Reading, Writing and Your Health – Journeys in Self Management
Written by Blythe Robertson
Blythe Robertson is the policy lead for self management and health literacy at the Scottish Government. His “extra-curricular” activities include working for an international literary journal, involvement with a new Scottish arts foundation, writing about food at www.lunchquest.co.uk, running a monthly food event called Scran Salon, and organising Edinburgh’s silent reading event Hush Hour.
I’ve had various involvements with the Scottish Book Trust’s Book Week Scotland in recent years. I remember a cracking party during the 2012 celebrations, where my friend and colleague Miriam Johnson, who was part of the League of Extraordinary Book Lovers, and I had a glorious evening at Summerhall reflecting on the success of the week. This was accompanied by fantastic poetry from Liz Lochhead.
More recently, I was along at the launch of the 2015 programme, where Keith Gray and Anne Donovan spoke powerfully about their early experiences, good and bad, with reading.
So, it was really rather lovely when in partnership with the ALLIANCE’s Self Management Network Scotland, I was asked to chair an event focussing on self management and the role that reading and writing can play.
In many ways, chairing events like this is ridiculously easy as all you really need to focus on is getting everyone’s name correct, then getting out of their way and allowing the real talent on display to shine through.
My panel of speakers covered a broad spectrum of topics and perspectives from mental health, stroke, cancer, loss and grief, depression, and anxiety.
Eric Sinclair was the first to speak, sharing his experience of the stroke he suffered in 2004 via reading from his book Man, Dog, Stroke. This was powerful and thought-provoking stuff, deftly offset by comic musings from the perspective of his whippet, Hamish.
Sheila Peaston and Maria Martin, founders of Pink Ladies 1st, were next up. They shared their own experiences, then focussed on how writing courses they’ve facilitated have had an extraordinary impact on the lives of the people they work with. Sheila bravely shared the work of one of their burgeoning writers with a very moving poem reflecting on self-image.
Finally, Alan Ainsley shared his experiences, captured via a succession of blogs, around the cancer diagnosis and subsequent death of his wife Louise, then his own challenges with mental health. He shared a short video [parental advisory – explicit lyrics] for the See Me project, which seeks to diminish the stigma around mental health.
We then had some time for questions, with reflections on the “tyranny of the blank page”, how humour played a role in dealing with very complex issues, and how to get started on the journey of using writing and reading to support people to more effectively self manage and stay well.
The hugely appreciative audience then had an opportunity to interact with the speakers over a cuppa and a scone, which was a very enjoyable way to draw events to a close.
The power of storytelling is emerging as a really strong theme across many areas of not only health and social care, but Scottish public life in general. Through events such as this, the Self Management Network Scotland’s previous event on storytelling held in Dundee, earlier this year, and others yet to come, there’s a significant opportunity to bring a coherent approach to linking lots of great emerging work, such as Our Voice, together with projects being progressed by creative sector organisations such as the Scottish Book Trust, Scottish Poetry Library and Creative Scotland.
I, for one, will be leading the charge towards making these stronger connections across the system to support how storytelling can deliver real positive change for the people of Scotland.