AccessAbility Arts interview (Jemima Hughes)
Welcome to another AccessAbility Arts interview! I'm delighted to be able to shine a light on the fantastic work being done by inspiring women, multicultural groups, LGBTQIA+ community members and disabilities in the sphere of art and accessibility. This time I interviewed my good friend, and absolute genius (yes, I said genius), Jemima Hughes. She is a multi slam winning performance poet who will sweep you up and drag you through the “mindfield” of the Unorthodox. She brings you into the storm, pauses for breaks in the clouds, and sits with you in the aftermath to discuss how to rebuild.
Jemima’s debut poetry collection ‘Unorthodox’ is published with Verve Poetry Press and her brand new collection is coming in July 2023.
Not for the faint hearted, but always from the heart.
If you're on social media, give them a follow. Instagram, Facebook and TikTok: jemima_unspoken. YouTube: https://youtube.com/@UnorthodoxJemima
Here is the interview
Daniel: Can you just tell us how you got into poetry?
Jemima: I started writing poetry about 6 years ago at a time when I was really struggling with my mental health. I went through an abusive situation of sexual abuse and attempted kidnapping when I was 16 and suppressed a lot of trauma for 9 years afterwards. It all built up and resulted in a mental breakdown when I was 25. That’s when I started to write poetry to express myself and I’ve been doing it ever since!
Daniel: What has been the most rewarding part of your journey as a poet?
Jemima: The moments where someone comes up to me or drops a message to say that the poetry has helped them in some way, those moments mean everything to me.
Daniel: You told me you were a sexual violence survivor. I was wondering if you could tell the readers, what has been your experience with trauma related to sexual violence, and how have you worked to heal from it?
Jemima: I say, “Rape is not a traumatic event, it’s a series of traumatic events from that moment on.” I feel like that about sums it up. The aftermath of abuse can be brutal. On a personal level, I experience flashbacks, nightmares and dissociation regularly because of it. I’ve battled with severe depression, panic disorder and anxiety, with some psychosis over the years. However, through a lot of therapy, my life is far more comfortable now than it used to be. Once it all hit me when the breakdown started, I had no choice but to face it head on. As painful and terrifying as that was, it was worth facing. I still struggle in some ways, but I can’t fully explain how much more comfortably I live with the trauma now.
Daniel: What strategies have you found to be most effective in supporting survivors of sexual violence in their healing journey from trauma?
Jemima: As far as supporting other survivors, I think it’s very individual as to what a person will need and want from others. I think relating to each other is helpful and knowing we’re not alone so we can talk about these things.
Personally, the most recent therapist I had was the most effective support I’ve received. She’s a person-centred therapist which worked well for me. The person-centred approach focuses on empathy and it makes the therapist more human. It feels less clinical, and for that reason, I felt less judged for what I experience. I had that therapist for years and the progress was clear. I wanted to try EMDR but I couldn’t afford it, so my therapist offered another option called ‘Rewind Therapy’. This was effective and helped me to detach myself from the trauma to relieve my trauma responses. Nothing is a fix, but I’ve realised I don’t need to be fixed anyway. I’m enough as I am and I’m having natural responses to a traumatic life event.
The biggest revelation I’ve had along my mental health journey so far is acceptance. Acceptance of who I am right now, exactly as I am, with all of the struggles, memories, trauma responses and the parts I feel are negative. I feel like, as humans, we’re always accepting a future version of ourselves. That we will love ourselves if/when… That we will be content if/when… That we will be enough if/ when… However, when I noticed that I only accepted a future version of me rather than the me I am in this moment, I realised how much that was holding me back from healing and progressing. We’re allowed to accept ourselves exactly as we are right now, whatever we have going on. It doesn’t mean we can’t have goals or aspirations for different things, but if we accept how we are right now we can live more comfortably whilst working on the things we want to work on.
Also, if you’re supporting someone else through a tough time, you don’t have to know how to ‘fix’ it. It’s okay to say, ‘that really sucks, I’m so sorry that happened to you’. Validate the way someone is feeling rather than trying to ‘fix’ something you more than likely don’t know how to deal with. There are resources out there to support people through trauma and mental health difficulties but, as a friend, validating their feelings and being there to experience the emotions with them can be enough without having to know how to make things ‘better’.
Finally, all survivors deserve to know that the abuse is not their fault. They are not to blame, and the shame is not theirs. The only person who is to blame and should feel shame is the abuser. I once heard someone say that we have to stop referring to our abusers as monsters because it makes them big, scary, powerful creatures when, in reality, they are the smallest, weakest people on the planet. That stayed with me.
Daniel: We all know how important it is to look after our mental health, so tell us, do you have any strategies you use to maintain positive mental health in your daily life?
Jemima: Walking is a big one for me. I think we underestimate the power of fresh air and water sometimes. Giving our bodies these helps in ways we may not feel in the moment, but they build our strength in the long run.
