Artwork Spotlight Guest Post

Guest Post: Charlotte Amelia Poe

Today The Layered Onion has a guest post from poet and author Charlotte Amelia Poe. Charlotte Amelia Poe (they/them), like many of us with mental and chronic illness, has let life inspire their work, including experience as an autistic and nonbinary person.

I write. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Charlotte Amelia Poe
A photo of the author - Charlotte Amelia Poe. Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts. In fact, writing and art for mental health. Art and mental health together to help us cope.

The author has migraines.

Without further ado, an intro from the writer:

I didn’t used to get migraines. That’s new. Well, not new, but it’s been maybe four years since all of this started and I don’t remember what it was like before. It’s strange how quickly your internal world shifts to accommodate some new horror, a pain you can’t escape from.

I write. It’s how I make sense of the world. I’ve always written, perhaps as an autistic person it always made more sense than the spoken word, writing can be precise and honest and sometimes brutal, sometimes healing. It’s a salve on a wound I don’t know how to close.

For one brilliant month, my migraine medication worked and I didn’t have migraines. But something else happened instead – a lack of sleep and a sudden overstimulation meant that I was writing all the time, poetry, prose, nonfiction, anything and everything. I stayed up for twenty four hours and wrote a book. It’s being published next year.

But the brilliant month ended, and the uncertainty returned. It’s difficult to plan for anything when you don’t know whether or not your head will be trying to kill you. The only thing I could do on the bad days was write on my phone, brightness turned way down low, tapping out every thought I had and trying to make it beautiful even as the darkness of the room seeped in and turned the air sour.

I do, completely, understand why people would drill holes into their skulls. I understand this about depression, I understand this about anxiety, and I understand this about migraines. The primal need for exorcism is something we cannot help but seek out, but it’s not the answer, as much as we would like it to be.

In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

Creativity, perhaps, is. I write because I have to, because I’m possessed by all the demons of my life and I want to splurge it all onto the page and see if I can make sense of it all. In the darkest room, an opening sentence that spawns a thousand words, or a line of poetry that twists into something brand new – that can be magic.

And maybe, in lieu of medication that doesn’t work and trepanation that can’t be provided, we have to count on that instead. That magic.

So I do.

The migraines may never go away, I can’t find what causes them, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But the creativity remains. The urge to create remains. It’s a scream into the void, loud against an aching head, but god, it might be the only real thing.

And I think it might be everything.

Charlotte Amelia Poe

Introducing this piece:

Content warning: Strong language.


So I say –

“My head hurts.”

And I grit my teeth and I fold my fingers into my hair and I tug until maybe my scalp loosens a little and I can hear myself think again. I think if I buzzed off my hair then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, like maybe the throbbing above my right eye would dull a little and I could finally sleep.

(It’s been thirty six hours and the caffeine in the painkillers keeps me buzzing like a moth to the light streaming through the holes in my blackout curtains and I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep, but I can’t do anything else either and time is treacle slow and my tongue sticks to the inside of my mouth and I breathe in and out and bury myself further under the duvet, legs curled up to my chest and I want to scream but noise makes it worse and – )

I understand why people would take rocks to their skulls and carve a hole into themselves to let the demons out. The pressure release valve option seems so fucking appealing. I cannot touch my own skin, can only press my fist into my eye socket and wish I could scoop everything out and let it drip through my fingers until there was no pain anymore, no nothing, just the blessed emptiness and my head would be empty, and my eyes would be empty, and do you understand?

Try cold compresses, ice from the freezer wrapped in a washcloth and pressed to the side of my head and for a moment I don’t feel anything except the chill of numb and blessed relief. My pillow soaks through and the room is warm, so warm, three days of stuffy air and I’m breathing in my own fumes and I can’t stand up to open a window and my head hurts, I am trying to tell you that it hurts, I am trying to find language to describe the fact that it feels like I’m dying and there is nothing I can do except wait it out.

I think about stepping on broken glass. At least that bleeds. This isn’t red, isn’t liquid, there’s no colour or texture to any of this, just pounding, and I’m inside of myself and outside of myself all at once and I can hear somebody begging to be let out and I think it’s me, but it might be the demons, you know? And I can understand. Because being trapped here with me is a fucking nightmare, I understand that, I hate it too, but I don’t try to self-destruct every other day just to get my own way.

Unless the demons are me, in which case, I guess I do.

I can hear my sister’s children laughing and shrieking in the garden and I’m so happy they’re alive and that they’re not in pain but I also want them to just let me lay curled up in silence. Everything is so, so loud and I am flinching against the shuffle of my sheets as I shift my body from one side of the bed to the other, burying my face into the pillow until the nausea becomes too much and I have to lift my head again, the inside out bruising of my neck an extension of it all and I have googled this and Google says meningitis, and I don’t think I get meningitis every other day, but maybe.

See, you get kind of crazy with it.

You make all kinds of deals with any deity you can think of. You don’t even believe in anything except that time is cyclical and that this will happen again. But you still beg and hope and plead that this will stop and maybe this will be the last time it happens, maybe you won’t have to cancel plans and waste away in this fucking miasma of stale breath and old t-shirts.

