Learning from experience: Casey Francis (Mad Truth)

an abstract digital artwork with a dark background featuring bright prin, blues and fine points of yellow light in the centre
‘Untitled’ By Casey Francis (Mad Truth)

My name is Casey Francis, I’m a social entrepreneur and multimedia artist working across film, music, spoken word, visual arts and public installations. I am also the founder and creative director of Mad Truth, an arts organistion based around the power of creative expression for improving mental health and promoting personal growth. The idea being we can use creative expression as a remarkable tool for re-framing tragedy, trauma and mental ill-health. Instead of something that is keeping us from becoming our true selves, these things can become a source of beauty, strength and resilience.

When I was seventeen I got very ill in the mind - if I went out late at night, and I saw a ‘stop’ sign, that sign would be there for me at that particular place, at that particular moment, for me to witness - as part of the cosmic drama that was unfolding in my mind, phantoms circling my thoughts, shadows stretched along walls whispering to me, out and further out, all the while going “I’ve got the answers!” with no particular question in my mind. I stumbled first into the office of Marie, a mental health worker. She introduced me to the concept of magical thinking. We tell ourselves stories, subscribe to superstitions, we nurture narratives that help us to understand our place in the world. We have very active imaginations. Then I stumbled further, into a local youth centre where I learned that I had a voice, and a loud one at that.

Since then Mad Truth has created work for the likes of: Sadler’s Wells, BBC 2, DEDA, Bury Museum and more. All with the central idea that through creativity we can transform adversity to beauty and in the process transform ourselves. We can create our own lives as if we are creating a work of art. Instilled within all of our experience are layers of meaning, understanding and connection. Art is empathy, it is communication. Art allows us to step outside of ourselves, and see something inside that we could not recognise because of our external circumstances, our pain, our fear, our doubt. Am I good enough? What’s the point? Where do I go from here?

In times of crisis in my life, I found I could channel my unfiltered experience, removed from self consciousness into my art. The result was a feeling of first validation followed by catharsis. In many spiritual traditions the way we can address our fear, despair, alienation, anger - injustice, our pain, is to forthrightly embrace it, with love and understanding. We look it right in the eye, and we come to the realisation that we are having a human experience. We are defined by our courage, authenticity and integrity rather than by the amount of money we have or our social status. These multitude of feelings come, eventually passing away again, like guests. Yet we remain - always with a choice. Everything you need is already within you, through performance, through artistic expression we can recontextualize ourselves in a beautiful creative environment where we can grant ourselves freedom, confidence and grace.

I learned all of this within the context of crumbling council accommodation deemed unfit for human habitation on three separate occasions. Being a carer, having an older brother with severe learning difficulties. I had an extreme life, but now I am a little bit older, able now to speak louder, clearly and freely, safe in the assurance of having been through what I have been through. The worst can and will happen, you’ll still be okay.

I come from a small town in the East Midlands which over the years has decayed to such an extent that it could be immortalised on a postcard of austerity Britain. I have always likened my experience in this town to that of an explorer, sailing for the new world, who upon referencing his map has found that it has run out - whatever lies beyond the horizon could well be a sheer drop.

But as I lay awake in the early hours, disquieted and disturbed, I was aware of a quiet certainty. Everything will be okay. The words of Robert Frost ring out, I took the road less travelled and stepped into a life of creativity, authenticity and truth. Through the worst times we have the opportunity to find our best selves. We can make it worth it - and we can change the world if we first have the audacity to change ourselves in spite of our circumstances.