37. PART ONE: my interview with Opal Turner on Rebel with a CauseAug 05, 2023
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Welcome to the media camp magazine podcast. Thank you for tuning in for the next in our series rebel with a cause with me Opal Turner. For this series, we are talking about the relationship between creativity and strategy or in my other words are science and logic. It's my pet theory that strategy and planning can be a creative secret weapon, and vice versa. And that we overly separate the disciplines in our industry. So today I'm super psyched to be talking with Louisa Shari and artists turned coach Louisa has created this solar system, a coaching method to help autistic folks to their own self clarity, self acceptance and self directed lives. Thank you so much for being here. Louisa. I'm so excited to have you.
Thank you so much for having me, Opal. It's really an honour. And I love the premise of this podcast. So I can't wait to talk to you.
So excited. Because partially, I'm very biassed, because I and my partner like most creatives, it seems neurodivergent so I just, I just can't wait to get into all of this delicious information. So let's start with learning a bit more about you. Can you just kind of top line forwards a bit about your journey and how you've got to where you are with the solar system now?
Yes, so I've been doing this for three and a half years now, after more than a decade of working as an artist in the visual art industry. And I think the journey probably begins at age 16. I had just had a breakdown in secondary school after years of masking depression disassociating my way through, and I'd asked the school counsellor, how to be myself and share that I didn't know how to be myself. And she told me that who I was being was in response to, in her words, a toxic environment. So just feel for y'all to know, this is a Girls Grammar School in Kent. But yeah, it was a very kind of competitive hotbed of popularity and achievement. And so yeah, she opened up this possibility that who I was being and how I was feeling wasn't all of who I am. And that there were possibilities outside of that and beyond my social environment, and that there was more to me. And so yeah, that really, I think is the flavour of everything that I'm doing now in terms of imagining beyond the systems that we're in. And you know, who else could we be when we're not in reaction to doesn't work? So yeah, after that experience, I went on a healing journey found me in astrology. This is like late nights on my parents computer, accessing the internet, and learning about shadow work, meditation movement, and then really going deep into art as a way of just moving through stuff and finding my own voice understanding what I'm about who I am. And I ended up moving to London studied arts and started working on advertising shoots to get through uni without having to work late nights in bars. And then, after a couple years after graduating made the leap into the art world started working as an artist leading workshops with galleries like Tate Modern White Chapel, and I got a contract at Tate Modern to deliver part of their school visits workshops. And it was in one of those workshops that especially school and autistic specialist school came it was a group of 13 to 14 year olds. And it was in that moment all the possibilities and ways of being I've been trying to articulate in my work that I've been trying to create space for in my workshops, was just being embodied by these very well supported teenagers who were being themselves. They weren't all the same. And in that moment, I saw myself in them and them in May. And so yes, this is more than a decade ago, and that really kick started a whole journey of am I autistic? What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my work, my creativity, and I could see a lot of the connections between everything that I was trying to explore the kind of sub linguistic embodied modes of expression that I was working with, and what I think is a neuro divergent or artistic way of sense making, I could really see the links. So that led me into residencies with neuroscientists, autism researchers, got to walk into the lion's mouth and be the subject in question. And, yeah, I used that to really explore access needs, and politicising my presence within the scientific spaces. And yeah, really came out of that with a lot of clarity, finding a lot to embrace, finding a lot that was useful. And then I was making a lot of art trying to kind of covertly sneak in and not really tell anyone that I'm autistic or that, you know, this is something that I am trying to work through, and realised that, that I actually had ideas here, then I had insights that could help people and that were helping me. And that I needed to stop hiding. And so, yeah, that really led into, you know, and also looking at what are my strengths? And how can I build a vocation around what is really going to work for me long term. And so yeah, that's led me to coaching other people through their own journey of who am I when I'm not over adapting and being in reaction and trying to fit in?
Yeah. And so do you think there was any kind of specific milestones that popped up in your creative career that really led you to coach? I mean, it sounds it sounds like to me, you, you wanted to coach because you wanted it to be what you didn't have an end kind of wish you had. But was there any other kind of like milestone moments or experiences that you had along the way that when No, I've definitely got to do this?
