t make them an outcast or a stranger to you.

Compassion and understanding are key. Go forth, help your friends and don’t be a dick.

Illumination 05 – Sarah Milton

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Sarah Milton, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a professional actor and playwright. I write spoken word, poetry, plays and perform mine and other’s work.

I’m performing Tumble Tuck, my one woman play about the definition of success, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival at The Underbelly (Iron Belly) 3-27th August at 1.30pm, every day. Another play of mine, called Lucy Light, is opening at the Theatre N16, London on September 19th for three weeks.

I’ve always found theatre to be the most fascinating way of expressing ideas and truly connecting with a group of people. There is something so beautiful and raw about a room of people listening and engaging with the live drama unfolding in front of them and experiencing active empathy and various emotional reactions. I believe theatre has the potential to better human beings and this idea is the driving force behind the majority of my work.

I have a panic disorder. This was diagnosed in 2009, and I’ve been on and off medication for it since. I’m currently using medication and I haven’t had a panic attack for over a month which is fantastic!

I practise yoga, which has contributed massively to improving both my mental and physical health. Yoga is phenomenal, and I’m going to do my teacher training in September. However, whenever I do feel anxious, I list colours and describe things I’m walking past or can see. Sometimes I’ll ring someone close to me, usually my mum, and let her know I’m having a panic attack and she’ll ask me questions to distract and bring my head back to earth. Also, sleeping properly, napping and drinking water helps.

Sometimes it stops me writing, and sometimes it informs my writing on a deeper level. I’m a binge writer, so I write many things in a compact space of time and then spend weeks thinking about the next piece I could write. I have to be in a healthy frame of mind to find the confidence to write.

Since opening up about my panic disorder, I’ve found that I’m no longer ashamed of the way I am. I’ve learned more about how many people do suffer with varying degrees of poor mental health, which has inspired my writing. Tumble Tuck focusses on self-worth and Daisy, the lead character, is very honest about needing counselling and support. This touches on my personal experience of counselling and discussing my issues in a professional, non-judgemental environment.

I think without my experience of anxiety, feeling low, and my journey to opening up about it, a lot of my work wouldn’t exist. So that has to be a positive way of looking at it.

Don’t get stuck at your screen all day, every day, writing ‘the masterpiece’. Walk. Do an exercise class. Choose water, not coffee. Have a day where you do anything but creative stuff; don’t write, don’t watch, don’t read up on or anything about work. Don’t forget to take time to breathe. Restrict social media usage.

Call your family and friends often and get confident in maintaining that dialogue with your GP. You are not wasting anyone’s time. Your wellbeing and mental health are valid and it’s important to communicate anything associated to it, to a health professional.  Remind yourself every day that you’re worthy, because you are.


Sarah Milton’s play Tumble Tuck tells the story of a young woman struggling to accept herself and realise her strength and seeks to examine the pressure we put on young people.

@backheretheatre // @FollowTheCow // @TumbleTuckPlay // #TumbleTuck

Illumination 02 – Sarah Graham

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Sarah Graham, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a freelance journalist, content writer and editor, specialising in feminism, women’s health, and mental health. I’m particularly interested in the health implications of sexism and gender inequality, and the areas where feminism and wellbeing collide – so anything from reproductive rights to male suicide rates.

Creatively my focus is on feature writing and blog content, telling human stories with empathy, honesty and compassion. For me, that’s the most powerful way of raising awareness of the issues that matter, but which don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

I’ve suffered from (relatively high-functioning) depression and anxiety most of my adult life, and was recently also diagnosed with PTSD following a serious car crash at the beginning of the year. My mental health right now is definitely the shakiest it’s ever been.

A combination of medication, talking therapy, and self-care. Being able to be flexible with my time helps enormously. I’m a big advocate of naps as required, long lunch break swimming sessions, and going for a run before/after work to clear my head. I try and make time for all the classic self-care type stuff too, like bubble baths, going for a massage, taking time out of each day away from a screen to just sit and read, that kind of thing. And just listening to myself really – I’m (very slowly!) getting better at knowing when I need to stop or ease off, and when I’m feeling well enough to push myself.

Writing has definitely always been a part of my self-care, so it’s what I instinctively do when I’m struggling anyway, and I often write some of my most raw and authentic work when I’m in a really bad headspace.

