As someone who is fairly new to this world of words for wellbeing, I was nervous, as well as excited, to be attending the Creative Bridges conference in Bristol this summer. So I appreciated it when the event opened with a reminder from the organisers to look after ourselves.
The emphasis on self-care continued in the opening session, on ‘Finding oneself in a different form’, run by Claire Williamson of Metanoia. In fact I was constantly reminded throughout the weekend of the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to help others – and also reminded that this is not just about setting boundaries and taking baths, but also acknowledging our pain.
I discovered quickly that I wasn’t the only person at the conference feeling ‘overwhelmed and underqualified’, as my fellow newbie Kerry put it. And as I watched people mingle during the weekend, those running workshops and those with PhDs joining in, sharing and learning and making themselves vulnerable like the rest of us, I began to wonder where the line blurs. At what point do we feel ‘professional’ in this arena? When we achieve a particular qualification? Or is it, as Lisa Rossetti implied in her excellent session on working with homeless people, a lifelong learning experience? I loved Lisa’s approach – she was generous in sharing strategies that work for her, but also keen to gather insight and opinions from the floor.
Between these two sessions there was a thought-provoking, entertaining workshop exploring the ways in which writing and performing can impact medicine for both patients and clinicians. We were given an opportunity to experience what it’s like as a medical professional to try to understand your patient’s needs and desires in a strict timeframe, and the session culminated in a group poetry-writing exercise that was surprisingly fun for this shy introvert.
On Sunday morning, Larry Butler woke everyone up with his entertaining, touching talk (and performance) on how wellbeing can intersect with words and movement. Again, I was struck by the willingness of so many people in this space to be open and vulnerable, and how encouraging this can be to someone who feels like an outsider or is not used to sharing.
This was followed by an emotionally charged workshop on what writing for wellbeing can offer in an environmentally challenged world. I found it healing to be in a session that offered constructive ways for us to be in the world as writers, as well as enabling me to access my own grief about the plight of our planet.
The final session I attended was an experiential writing workshop drawing on the breath and psycho-geography, from Lapidus’s own Clare Scott alongside Graham Hartill. I welcomed the opportunity to explore the area around the building, as I was pretty peopled out by this stage – but when we returned to the room, under Clare and Graham’s gentle guidance, I drafted some writing that did more to ground me in a time of great change in my personal life than anything else I’ve managed recently.
If the weekend was an arc, this felt like closure. I came to the conference believing that, as wellbeing practitioners, we need to have it all figured out. I left with an awareness that true wellbeing is much more of a process than a success story – and with a new found gratitude that there are so many people who care about our world, and who are doing their level best, in the ways that work for them, to make it a little better.
I grew professionally during the conference – but more importantly, after it I feel less alone.
Written by Liz Ottosson.