Yeah, I think I was working a lot with performance as a medium to try and get to the sense of directness that I really like, and the kind of direct feedback loop of a live audience. And so, I think, um, you know, realising that, that that direct communication was something that I was seeking, and that having an exhibition inviting people to, it just didn't give me that that was a big part of it. Another was my own journey of trying to figure out my own path, and, you know, Googling YouTubing, trying to find the answers trying to work out, is it just the right schedule? Or how do I need to? How do I do this? You know, a lot of the given work routes didn't really work for me things like networking at private views, and stuff like that. So I sought out coaches and had experiences with coaches and in their pro programmes were all of those internal boundaries of or barriers that I learned around, who I couldn't, couldn't be and all of the masks and all of the reasons that I'd built up for why I didn't get to be myself or I didn't get to live the life I wanted or really got unravelled. And so yeah, it was both the experience of you know, my own being coached. Loving the direct feedback that I started to do when I started hosting workshops and sharing my ideas. And so yeah, in the beginning of the solar system, I wasn't calling it coaching. I wasn't seeing myself as a coach. It was kind of like Ill coach that's like a bit embarrassing. There's a lot of social currency that comes with being an artist. There's a lot of freedom. And so yeah, it was never an intentional move into a specific industry or out of one it was more that this this started to feel really good and it started to feel right. And this way of re encoding how we see the world. And I material experience of it. It feels like the same work and it's just in a different medium.
I love that. I love that. I think that's one of the things that I I've 100% found through every single interview with all the people that lovely people that have come and chatted with me is that we often feel like, even though the world sees us as multidisciplinary, or you know, working across all of these different things, there's actually just this through line, which is ourselves and our heart. And I was trying to figure out how the hell we cope with who we are in this world. Yeah. But before we before we go into the methods, let's just dig in a little bit more into so who is that that you're that you're working with? And why they come to you? I mean, have you any kind of observations? You've been doing it for three years now? About why or from what background or creative medium even the people you work with come from? And what are the challenges that you often find them dealing with?
Yeah, so the people I'm working with a really, it's a really, really wide range of creative vocations and mediums and, and parts, some of them it's, they've come to, yeah, so I work where I work with autistic folks, mostly, like identified mostly people who they love the recognition and acknowledgement that that label gives them but dance so much into the pathology paradigm, and the idea that there's something wrong with them doesn't feel so helpful. A lot of them also are have other experiences of marginalisation are trans or non binary, or have collected other diagnoses like ADHD, and so on. So that's who I'm working with. And it's often people who they've, they've maybe done a lot of the research, they've done a lot of their, what does this mean, Googling and social media? Yeah, saving all of the posts, and all of that stuff. But they're really then coming to a sense that, okay, but my life hasn't changed. And I know this, but the world doesn't, hasn't caught up yet. And so how do I actually do this? How do I live my life? So some of them yet, it's very recent, after they've worked, you know, self diagnosed or had an official piece of paper. For others, it's been a while and they've just been struggling, or they've been unfairly dismissed or pushed out of a job, or the access needs aren't being met. And for others, it's at Yeah, and I think for all of them, they know that there's more in them, they know that they're being called to create something that doesn't exist in the world, be it, you know, a new business or a project or a service or a book, or some kind of vision that they have. And they're just really looking for Okay, but how, how do I do this? And how do I do this? When I know that it's going to mean, me starting to advocate for myself, me starting to be who I am, and how to actually be who I am. So yeah. That's who I'm who I'm working with?
That is the big question. That is the big question. And so let's, let's get into the work that you do with your clients more deeply. How I'm interested, because I think it kind of it probably goes without saying to a degree because you're autistic yourself that you've you've made a process that works for people with minds that work in similar ways. However, is there anything that you've kind of very specifically adapted or that one of the ways in which you work that you feel is, you know, substantially different to, quote unquote, neurotypical coaching to cater to the neurodivergent and autistic side that you work with? Yeah, absolutely.
