As we approach end of Mental Health Awareness Month, creatives share it out

Friday, May 28th, 2021 00:30 |
Nicole Agneta.

It’s been more than a year since the coronavirus pandemic struck and it continues to devastate lives and shape how the world functions; and the arts industry has felt the wrath of it.

Kenyan creatives have their fair share of frustrations, setbacks as well as resilient narratives to attest to, amidst the chaos.

In a country with a creative industry teeming with astonishing talent, but feeble support for it, the frustrations experienced have not just been economically crippling, but mentally and emotionally overwhelming for industry players.

But there’s little focus on mental health awareness in this sector with a lot of people suffering in silence.

Music producer, musician and songwriter Viola Karuri had a difficult year in 2019 and was hoping for a reprieve in 2020.

As the pandemic raged on, forcing a countrywide lockdown last year, the Redlily Entertainment CEO panicked at what was obviously going to be a prolonged state of uncertainty.

“I couldn’t create for a while. I had severe writer’s block and as a songwriter, I second-guessed everything I wrote,” shares the producer.

But Viola was persistent in her writing and the dark cloud gradually lifted. And she is now fully thriving in her element.

“I have learned to appreciate every day as it comes. Lessons and challenges are there to strengthen and mould you into who you are meant to be.

So, in everything, I find something to give thanks for,” says the I like It singer.

Concrete barriers

Creative stall has been a resounding inconvenience for creators in this pandemic. Poet, model and creative director Nicole Agneta initially viewed the lockdown period as a time for creatives to dive deeper into their art and produce more content.

Viola Karuri.

Then she hit a creative barrier where she couldn’t conceive ideas and this sneaked in feelings of incompetency.

But, a one-week break was all the spoken word artiste needed to reignite her creative flames.

This time, Nicole intentionally focused on creating without exerting unhealthy pressure on herself. Her biggest struggle was the inability to be around her closest people. 

A year later, with an unwavering support system, Nicole, who also works at mental health organisation Mental 360, is coping much better.

A sturdy support system is crucial for an individual, especially in turbulent times. At Mental 360, she has immersed herself into enlightening conversations with other people.

She has been exploring and expanding her abilities as an artiste and creator, consequently seizing opportunities that are meeting her at her point of growth and excellence.

“The opportunities I’d been praying for are coming to fruition. What I’ve learned is, you’ve got to love what you do, but you have to continuously work at it, so that when the doors start opening, you’re ready to walk through; not just metaphorically, but with the confidence of knowing you’ve been working on your craft and you’re ready or qualified for those moments when they come,” she tells Spice.

Nicole has experienced overall healing by working on herself. She went into life coaching, which provided a better understanding of a lot of things she was struggling with, both known and unknown.

Webstar Ireri.

“I pride myself with being self-aware, self-reflective and working through it. I learned there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

I’m utilising the knowledge I’ve acquired to continuously reach for my most authentic self and experience a wholesome and purpose driven life,” she says, adding that this is reflecting in the great relationships she has built despite of isolation and social distancing.

Emotional trauma

Webstars Tailored lead designer and founder Webstar Ireri derives energy and ‘life’ to create from continually interacting with his clients from the moment they walk into his office for the first time, to when they step out.

But Covid-19 disrupted this flow of work for him. Being at the helm of the business, making nerve-wracking decisions such as sending part of his team on compulsory leave felt like a tear at the fabric of his company.

He tried to cling to optimism and looked at this period as downtime to create and come up with new concepts, but he also stumbled upon an internal barrier. 

“Countlessly, I would go to my design corner, but I just couldn’t settle my mind to create due to the anxiety and worry of everything going on.

This was and not limited to the bills, people and families and other third parties that depended on the business for their livelihoods,” says the fashion designer. 

This kind of pressure was foreign, and with such weight of responsibility on him, Webstar has had to critically think of diversification within and out of the business, which he proudly reports is work in progress.

He is learning to live in the moment without neglecting his obligations that translate to a future he envisions.

To further navigate the current state, he is pursuing knowledge with online courses to chisel his business acumen.

This alongside self-care activities such as cooking more with new recipes and eating well, exercising often and getting more in tune with his spirituality and faith. These have kept him occupied and grounded. 

Therapy within

Charles Okinda is popularly known as Charles Wiglly in the dance realm. Dance is a social art and as a dancer and instructor, it has been natural for him to be around people.

“This change was tough to deal with. I had to close down classes and cancel shows and focus on private classes to keep doing what I do while maintaining the Covid-19 safety protocols. I also switched to online classes right away,” he says.

Fortunately for him, these drastic changes and the stress that came with it did not slow down his creativity.

“I did not have that moment where I felt too overwhelmed to dance. I actually had more time to create and bake my skills,” says Okinda.

Charles Okinda.

The Artika dance member adds that he also realised he enjoyed being at home, something he rarely experienced due to his busy out-of-home work schedule.

So, getting this alone time at home was relaxing for him. “I also do gaming occasionally to just take my mind off everything that’s going on.

Being at home a lot more allowed me to meditate and restore my mental balance,” he says.

Coming in hot in contemporary, ballet, vogue and shag disciplines of dance, the highly-sought after dance instructor finds therapy in his profession. Dance is his go-to relief when he wants to restore calm within.

“I have been working out every morning and stretching to just keep myself fit as we wait for the light.

You see, our bodies should always be ready for action despite everything,” says the vogue dance instructor at The Dance Shagz.

Creatives have been affected by the pandemic in different ways. Some have lost loved ones, their livelihoods, the will or ability to create and are facing financial hardships.

These forms of loss are bound to be harmful to mental wellness. With or without effects of the pandemic, mental health issues in the creative world should be a priority among other concerns.

A few creatives have come out to share their mental health struggles and Ruby V, the Unkut Hennessy Hiphop Awards founder and CEO and mental health advocate, says it’s of essence to create a safe space for creatives to get vulnerable and speak up more.

“I have seen a couple of webinars, virtual forums and workshops talking about mental health issues, especially in the creative industry. More could be done on that front and more creatives must be involved in the conversations.

I don’t think enough creatives are being involved in the conversation, despite the fact that being in a creative industry is a challenging feat,” says Ruby.

She is of the thought that the current awareness around the topic isn’t adequate. She suggests the formation of more forums, workshops, webinars or even meetings set aside within the Covid19 regulations for creatives to assemble and share.

“Perhaps hearing another creative talk about their mental wellness or struggles would make it easier for more to open up about their own and get a shoulder to lean on,” she says, adding that more productive conversations around the issue should be encouraged in regular forums.

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