The story so far…

At point of writing, the Creative Steph website has been alive for 18 months, and what an 18 months it’s been.

It’s now Summer 2022 and in the hazy evening sweat I’ve been reminded that so much has happened and I haven’t recorded it anywhere. So, if you’re interested in knowing more about this work, what I’ve managed to do so far and what I’m working towards in the future, then you’re in the right place.

Before I list it all I want to acknowledge the small appetite to hear more about my personal story from age 0 to today. On the whole I’m happy to put it on here and it’s a project that’s already underway, detailing the key events that positioned my brain and body where they are today. However, my autobiography won’t be on this page. This is purely about what’s happened to ‘Creative Steph’ since the beginning of 2021 and the direction I’m trying to steer this ship.

The beginning

Creative Steph was originally intended to be nothing more than an online space to publish my own creative exploits as I worked through my degree. I knew creative writing and illustration had previously been a passion of mine, and at the time it’s fair to say I felt like I was on the scrap heap. I wanted to show our daughter (she was 4 when the site was born) that although I was regularly sad, shackled by agoraphobia and hobbling around in pain, I didn’t give up. This site was intended to be the evidence.

Just for reference, the physical and mental challenges I’ve been living with for 8 years (and talk about on here) are Sacroilitis, degenerative changes in my spine, BPD (or EUPD), panic disorder, acute Agoraphobia, mild Tourette’s, social anxiety and depression. To date, I’ve been indoors for 15 months… although I’m hoping that’ll change soon.

Once I started talking openly about my ‘brain pain’ (mental illnesses and other quirks) the website and social media channels started to gain attention and within a couple of months I was getting the odd message on social media asking questions about my story. I’m still unsure if it was the right thing to do, but talking about my complexities (especially the stronghold Agoraphobia has on my life) seemed to resonate with many of you, and slowly the site became a mental illness blog with my fictional writing and illustrations peppered in for fun.

It became clear that I might be able to help others if I found the right route, but it was the ‘finding’ that seemed to take the most time. The answer had been staring me in the face all along. Promoting exactly what I was already doing for myself as a way others could bolster their own mental well-being is a subject I know well. From time to time I even feel I’m experienced enough to be well positioned to talk about it, a confidence I haven’t felt for decades.

That, in a nutshell, brings us to where the site is today. A mental well-being site with a blog that I use to talk about mental illness, mental health and creativity. It’s also a site where you can find help and support from appropriate organisations, look up stress hacks for those moments when you need a break, and find your own personalised CCS (Creative Coping Strategies) – your own creative outlet to help with longer term mental strain (alongside essential professional support, of course).

The achievements

Although the site has morphed into something slightly different, I’ve continued to enter my creative writing into competitions. For a while I was unsuccessful and I wrote those occasions up as experience to build on. Eventually, as I used the unsuccessful stories to learn, improve and evolve, I started doing ok and from time to time my stories started being selected and even winning! It was reassuring that judges felt my stories were worth reading, and they often centered around the difficult causes of mental illness.

So here is a tally of the stories that made it somewhere. I’ll only count each story once, so there are no duplicates and no over-amplified success!

Long listed – 1
(most recently Cranked Anvil Press Short Story Competition April 2022)

Shortlisted / selected – 16
(most recently Cranked Anvil Flash Fiction Competition May 2022)

Win – 8
(most recently Tortive Theatre Flash Fiction 101 June 2022)

So, in the last 18 months, I’ve had a total of 25 stories that were either longlisted, shortlisted, selected and/or winners!

I never expected to be able to find so many stories in my head, let alone find other people that enjoyed reading them too. If you’d like to read some of them yourself every story has been posted on my blog, often with a bit of background information too.

Other proud achievements…

My stories aren’t the only successful parts of Creative Steph. There have been lots of other notable moments in the journey so far, including…

Continuing study for an Open Degree in Creative Writing, Design and Mental Health with the OU (just started year 5 of 6).

Becoming the first and only ‘Creative Volunteer and Mental Health Advocate‘ for the UKs national bereavement charity – CRUSE (south east). I write a monthly mental health column in their newsletter and provide illustrations to accompany the articles. Other ideas are in the pipeline with Cruse, and ill reveal more info on my blog when I can.

Providing cover (and back cover) artwork for the Summer 2022 issue of the radical mental health publication – Asylum Magazine

Contributing artist with full online exhibition displayed with the online gallery for artists who face significant barriers – OutsideIn. You can see my work on the Steph Clark gallery page.

