Sharpies Mend My Brain (And I’m Not Alone)

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.

“Psychotic” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

I see it everywhere but especially on Facebook — people using the term “psychotic” to describe someone that’s angry, violent, or out of control. 

I’ve been psychotic many times and I am absolutely none of the above. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in my early twenties and psychosis is one of the main symptoms. 

Psychosis actually refers to having hallucinations and delusions, not anger or violence.

Personally, I experience visual and auditory hallucinations that leave me feeling anxious, distracted, and sometimes isolated –probably the exact opposite of how people describe someone as “psychotic”.

The term “psychotic” is extremely stigmatizing when used incorrectly. Having a mental illness is hard enough and stigma just makes the stress — and asking for help — even more difficult.

So now you know. Please speak with care.

My Mental Illness Recovery is Rock Solid Thanks to Atheism

Being an atheist is an integral part of my recovery from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness I’ve dealt with for most of my life. Some of my most troublesome symptoms were frequent auditory and visual hallucinations which have been treated with antipsychotic medication since my early twenties. 

Explaining My Hallucinations

My hallucinations were frightening and before receiving treatment, I thought that maybe they had a spiritual explanation. However, taking medication cleared my speculation. When I was able to practice skepticism, I felt grounded and stable. It’s empowering. This has been absolutely crucial to my life since I have a history of losing touch with reality. Religion will throw all sorts of explanations at you, but it is comforting to rely on common sense. 

Being Open to Treatment

I accept my diagnosis and recognize my hallucinations as symptoms of my mental illness. I am in awe of the power of medications and I never miss a dose. I know I need them. Science and modern medicine are life-changing and I’m very grateful. Treatment makes sense to me and I am very willing to comply. This is often very difficult for people with diagnoses similar to mine.

It is really easy for me to make these fundamental realizations as an atheist. There are many recovery and treatment programs that incorporate spirituality, but if others experience symptoms like mine, I think that would be confusing as hell.

Keep God Far From My Recovery

I don’t need god for an explanation, purpose, or meaningful life. I know what I need to do to stay well and it certainly doesn’t involve religion. These statements are not only powerful but also come as a relief as a person living with a mental illness.

I’m an Atheist with a Mental Illness.

I am so happy to have this opportunity to write for Free Thought Blogs. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.

An Atheist Writing About Mental Health

Before coming to FtB, I wrote for a popular mental health site. I would use my own experiences living with schizoaffective disorder to write articles that were hopefully uplifting and helpful. Some of my articles were painfully honest when it came to describing my own ups and downs in recovery. I always tried to keep it positive and I tended to stress the importance of medication and treatment.

Having schizoaffective disorder and being atheist seems somewhat unique, but last week a commenter showed me that I’m not alone. I thought that was really cool. Most others I meet with schizoaffective disorder and other forms of schizophrenia tend to be religious.

Religious Influence on Mental Illness

Many people associate schizophrenia with religious delusions, and it does seem somewhat common. I have seen this and it’s definitely eye-opening. I feel very fortunate to be doing well and not suffering from these kinds of symptoms.

What causes religious delusions? I mean, the original ideas of religious beliefs must have been planted at some point before the delusions developed, right? I’m assuming this happens before the person is known to have a mental illness.

However, I feel religious influence after a diagnosis is just as frightening. A mental illness is a serious condition that requires treatment. You can’t pray a mental illness away. Religion often gets in the way of people getting the help they need. People with mental illness are just another vulnerable population oppressed by religion.

Mental Illness Requires Medical Treatment

Sometimes you don’t see how sick you really are until you’re feeling better. It’s an important revelation in recovery, but you have to be willing to accept treatment.

I am so grateful for modern medicine and science for developing treatments to alleviate my symptoms. I’m not saying every day in recovery is easy, but for me, most days are. I take a few pills and go about my day. I don’t have to do anything strenuous or time-consuming to feel better. I don’t mind taking pills. It feels like a simple solution to a complicated problem. A lot of people look down at psych meds, but why suffer if you don’t have to? I know how much they have helped me.

Will My Mental Illness Affect My Credibility?

One thing I was scared about when I decided to write about atheism is that religious people would be quick to discredit me based on my mental illness diagnosis. Just like with the religious delusions, people with forms of schizophrenia are stereotyped with some horrible symptoms and behaviors. For many sufferers, these stereotypes just aren’t the case. Also, recovery can be quite transformative. Years of recovery have taught me how to quickly recognize when to ask for help but also how to help others. I actually feel the skills you learn in recovery make you a little saner than most.

An Important Commonality

I’ve noticed that atheists and people in recovery have something very important in common – the ability to express empathy. I choose to make that a guiding force in my writing as well as my everyday life.


Thoughts? Feelings? I would love to hear from others with a mental health diagnosis. How does your illness affect your atheist views?