breaking down barriers: ‘this place is yours’ at vivid sydney
‘I remember it really clearly,’ says Seraphina Reynolds, creator of the new online writing project This Place Is Yours. ‘One night I sat down in my writing chair, and it just kind of poured out of me. It was just something that clearly I needed to do.’ A book has emerged from this project, and is being launched this month at the Vivid Sydney festival. Seraphina spoke candidly with me about the project and the personal experiences that shaped it.
Seraphina is recollecting how, when she found herself in a deep depression three years ago, she began to write out her story – her honest-to-god, no bullshit, this-is-what-I’m-going-through-and-I’ll-tell-you-exactly-how-it-feels story. She has since been publishing this story on her blog. Seraphina had written a blog in the past, and had experienced periods of depression before, but hadn’t written on the topic because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Encouraged by memoirs and autobiographies she was reading at the time – in particular, Emma Forrest’s Your Voice In My Head – Seraphina began to write with honesty, and subsequently began to receive honesty in return. ‘I started writing about my personal experiences, and it was just quite an amazing healing I found through that, both within myself in accepting some of the things that were going on with my life, and with connecting with others who were struggling with their own issues,’ she says. ‘I got some messages and some comments that were really lovely, from people who were going through similar things and didn’t have anyone to talk about it with.’
Off the back of these experiences, This Place Is Yours slowly began to take form. It has developed and changed form (countless times), and evolved into the project it is today: an ambitious, intelligent and creative attempt to challenge current discourses on depression and mental illness by simply inviting each of us to share our own personal stories. Individuals can submit their stories via the brand new This Place is Yours website, which is being launched alongside the book at Sydney’s Vivid Festival.
If beating stigma and isolation is the aim of the project, then its central tools are catharsis through creative self-expression, and the establishment of a community. ‘I personally believe that creativity takes you into another level, another dimension, of yourself that you can’t necessarily achieve just by conversation. And the fact is we don’t talk about everything that we need to talk about – that’s the way our society is structured. So, one way to bypass that – to get out what you need to get out – is through self-expression and through creativity,’ says Seraphina. ‘Then there’s a whole building of community, which is really an aim for us,’ she continues.
‘Hopefully we can start to achieve that – a place where you can go and find people and connect to people that are maybe going through something that’s challenging as well, because it’s quite a lonely place to be in, if you’re depressed.’
The website is the project’s primary forum. Seraphina says that everyone – no matter how experienced or inexperienced they are at telling their story – is encouraged to submit to it. Contributors are not obliged to submit only written stories – entries can be photographs, podcasts, art, videos or any other imaginable medium. Seraphina also emphasises that This Place Is Yours is not only interested in stories about depression.
‘[The project] is very much open to every kind of story, but I want our discourse of pain to change. We’re very anti-pain and anti-‘bad’, but in reality, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ exist in the same life. We can’t escape what we go through, so avoiding it isn’t going to help us. The best thing we can do is to start to accept it, with ourselves and with each other’, she explains. ‘Depression doesn’t have to escalate into something that’s so awful; it can just be something that’s happening to you in a stage of your life that’s going to take you where you need to go.’
This Place is Yours is an inspiring project that provides a space to share stories about depression and mental illness. See Seraphina’s blog, buy her book or head to the launch to get involved.
‘This Place is Yours’ is being launched at Sydney’s Vivid Festival on Sunday 26 May, 7-9pm at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Circular Quay, tickets are $10-15. See the Vivid Festival website for more information.