Previously I wrote about coming to Chilli Studios last summer, being very depressed after long term illness and redundancy and finding help here to move through that depression, because of the different aspects of support and community here. Six months later I thought I might write a follow-up to that piece, to try and track what it's like to be coming here over the longer term period, once the initial connection had been made, saying something about how it continues to work, and what the process gives.
In terms of offering a genuine reflection, I have to say my depression hasn't cleared off and continues to fluctuate – it was a long time in the making and isn't going to be blown off overnight. It's more helpful to talk about the way this environment supports me in relation to those moments when the depression is more severe. I've a tendency to turn up here when the water margin of depression is high, when I'm feeling very low – or conversely, agitated and anxious. When things are going better I want to run around doing stuff and Chilli Studios gets left behind. At the same time, I have found that coming more regularly and taking a space in the studio and interacting regularly with staff, volunteers and other members is one of the most valuable safeguards against the downward shifting energy of a depressed mood and the main lesson at the moment, is how quickly I can recognise what's happening and move outward into connection, rather than deeper into rumination and negativity.
Since joining, I've come to Chilli Studios in every kind of state, and the community has always let me be here however I am without judging me, without pushing me away. Sometimes I've been able to pick up an activity, volunteering for something, making ceramics or tracing a design, or just making a cup of tea and having a little chat at the sink, or sitting in the less busy space next door. Sometimes I want to talk and sometimes I need to be quiet, feeling like I'm unravelling and can't even think straight. There's no pressure and I think people just want you to feel accepted, and to be accepted themselves in return. Whether that means simply being with other people around the table, or carrying through a creative activity from start to finish, everyone is in the same boat: finding activity in the middle of a larger community, connecting and participating at whatever level works for them on any given day. The impact is therapeutic, a therapeutic community that works its magic 'under the radar' of human interaction, rather than 'in your face' psychological support.
One day I was stuck in my flat, feeling incredibly low - I didn't like the way my mind was thinking and there was no one around me that day who I felt I could turn to with what was going on. I put my coat on and I crossed the bridge to Chilli Studios – I was worried about how people might be with me if I turned up after a long gap, maybe they would ignore me or be fed up with me, maybe I wouldn't be welcome any more.
As I crossed over the crossing at the traffic light outside the building where Chilli Studios is housed, I looked up at the large window of the ceramics studio to see our ceramics tutor waving at me, waving and smiling, welcoming me home. I went up the stairs and went in.