So I say –

“My head hurts.”

And my mum says, “go lie down.”

And I do.

And after a while, it goes away. And for a little while I can bear to be in the light again.

But it comes back. The demons eat at me again and it hurts hurts hurts.

And then I must be quiet and still and dark.

And I don’t think people understand the cost of that. I am losing time. I am losing time. I am losing time.

Can’t get enough? Follow Charlotte Amelia Poe on Twitter @charlottepoe or Instagram @smallreprieves or on their website.

Or check out one of their books – available via links on their website. Charlotte Amelia Poe published How To Be Autistic in 2019, an honest memoir that shares a personal account of autism, mental illness, gender, and sexual identity.

A photo of the author's first book, a memoir. How To Be Autistic - Charlotte Amelia Poe. 
Writing from a place of being autistic and living with mental health challenges and addressing mental health through the arts. Addressing mental health for the arts.

This is a perspective we have to read. Thank you for sharing your story!

Guest Post

Ginny S. Gillikin’s Freedom from Anxiety through Music

Today The Layered Onion has a guest blog essay post from writer Ginny S. Gillikin. This piece, Freedom from Anxiety through Music, is featured in the upcoming Shallot publication, Volume I, Number 2, that focuses on activities and hobbies as we navigate the darkest period of the year (not too long before the days start getting longer and lighter again!). The focus was to create a piece about something that makes you happy.

Ginny’s piece offers perspective on anxiety and offers a way to break free from that anxiety, which can feel like it binds us.

A photo of Ginny S. Gillikin, the author.

Freedom from Anxiety Through Music

Music brings me solace. As a loner, I intentionally submerse myself in a wall of sound. Feelings of calmness and contentment surround me when I put on headphones and listen to a favorite vinyl record on the turntable.

I sometimes feel the necessity for a distraction from the outside world, since it can be harsh. Stressors like job stability, finances, and relationships can crush even the most confident and successful person. And people can be cruel–sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. As someone with a sensitive soul who battles anxiety and depression, I feel stress, loss, and angst more deeply than most.

Listening to music helps me break free from the agony and fear that I sometimes experience. I lose myself in the beats, melody, and lyrics. The stories told in songs transport me to a world far away, where my demons no longer torture me. Escape to an unfamiliar existence offers relief.

Music can also transcend time. Memories come flooding back when I listen to specific songs and albums. I reminisce about spending time with family and attending concerts with friends. Other songs revive feelings of nostalgia, with a sad twist, as they remind me of people who are no longer in my life.

But primarily, listening to words and sounds helps me concentrate on something other than my worries. My anxieties and sorrows disappear as I get out of my head and pay attention to the thoughts of others–some tortured by overthinking and analyzing like me, some not.

Upbeat music like hip-hop, electronica, and disco/house styles help improve my mood. Elation and euphoria course throughout my body. Rhythm and cadence force me out of my chair and onto a private dance floor.

Sad country and Goth songs actually comfort me as well. Hearing others sing about loss and longing for love proves that I am not alone with my conflicted feelings. Anxiety and yearning are universal sentiments.

I must remind myself often that obsessing over emotions and unpleasant circumstances is not healthy. Getting lost in music allows me to escape from the confines of my mind and revel in an activity that brings pleasure.

Ginny S. Gillikin (she/her) is a writer in Raleigh, NC. She has composed poems and stories since childhood. She considers her style of writing to be stream-of-consciousness and writes about dreams, friends and family, and life experiences. Ginny has authored profiles of musicians for and Raleigh Magazine.

Want to hear more from Ginny? Check out her Instagram @ginnygillikin to engage with her! Ginny is also on LinkedIn and works professionally as a writer, editor, and proofreader.

To see more work from the upcoming volume of The Shallot, consider signing up for a perk in The Layered Onion’s ongoing crowdfunding campaign. The campaign is focused on supporting The Shallot publication in 2023 so we can continue to publish wonderful artists and writers like Ginny.

Guest Post

Social Media and Mental Health with Maggie Bowyer

In today’s world, social media seems to dominate every area of our lives. The Layered Onion asked Maggie Bowyer how they balance social media and mental health. Maggie has penned a Guest Blog below with some tips and tricks!

Photo of the artist. Maggie, a writer, talks social media and mental health. 

Maggie Bowyer writes poetry collections.

“I don’t understand!” I cursed into my phone.

Once again, the social media aspect of marketing has gotten the better of me. After a week of well-performing Reels on Instagram, I had another video completely flop. While this seems innocuous, research has found that social media can have true adverse outcomes on mental health, as if marketing a book wasn’t stressful enough on its own. Let’s take a closer look at how likes and view counts can have severe effects on our mental state and how we can take this into account when marketing our work.

Social Media Screen Time and Mental Health

Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things and is growing by the day. It seems that every year now, there is a new social media platform rising to the forefront of our screens. Most recently, TikTok has begun to overtake apps like Instagram and Youtube in popularity. With constantly shifting apps and algorithms, constant news updates, and sensationalization, not to mention filters and Facetune, are we protecting our mental health by constantly “doom-scrolling?”

