Young people tell us about their experiences in the Young Adults' Programme (note - all stories are published here under pseudonyms).
I was recommended to Express Yourself by a mental health professional who assured me it was a safe space that encouraged creatives and would help me gain back some confidence.
The workshops were stimulating, encouraged engaging conversations and the development of new ideas. I remember laughing and really enjoying my lunch for the first time in a long while.
I began to trust people again and have fun. I started lessons, I was writing again, I regained my confidence, feeling as though I was again capable. I am extremely grateful for being welcomed and accepted into the space. I always felt safe and in my regaining of confidence was able to rediscover my creativity.
The space allowed me to see past the pain of the last 12 months and was a pivotal part of instilling new confidence in my abilities. 12 months on from my distress, I have just started my first year of art school, where I’ve well and truly re-discovered my creative inquisitivity and flair.
Every day is a gift and I feel so lucky to have come out the other end. I feel daily inspiration and a strong sense of well being. Reflecting, I can clearly see how fundamental the experience with Toi Ora was in my road to recovery and re-discovery. The encouragement and support shown to me by the staff and professionals involved is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Aroha mai, Aroha atu.
Ahmed is a 24-year-old New Zealander of African origin who LOVES to dance! Ahmed’s keyworker brought him to the Express Yourself Young Adults' Programme to help him get out of the house and socialise, as well as to learn ways to feel more cheerful and less anxious about life.
Ahmed took a shine to the dance elements of the programme: “I’m inspired by Adus [Express Yourself dance tutor] to keep dancing. We bring joy and happiness when we dance.” He also enjoyed the social aspects of the course - “Since coming here, I have more friends and happiness… I like coming here and hanging out with all my new friends”. He also gained a sense of significance from being a member of the group: “I felt important, like people cared about me...The group is part of my family now.”
These positive creative experiences have helped him to become more confident in his life in general: “Before, I used to be shy to go out and leave the house. Art class has opened lots of doors for me and I don’t feel shy to go out anymore.” Ahmed’s family is now relocating overseas, where he has a job lined up already. He’s sad to be leaving the Express Yourself family, but excited to be getting a job and to keep on dancing!
Charlotte is a 23 year old New Zealander of Māori and NZ European descent, and a talented seamstress, crafter and designer. After finding a university course in fashion design too stressful, she joined Express Yourself to keep exploring her creative interests in a more relaxed environment, and to learn skills for mindfulness which she finds helpful.
Charlotte values the open, non-judgmental nature of the group: "When I come here I feel like whatever I make is OK and it won't be judged by anyone". She has made a point of ‘showing up’ to class even when anxiety and negative feelings have prevented her from doing anything else:
This week I felt like crying all the time, but I came here anyway just because I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to do any of the activities, I just wanted to sit there. But I ended up doing the filming, and even standing in front of the camera, and I felt anxious but I still did it. And now I don’t feel like crying anymore.
The support and empowerment that Charlotte gains from attending the group has helped her to pursue dreams and goals in other aspects of her life, such as designing, creating and submitting a costume to the national World of Wearable Arts awards. She has also found work facilitating creative activities in a retirement home, and hopes to become an occupational therapist.
Clara is a talented singer-songwriter, and a 19-year-old New Zealander of Pasifika descent. She joined the group during a challenging period in her life to “meet other young people who were going through similar stuff to me” and to have something fun to do that wasn’t “all about therapy”. Through the programme, Clara gained confidence in singing and performing in front of others, and with staff support recorded a demo tape to apply for a music degree in Hamilton. She was accepted and began studying full-time in 2015.
Unfortunately, the stress of full-time study, as well as living away from home, proved too stressful for Clara and she is now back in Auckland studying towards another degree and continuing to make art and music "for fun". She shares that “the courses inspired me to do ‘home art’ - I realised that I could be creative anywhere and make art out of anything.”
Alan is a 25-year-old New Zealander of Asian descent, and a budding animator and game designer. Alan credits Express Yourself with helping him redirect from a career path that was unsustainable for his mental health, towards one that both makes the most of his talents, and serves his wellbeing. At first, Alan came to Express Yourself to recover from mental health challenges, while completing a Bachelor’s degree part-time:
I enjoyed the art but really I was there to get better. And the course did help me to do that - though actually I had to do most of my recovery on my own, I think you always have to - but there was a good support network there.
As Alan continued doing the course, he began to share his passion and talent for illustration and animation. After receiving one-on-one illustration mentoring through the programme, he then negotiated an internship with a multimedia performance company via Express Yourself networks, and gained the required practical hours to finish his degree. This year, Alan has gained entry into a digital design course, and aims ultimately to gain employment in the gaming design industry overseas.
As well as providing Alan with inspiration and networks to forge this new career path, the EY programme has helped him to reframe his experiences of mental health challenge:
I’ve realised since doing this course that actually I'm grateful for my psychosis, because it made me more creative. I can see connections between things now that I never could before. I got into trouble with my mental heath because I was too analytical, and now I can be creative as well as analytical and be more balanced.
Alan also values the opportunity the programme provides for him to ‘give back’ to peers in similar situations to his own:
the best thing, the very best thing about [Express Yourself} is that people there reached out to me. Some people, when I got to know them and they saw that I had gone through lots of stuff and come out the other side, they opened up to me about their troubles, and I was able to inspire them. I think I’m a bit of a leader like that.
Joe is a 21-year old New Zealander of European ancestry - a friendly guy with a talent for detailed art projects and drum rhythms! Joe’s therapeutic team brought him to Express Yourself to help him develop his interest in art and build confidence with peers around his age, as well as to learn and practise strategies for coping with group situations.
Joe’s biggest challenge in the group is “coming out of my shell”, but he's observed that since doing the course he has “found it easier to connect”, and he listed “meeting new people” as a highlight of the course. Connecting non-verbally, such as through movement, seems to work particularly well for Joe. In one creative movement workshop, his support workers were amazed to see him volunteer eagerly to stand at the front and lead a group of dancers through an improvised routine: “We’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Stella is a 19 year old New Zealander of European descent; a proactive and quietly strong-willed young woman who self-referred to the programme as a way to do something positive for her mental health. According to Stella,
Art gives me permission to feel more vulnerable - it’s tied into a lot of emotional stuff for me, and it’s helping me with opening myself up. When I came [to Express Yourself] I couldn’t believe how open everyone was, it’s not like the rest of the world at all where people try to hide everything...and it’s encouraged me to be more open in myself.
Stella is still working out what the future holds for her in terms of career development - but whatever the case, she’s clear that:
art and creativity is going to keep on being important to me. When I was 11 or 12 I think I stopped giving myself permission to be creative, and I feel like now I’m starting again.
Vince is a 16-year-old New Zealander of Maori and Latino origin. He’s a highly creative person who is currently writing a science fiction novel, among other projects. Vince was referred to the Express Yourself programme by his support worker, who was concerned about his isolation at home. Vince enjoys the course because it “gives me somewhere to go each week with other people, something to do and a way to meet people - it’s helped me to make friends.” He says he’s becoming more positive, comfortable with others, and open to trying new things:
Accepting art into my life as a whole has made me a happier person. Also just being around the positive people and positive energy here has made me happier. I feel able to talk to people and look at them in the eyes.
It's given me a whole new perspective on life and I've learned a whole lot of new ways to do things that I didn't know before. I also like getting to share my ideas - I have lots of ideas but usually I don't think that people want to hear about my ideas, but I like to share my ideas here.