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.

Ask the Questions (with an Added Jab at the US Government)

Just because something is unexplained, doesn’t mean it must be god’s work. Everything has an earthly explanation — even if we haven’t figured it out yet. Nothing just happens — there’s always a cause or reason.

New discoveries are being made every day and it’s not a miracle. Let’s give the doctors and scientists credit and support their work. They — not god — are making our lives better.

The most admirable trait of good scientists, doctors, scholars, and others making a difference is that they’re not afraid to ask the questions. “God’s work” is not an answer anyone should settle for. Curiosity should be embraced, not squashed with a blanket response from religion. They keep it vague to cover all bases.

Religion has always been about giving power to a corrupt few to control the masses. They were never in the business of explaining the world or answering big questions. They were never there to help. 

Funny. I feel the same about the current system of government in the US. You got to admit, there are a lot of parallels.

Babies aren’t “blessings” or “miracles”.

When you get pregnant, people tend to throw around words like “blessing”, “gift”, and “miracle”. It was annoying and even offensive sometimes, but I didn’t let that ruin the awe I was feeling when I was expecting my daughter. 

I was in awe of my body and nature. It’s just amazing to feel a tiny person form inside you. Our bodies are capable of some incredible things.

I was in awe of modern medicine. There were some complicated things to consider when we conceived, and although the pregnancy was high risk, everything went smoothly. Everyone was and is healthy. The tests and procedures I went through while pregnant were absolutely fascinating and they kept my baby and myself safe.

I know pregnancy isn’t the right choice for everyone, but I feel really grateful I got to experience it. It has actually made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. My stretch marks are like battle scars — I can wear them with pride because they were a part of my daughter growing in my belly. 

Becoming a mother also felt like joining the biggest support group ever. I now have a special connection to all the other moms in my life. Good or bad, we can all relate.

My pregnancy was never a “blessing” or “miracle” and my daughter isn’t a “gift”. Having a baby was an amazing, natural event and I now feel joy watching my daughter grow, learn, and explore. 

Let me also take this opportunity to thank my amazing doctors who brought my healthy baby girl into this world. They were knowledgeable and professional. They get the credit — not god. 

Has anyone else experienced this? Was your pregnancy a “blessing”?

Rambling About My Place in the Universe

In the grand scale of the universe, we are insignificant. We play our part and then we die. Religion makes humans feel special but I feel in many ways it disrespects the rest of the living world. We are not above anything else. We need our planet, but it doesn’t need us. 

Nature and science are amazing, so let’s give them the credit and respect they deserve.

I’m not trying to be negative or downplay the human experience, but you don’t need a higher power to feel special or significant. We are a part of the universe, not above it. 

Confidence comes from within — not above — and it is up to you to set your place at the table. Freedom and individuality are important to me, and I define myself by my ambition. I say what makes me special, not god. 

Respect yourself. Respect other living things. It really is just that simple. I don’t need instructions from a holy book to tell me what’s right or where I stand.

I’m going to enjoy my tiny moment of time in the universe. I’m not going to waste my time betting on god to provide humans with an afterlife. I will play my part, then die.

What would I do if my daughter became religious?

What would I do if my daughter became religious? This is such a tough question. 

We all know that when you are growing up, your friends are a huge influence. I may not be pushing religion at home, but my daughter is going to see it everywhere else. However, I don’t want to shelter her. She needs to know about the world and make her own informed decisions. Keyword there is “own”. I’d like to think my husband and I will have instilled a healthy amount of curiosity and skepticism in our daughter so she won’t fall for any sort of fantasy or makeshift explanations for the universe, but that is still up to her.

If my daughter does develop some sort of religious belief, I don’t want to be an asshole. It would be incredibly upsetting for me, but I can’t judge her or shut her out. She’s my daughter and that wouldn’t be fair.

I know I’m totally jumping the gun here — my daughter turns four next month — but it’s still a thought that leaves me feeling uneasy. It’s mostly exciting to think about what my daughter’s future might look like but sometimes the amount of unknowns is also scary.

Have any other parents experienced this? Any advice or insight? Even worse — has anyone actually asked you this question? I don’t think I would even consider it if someone hadn’t asked me before.

My anxiety has always gotten the best of me and that was amplified when I became a mom. I worry about things like this.

Skepticism for the win!

My atheism sometimes acts as a guiding light keeping me level-headed when life feels questionable. I don’t need to find comfort in faith, I feel relief in common sense. I know you have to be willing to ask questions to get answers. Putting your hands together in prayer just doesn’t cut it. Everything has an earthly explanation — even if we haven’t figured it out yet. Bring it on — I got this.

Atheist mom: 1
Fantasy fairytales: 0

 

One Isolated Atheist

Sometimes it’s painful to watch the people close to me follow religion so blindly. God, Jesus, the Bible — that’s just how it is to them. That’s what their parents and grandparents believed. Indoctrination passed from generation to generation — no questions ever asked.

How can you not be at least a little curious about what else might be out there? Is there something out there better for you? I’d like to think they question and are too afraid to admit it, but unfortunately, they probably don’t. Blind faith is comfortable. Why rock the boat?

Back to the painful part — I’m alone. My family, my friends, coworkers — all believers. The only one who feels remotely similar to what I feel is my husband. 

I hate it when Christians attempt to “save” me, so I don’t think it would be right for me to do the same in return, no matter how much I want to pop the bubble and break the trance. 

It is so confusing trying to figure out how Christianity could possibly still be relevant in present-day life. What value does it hold in the modern world? I’d like to think it’s just superficial — professing belief for outward appearances — but where I live I would probably be wrong. People actually believe in those fairytales. 

Is anyone else feeling isolated?

“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.

Are atheists more ambitious than theists?

Are atheists more ambitious than theists?

I’d like to think so.

I’m living for this life only so I aim high. Why not? In meatloaf and in life, I take as much as my plate can handle (and then some). Sometimes I feel like there are too many options. It’s hard to narrow down the things you want to explore and pursue in what little time we have. I try my best to stay organized and focused. That drive often comes from knowing my one life here on Earth is my final destination. I’m not racking up the points for a fantasy afterlife in heaven. This is it.

Maybe I’m looking for enjoyment. Maybe I’m looking for a way to be remembered. Either way, I am going to live life to the fullest.

What do you do when your beliefs are questioned?

How do you guys feel when people want to debate your beliefs in person? Do you welcome it?

I automatically assume that if someone is questioning my beliefs that they see them as beneath theirs. Maybe their questions come from a place of curiosity, but somehow I doubt it. The judgment is written all over their face. Sly smile. Smartass questions. I’m not “enlightened” to them. Poor me. Sorry, you’re not going to save me today.

I really don’t care that I’m different from them, but I do care that I’m treated with respect. I want my beliefs to be respected in the same way they demand respect for their beliefs. We have the same basic needs — take care of our families, enjoy what we can of life, and feel safe. Can’t we just stand equal on that common ground?

I might write up a storm but I would never single someone out or put them down in person. The truth is if someone presented me with evidence of god and Jesus, I would become a Christian. Common sense, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way around. I’m not interested in converting anyone anyway, but it would be nice to have my points validated. 

Some people are just small-minded and mean. My tolerance is low but somehow I just sit silent.

On A Side Note…

I feel weird calling atheism a “belief”, but not sure how else to classify it. To me, it isn’t a belief but rather valuing reason and common sense. How do you label atheism when you group it into a discussion about religion and spiritual beliefs?