One large study found that increased social media use leads to worse mental health outcomes; in fact, teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, especially internalizing. Another study found a link between social media screen time and depression and suicide rates.

I see this as a young adult in the real world. The longer I spend on social media, the more I find myself comparing my work with my contemporaries. The comparison, and occasional jealousy, are not limited to my book sales or skills; I find myself comparing my looks, my relationships, my like counts, my brand deals, my apartment, and so much more. I find myself wanting to create more content, that is better than my previous work, and at a furious pace, which only leads to burnout.

I also have found that social media marketing has changed my poetry, which snapped me back to reality. I have always written very lengthy, narrative poetry, having gotten my real start in spoken word poetry. As I spent time marketing on social media apps, I found that quick clips performed much better. I started writing a lot of micro-poetry. While there is nothing wrong with micro-poetry or its rise in popularity, it did not feel authentic or complete; I began to feel like I was selling out my work in favor of social media clout.

The big question is how do we prioritize our mental health and our unique voice when social media has become such a large part of marketing our work and making a living?

I have several ways of keeping my head in check when creating content.

1. Set Time Limits

The first tip I have is to set time limits on apps. I find myself opening Instagram absentmindedly all the time; it is completely normal as these apps are designed to be addictive and to grab your attention from your home screen. By setting time limits, I can curb the amount of accidental time on the app.

2. Intentional Use

This leads to my second tip, which is intentional use. I use social media for three explicit things and knowing my purpose on the app helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of view counts and engagement ratios. I use social media to market my books, draw inspiration, and keep in touch with my friends. Determining that my goal on social media was to sell myself, and my books, and fulfill my brand contracts helped with how overwhelming social media was. How would I know what to post? Instead of panicking at the endless content ideas, I was able to focus on what I was selling that day.

In line with both intentional use and finding inspiration, I began to weed out whom I was following. Not a marketing coach finding trending audio I enjoy? Unfollow. I disagree with your opinions far more than I agree? Unfollow. A poet I haven’t found inspiring for a while, or aren’t pushing me to be better at my craft? Sorry, but that’s also an unfollow.

I am unfollowing people unjudiciously, and it feels nice. I am also blocking people more often than I ever thought possible and for far smaller infractions than before, and it is more freeing than I could have imagined. I am trying to keep my little corner of the internet as safe as possible for me and my followers.

3. Don’t Let Metrics and View Counts Rule You

I am trying to focus less on like counts or being frustrated by low view counts. This one is a lot harder than the other tips, and one I am still navigating. As a business major who loves marketing, I want all the data. I want to know what is and isn’t working for my audience. I want to know who my audience is. But I was beginning to get obsessed with numbers, checking my insights daily, sometimes even multiple times in one day.

Number obsession - it is easy to obsess over KPIs and metrics.

Now, I try to only check it weekly, though sometimes I check certain metrics every few days. I would often get frustrated by low view counts but high engagement rates, wondering why the post wasn’t performing better, and more often than not, I would begin to berate my looks, my apartment, and more. Now, I am trying to reframe my thoughts about those posts. Those posts connect me to my current audience and foster a deeper relationship with people who already follow me, maybe starting a new conversation or retaining more followers. Not every post we create is going to go viral, and that is okay, maybe even better than constant viral content. Try reframing your previously low days and find the positives in your community, content, and self. No one is perfect at this, especially not me, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to reframe thoughts.

4. Be Your You, Without Filters

This next tip might seem silly and simple, but I am surprised by how much it has helped my mental health. I have completely stopped using filters. I want to like my face, or at least be neutral enough about it to feel like I can post it. I don’t want to show the world a fake version of myself. I want to show younger kids on the app what real skin looks like, or at least skin with makeup on it. I want to show that we all have some asymmetry in our faces, and that is okay! I have found that I don’t typically miss filters and only use them in my friends’ group chat on occasion.

No filters, don't be afraid to share who you are. #nofilters

The last tip has quite possibly been the best thing I have done for myself and my mental health. I have created a smaller, private Instagram to keep up with my friends and message with them, which helps with the feeling of constantly performing for an audience or slipping into my “digital self.” I can share an unfiltered opinion, not beat myself up over typos, I can share pictures of my family without fear, and above all else, I don’t have any Insights. Even without the post numbers, I find I don’t even care about the like or view counts on that page. I can be myself, and people can take it or leave it. No brand deals are pending on my perfectly polished presentation. I don’t need to retain my followers to ensure my next book launch goes better than the last. I don’t feel pressured to let creepy people follow me because they could be another client. I don’t feel like I have to create content there; I can just be.

Boundaries are good! Don't be afraid to set them to protect yourself and your mental health.

I can still market my book when doing all of these things. In fact, I have found that I market myself even better with boundaries in place. I feel I can connect more enthusiastically and genuinely with my audience when I have taken the weekend off. I am more confident online and feel like I have true direction. There are endless ways we can take care of our mental health in the digital age. These are just a few tips that have helped me in combination. We are seeing the first generation raised on social media begin to come of age. We are also seeing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, some of which can be attributed to social media (though far from exclusively). Teaching each other how to care for our mental health is going to be vitally important. I hope this begins a conversation rather than feels like the end of a lecture and that you go into your digital spaces with intention today.