Article on ‘Wheelchair Shame’ (with corresponding exclusive artwork) published with the Disability Publication – Spoonie Press.

Ongoing featured artist to the mental illness creativity site – Mental Inkness. You can see some examples of my artwork here and here.

Ongoing contributing writer for the peer to peer blogging support network on the mental health charity website for SANE. You can find my posts under the username StephWrites.

This website was chosen by a panel as one of Feedspot UK’s top 35 Mental Health sites in Spring 2022 (positioned at 19 at time of writing!).

As part of my ongoing goal to help others manage their mental strain, I started the Creative Coping Strategies campaign. As part of the project I publish some of my own CCS to show others how simple, silly and satisfying they can be…

The Creative Steph website was pledged and accepted to the Mental Health Media Charter in Spring 2022. This is a pledge ensuring that sites, people and social media operate their mental health, mental wellbeing and mental illness conversation in a safe, correct and helpful way. It also ensures that appropriate professional signposting is provided too. I’m proud to be working under these important guidelines.

I provided a quote covering my stress-activated Tourettes as part of Tourette’s awareness month for Tourette’s Action. It was published on their social media and website.

I’m also a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and the Society of Authors.

Finally, although it may not seem like an achievement, throughout my time working on these projects I’ve received messages from people who’ve engaged with this site. Often they are other mental health warriors, marginalised citizens and people looking to be heard. They like to say hello, offer their ideas and ask how I am. However long or short those messages were, every single one of them was read and gratefully received, often at a time when I was also struggling. I’d like to say THANK YOU to every single one of you who got in touch. You make this all worthwhile.

The future

It won’t surprise anyone that I have things I hope to achieve. How likely it is that I can make them happen remains to be seen.

The ‘Self Calm Podcast’ is already in the finishing stages and should be available on the usual podcasting channels soon. Revealing my own voice (and the fear of my stutters and pausing) has proved to be a bigger obstacle than I’d thought. Despite this, I still believe there is an empty space for honest talk about the more obscure and lesser discussed mental illnesses. I’m hoping my voice, along with the voices of some of the people I’ve met, will fill that gap soon.

A sister site is also in progress, but it’s a site with a difference. It’ll mirror the creative ideas and support for mental strain from this site, but it’ll be aimed at children (and their careers/parents/guardians). Characters, artwork and page content are well underway and I’m hoping to have it launched in time for winter 2022.

The biggest pipe-dream is one I never thought I’d manage. Becoming a fully-fledged, bona-fide, author. It requires a huge amount of work and, for me, that has proven to be a big stumbling block. On top of that, Uighur the publishing industry as a whole isn’t a very caring place, with little sympathy or support for authors who can’t pump out mass submissions for days on end. Many publishing house employees like to look interested and helpful in public, but fall silent the second you follow up their offer of help IRL. After the work I’ve put into my books, being met with this unwritten rule has been pretty heartbreaking.

But I intend to keep trying when pain allows me to.

Did I hear you ask about the books themselves? Unsurprisingly it’s a series of unique childrens mid-grade mental well-being books, the likes of which doesn’t currently exist. As a mental illness patient with a special needs child who spends her pain-free time campaigning for these subjects, I truly believe I’m well placed to write them.

And of course, my work on this site will continue, along with my regular artwork on my Instagram page (username StephDraws40) and my general chatter on Twitter (username StephWrites40).

I’ll still be writing my blog for SANE, adding artwork to OutsideIn and Mental Inkness, and submitting articles and artwork for mental illness and disability centered publications. I’ll continue writing fiction when I feel inspired and I’ll enter it for competitions when I feel confident enough.

I’ll still be writing and illustrating for this site on a daily basis, creating content for Crap Poems, Weird Words, Haiku Hope and my Instagram DTIYS challenges. I’ll add updated support hubs to the support page and keep up with new stress hacks and CCS ideas.

There is always much to do.

In conclusion…

I’d like to give my most sincere thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride so far. I really hope you’ll continue to support me as I keep trying to be part of the change in narrative for mental illness patients and us Spoonies, living with chronic pain, hidden disabilities and invisible illnesses.

And finally a message to my most important person, my daughter, sitting next to me as I type this.

Muchnkin, this was always for you and your Dad. I never gave up.

Thanks for reading 💜

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