Writers Victoria talks with Heidi Everett, creativity facilitator; mental health recovery advocate; multimedia artist; social change facilitator; projects and events manager and member of Schizy Week Incorporated about the upcoming Mojo Film Festival.
Schizy Week Incorporated is a non-profit collective of practicing artists and supporters based in Melbourne, Australia. They have lived experience of mental illness/recovery and produce community events, especially during Schizophrenia Week in May (Australia). They aim for pride and create connections among the global lived-experience neighbourhood. The Mojo Film Festival reveals modern perspectives of the lived experience of schizophrenia through autobiographical short films. Creatives with lived experience of mental illness and recovery cycles have been invited to produce work showing unique perspectives of lived experience, and what good therapy really is. Mojo Film Festival is produced by Schizy Week Inc; a collective of artists and lived experience advocates based in Melbourne - the only schizophrenia/mental health pride project for Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Writes Victoria is a partner with Schizy Week Inc.
The Mojo Film Festival looks like it’s set for success, with the first screening already sold out. Can you tell us about Schizy Week Inc and some of the work that you do?
Schizy Week Incorporated 2018 is a group of people with lived experience of mental health recovery. We meet in Melbourne and devise community arts advocacy projects that build up pride and professionalism in the arts, especially during Schizophrenia Awareness Week in May. We create the kind of spaces and connections that the mental health system cannot conceive of. We're doing what they say we can't.
In the past, we've held the Schizy Week Jam which is live music and performance events at venues and on the street, with the iconic schizy international Jam with muses from around the world on the big screen. It's an incredible workload for someone who's un-wellness is triggered by stress, but that's how genuine this work is.
Even now, most official mental health awareness campaigns just celebrate dry statistics and the medical model of coping with the illness. Schizy Week places the shot at a different angle. We point the camera outwards.
How vital do you think having a creative outlet is for people living with mental illness and schizophrenia?
The mental health system devours your sense of self worth and identity, it takes away your version of life experiences and renames them as 'symptoms' to be medicated and therapeutically treated. When you step out of that conversation and into the role of an artist, you suddenly become chief storywriter, director, producer, camera-person, animal wrangler, composer, event manager... whatever professional is needed. It's an 'aha' moment when the luscious arts environment takes over the psychiatric desert.
You were one of the first Writers Victoria Writeability Fellows back in 2013. How did your involvement with our Writeability program support your pathway as a writer and performer?
For the first time, my writing was validated by a professional arts agency. I was considered a reliable witness! Imagine giving your account of your worst living nightmare to a professional and then given pills to medicate the life out of them so you forget. The mentorship flipped that notion on its head. Having my manuscript chosen as a Writers Victoria Writability Fellows was subversive beyond measure. That in itself was a monumental occasion in my path to respecting myself
What is the impetus behind the Mojo Film Festival?
We're running Mojo Film Festival at ACMI, Fed Square Melbourne. We launched Mojo last year at a venue in Australia's social version of Area 51, Heidelberg West. It It was a fantastic launch but we knew we had something different here so we needed to match the mojo with the venue. This year we've curated twenty two short films about the subjective nature of schizophrenia and related genres, without the flashy graphics and hallucinatory music overdubs. Just actual people voicing their idea of what 'Mojo' means to them.
Why is it important for people with lived experience of cognisant divergence and schizophrenia to tell their stories?
When I started Schizy Week, it was because I saw the subjective need for a realistic face for schizophrenia and mental health truisms. I'd been in the public mental health system all through my twenties and it was a dark time. I was becoming incredibly sad with the way I saw my life unfolding; I was becoming a mental patient. Lucky for me I've always had the hard-drive to invent and run projects, and living in this hidden microcosm of society was becoming fertile ground for my growing sense of social justice.
It's apparent to any everyday activist that if anything's going to change in the system, we have to expose it, not just to the rest of society; but intra-culturally first. Governments have to publicly admit that public psych wards re-traumatise traumatised people, they reinforce the popular mis-notion that tweaking your neurochemistry will be an answer to your pain. Yet any person who finally says the words 'I have PTS' will know that you can't erase memories, you only dampen them; make them bearable. Conversely to psych wisdom, the arts enable you to get that story and shake the life out of it. Put it on trial with the best magistrate and jury you'll find.
What are some common misconceptions about schizophrenia?
That it trumps all other mental illness. Schizophrenia is just one collection of material, like Coles or Woolies. Did you know there are 7 subsets of schizophrenia? Mine is schizoaffective which means I also get elements of bipolar, so that just shows how blurry the lines are. We know now that emotional suffering in people with any diagnosis, stems from unappreciated complex-PTS aka complex, or repeated, post trauma stress (unfortunately the psych wards make it ATS or active trauma stress). c-PTS basically means that a developing young brain learnt to cope with extreme levels of stress, not normal for a child. If you know anything about neuro pathways, you know that way of coping becomes set and keeps up right through adulthood. The smallest amount of stress causes the same reaction.
The old idea of getting a diagnosis of schizophrenia just because you hear voices is fading fast. There's a massive global movement of Voice Hearers who distance themselves from any psych diagnosis. So if you're looking to qualify schizophrenia just because you hear voices, you'll need to look at other drive-away options.
Within saying that, there's a cross-generational group of people wearing with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. These are folk like me who are passionate at holding the flag up while mainstream media constantly shoots us with pellets of stigma and unfair reporting about crime. We suffered and endured because of our diagnosis. We will not let the word schizophrenia go freely into the arena without some transaction. There are still young people getting diagnosed with it. Someone has to hold psychiatry accountable for our future.
Could you recommend any resources for people who are looking for additional information about schizophrenia?
In my opinion Google is ace. It holds all our voices. And make sure you search with the term '2018' in it. Sometimes Dr Google is a stuffy old psychiatrist stuck back in 1950. He needs to stay there.
How did you make the festival a reality and what advice would you give to people looking to start something similar?
Mainly by just doing what they say we can't. It's amazing how many structured mental health organisations can't do what a small group of volunteers can do with not much more than a bar of chocolate. I tried applying for grants but I, in the technical term, suck at it. So we use a crowdfunding website and have a charity bank account. Our committee is incorporated and we have fun while debating the ins and outs, we don't expect too much of each other as we respect our health realities. The person who steers the ship needs to have no social life or the ability to switch off because wherever they are or whatever they're doing, there could be an opportunity in waiting. That person also needs to know how and why to say thank you, and always give back more than they receive. I carry a maxim quoted by Jesse Martin, the youngest to sail unassisted around the world at the time 'If you get something for free, someone else has paid twice'
What creative projects is Heidi Everett hoping to see up and running in the future?
All of my eyes and ears are on Mojo Film Festival gala night at ACMI at the moment. When it's over, I'm hoping to take it on the road. Show the films, hold some decent gathering and yack spaces. I'd love to run more short film and story arts workshops for folk with mental health stories. I have my own creative arts projects I'd love to realise of course like work on my series of artworks from the psych ward, work on my manuscript, record my next album, shoot some mini-doco's but at the moment I'm voluntarily admitted to helping others fire up their creative mojo.