Want to hear more from Maggie? Check out their Instagram @maggie.writes or website to engage with Maggie!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Éloïse Armary’s Pink Goo

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Éloïse (Loulou) Armary (she/they) will share her upcoming poetry collection, Pink Goo.

Éloïse took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about our artist:

An image of the artist, who uses art to explore mental health. Mental health through the arts.

Art and mental health work.

Éloïse “Loulou” Armary is a French poet who writes about mental health, neurodiversity, social and climate issues, memories, queerness, and the strangeness of daily life. She is the co-host of the podcast Poetry to your Ears. Loulou is based in Brighton, UK. Pink Goo is their first poetry collection.

Éloïse participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

LouLou's book uses poetry to interact with her anxiety and depression. The book shows the power of Art and mental health. Describes mental health challenges and their toll.

Pink Goo is a collection of poems that explore what mental health is to Éloïse and the reality of living life in today’s world. 

It is about a spiral down to anxiety and depression and the following journey to find peace. After trying to shed light on social injustice, sexual harassment, and the climate collapse, the poet finds herself in the darkness and explores many corners within herself, rough and soft. In the deep furrows of her mind, Éloïse finds a white canvas on which she paints with colours to lift her spirit while allowing nuances of grey to tell the depth of reality.

These poems aid the reader who wants to scream but doesn’t find the words. They are a balm to spread on trauma wounds. They care for the soul after a storm.

You are releasing a poetry collection, Pink Goo. Congratulations! My first question – how did you come up with the name?

Thank you! The title poem is a metaphor for my anxiety. I wrote it during a challenge I set for myself to write 21 poems in 21 days in December 2021. I got stuck mid-way through the challenge and started exploring unusual images. I loved that poem, people I read it to loved that poem. The name stuck with me. I knew my poetry collection would be named Pink Goo before I knew what else would be in it.

Title poem of Pink Goo - art that explores mental health, anxiety, and depression. Poetry. Describes mental health challenges and their toll. Art and mental health/ art for mental health.

What topics do you explore in Pink Goo?

Pink Goo is everything mental health. It starts as anger against social injustice, eco-anxiety, and sexual trauma, then delves into chronic anxiety and depression. It’s a quest about my neurodivergent identity, an expression of moments of sensory overload, meltdowns, and anxiety attacks. It has a pamphlet about bipolar disorder, which is close to me. Mostly, it’s about how to find acceptance and where I dig up peace. 

What first led you to poetry?

I started writing poetry as an extended form of journalling in high school. Sometimes, my emotions were so strong writing them in prosaic words didn’t feel right. I started skipping words to express myself faster and playing with images to articulate my feelings in a way that sounded true. 

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

I am inspired by the intensity of my emotions, which is what I mainly write about. I draw into images of nature, colors, and senses to express how I feel. I recently started rooting myself in a community of poets and find endless inspiration from poets I know who I find so talented.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

I write about mental health, neurodiversity, and social and climate issues. I don’t really choose to write about these topics; I feel more like I have to in order to expel the intensity of my emotions. Lately, I am enjoying delving into topics of memories and queerness, exploring alternative realities, and writing based on senses rather than thoughts.

You also have a podcast, “Poetry to Your Ears” – what kind of topics do you cover? Where can folks go if they are interested in checking it out?

My co-host Tom and I interview contemporary poets and read out poems we find that tell of something new and meaningful. Our byline is ‘We celebrate poetry the way it is done today,’ because our podcast is not a poetry course that studies the theoretical structures of poetry. We don’t read the famous dead poets studied in school.

We found out that most poets we talked with didn’t like poetry before they [started] writing poetry. We want to know who writes poetry, what they write about, and what it can tell us about more significant subjects. When I say write, I also mean perform, since we feature many spoken word artists! We platform a diversity of poets from different backgrounds, especially marginalised ones. All the links to listen are here:

You are French, but you write in English. Why is that? 

The first poems I wrote were in French, but when I met with my partner, who is British, I started writing poems in English. I loved the distance between the words and my thoughts and the easy wordplay that wasn’t constrained by the rules and rigidity in French that I inherited from school.

English being my second language, I make some mistakes that turn out to be poetic, which I can use as the base of a poem. I write a little bit of bilingual poetry, but since I moved to Brighton, UK, I found it hard to share it with an English-speaking audience. I want to explore bilingual poetry more, though.

Mental health, social topics, and the climate crisis are deep concepts that take a lot out of all of us living in 2022. “Goo” is the perfect word to describe that feeling of being stuck, of fighting your way forward.

Éloïse is selling Pink Goo on The Layered Onion shop – be sure to check it out! You can catch up with Éloïse and their work on Instagram @eloisearmary.

Artist Spotlight

Writer Spotlight: Maggie Bowyer

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. 

In this post we are featuring Maggie Bowyer (they/them/theirs).

