Rituals was made as a way of addressing experiences of trauma. I have experienced bouts of mental illness and depression my whole life and engaged with different therapeutic interventions to assuage breakdown.
At the point of starting this film in 2018, I felt my death was imminent and saw myself ‘dead’ everywhere. I was in a state of shock and numbness from a series of traumas that had left me in a kind of paralysis.
In January 2018 I went into the snow and lay down in it. The ice burnt me and I felt something. A stirring. I swam in an icy sea and left gasping. This experience of finding some sense of living response when engaged with my environment led me to undertake what I came to consider as a series of rituals to reach for a feeling of aliveness.
I was not at risk of harm in any of the rituals and gave myself consent for their execution and filming. In my mind, even though professionals were attempting to soothe my mind from persecutory feelings of shame and worthlessness, I felt an alarming sense of my gradual disappearance. I wanted to grasp the burning wire of my core authentic self to come back to a living body and alert, bright mind.
The wilderness of the estuary seemed vast enough to contain the enormity of my feelings. I started there. I had some sense of the ritual before I started but often what I experienced and what I revealed to myself was unexpected. My curiosity in the creative process of the performances in itself was an indicator of health.
When N.Godsell sent me stills from the filming I was amazed at the gravitas of the experience and the environment captured by them. It became a creative partnership, as theu accompanied me through the performances. The cinematography and editing was largely down to their understanding of what I was grappling within the moment.
Often I didn’t know how to respond to the experiences or work, I knew they were important. They gave me a sense of relief from some of the tension of trauma that had not been adequately relieved. At the same time I began to further my studies in the psyche by studying trauma: how it is met, how it is contained, how it manifests in the body, relationships, art. Because of my addled mind, I had to listen to podcasts and seminars over and over and over again before I felt I understood, which became a ritual in itself.
I wouldn’t say there was an endpoint because the process of trauma recovery doesn’t have an endpoint. There are periods when its impact is less evident in my life and points when I am immediately triggered and taken to the feeling states left by trauma in such a vivid way, it feels like I have not progressed at all.
One of the difficulties of trauma is the separation that occurs between the authentic self and a self that becomes embalmed in a survival response. So there is little memory or thinking done at the time. Reengaging with myself through trauma gave me an oblique way to explore the haunted areas of my mind and body without completely fragmenting, which was the fear of undertaking such intense work. As Mary Oliver once said, I literally felt I had no choice, I had to save my own life.
I have run to people with this sense of ‘emergency’, ‘please help me, will you listen to me, will you see me’. I found no solace until I turned and walked straight towards the core of my anxiety and terror. I took the instruction seriously, saying through the art, ‘I’m here now, show me the emergency’. I believe this was the beginning of recovery.