How do you go from singing in the shower to delivering a stunning showcase performance to an audience watching you from within the theatre, as well as from around the world via an Internet live stream?

That was the voyage on which Petty Officer Jolene Garvie embarked when she signed up for the 2020 ADF Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program being run at the University of Canberra’s Inspire Centre.

Coming from a military family, Petty Officer Garvie joined the Navy 10 years ago and has served on postings at sea and in Middle East deployments, but she is now recovering from PTSD.

At the end of last year she came across an ARRTS brochure, enquired about the program and was encouraged to attend.

“I’d been on some PTSD programs before, and had sometimes struggled to accept it, but this looked very different and tied in with my passion for creativity,” Petty Officer Garvie said.

Since 2015 ARRTS  has been successfully facilitating the healing of ADF and emergency services personnel facing health and wellbeing challenges.

Held at the University of Canberra’s Inspire Centre, the four-week residential program offers three creative streams: music/rhythm, visual arts, and creative writing.

“I felt writing would be too deep, and would make me vulnerable, and if I did visual arts I’d feel under pressure to create something, but music has always resonated with me and been an outlet for my emotions.”

She said doing rehearsals in a room with the music mentors and seven other participants was stressful to start with.

“Due to nerves I couldn’t sing in front of the others so my vocal instructor suggested I turn towards Navy musician Leading Seaman Sam Sheppard instead, who was playing the keyboard behind me, but even then I couldn’t finish the song.”

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Petty Officer Garvie made great progress in performing a medley of Radiohead’s Creep and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

I wanted to learn how to use something I naturally gravitate towards, as a therapeutic outlet, and with the support of the ARRTS program, I think I’ve achieved that.

“What really helped was the support of the mentors, who encouraged me to ‘tell them a story through the song’ and that helped me focus,” she said. 

“It also really helped to be with people who were facing similar struggles and to be in an environment without uniforms or ranks, where you could speak openly about anything.”

Showcase evening arrived on November 26, and under dazzling lights with her fellow performers, Petty Officer Garvie mustered all her courage and put everything she had learned into action before a COVID-safe audience that included her sister and two friends. 

“I’ll admit it was terrifying, and it’s been an absolute roller coaster of emotions, but I’m so glad I did it and it seems to have worked out well,” she said.

And her friends agreed.

“It was so beautiful and wonderful that we actually cried,” Mel said. 

For her ongoing rehabilitation beyond the program, Petty Officer Garvie said she was thinking of getting a keyboard, starting singing lessons and joining a choir.

“I wanted to learn how to use something I naturally gravitate towards, as a therapeutic outlet, and with the support of the ARRTS program, I think I’ve achieved that,” she said. 

“It’s a program I’d recommend to anybody who feels ready for an intense and effective experience that will definitely build resilience.” 

The next ARRTS program is scheduled to run from May 9 to June 4, 2021.

For more information visit www.defence.gov.au/jcg/arrts or email adf.arrts [at] defence.gov.au