Maggie is a poet, cat parent, and the author of various poetry collections including Ungodly (2022) and When I Bleed (2021). They are an essayist with a focus on Endometriosis, chronic pain, and trauma. They have been featured in Bourgeon Magazine, Capsule Stories, Plainsongs Poetry Magazine, The Abbey Review, Troublemaker Firestarter, Wishbone Words, and more. They were the Editor-in-Chief of The Lariat Newspaper, a quarter-finalist in Brave New Voices 2016, and a Marilyn Miller Poet Laureate. More of their work is on Instagram @maggie.writes.

Maggie did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about their work:

What led you to writing?

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I have always loved reading. At first, I was drawn to journalism and essays, but eventually, with the help of some amazing mentors, I found my voice in poetry.

What inspires you most about writing?

Writing is a way to articulate things I can’t describe in the moment. It’s a way to take those dark moments – the moments of overwhelming physical or mental pain – and make sense of them. I can share my words with loved ones and they might understand better; I can share with someone going through something similar and they might feel seen. Seeing other people and their truth is the most magical part of writing, and of my life. 

You write in a variety of ways – including poetry collections. What are your favorite topics to cover?

I write what some have described as “winter poetry.” I tend to write on darker topics – my favorites being chronic pain and trauma. I want the people who feel invisible burdens to feel a lot lighter. While the topics I cover are dark, I try my best to leave room for hope, healing, the disabled joy, finding love amidst it all, the journey, all of it.

What projects are you most proud of?

I want to say my next project, but it’s not even finished yet! If I had to pick one of my current projects, I would definitely have to say WHEN I BLEED: POEMS ABOUT ENDOMETRIOSIS. People have held that book so close and I am honored by the love it has received. I never thought people all across the world would read one of my books. I was even asked to be a part of an exhibition in Whales where words from WHEN I BLEED were put next to fantastic photographs. I was truly in awe. 

What’s the most difficult part about writing for you?

Writing daily is so exhausting, but one of the best things writers can do. I sometimes run out of inspiration or write throw-away poems and half the time I want to give up. But it’s so important to write daily. 

I want to draw attention to your free medical admin templates for communicating with the health system for any folks who need them. Can you talk more about the idea behind it and any feedback you’ve received?

I am so happy you asked! Thank you! I always find that, as a complex patient, it helps to do the leg work for your doctor. I love the body map because it’s been the most effective tool I have used in getting diagnosed and receiving care. I color it in with different colors for different types of pain. The longer sheet is really nice to keep track of meds, new symptoms, updates, and more! It’s one of the most popular things on my website and I am so glad people find them useful!

Any stories you’d want to share with the community?

This is not so much a story, but more an urging. When I first went to college, I stopped writing because I was “too busy.” As my pain and symptoms kept increasing, I didn’t know how to share it with anyone, especially with all the medical trauma I already had experienced. The only way I knew how to share was by writing in the middle of my flares. I spent dissociative days trying to describe the haze. I lied on the bathroom floor sobbing from the pain and wrote some of my favorite poems. I went back to the doctor and fought for my care, using all the strength I had used to write. Then, in 2020, I published my first book. Now? I am almost done with my fourth. If you’re looking for a sign to start writing, or start writing again, or publishing your work, this is it. Please share your story. You never know who needs to hear your story.

What a powerful line! We all have a story to tell or a picture to be seen – you never know who needs to hear your story. You can check out more of Maggie’s work on their website or Instagram @maggie.writes.

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Martina Collender

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work.

In this post we are featuring Martina Teeny Collender, a playwright and writer based in Ireland. In her words:

“Martina Collender is a queer disabled Playwright, Director, Stage Manager, Drama and Creative Writing tutor, Poet and Spoken Word artist living and working in Waterford City and County. She has been commissioned to write for Loose Screw Theatre Company, RigOut Productions, Trinity Players, Comeragh Wilds Festival, Imagine Arts Festival, Waterford Youth Arts, Brothers Of Charity, Rehab Care Waterford, Waterpark School, Red Kettle Theatre Company, Garter Lane Arts Centre and Theatre Royal Waterford. Two of her plays Crotty The Highway Man and Pettiecoat Loose have been published. Her work has been published in The Waxed Lemon and The Lonely Voice run by the Irish Writer’s Centre. She has over ten years experience teaching drama and Creative Writing to young people aged 4 to 19 and to adults with disabilities at Waterford Youth Arts, Brothers Of Charity, Rehab Care Waterford, Blast, Teachers Centre Waterford, Waterpark School, Presentation School, The Mercy and Imagine Arts Festival.” 

One of Martina’s works, Crotty The Highway Man, was recently performed at the end of April and beginning of May by the Dungarvan Drama Circle. The compelling teaser: “Step back in time and into local folklore to join us for this immersive storytelling experience. Up in the Comeragh Mountains, on the doorstep of the local legend William Crotty, encounter the story of the highwayman who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Meet Crotty, the woman who loved him and the man who betrayed him…” The performance was outdoors at Crottys Lake.

Martina did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her plays and inspiration:

Did you always know what you wanted to do from a young age?

When I was 16 I saw a play called To Leap From Paradise by the late great Jim Daly. When I saw it I thought “I want to do that” and that was the moment for me.

What’s the process been like as an playwright?