So coaching is a really new industry. It's like only a few decades old, it's really developing really fast. And a majority of life coaching is really mindset focused. So it's a lot of focus on what are you thinking and taking responsibility for how you're responding to your life. But I think what is really key for anyone who experiences any kind of marginalisation and particularly for those who are processing and perceiving differently and haven't had that acknowledged and affirmed, is really creating a space of safety safety to exist in whoever in whatever state you are in that moment on that day. And so that, that safety is it's partly about creating an environment so I have a group programme, we have weekly coaching calls, in those coaching calls, that safety piece is really key in terms of access needs. So in Knowing that, that, that that is something that is a culture, it's not just an add on. But also, we do a lot of, you know, somatic work grounding, collective rituals, so that that sense of inclusion and that sense of safety is felt in the body, not just on a piece of paper or on a screen. And then the other piece of safety is acknowledging that, that the struggles that people have experienced are real. And that is such a key beginning piece before we can do mindset work before we can start to take responsibility is just acknowledgement for the struggle and the pain. And that really is about looking at the systemic aspects of, of it. So I think, and the impact of those systemic issues, which is trauma. So I think a big part of what what I'm doing that is maybe slightly different is really emphasising and bringing in that your body is to be believed that you are in our and that's such a huge part of it. And when we feel that when we are accessing that safety, some of the mindset stuff actually resolves itself, and just being able to, you know, have that as an experience in your body that you are feeling seen that you're feeling acknowledged, that then creates the foundation that we can then work on. I think another aspect of it is. So context is a really important aspect of what I think a lot of neurodivergent autistic ADHD folks need. Because we are processing differently because we are perceiving literally, physiologically, perceiving different, a different reality. So so much of our experiences are involving communication differences, and people misunderstanding you, people miss reading, you misinterpreting you. And so really having a clearer sense of, you know, am I being understood Am I being heard and that directness, but also the context for your own journey of self development. And this is why I love working in a group because it's not a support. It's not a support group. It's not like everyone's supporting each other. It's lots and lots of parallel journeys of one on one coaching that happens in front of the group. And so there's context building that happens when you're watching someone else get coached on issues that are super relevant, that you have maybe shame around, and that you're seeing someone experience and you're accepting them in that, and that that sort of opens up your own self acceptance around that same issue.
fascinate I'd never thought of group sessions in that context. Ironically, yeah.
Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of, you know, there's a lot of support, support groups and, you know, things that you can go to, quite often a lot of them are free. But I think having someone that is responsible for holding the space, and also knowing that you aren't responsible for anyone else's journey a lot of us have, have come to a place where we're people pleasing, or we're putting other people's needs first. So I get to be in a group and be selfish. And I get to experience trust and empathy and safety without having had to, you know, make friends or fit in or fulfil the brief of what some spaces require.
Yeah. Fascinating. I think one of the things that that also made me think about is it, it's it's fundamentally kind of creating psychological safety for everyone that's there, which you know, is different things for everyone. But it's interesting how you said, kind of most coaching focuses on mindset. But as soon as you create psychological safety, a lot of those those issues disappear. And I just suddenly thought, how much that could apply to everyone. And literally, everyone, we hear going, I need to fix how I'm thinking, Yeah, well, and in actual fact, it's just that you're not in a space where yourself is you feel safe. Yeah.
And it's the mammal part of our being right, that is responding. And that is perceiving that lack of safety and sometimes that safety is there. But because we've experienced so much of a lack of safety, we're not trusting it yet. We're not and our bodies aren't relaxing into that. That new experience of safety. Sometimes this experience of safety can actually feel unsafe. Sometimes we come to safety and we and it throws up a lot of what we're bringing if like, What will people think or I must be too much or not enough for you And that also brings with it the chance to work on that. But yeah, 100% safety, which, which results so much yet.