I have breathing and grounding techniques I’ve learnt over the years, like counting whilst breathing to slow the breaths down or naming all of the green objects in the room to ground myself, for example.
I try to be mindful of when I’m becoming mentally drained so I can stop giving so much of myself out to people. It’s important to know when we’re giving too many pieces of ourselves away and when we need to hold onto them for ourselves. When this happens, I won’t reply to messages for a while or look at social media or make any plans.
I’m a fan of social media but a tip I would give is to fill your feed with positivity. Don’t follow people or pages that make you feel negative, anxious or down. Follow things that bring you good vibes. You don’t have to entertain toxicity.
I take a lot of breaks. Just generally during my day, I take breaks and breathe, get away from people as best as I can, drink tea, re-charge.
Finally, I don’t often watch or listen to the news. I noticed it was dragging my mental health down and I’ve met many other people who have said the same. So, I make a point of not hearing it. I’ll occasionally check in to make sure I know anything important I should know. But, as a rule, I don’t watch it. I feel like we absorb energy so easily from the world around us, so we have to be mindful of what we’re exposing ourselves too. For example, I have an obsession with true crime, however, if I’m struggling with my flashbacks, watching a crime documentary isn’t going to make that any easier to deal with. So, I’ll watch light-hearted TV instead.
Daniel: You said you were studying psychology at university. I love psychology, I think it’s the best way to learn about ourselves and others. What has been the most rewarding part of your experience studying psychology at university?
Jemima: The best part for me has been disagreeing with some of the things I’m reading! It’s nice to be critical of the parts I don’t agree with as someone with lived experience vs an academic perspective. There’s also a lot I agree with and find it really interesting, but it’s empowering to feel confidence in saying, ‘I don’t agree with that, I would do that differently’.
Daniel: How has studying psychology helped you with your sexual trauma?
Jemima: I’ll be honest, it hasn’t. I haven’t learned anything so far that has helped me on a personal level with my trauma. My progress has come through the support of my loved ones, a lot of work in therapy and speaking out through poetry. If anything, studying and learning about other people’s trauma experiences can be triggering, so I’m careful to keep myself safe and not overdo it if it starts to affect my mood.
Daniel: Poetry and art can be a great tool for society and looking back at history. What do you think is the power of poetry - or any art - and what role do you believe artists have in modern society?
Jemima: I think the ability to express ourselves at times when we may not know how to explain ourselves in conversation is a beautiful thing. I know I started poetry at a time when my speech was minimal. It was a way to explain to people what was happening whilst not being able to have those conversations. Art of any form can do this, so it’s extremely important. Artists have so many roles in society. The subjects, the inequalities, the injustices which are tackled through art are endless. Art makes people stop, look and listen. It appeals to all different audiences in ways that just speaking about something in conversation doesn’t. Art makes people feel the way things impact those who experience them. It encourages empathy. Helping people to understand things that they’ve never experienced so that they can update their views, jump on board and support the cause is huge. It’s how we change the world.
Daniel: We have to talk about your poetry collection! It came out last year, and I absolutely love it! But for people who don’t know, can you tell them what the themes are, and how it became to be written and published?
Jemima: Thank you! My first collection ‘Unorthodox’ came out in 2020 with Verve Poetry Press. It’s an autobiographical poetry collection about sexual violence trauma and mental health difficulties, with a story of love and heartbreak woven throughout. I was super lucky that the founder of Verve saw the hype online after a gig I did, and he was hearing about me through other poets. He reached out to say to let him know when I’m ready to publish a collection, and I was ready!! Extremely grateful.
Daniel: Now, I know you’re writing another collection, which I will buy when it comes out. Can you just give us a taste of the themes and topics you’re exploring in your upcoming poetry book?
Jemima: You’re the most supportive! Thank you. The second book is coming out in July 2023, again with Verve Poetry Press. I haven’t revealed the title yet, so I’ll keep that under wraps for now, but it follows on from the first collection. The first collection told my story, the second collection focuses more on what we can do to make the world an easier, more comfortable and accepting place for people living with these experiences of trauma and mental health difficulties.
Daniel: And lastly. We all need to relax, chill, and switch off sometimes. So how do you relax?
Jemima: I have to put my phone away. Social media is a great, positive tool for me as far as poetry goes. It allows me to connect with artists, book gigs and promote my work, but it does become too much and I find it important to notice when I need to step back and take a break from that world. Plus, I tend to write more when I’m not distracted by my phone which is good for my brain. I also love nature, so walks are a go-to for some relax time. When the sun’s out, I spend as much time soaking it up as I can even if I don’t feel like being out in it because that Vitamin D is important! Mostly, I take as much time for family as I can. I missed out on a lot of time with the people I love through my breakdown. I like that I can enjoy those times again now.
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