Research. Research. Research. No matter what the topic is read or better still talk to as many people as you can. Theatre comes from real life experiences and by engaging with people you can achieve the ultimate goal of putting someone’s life and heart on the stage.

Are there performances or characters you’ve written that you remember fondly or are especially proud of?

If The Lights Change, which is dedicated to my sister Mary is about siblings, you rarely see siblings portrayed in the Arts and I am proud of doing it justice.

What’s your favorite part about writing? What empowers you?

The first read-through with the actors, hearing your words voiced for the first time is a rush and so exciting.

What led you towards writing for theatre? What do you find most challenging and most rewarding?

Getting funding is the most challenging, it’s so so hard. The most rewarding thing is opening night seeing the actors, director, Stage Manager, lighting designer, sound designer all add their piece to create the magic of your words is wonderful.

What is your favorite thing to write? Where do you draw your inspiration?

I draw inspiration from everyday life. I like to write what will give the voice to the voiceless.

What themes do you include in your work?

Pro Choice, Pro Euthanasia, LGBTI rights, Traveller rights, miscarriages, alcoholism, obsessive behaviour, folk lore, rape culture, relationships, stillborn, FFA, gay rights, religion, mental health nationality, anything I’m passionate about.

Anything that’s inspiring or exciting you that you’re working on right now?

I’m working on piece about Rape culture, how the guards treat rape victims. It’s tough but should make an exciting piece of theatre.

You can check out more from Martina on Twitter (@Playwrightcoll and @Martinacollend1), Instagram (@martinacollenderplaywright), or Facebook.

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: John Gerrard’s More in Both Directions

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, John Gerrard (he/they) will be sharing his piece “More in Both Directions.” John took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about John in their own words:

“I am a multidisciplinary artist, with a focus on visual art.

As a visual artist I’m currently focused on making drawings that are text based and speculative. The work is meant to be enjoyed for its form and aesthetic quality, but also invites investigations into the strands of literal meaning. The text is readable in linear and non linear ways, and is themed on subjects such as the mind, free will and how that relates to whether we discover or create identities.

Formally, the work usually consists of compositions of multiple panels. I draw each panel by hand and then invert the black and white digitally. After they are inverted and in a grid, I mirror the piece both vertically and horizontally. This symmetry gives

order to the disorderly nature of the vast and varied text. It holds the tension of a middle zone. The finished work is presented as an image that is playful with the rational and the chaotic. There is structure and randomness coexisting with design.”

John Gerrard, More in Both Directions. Fine art rag paper, archival pigment-based inks. January 2021.

Want to see it closer? John has some zoomed in views available here that are worth digging into to engage further with the piece.

Getting into the questions:

This piece is so meticulous and detailed. How did you approach creating it? What were your initial starting thoughts?

I had pieces of paper that were cut into triangles which I used to draw/write about some of my experiences in the psych ward as well as my mental health journey in general. It’s meant to be a speculative zone where I can explore ideas and memories in a way that helps me organize and reflect.

I find the use of shapes, both the diamonds and the diagrams fascinating in how they break up the piece and emphasize certain statements. What was your thought process behind these?

I think using the shapes is a good way to highlight and emphasize like you said. It’s a way to organize the content as well as give the eyes something else to look at. 

What inspired you in terms of color scheme?

I really love the aesthetic of white line on black. For me, it evokes a sort of chalkboard feel, as well as the line being like light in the dark.

I notice you kept cross outs throughout the work. Did these start out as intentional or a combination of spontaneousness?

I keep the cross outs to be honest with the process. There are some things I don’t feel comfortable keeping on the page, or places where I make mistakes. It’s human!

You repeat the title throughout the work. Is it a representation of a constant thought? A mantra?

I live with a type of bipolar, and the title represents that excessive happiness as well as sadness that I deal with sometimes. Finding a balance between the lows and the highs can be hard when you have bipolar. 

Anything else about the work that you would want to share or say?

There are a lot of painful moments that I signify in this piece. It was therapeutic for me to process them on the page, as I changed my relationship with them as I went. If people have felt similar things I hope they feel less alone looking at the drawing. 

Definitely a message that I can get behind. Thanks for sharing, John! You can see more of John’s work at their website.

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Katie Sanford

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work.

In this post, we are featuring Katie Sanford, a writer who uses her experiences with mental and emotional wellness like schizoaffective disorder to break down stigma through speaking and writing, including in her blog, Not Like the Others. Katie is a staunch mental health advocate.

In her own words: “Hi, my name is Katie, and over the course of my life, I’ve struggled with mental illnesses like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. My illnesses brought me fear, shame, and a profound feeling of isolation. Recovery wasn’t always easy, but, despite the obstacles, I’ve accomplished a great deal. I graduated from a highly ranked college, hold down jobs, have meaningful relationships, and now speak publicly about living with mental illness, primarily schizoaffective disorder. I created [a] blog to break down preconceived notions about mental illness, and to show you that, not only can you go on to have a fulfilling life after being diagnosed with a mental illness or brain disease, but also that everyone’s story is unique, and, even when you’re not like the others, you’re not alone. Whether you have a mental illness yourself or are looking to help or better support someone else, know that no matter what you’re going through, there is hope.”