I mean, it's, I just immediately think about how many workplaces specifically could just make such a ginormous impact to all their employees, which I think, you know, I think it's not, it's not the newest thing in the world, I think we all knew that. But especially within the context of neuro divergence, which is, you know, wonderfully becoming a more and more important topic in the creative space specifically. It's just fascinating, because one of the things that made me start the podcast was these stereotypes of what a creative person looks like. And in the UK, in the ad industry, that's very often your typical white male who's very outgoing, and funny, and so on and so forth. And it can be really difficult to, to kind of battle with that, when that's not who you are. And it's, it's so ironic, because, as I said earlier, most of the creatives that I work with, are neurodivergent, in one way or another, like we can't know what the stats are on this, by the way, so like someone else can fact check that, but I have just from experience, there is way more of us in the correct department than in any other area of the world that I've been in.
Yeah, I mean, there was some statistics I read, I'm going to I'm going to get the numbers slightly wrong, but it's something like in terms of university courses, 7%, on your a diversion on, you know, in general, but when you go to the creative subjects who say at least 30%,
at least, not way right,
given that we started on on female neurodivergent. So you're masking and affecting how we talk? Yeah. Yeah. So it's just it's just fascinating. And it's so powerful. And it's, it's so lovely to hear that you're working with the physical body in that space as well, I think, you know, there's increasing amounts of research that tells us what we already know that we hold trauma in different ways that women are more likely to have auto immune diseases because of stress in the way that we see inside our bodies, and how that affects our epigenetics, and so on and so forth. And this is a massive area that's being researched. But I love that you're applying that, and not an it's an it's, you know, as you said, you've worked with neuroscientists, and so you've you've got that scientific backing, but you're also just trusting how people feel. When, you know, as you say it as marginalised people. It's just not something we get that often.
Yes, and it's also the you know, the the foundation of safety is, is what means that we can access creativity and the strategic parts of our brain just to bring it back into what you know, what your your podcast is about is those those, those skill sets are so much harder to access when we are worried about a job or we think that we're going to fail a client.
I'm nodding my soul. Yes, yeah, absolutely. And so that's, that's actually a great, great segue. But one of the things that I obviously immediately went and did, because you told me that you do with your clients. Was that you use the Gallup Strengths Finder with your clients. Can you just for everyone who has not immediately gone and done that? Can you just top line what that is for us? And why is that that you found that really useful tool to use?
Yeah, so it's, it's one that I introduced later on in the, in the process that people go through with me when it's much more about okay, how do you now really go back to your life go back to the world from an you know, and restructure in terms of your strengths. And I think the Gallup Strengths Finder, I found it a really useful tool, a lot of my clients have found it a really useful tool for thinking about what their strengths are that are coming from personality. And that isn't coming from a checklist of symptoms or things that they are necessarily rewarded for. But that is you know, and what I like about it is there's so much data that's gone into it millions and millions of people have taken this test and it gives you an essentially this 34 strength and it just gives you an the ordering that puts the that you reflect right, so what your strengths are and what order they are in. So it's like a deck of cards, every card is equally weighted, and everyone gets a top 10. And so your top 10 strengths would be the ones that are when you're living in that when you're working in your strengths, you're energised. And so I find it really useful. Because a lot of my, a lot of the people I work with are working in their weaknesses or over adapting so much that they don't get to live in their strengths. And so it's just another way into, okay. What are the things that I've been through? Or what are the things about me that I do bring to the table? And, yeah, in a way that isn't about comparison, necessarily. But is there are things we've overcome, there's insights that we have this ways of figuring things out, there's natural tendencies and just seeing it as like, a list. Oh, cool. Okay. Now I can think about how do I build my work? And how do I build a vocation or start to emphasise them? And then how do I look at the weaknesses? Because there's also obviously the end of the list down towards 34, where there are things where maybe you want to get support? Or maybe if you're finding that you're you've ended up in that role? That actually, it's giving you affirmation that no, that's not where you're supposed to be. There's,
there's other things to focus on. And this is such a, like, strategic logic minded question of me to ask, but do you find when people take the StrengthsFinder? Is it ever? Is it surprising? Is it? Or is it really just kind of reassuring and validating what people already thought about themselves?
