Finding a future in the past
Posted Tuesday 14 August 2012
I was born blind in one eye due to a condition called Coloboma. In 1988 I began a Classics degree at Oxford University, but my studies were curtailed by the onset of glaucoma which took away my remaining useful vision. I spent the next twenty years coming to terms with my sight loss and the mental health troubles that it fuelled.
I began experiencing psychotic symptoms when I was a First year Classics student at Oxford University. The paranoia, depression and relentless voices in my head propelled me into a surreal world which I drifted in and out of for the next twenty years. I never returned to Oxford after the Summer Term of 1989. Instead, I spent many years inside hospital wards and rehabilitation units, hostels and half-way houses before entering a residential nursing home at the age of 32.
Although at the time this seemed the end of the road, living in the nursing home enabled me to evaluate my life and come to terms with some of my earlier traumas. After seven years I trained with my Guide dog Trudy, who gave me the confidence to start going out on my own. Soon afterwards I moved into my own flat and started my life again.
Despite never finishing my Classics degree, I didn’t lose my enthusiasm for Classics. I completed an Open University course in World Archaeology in 2010, just before moving into my flat. So when I heard that there was a possibility of being involved with an archaeology project in Herefordshire, my attention was captivated.
Past in Mind Herefordshire was conceived about a year ago, and the Project Manager, Jenny McMillan, sounded me out fairly soon after the idea had been hatched. She was proposing that Herefordshire Mind work alongside local Archaeologists and Historians to search for the lost village of Studmarsh in rural Herefordshire.
Right from the start I knew this was going to be exciting. Mental Wellbeing and Archaeology might seem an odd combination, but if you look carefully there are so many parallels. Breaking the top soil to discover what lies beneath the surface, finding hidden surprises from the past, learning about other human lives which entwine with your own, deciding what to preserve and what to put back, then ultimately moving on – by now I expect you can see what I’m getting at.
We were adamant that this project would be a community project with an inclusive approach. Everyone taking part is referred to as a volunteer no matter what their background or current situation. All members of the local community are welcome to join, particularly those experiencing mental health troubles. Past in Mind is not a toy project. We are undertaking genuine historical research prior to the planned dig in August this year. Those involved with the project to date have been very proud of the fact that they are making a valuable contribution to the national archive.
I have been asked by the project historian to lead the Latin Translation group. (Many texts in the early Bishop’s Registers are in Medieval Latin). I was unsure at first, as my last contact with Latin was in 1989. Synthetic speech on computers tends to murder Classical languages. But it has been like turning a rusty iron key in a treasure chest. I have re-discovered the part of me that gets excited at a Latin paragraph! The higgledy-piggledy path I have taken over the past twenty or so years is not one that I would have chosen, but it seems to have led me to Shangri-la.
When the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to fund this 14-month project I decided to start a Blog to keep track of our progress: The Blog has become a resource for the Past in Mind project, as well as a platform for volunteers to express themselves. I am encouraging more volunteers to make contributions as the Blog belongs to everyone involved with the project.
We are fast approaching the dig which begins on August 13. It will be a physically challenging two weeks but the mood is upbeat as we enter our second phase of discovery.
Bio: Right now I live in my own flat with my guide dog Trudy. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2010 I am endeavouring to make the most of every day. You can follow me on Twitter @Clairetrude.
If you would like to get in touch with your local Mind to find out about projects and services, visit our web page.
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