Hope is everything and it is ok to not be like the others – you can be your best you and that is amazing and deserves to be celebrated. 

Moving on to the Q+A portion…

What drew you to making advocacy your life’s work?

When I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at 17, I felt like my life was over. I struggled with many things ranging from academics to shame and feeling like my dreams were no longer possible. Over time, I learned how to live with it and realized I could still achieve my dreams, and I wanted everyone to know, including people who didn’t live with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. I didn’t want anyone to have to claw their way through it the way I had, and I quickly discovered that sharing my story could change people’s minds, offer them hope, and help them better understand the disorder, whether they lived with it or not. I want to make the world a place where people like me are supported and understood and have a better shot at a positive outcome. 

What do you find most rewarding about it?

It is so rewarding to hear people say I changed their view or gave them hope. It makes me feel like all of the struggles I went through to get my life back on track and the anxiety I face every time I share my story are all worth it.

Where are the main challenges you find yourself puzzling through?

I think one of the biggest challenges I face is visibility. I have to fight feelings of not being good enough and fears that I will get backlash or that people just won’t care every time I put something out there. I’ve been working on building my social media presence to share my blog, my videos, and my thoughts in general, but it’s hard to fight those feelings and also to find enough time. I don’t have the funding to do advocacy full time, so I’m working and trying to balance my job as a legal assistant, advocacy, sharing what I do, and still taking the time to care of myself, and it’s tough sometimes.

What is it like to be a speaker?

Being a speaker is nerve wracking sometimes, but I have found that my message and my story hit home even more when people hear it directly from me, and the response I get from that is really rewarding. Plus it provides the opportunity for a live Q&A, which I always like. Because of the pandemic, it’s mostly been over Zoom lately, but I’m hoping to be able to do more in person talks soon. I find it’s easier to connect with people when I’m speaking in person.

Are there major challenges you see as part of your work that stick with you?

Yes! One of the biggest challenges I face is making sure that people understand that what I talk about covers not only people with schizophrenia who operate at a high level, but also those who don’t. I am constantly bringing up the fact that we are all human, and it is the same disease, and that I could just as easily be one of the people who find themselves at rock bottom, and there is hope for those who do find themselves there because it is so important for people to understand that. I try to take great care to make sure that what I say and write is inclusive, but it can be difficult sometimes because what strikes a chord with those who function higher and the caregivers of those who are struggling immensely is not always the same. 

How do you engage with your writing?

My writing often begins with a thought that becomes an idea and then I’m off! I am passionate about what I write, so, in situations where I have that spark of inspiration, it just pours out onto the keyboard. When I don’t have a specific idea or am trying to complete a piece I had previously started, it can get a bit more difficult and I will begin searching for inspiration in books, on social media, or online, which I don’t always find. But when I have that bright spot of inspiration, it’s like second nature and I become immersed in the thought or experience about which I am writing.

Any stories that you’d want to share with the community?

After my first time speaking for Crisis Intervention Training for Sheriff officers with NAMI Chicago, I had a few people wait to talk to me afterwards. One said that he had been avoiding this training course because he didn’t want to have to hear about how you have to handle people with mental illnesses with kid gloves. He said that hearing my story changed his whole mindset and he wanted to do whatever he could to help others. The other man told me that his sister had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and he and his family didn’t really get it because she seemed fine. He said that now he understood and he was going to go home and call his sister. Stories like this are why I do what I do and they are reminders of how powerful stories of lived experience truly can be. 

Any websites or links you’d like to share or comment on?

For general info on mental illness, I always recommend For those looking for support for themselves or another with schizophrenia, has a helpline among other resources. And for those who are students of any age living with an illness involving psychosis (or advocates, teachers, supporters, etc), I highly recommend checking out Students With Psychosis at They have a ton of programming including support groups, creative meetings, speakers and more.

Home – Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance
The Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance stands for hope and recovery through the promotion of education, support programs, & better public

You can learn more about Katie on her website or check out the Not Like the Others Etsy shop for some cool designs! Thanks Katie for sharing your lived experience and inspiring us all to be brave!

Katie’s Websites/Links:
Personal website:
Etsy: NotLikeTheOthersShop


Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Harper Hazelmare’s Current Dream

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, the Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Harper Hazelmare (she/they/y’all) will be sharing their piece Current Dream. Harper took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about Harper:

Harper Hazelmare is a writer of cautionary tales and mental health articles, a professional Witch with her own company, and a keeper of a community apothecary. Their life in scenic painting took them into visual artistry with acrylics, watercolors, graphite, and a deep love of charcoal.

Harper is most influenced by the visual art of Kim Noble and Anders Zanichkowsky; with writing, their touchstones are Chuck Palahniuk and Shirley Jackson. She currently resides in the Midwest with her spouse and their two geriatric cats.

Now let’s get into the Q+A portion! Today, we’ll be discussing Current Dream. By way of introduction, Harper says “This piece has echoes of a Jennifer Dodson creation, Copy + Variant, coming from her series exploring neurology in transition.”

