Turning the page on mental health stigmas

Nicci poses in her dress at Honiton Library. Picture: David Brine

Nicci poses in her dress at Honiton Library. Picture: David Brine - Credit: Archant

Nicci Simpson has struggled with anxiety but she has found some respite by tapping into her creative side.

Nicci poses for a photo shoot to raise awareness about mental health. Picture: David Brine

Nicci poses for a photo shoot to raise awareness about mental health. Picture: David Brine - Credit: Archant

It started with a doodle in the middle of the night and transformed into a fashion project making a statement about mental health.

For Nicci Simpson, it has been an all-consuming project after spending the last decade struggling with anxiety - which at times left her debilitated and unable to leave her home.

The 28-year-old from Honiton had a demanding job as a supervisor for a transport company but had to leave when she felt it became too much.

Deciding she needed to try new things and meet new people, Nicci began tapping into her creative side, looking into modelling for photographers and sketching dresses.

In the woods, Nicci models her first dress.Picture: Adrian Midgley

In the woods, Nicci models her first dress.Picture: Adrian Midgley - Credit: Archant


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Then one night, an idea sparked a desire which has led her to want to share her story and help others facing anxiety issues.

Nicci said: “I’m one of those one-in-four people who experience mental health issues. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was 18, on and off, and for someone who is so outgoing it’s incredibly difficult.

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“It’s sleepless nights, sickness, nausea, chronic headaches, clammy skin, dizziness.

“Unfortunately, as it’s not an illness, a lot of people can be dismissive and it’s quite detrimental.

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley - Credit: Archant

“I’m very fortunate that my close family, extended family, my partner and my friends are as supportive and encouraging as they are and have really brought me out of my shell this last two years.

“For me, new ideas used to be exactly that, ideas, because I was filled with self-doubt, but lately I’ve been able to explore those ideas and found my passion for photography and scratching my creative itch has been fundamental to my recovery and general wellbeing.

“The dress itself started with a doodle on a page. One night I couldn’t sleep and was reading Vogue and wondered if I could make the dress so I started tearing pages out of the magazine and it really went from there. Quickly my evenings when I couldn’t sleep went from lying in bed to creating some unique dresses which have been used on photography projects.”

It took nearly 30 hours to bring the dresses to life before Nicci put on her creations to wear for a series of photo shoots.

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley - Credit: Archant

Without any design background, Nicci began making her creations and, through trial and error, built up the dresses without the help of a mannequin.

As the project developed and with the help of her friends, family and partner David, she persevered and built the dresses from 12 magazines.

Her first photo shoot was in woodlands with photographer Adrian Midgley and make-up artist Katie Joyce, where she said she had to walk like a penguin to avoid snagging the paper dress on brambles.

Nicci continued: “It was a really long project; it was really satisfying. Normally an idea is just an idea and I never finish them and when I start a project my anxiety comes on so much it stops it. For this I had to be persistent. It seems easy, but you have to push yourself.

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley - Credit: Archant

“I have a mirror but I hate looking at my reflection so there are words written on saying ‘you’re beautiful, you can do it, you are so much more than you think’. It’s positive reinforcement so when I look in it I do not see my reflection I see these positive words.

“As I didn’t have a mannequin, I measured myself using tape and started with the top putting it on and off to create the correct size. My first dress was fastened with tape but I found velcro fastening to adjust size and create a better body shape.

“The original dress was made entirely from magazines but my second I put a hoop skirt underneath to give the skirt body, which also meant I didn’t have to shuffle like a penguin, which was really difficult in the woods.”

She returned to her design book and sketched a second dress, adding a hoop skirt and building the top separately, before attaching it with Velcro.

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley

Nicci Simpson Picture: Adrian Midgley - Credit: Archant

With her partner David Brine, who is also a photographer, she set up a second photoshoot in Honiton Library, which has proven to be a place of comfort, as Nicci says it is one place in the town that she can visit without feeling anxious.

Nicci added: “The library acts as community hub, bringing people from towns and rural communities together in safe and welcoming environments.

“The libraries are regularly used by those looking for company and support, helping to tackle social isolation and loneliness.

“Health and wellbeing forms an important part of the offering in our libraries and they are committed to supporting the positive health and wellbeing of individuals through access to a range of different services, resources and events.”

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