That said, it can also have the exact opposite effect. I’ll have days on end where my mind just feels full of thick, dark fog and I can’t get my brain to cooperate on even the most basic tasks – let alone find the words necessary to move and engage my readers. That can be incredibly frustrating. It’s usually writing something personal or creative (unrelated to my paid work) that gets me out of that slump though – and there’s always something therapeutic about handwriting in a proper notebook, with a beautiful pen! So I find it works both ways: sometimes inspiring, sometimes paralysing.

I’ve also read a lot recently about the impact of freelancing and self-employment on mental health, but for me personally it’s always helped far more than it hinders. Of course, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of isolating yourself and not leaving the house or getting out of your pyjamas for a week, but working to my own agenda definitely helps me manage both my mental health and my creative process.

I’ve never been someone who has my best, most creative ideas between 9am and 5pm anyway, mental illness or no mental illness! I think it’s just about understanding how you work best, and not being too hard on yourself when you have a bad day.

Get up, get washed, get dressed, work at a proper desk, and eat proper meals whenever you feel able to. Don’t beat yourself up when you can’t. Make time for whatever makes you feel better, even if some days that’s sitting in bed devouring a packet of chocolate biscuits and binge-watching Netflix.

In fact, just generally be kinder to yourself. That’s advice that’s easier to give than to take – I’m very much still working on it! I think creative people generally have a tendency to be perfectionists, and to pile the pressure on themselves. I know I’m definitely at my least creative when I’m sat staring at a blank screen (or Tweetdeck, which is worse!) yelling at myself for being useless and pathetic, and to get the fuck on with it. There’s literally no time when that has ever helped.

I once almost cancelled a massage because I had a deadline looming and was feeling completely blocked about the article I was trying to work on. In the end, I realised I wasn’t getting anything done anyway and went for the massage – I drafted the entire article in my head while laying in the salon being pampered for an hour, came home and wrote it up without a problem. Self-care works! // @SarahGraham7

Illumination 01 – Natalie Wardle

‘Illumination’ is a brand new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their mental health struggles may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Natalie Wardle, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a visual artist/photographer from Manchester. My work looks at how women constrict their bodies to fit in with society’s ideal physical standards, exploring shapewear and tape that is placed over nipples to both cover and repress their form.

I graduated with a BA in Photography from Manchester School of Art. I’ve exhibited my work around the UK and internationally. My project ‘Control Pant Symphony’ has been shown as part of ‘Modern History’ curated by Lynda Morris at The Atkinson in Southport, and the Parkside Gallery in Birmingham.

I’ve also attended a Canadian artist residency ‘Naked State’ at a naturist park where I explored the nuances between a ‘real’ and naked body, in contrast to a ‘fake’ and controlled body. Recently Lynda Morris curated my work again at the Cooper Gallery, where I did a live performance of Control Pant Symphony.

My creative ambition is to make art that’s relevant in today’s society, highlighting issues within the beauty industry and raising awareness of the pressures women face. I often use my own experiences and turn them into art work. I feel as though my main reason for creating the art I do is from feeling theses pressures myself, and turning bad experiences and bad moments in my life into positive work.

Since I was in high school, I’ve been told by doctors that I needed antidepressants, something I always refused and kept a secret from people around me that doctors where trying to prescribe me with things to help my mental health. I always just ignored this and thought I was just ‘growing up’ and it was normal to feel the way I did.

tittape screenshot

Only last year I really came to the realisation that I had a serious mental health problem that was now affecting my everyday life. It took until I collapsed at work from a panic attack for me to go back to the doctors to be treated. I again refused medication due to my own personal view that I’d be too dependent on medication if I did take it, and I was offered talking therapy instead.

I have social anxiety, something I never thought I would have – and something people around me never thought I would have due to me being so over the top and seeming confident. What people don’t see is the build up to me entering a large social situation and the panic in my head that something bad is going to happen. I’ll convince myself that everyone hates me and that if I leave the house something really bad is going to happen. If I’m in a social situation where something triggers it off I’ll have a full-on panic attack where it actually feels like my heart will explode.

This is the first time I’ve talked publicly about this, and only close people know about my mental health because I’ve been embarrassed to open up to people. I didn’t want people to look at me and think ‘oh she’s overreacting’ and ‘she just wants attention, nothing’s wrong with her’ but people need to stop with that view on mental health, lucky we’re all becoming more aware about different mental health problems and how it is something to be taken seriously.

I felt like talking therapy was the best thing that has ever happened to me and I’d recommend it to anyone! I feel as though I’ve been taught so many amazing skills, I swear everyone should give it a try. I also feel as though opening up to a few people about what I’m going through has helped, I don’t feel ashamed and like I’m a complete nutter. Having a few people I can go to when I’m having a rough day and feel anxious has really helped.

