Newry resident Phillipa Sterritt speaks to Down News about mental health, creativity, positive thought and the impacts of Covid-19.
David Boden: Hello Phillipa! Can you tell me a few things about yourself?
Phillipa Sterritt: ” I’m 30 years old and a native of Armagh originally but I live in Newry now. My hobbies are painting, crochet, crafts, writing, nature walks and meditation. I come from a musical family and I play piano and cornet.
” All my life I have supported family and friends through trauma, depression, PTSD, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. It has been my unofficial job to create new and exciting ways for people to engage and generate positivity whilst keeping my own struggles and anxieties in check.
“I used to be a team leader helping children and vulnerable adults with various disabilities by holding art workshops, and organising games and trips.
“Over the years I have found many different ways to help those around me through art, music and performance.”
David: This is extremely impressive – how did all this begin ?
Phillipa: “I am a child of the ceasefire, born in ’91. Family and neighbours constantly seemed at odds. There was a lot of uncertainty and hostility. At an early age I felt the need to entertain at any opportunity and in turn, provide a positive distraction.
“I did so by dressing up in costumes and acting the lemon in an attempt to gauge as much laughter as possible. I also attended a local speech and drama group which helped me out grow my stutter and gave me a lot of confidence.”
David: You also moved to Liverpool Hope University to study drama, art and music and graduated with a 2:1 Honours degree. How was this both a positive and negative experience?
Phillipa: “It was amazing to be studying an art form that I am so passionate about. It was my first time in England and living away from home.
” It was a little less stressful because my partner Declan came to Liverpool with me.
“He’s from Newry. We met when we were both drama students in Newry college. He was the year above me. I saw him perform and knew he was the man for me. The rest is history!”
David: That is such a lovely story and sadly rare in the digital age.
Phillipa: “We spent six years in Liverpool and we’ve lived in Newry for the last two years.
“While we were in Liverpool, my 16-year old niece died. We were very close and this deeply affected me. I was approaching graduation and was doubting if I wanted to finish.
“In addition to the support from Declan, I had a lot of support from my professor. Knowing I was not alone, I summoned the strength to continue and I achieved a 2:1. I based my thesis on alienation.”
David: The Covid pandemic proves to be a challenge for all. How has it been a challenge for you and how have you managed to get through it?
Phillipa: “With so few shops open I’ve had difficulty accessing art materials and consequently this affects my creativity regarding painting.
” There is a limit to how many YouTube tutorials one can be inspired by.
There is no substitute for getting out and interacting socially. That is the greatest source of inspiration – meeting others and sharing experiences.
” My day job is a team leader at The Body Shop at The Quays shopping centre in Newry. At present we are on furlough.
” However, I have compromised with Zoom meetings which has proven a godsend keeping me in touch with people.”
David: You strike me as an extremely positive and resilient person. What words of advice and coping mechanisms would you offer to those who don’t share your optimism ?
Phillipa: “If anyone is struggling the best thing to do is contact others. Reach out! There are many outlets be it Facebook, and many telephone counselling and support services such as the Samaritans.
“If you feel really down you should chat to your GP in the first instance. Whatever you do, don’t harbour the pain or anxiety or depression or difficult thoughts. Chat to someone and get help.
“Loneliness probably affects the elderly more than most of us. In nursing homes residents can even have pen pals.”
David: That is a lovely concept and great comfort in this testing period. Letter writing was a hobby of mine during childhood and it’s great to discover there are people still doing something that predates the Internet.
Phillipa: “Nursing homes have notice boards with pictures of residents and information about them like their interests. I have four pen pals and this is another platform for creativity as there is no right or wrongs in this. You just chat to someone.
” You can be innovative and entertaining by adding doodles, jokes and photographs. It is very rewarding. It is all about reaching out and finding people who will listen to us.”
David: Thank you for sharing your story Phillipa and being an inspiration to those who may feel very much alone.