I think generally, there's a lot of reassuring. And
that was 100%. A selfish question. Yes, I do think that's, that's a trait of a lot of us is that we find it hard to hold positive things about ourselves true until we have this kind of scientific, some sort of support that set comes from a third party. It's like your third party verified to know what your personality is.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, one of my top strengths is Futuristic, and other is ideation. And those two were like, I do you have ideas about the future? It is really, it's not just you know, dreaming and being, you know, idealistic. It's, it's a strength.
Yeah. And it can be so tricky to go. Like, especially when it comes to to idealism or pursuit, you're not going okay, wait a minute, maybe I just want to think this about myself. Yeah. That's the story. I'm telling myself about myself. No, actually, you are good at that. And that's who you are. And that's okay. So unsurprisingly, to me, at least, there's a pattern that you see in strategic thinking being a predominant trait. It was, too for me, for the no one that was wondering, do you also notice anything about kind of, as you were saying ideation, like creative, related traits coming up in these reports are just in your observations of the clients you're working with?
Yeah, I mean, I think it's, it's hard to give a balanced view, because I just attract creative people. And that's who I want to work with. So they're all creative in some way. And those are definitely the patterns that come up. But I think, you know, there's also possibly the element of when you haven't fit in, or when you've struggled with the way things that are laid out in front of you, and it doesn't work. Or you're having experiences in your body or your or your sensory experience that aren't reflected or affirmed from people around you, of questioning everything. And I think at the heart, creativity is questioning it's like pushing against it. This isn't everything. It's being the flying fish being able to see the water. And so I think those two things go hand in hand, in terms of what I learned, working with the neuroscientists who are really looking at embodiment, but also Yeah, the autism researchers. So Anna Remington, it's the Centre for Research into autism in education, has done a lot of work around how a lot around autistic strengths and finding that there is extra, we have a larger capacity for how much experience that we're processing. So this won't come as a surprise to folks and I and I, I suspect there's a an element of ADHD which is doing this as well, which is we're taking in more, we're processing more. There's a lot going on. But I think what that lends us Two is a different way of processing and making sense of that information. So it's not just that we're extrasensory. It's not just that we're hearing the fan and we can't concentrate on the conversation. And there's visual stuff happening around us. And we're being distracted. It's also that this extra sensory means that we are making sense through finding the connections between the emergent patterns around us. And so rather than processing the world in a linear fashion, and a piece, chunk by chunk fashion, we are absorbing this kind of whole thing. And then feeling and sensing, where are the patterns? Where this where are the where are the emerging? Yeah, patterns or energy? Or where is there some kind of system or structure behind what I'm experiencing? And this means that we like to deep dive, we like to go immersive, we like to go full tilt into a particular subject or three at once. And yeah, and I think that, that seeking of connections between and that sense of the energy lends itself
to creative expression to working with different mediums to Yeah, totally. And so I'm, you know, going going back to the neuroscience research that you've been involved in, what what were the key things? Actually, it might just be worth just absolute, just very, very, very briefly, if you can top lining with neuroscientific research of embodiment actually means people. That actually might be. And yeah,
so I spent a year with Manasa, curious and his department at the Royal Holloway in London. And he has something called the lab, which is a lab of action and body and his understanding of embodiment is really what is me and what isn't mean? How do we distinguish between the two? That will be a different understanding of say, the field of trauma where embodiment is much more about I'm connected to me, I'm connected to other people, I'm connected to my environment. But yeah, from a from a neuroscience point of view. So he was doing a lot of work. I should arrange a different work by zeroed in on certain certain things of Yeah, how do we know what a self is? What does it mean to have a self who is that what is the self and how do I sense it interacts with the world and and how do we make sense of who we are and who we aren't?
I love how inherently philosophical but also scientific that is that the same time I think I could have this forever, but I think that's probably at least one whole episode. So I won't go into that in depth now. Now that we were all on the same page about what we're talking about