Dave Hubble, 45, from Eastleigh, UK is a an Environmental Science lecturer and freelance entomologist and a self proclaimed “bug geek”, however a change of career is an ambition of Dave’s, to become a professional artist, mixing his creative disciplines of poetry, jewellery and fine art.
Dave was chosen for this issue of “mental illness, health and recovery” due to his poetry which aims to examine the effect of domestic violence towards children. As a survivor and artist Dave uses this expression to address an important and often unspoken truth of the consequences violence has on children’s development and mental health.
Here is our interview with Dave:
What is your artistic/creative background?
Having a scientific background, I don’t have any formal qualifications in art, but have always enjoyed doodling, whether that’s with words, pens or any other materials I get hold of. I started taking my creative life more seriously a couple of years ago when friends at The Art House (an independent and very ethically conscious gallery, café and gig venue in Southampton) started encouraging me to turn my unformed dabbling into something more concrete. So, I began performing poems at the open mic night, putting jewellery up for sale and working on my art. There’s a little more to it than that as I’ve been to workshops covering silversmithing and various aspects of poetry writing and performance, as well as doing NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), but that’s the gist of it.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I’ve suffered from depression and associated anxiety for much of my life, probably since childhood and one of the main causes of this was trauma from domestic violence – my father in particular seemed to find hitting and shouting to be his preferred (and indeed only) method of discipline, and one of his main forms of interaction with me unfortunately. Although I’d known something wasn’t right for a long time – and more-or-less what and why – but I only really accepted it a few years ago and finally went to get diagnosed. That in itself helped, as did realising how many other people are affected, so I decided to be very open about it, including in my creative life.
Stingboy – By Dave Hubble
left on the floor;
beaten for crying,
for trying to arch aside,
avoiding blows –
apparently that’s ‘defiance’,
for warding off strikes to the head –
apparently that’s ‘raising a hand’.
Neighbours listen in as usual.
There are rules,
some mutually exclusive,
with penalties for non-compliance –
all involve hitting
If quick enough,
Stingboy runs and hides,
locks himself in
a windowless room,
literally and metaphorically –
a hole is punched in the door.
There is nowhere else to go.
What is your process when creating?
With poetry, I always have a notepad with me (the paper version) and jot down things I experience, interesting observations, snippets of conversations – anything that feels like it might lead on to something more. This tends to happen when I’m on a bus or train – there are lots of things going by, but nothing to distract me. My other creations are all based on recycled and reused items (a link back to my interest in environmental issues), so they are driven by what materials I happen to have. If I have the insides of a piano, I may make articulated sculptures from the wooden components; if I have some scrap silver, then it’s likely the jewellery blowtorch will be fired up!
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
That’s a tough one – there are so many! I’ll stick with poetry, so I’d have to say Simon Armitage for his ability to produce such thought-provoking work from vignettes of ordinary, gritty and sometimes dark lives. Also, Helen Ivory and Martin Figura for their huge talent at creating poetry from the deeply personal and traumatic – clearly something that resonates with me. Lastly, Steve Larkin for great poetic story-telling, including re-imagining classics such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which he brought up to date as TES, plus taking an active interest in my Stingboy-themed writing. On a more practical note, Jani Franck of The Art House has been hugely supportive and facilitated much of my creative growth, and Matt West has provided huge opportunities for me to develop as a poet through his Artful Scribe project.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
The first is very literal. Though I was lucky enough not to lose my life to it (quite), depression can be a fatal illness and this is often forgotten. Creative outlets can help prevent this in many ways, whether through formal art therapies or more informally, and whether or not the artist even shows their work to anyone else – that’s not important if it provides a sense of release and expression that can’t be found elsewhere. Of course, if the artist is willing, letting the wider world see your work means it can enrich others, and the personal benefits may even multiply once others are engaged too. That effect can be profound and its ability to create change ranges widely, from simply enjoying something beautiful, to making the unspeakable accessible. Picasso’s Guernica is one of the most famous examples of this, and writing can do the same – just think of war poets like Wilfred Owen among many others.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
Another tough question, but I have to say ‘yes’. I know people for whom this is very clearly the case as it prevented their suicide. For me, it’s a little more indirect as it has allowed me to reclaim the creative part of my life that was (sometimes quite literally) knocked out of me at a young age and has lain dormant, apart from the ‘doodling’ I mentioned earlier, only to resurface recently – since then, it’s safe to say I’ve experienced a huge change in myself, a blossoming if you like, and am a better person for it. As for change more widely, all I can say is that I hope so. I often write about social and political themes and although I doubt my poems are going to unseat any political wrong-doers on their own, they do form part of a growing DIY creative movement that has the potential to raise awareness of important issues and who is responsible for them.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
As mentioned earlier, I’m hoping to turn this into my day job. As I’m sure you know, this is likely to be a challenge as artistic income isn’t easy to come by, but I’ve published my first poetry collection, Subduction Zone, which is doing well, and recently had my first solo art exhibition (at The Art House, yay). Stingboy is something I’m working on expanding into a full-length performance, though it’s not easy and I work in occasional bursts as inspiration strikes. The next steps are to get my work into more exhibitions, continue writing and performing, and build my own website (soon!) to replace the various blogs and Facebook pages I currently have.
