My name is Sarah. At Christmas 2018 I experienced a major mental health crisis and on Christmas Eve at tea time I was admitted to Langley Green Hospital in Crawley on to an acute psychiatric ward. During my first week there I was extremely anxious, confused, and gripped by a conviction that I was a criminal.
On the first working day after the New Year bank holiday, Ollie and Shammi from Hear Me Out arrived in the hospital gym and set up their mobile recording studio. I was invited to participate in the first session with the musicians and because I love singing something inside me sparked with interest so I said yes and headed down to the gym. Ollie and Shammi greeted us with a relaxed and lovely, genuine warmth. They had laid out a variety of drums and the ten of us in the group were invited to have a go at banging and making some noise. We quickly found ourselves coming into rhythm and connection together as we felt the collective beat amongst us. That afternoon I truly began to feel the tension in my body melting away and unwinding. My breathing became deeper and I let out contented sighs of pleasure as we continued to play our drums. Then we moved into making music and singing together. I absolutely loved creating lyrics and especially I loved singing in a duet with a fellow patient who, we all realised, was a wonderfully instinctive rapper. I sang in my choir boy tones alongside him and it was deep quiet joy to my body and soul. I realised I was, and we all were relaxing, and for the first time in months I was having fun!
Our songs which we created over the next few weeks went back and forth between us and the immigration detention centre near Gatwick Airport where people in detention responded to our music and added their own riffs, and rills, and harmonies.
"We exchanged spoken word messages of hope and encouragement. After all, we were all in a very difficult moment in our lives and all of us in our own ways were living on closed wards."
My mental health and sense of wellbeing really began to recover through our music making. I made friends with a fellow patient in the singing group and some of us would continue singing and improvising in the evenings when we were back on the ward. We were team mates, play mates, having genuine simple fun together. It was so heart warming and beautiful also the way the occupational therapists and health care assistants and nurses at Langley Green Hospital came to watch and support our sessions. They would come in and sit on a line of chairs at the side and for us it was like having kind and encouraging parents on the touch line at a school sports match. They celebrated us as we took the risk of trying to sing a solo and all of us - musicians, staff, and patients - were fully absorbed and part of the magic and the spontaneity of what was happening.
Looking back now I can say with simple clarity that it was being part of that wonderful project that really turned things around for me and started transforming me to look up and out of the window at the sky and the sun and to focus on the good, on my life, on my ‘yes’ to my life. My whole body could let out a deep easy sigh of reconnecting with people around me, feeling part of something, re-entering the rhythm and pulse of my life after many months of disconnection and feeling totally frozen and walled off.
For Hear Me Out's '12 Days In Detention' campaign this holiday season, I’ve chosen 'Let It Go' one of the songs we wrote together. I can hear all of our voices in the textures of the song, and my body and my heart warm to sing along with it again now this morning.
Hear Me Out is a wonderful charity and I’ve been so impressed and touched to hear about the ways they have managed to continue connecting and in new ways with people in detention centres through these difficult nearly two years of COVID-19. Hear Me Out's quiet passion for their work is beautiful to see. My own hope is that future groups of inpatients on psychiatric wards and future groups of asylum seekers detained in centres around the UK will have their own opportunities to participate with you in these life changing projects. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Listen to the 12 Days in Detention playlist