Ann-valanche's story

I always wanted to become an artist, but my mum didn’t think it was a proper career path. When she passed away, I thought I would give it a try. I started facilitating art workshops with Mind. I ended up back in back in college, doing an art and sculpting degree, and it stemmed from there.

I became an art facilitator, running workshops at a recovery college. Now I’m a freelance artist, working with vulnerable people.

However, when you have PTSD, you can lose the will to do art.

I’m a carer for my daughter who has a learning disability and autism. I am also a survivor of domestic abuse. Last year, I became overwhelmed and had a breakdown.

50 Voices: Artist Ann-valancha on mental health recovery

As a carer, I have been fighting for my daughter since the day she was born. I became tired and felt isolated. I couldn’t sleep and it was taking me ages to get out of bed every morning. I was speaking slower and had extremely high anxiety, and I neglected my self-care and felt burnt out. It got to the point where I couldn’t patch it up anymore.

Last October, I started attending Hestia’s Recovery Café in Tooting. I had once signposted a relative to Hestia’s services, so I already knew about the organisation. I knew Hestia supports people who have experienced domestic abuse too, so I knew the organisation would be right for me.

50 Voices: Artist Ann-valancha on mental health recovery

My anxiety was off the scale the first time I went to the café, but the team were brilliant. They did an assessment, looking at the ways they could help me, and signposted me to other organisations that would benefit me. I realised how important human contact was. Everyone there was just happy to be in a room with other people, having conversations.

Shortly after that first visit, the UK went back into lockdown and the Recovery Café sessions went online. Now, we do weekly sessions. We talk about setting personal boundaries and letting go of the past. I also started online CBT, which was brilliant. My therapist retrained how I think, helping to stop negative thoughts.

The Recovery Café team told me about Hestia’s Better Lives Forum, which is a group of Hestia service users working together to improve Hestia’s services, and Hestia’s Digital Inclusion service, helping people to stay connected online. I joined both.

50 Voices: Artist Ann-valancha on mental health recovery

Now, I’ve started doing art sessions as part of the Digital Inclusion service. When you’re an artist, it’s east to struggle with feelings of self-doubt, like your art isn’t good enough. The art sessions, however, is somewhere you can just be creative.

The Recovery Café team have also asked me to start running an art session. I’m starting to build myself up and do things my own way.

However, PTSD comes and goes. You don’t suddenly feel wonderful and everything starts going alright. Recently, a gardener knocked on my door; it was so forceful that it felt like I was back in that atmosphere of domestic abuse. We are all delicate as human beings and have to be careful that things don’t build up on top of each other, otherwise, we can crack.

Now though, I am ready to try different things. I have started a new role as a public advisor, working on social policies. I have also just been accepted as an advisory researcher, looking into adult social care. I want to make a change.

50 Voices: Artist Ann-valancha on mental health recovery

I am also looking to apply for the Art Fund, so I can start doing art projects across London. Being freelance works best for me, as it means I can continue supporting my daughter.

Things are different now. My eyes are open to mental health now and I know that it can happen to anyone. But I also know that support is available; people are there for you if you need it. That can make all the difference.

Which book has impacted my life the most?

I am inspired by Martin Luther King and my favourite book is a book of his scriptures. One quote is: “ We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.” It helped me to realise that you can detach yourself from certain people. You can wish them happiness as a human being, but that doesn’t mean they are someone you want to be around.

Which film has impacted my life the most?

Sweet Charity. It’s a musical. I took my daughter to see it. It’s about a woman who works in an unusual place and she wants a better life. She knew she wasn’t a perfect person, but still believed she deserved happiness. I liked that; everyone does deserve happiness.

Which song has impacted my life the most?

I was an obsessive fan of Janet Jackson when she was younger. Rhythm Nation was brilliant, that was a massive album. My mum used to love Gladys Knight and The Pips, and one of the songs was Baby You Can Change Your Mind. I like it because it brings me back to when I was younger. It is very nostalgic for me.