Harper Hazelmare, Current Dream, Charcoal and graphite.

What mediums did you use for this piece? I know you are a fan of multiple! 

Charcoal and graphite, my favorite combo!

When you look at this piece, what stands out most to you or draws you back in?  

I still see the face in it which I originally saw upon completion; this is a subconscious theme in my work. When making visual art, there are usually 2-5 alters present with us co-creating simultaneously or taking turns—something which lends itself to “hidden” discoveries within each piece, some of which are quite tiny. However, the main draw for me in Current Dream is the stark lines, like a person struggling to practice control and commitment.

You also write mental health articles—do your written and visual artwork play together and expand on each other?  

They tend to be miles apart, actually! I’ve gotten feedback on how approachable my written work is while our visual art is consistently intense and abstract. That said, I’m launching a new book project this month and considering a bookmaking side project to go with it. Stay tuned!

Neurology in transition is a complex and inspiring topic. You mention you have some background in science, was that part of the inspiration for this piece?  

Neurology in transition is ASTOUNDING. My background is in medicine plus I’ve been committed to recovering from two TIAs and the education/retraining that warrants; I’ve had a front row seat to my brain’s on-going evolution. But don’t we all? I applied this same methodology toward understanding our DID and life as a system, life as a multiple. Much like the evolution from TIAs, and being human in general, our system keeps expanding and contracting as well—we’re currently in our fifth generation.

Is there any website or social media page(s) you’d like us to share for folks interested in seeing more of your work?  People can find my writing online at Medium and other work at my company Brown Horse Herbal.

Thank you for your responses and sharing Current Dream!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: John F. Gerrard

Today, we’ll be sharing our very first artist spotlight! In this series of blog posts, we’ll get to know an artist in the community and learn a little more about them and their work. 

For our first post, we will be featuring John F. Gerrard.  John is sharing his artist statement and a little bit more about him. Take it away, John!

Portrait by Emma Palm at Workshop Studios
Photo by Emma Palm

I am a multidisciplinary artist, with a focus on visual art. In my teens and 20s I was active creatively as a musician, touring across North America and playing locally. During this time I got my feet wet with visual art, doing graphic design work for bands and small businesses. I went to ACAD with the intention to pursue a design degree, but became obsessed with creating with charcoal and paint. I majored in drawing at ACAD and then went to work at a commercial sign company. In 2016 I left to pursue art full-time.

In 2018 I was trained by the Canadian Mental Health Association as a peer support worker. Since then I’ve been developing my art practice with mental health advocacy work.  

A highlight for me has been working with Branch Out Neurological Foundation, making images based on interactions with neuroscientists, and taking part in their charity events for three years in a row now. 

In 2019 I had my first international show in Chicago as a part of the Some People Everybody exhibition. This multidisciplinary project examines the ethics, people, processes, and systems that constitute the maintenance of, and barriers to, health for human beings.

Here is John’s Artist Statement:

As a visual artist I’m currently focused on making drawings that are text based and speculative. The work is meant to be enjoyed for its form and aesthetic quality, but also invites investigations into the strands of literal meaning. The text is readable in linear and non linear ways, and is themed on subjects such as the mind, free will and how that relates to whether we discover or create identities.

Formally, the work usually consists of compositions of multiple panels. I draw each panel by hand and then invert the black and white digitally. After they are inverted and in a grid, I mirror the piece both vertically and horizontally. This symmetry gives order to the disorderly nature of the vast and varied text. It holds the tension of a middle zone. The finished work is presented as an image that is playful with the rational and the chaotic. There is structure and randomness coexisting with design. 

I’m influenced by other artists who approach their work without direct representation of the physical world, as well as makers who could be classified as “outsider” artists. I find myself coming back to the work of Jean Michel Basquiat, Hilma af Klint, and Agnes Martin, and I’m inspired by the way they make images. When I was at art college, I was exposed to the beatniks, as well as the godfather of beatniks, William Burroughs. His non-traditional use of text as well as those of the Dadaists motivate me to create in the way I do. 

Being introspective, it is a very personal project. I think externalizing our inner worlds in this way can be very rewarding, and that so often our thoughts and our guesses at their implications swirl through our heads in an awful repetition. A lot of it I don’t think we’re aware of. By making this work, I continue to learn about myself, making conscious the issues and ideas I’m encountering.

These drawings are so natural and exciting to make. Working on each panel, I feel connected to something beyond, and that my language to do so is developing further with each image. There is a story being built between and within each piece, and it’s an exercise of rationality and intuition to find or make those next steps with it. 

I’m often faced with conflicts that force me to rethink things and consider and reconsider possible end games, of what I could be suggesting or not suggesting inadvertently. I do my best to record that process on the page, as I want to reflect the realities of being conflicted or of not knowing. There is this back and forth, between doubt and feeling sure.  

Art is a great space for us to experiment with hard topics. The drawings serve as a way for me to explore my own beliefs and values, by examining my thoughts through a physical process on the page.

You can check out more about John and his work by visiting his website Here’s a preview of some of John’s work:

Cold Cluster, John F. Gerrard
Crowd Drawing # 15, John F. Gerrard