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
As mentioned earlier, it is mainly depression-related, with some elements of anxiety not dissimilar to PTSD, with panic-attacks, forgetfulness and anger if stress is ongoing. I also self-medicated with mainly alcohol, though not habitually. At its worst, I was genuinely suicidal, on one occasion going as far as standing on the top of a car park intending to jump off – as the title of another of my poems says ‘Standing on the edge of thank-God-I-didn’t’. However, this only happened a couple of times during my early teens when I really couldn’t see any way out of the violence and bullying. Longer-term, the anger was generally the most unpleasant aspect as it is hard to control and although it didn’t develop into violence, it can lead to verbal outbursts and the demise of inanimate objects. I find this deeply embarrassing and upsetting, not so much because I need to sweep up some broken crockery, but because of the responses of other people – unless they are close friends, they really don’t know how to react and the disapproval feels almost tangible. Fortunately, these symptoms hardly ever happen any more as I have found a successful treatment, and looking back I almost feel as if I’m watching a different person.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
Although I am fortunate to have effective treatment, I still find stress to be a trigger and creative activities help hugely in defusing this. This has meant organising my working life to some extent to include the flexibility to do this. This means that I can stop work if necessary and focus on creativity for a time, and return to work when it’s appropriate for me to do so.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
Yes, often. Having suffered from depression and anxiety for over 30 years, I’ve experienced a lot of judgemental behaviour directed towards the way I deal with certain situations. I used to become very angry and upset when stressed and a lot of people would simply not understand, though good friends did, even though I had no formal diagnosis. This extended to the workplace for example where there was simply no willingness to acknowledge that behaviour could simply be symptomatic of an illness, nor any understanding. A lot of the time, especially through my teens and 20s, I found it very difficult to engage socially – I had friends, but often felt peripheral.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
Yes, it was state-funded as I have been diagnosed with moderate-to-severe depression by my NHS doctor who was excellent. Luckily a combination of mild medication and some lifestyle changes worked well, though I appreciate it’s not always that straightforward.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
Probably more than it used to be, but we’re a long way from widespread acceptance. I still hear people with the opinion that mental illnesses aren’t ‘real’, though my experience is more that statements are well-meaning but inaccurate, such as ‘what are you depressed about?’ or ‘you need to cheer up’. A few celebrities like Bill Oddie and Stephen Fry have made their diagnoses public, which probably helps to improve awareness, and I tend to find people are increasingly understanding. More people are willing to give the space required and to simply ask how someone else is doing – campaigns have helped with this. However, I still feel there is often pressure to apologise for the symptoms of mental illness in a way that there isn’t for other illnesses – no-one is expected to apologise for being slow-moving if arthritic, or for requiring the relevant therapy for cancer (I hope). Though I’m happy to explain my condition and how it manifests itself, I absolutely will not apologise for it – once others are informed, it is up to them to show humanity and understanding.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
The NHS can be excellent – certainly that was my experience – but I am aware of many people for whom this is not the case. Doctors need better training in recognising mental health issues, and in particular listening to sufferers when working through treatment options. GPs aren’t necessarily specialists in this area, so it’s not their fault so much as a huge training need. Beyond this, the Government is terrible, and getting worse – their ‘austerity’ ideology and associated cuts are removing more and more relevant services while placing the burden on charities.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No, I haven’t.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
Definitely, and this can take many forms, not only ‘traditional’ therapeutic media such as painting, but also areas such as performance, gardening or probably any other, depending on the person and their requirements.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Certainly, it’s something that informs a lot of art, poetry and other creative work, although to be effective it needs to be in the public sphere more generally.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
As mentioned below, the destigmatisation is a major aspect for me; also acknowledgement that people with mental health conditions are not ‘mad’ but simply have an illness like any other and should be treated accordingly, including the understanding that recovery may be possible.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Yes – it’s essential that mental illness is treated in the same way as more traditionally physical illnesses. The symptoms can be behavioural which colleagues and managers need to understand so that they are seen as part of the illness, not something where the person is being ‘difficult’ or worse, something requiring disciplinary action. I think campaigns have helped with this to some extent and that there is more acceptance, but it is a slow process, and I suspect varies by sector. I work in academia which is maybe more progressive in this area, but talking to friends indicates some employers, including colleagues, especially in traditionally ‘masculine’ industries deal with the issue poorly. Awareness-raising is therefore hugely important.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I agree very strongly with this, and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to get involved with ASLI’s campaign. The stigma was one major reason I resisted being diagnosed for so long – I feared being labelled and the effect this might have in, for example, the workplace. I was also worried that medication might ‘level me’ too much and take away my drive and creativity (in a stereotypical ‘Ritalin’ way) – again, without the associated stigma, I would have sought advice much earlier and probably avoided the breakdown that happened a few years ago.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
Not at all – I would expect ASLI staff to have personal experience, whether direct or indirect, of mental illness. This suggests more professionalism not less, as working practices may need to take this into account with improved flexibility or other progressive measures as appropriate.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
Stephen Fry is one. He is very high profile and has publicly explained how he didn’t want to lose his creative output – something I feel keenly, though his situation is more acute as his is more clearly manic-depressive. Another is J.K.Rowling who embodied her depression as the joy-sucking Dementors and has used her high public profile to explain this, and her need for therapy when she became famous – a really good example that depression isn’t about life being ‘bad’ and simply ‘cheering up’.
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
Just that getting diagnosed was one of the best things I ever did. Large parts of my life suddenly made a lot more sense and that helped in itself. Receiving effective treatment quickly was of course the main point and it has changed my life enormously and for the better.
Dave is inspiring and engaging, his poetry has moved the entire ASLI team especially MD Charlotte Farhan who came across Daves amazing work through a mutual creative group they are in run by the equally as talented Jani Frank. The poetry he writes is visual, it bursts into the mind as a moving image and lingers there with its message of trauma and pain. We at ASLI wish Dave lots of luck in his artist journey and admire his bravery for speaking out about domestic violence and the negative effects it can have on children for the rest of their lives.
If you would like to know more about Dave and his work please follow these links: