Madness to Memoir: The Creative Cure

McDougall, Gillean (2021) Madness to Memoir: The Creative Cure. DFA thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This Practice as Research PhD submission consists of a full-length memoir, A Year to Find My Father, which combines creative and critical writing. By charting the course of a calendar year, I reflect on family, bereavement and grief, and in particular the absence created in the family unit when a member suffers from mental ill health. I explore the spaces we occupy in person and in our minds when we suffer trauma as well as creative and practical responses that may be able to effect or contribute to a ‘cure.’ My father suffered from severe OCD and spent two extended spells in a psychiatric hospital. I took as my starting point this lived experiences of mental health problems as well as his status as a conscientious objector in World War II. By walking in the grounds of Gartnavel Royal Asylum over the course of a year, I was able to reflect on abandoned spaces as cypher for abandoned family. Additionally, my volunteering work within the hospital campus informed my experience of its geography and repurposing. Like many families, mine hid the existence within it of mental illness, and I wanted to explore this further. An autoethnographic methodology allowed me to both research and write about my position as a family member exploring the inherited narratives of mental health struggles, and to use these narratives to illuminate my own experiences. While writing, I realised that I, too, had kept a lot hidden from view; my writing process allowed me to let secrets out about my own life – damaged by severe hoarding – and to find my own solution to it. I found the courage to start a course of counselling which ran parallel to the writing of my thesis and have been able to examine the counselling strategies used in treating my own obsessivecompulsive hoarding disorder, itself often born out of grief and loss. By bringing my own mental health into sharp focus, I was able to relate more closely to my father than I could when he was alive. Classical music, central to my family as employment, features largely in my writing, and I choose particular pieces to explore in greater depth which held special meaning for us. In weaving together the main body of writing with journal extracts written at the heart of the clearing process in my home, I was doing what a composer does with contrapuntal strands of music. This creative, additive process became central to my writing, and I felt that I was forging something that I needed badly; something new. My own ‘creative cure.’ It centred me throughout as I finished my project and was especially helpful when completing a PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this memoir, I write about landscape and emptiness, and the losses caused by death. Grief inevitably follows, although not always visible, and it manifests itself in different ways as I found out. This writing will also be of interest to professionals involved in understanding and treating hoarding, to creative writers exploring writing for good mental health, and to any reader who has struggled with the impact of hoarding disorder, as sufferer or witness. In this process I believe I found the solution to my own madness. Few existing texts on the subject give voice to the hoarder. Here is one.

Item Type: Thesis (DFA)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jess-Cooke, Dr. Carolyn and Strachan, Ms Zoe and McGeachan, Dr. Cheryl
Date of Award: 2021
Embargo Date: 1 February 2025
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82686
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2022 10:28
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2022 09:31
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82686

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