I feel as though I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without my mental health problems. I feel as though when I was going through a bad time, I took the panic and bad energy I had and turned it in to art.

I feel as though anxiety has made me more aware of my surroundings and how I take something I’m passionate and having a bad time with and turn it in to art almost takes the piss out of myself feeling that way.

One of my art pieces I did at the peak of going through a bad time is ‘Sexual Symphony’, I was getting verbally harassed in a sexual way at 2 different jobs I had and I felt trapped and as though I couldn’t just walk out of my jobs due to needing money. I wasn’t being taken seriously when I was telling people how the comments where affecting me. I was sick of horrible sexual comments towards me when I was just trying to get on with doing my job and it made me full-on panic and get in a total state before going to my day job and a DJing job I had.

I took the fear I was living in and thought ‘fuck this why the fuck should I put up with this shit’ and then made it into an awareness art piece saying that this kind of thing should be taken more seriously. If it wasn’t for the bad anxiety I had from going to work and how I overthought the situation, I wouldn’t have made an art piece to let out my emotions.

Suffering with a mental illness isn’t always a bad thing, just turn it in to a positive. Use your mental illness as a creative lens on something, and use the bad energy you have inside you and turn it in to creative positive energy. Don’t think you’re alone and suffering as you’re not! There are a lot of people who can help you. // Facebook // Vimeo


The Fashion Blogosphere: Top Two Blogs to Watch in 2014

First published by The Huffington Post, 6th February 2014

I guess I’m feeling a little jaded when it comes to fashion mags. The shiny pages and the promise of cool stuff to cut out and stick on my outfit inspiration board just aren’t enticing me like they used to. It might have something to do with my diminishing interest in celebrity gossip or being bombarded with straight girl sex tips or because I’m at loath to support publications that continue to employ the services of an alleged sex offender (Vogue, Harpers Bazar, i-D and W magazine still hire Terry Richardson), but I’ve decided to switch from mags to blogs.

The fashion blogosphere is massive and there are so many amazing sites to search for style inspiration and DIY fashion tips, but I’ve narrowed my favourites down to two. These are Stylingo, a joint effort from Coventry girls Claire and Lauren and ELN Fashion, run by Ebony Nash, from Lancaster.

Ebony interned for ELLE magazine in 2012 and quickly realised that unpaid internships in London are only for those with serious cash. She told me that unlike fashion internships, “blogging is completely what you make of it. If you get your sh*t together and commit to your blog like it’s your job, you’re going to see benefits from it – be that new experiences or even job offers”. She cites blogging as the perfect creative outlet that allows her to write about her own interests and add cheeky celeb satire pieces if she feels that someone has behaved or dressed particularly outrageously (she’s looking at you, Miley Cyrus).

It made sense for the Stylingo girls to join forces and use their blog to recommend or slate products and mount their soap boxes to write lifestyle features. They reckon that variety is key, paring “hilarious posts alongside serious thought-provoking hard hitting pieces of journalism (i.e which lipstick lasts the longest) – so that you get something new every day”.

The most attractive thing about fashion blogs is their individuality. The world of fashion can be very homogenous and exclusive and to see this, you only need to glance at the tall, skinny white chicks who dominate catwalk from New York to Paris. Fashion blogging doesn’t have to cater for one body type or demonstrate slavish admiration for identikit models. Claire and Lauren told me that they are “one hundred percent part of the short girl brigade” and all about “embracing who you are and wearing what you want”. They add that this doesn’t include bum bags.

Ebony Nash is particularly passionate about the text content of her blog and believes that the writing of bloggers should be valued over pastel hair colour, being a size six or having a camera “that makes you look like Charlotte Free”. She says that some blogs have a “formula for success” and that viewers should “actually read blogs more, instead of flicking through heavily edited pictures”. If you have a passion for things style or beauty related, and genuinely enjoy writing, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get involved as a fashion blogger. You don’t have to have the most amazing DSLR or resemble Cara Delevingne.

I asked the three bloggers what products they’re desperate to get their hands on for 2014. Ebony’s after a pale pink boyfriend coat and says that “as a lover of all things black-on-black-on-black, I’m looking forward to getting out of my comfort zone with the pastel trends of SS14”. Lauren wants everything in baby pink but if forced to choose, she’d like “a cropped fluffy jumper, the fluffier the better”. Claire’s going to be all over the holographic trend “like a rat on a biscuit”. ELN Fashion and Stylingo are definitely ones to watch in 2014.

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