I work as an artist and mental health advocate and my work is very important to me. I am staying home right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak and I am really missing my job. I want to share with you a little article I wrote about my work.
Mental Illness and the arts seem to go hand-in-hand. Makes sense. Deep emotions. Losing touch with reality. It seems like all the greats were afflicted. However, this article is not about the greats; it focuses on the everyday life of everyday people struggling with mental health issues.
I always carry big purses so I can take Sharpies and paper everywhere. Waiting at a doctor’s office? Draw with Sharpies. Slow day at work? Sharpies. Sneaking away for a quiet moment alone at a family get-together? Definitely Sharpies.
It wasn’t that long ago that Sharpies were my lifeline. I was isolated — stuck in a different world — when I was experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations. I discovered art was a way I could communicate what I was experiencing. Everyone else got to see the world I was stuck in. Over time, I didn’t feel so isolated anymore.
A couple of drawings turned into dozens of drawings. I really loved creating them but I also needed something to do with them. Maybe this was my passion so I took it up a notch and started entering exhibitions. I let everyone into my world of living with schizoaffective disorder.
Art gives me purpose. It calms me and boosts my confidence. It’s part of my identity now. What started as a tool to cope with mental health symptoms has now become a way of life. So why not make a career out of it?
I love participating in exhibitions, but I feel the experiences that influence the artwork are just as important as the piece itself. My art is a part of my story and vice versa. I’ve learned that I can use my story to help others and I was searching for an opportunity to make that happen.
And I found it right here in my own community.
I now run a small arts center that is part of a local nonprofit helping the homeless. The participants at the center are all struggling with mental health and addiction issues. I facilitate art groups for the participants and our time together feels magical. The atmosphere is supportive and we bond. Our artwork is everything from a distraction from life to a way to express our symptoms. Whatever role artwork plays for the participants, it is an obvious driving force in their recovery.
The participants come from all walks of life. It is very clear that mental illness and addiction do not discriminate. We find common ground in our daily battles. Then we make those battles beautiful, thought-provoking works of art.
We hold our art groups in a small space near downtown. It’s bright and welcoming with tall windows allowing lots of natural light to flood the room. Canvases line the window sills because there’s just not enough space on the wall. There are colors and emotions everywhere you look. It’s a new location for us but it already feels like home.
Sharpies still hold a special place in my heart and I make sure there’s plenty of them at the center. Sharpies are unforgiving and require very deliberate lines. However, their colors are bold, stark against the paper, and beautiful. I see my recovery (and the participants’) in every stroke.
I hope you are all well during this crisis.