On Monday 3rd October if you keep your eyes peeled then you might spot a few unseasonable visitors around Inverness Centre. Butterflies. In October. They are not live butterflies but symbolic butterflies. This is one of the first events in Inverness for SMHAFF. That’s the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. The Festival aims to celebrate the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health issues, exploring the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. The theme for this year’s festival is Time. Many groups are going to be involved across the Highlands in exhibiting work, sharing performance pieces and written work and the Butterflies are part of this.
The Butterflies are the brainchild of Viv Gunn and Carlie Borthwick. Two women who set up and organise “Serenity” a drop in for women with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at Merkinch Community Centre. The group meets between 10.30 and 1.30 every Monday and is supported by a local collective advocacy organisation – HUG (Action for Mental Health). The group is primarily a support group but also works hard to improve services, treatment and experiences of people with BPD. All too often people with a diagnosis of BPD are stigmatised by their diagnosis. After all – how much do you know about BPD? Do you know about the physical pain that people feel? Do you know about the affect BPD can have on personal relationships? Of the fear and anxiety that may mean just walking down the street is “brutal”. Mostly people who hear me talk about working with people with Borderline Personality Disorder have never heard of it. Those that do express their sympathy, they shake their heads and say what a hard job that must be. What I want people to do is to congratulate me, to say “how wonderful” or “aren’t you lucky”. Watching these women overcome daily, sometimes hourly difficulties, watching them work together to support each other, watching them speak out about injustices, speak out about their experiences of the statutory services and influencing change is energising and positive. And yet they are often dismissed as “crazy”, “awkward”, “non-compliant”. Look beyond the label and you might be surprised. I was.
And the butterflies? The transformation of the butterfly over time is symbolic of the transformation people with BPD can achieve with understanding, support and proper care. Carlie Borthwick explains “I’m hoping that butterfly bombing the town will encourage people to educate themselves on BPD. Butterflies can represent time and change, both a huge part of my diagnosis. I’ve come a long way since before I had a diagnosis and now have a reason for some of my behaviours. It is similar to the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly – it’s symbolic of our recovery”
So, if you see a Butterfly on Monday pick it up. Think about what it means. Pass it on to someone who might benefit from the support that groups like Serenity offer but most of all – educate yourself. After all, that’s what art is about, opening yourself to new ideas and new experiences. If, by doing that we can change the experience of stigma that affects people with any mental illness, but specifically BPD, then we are transforming society – a bit like the transformation of the butterfly, really.