It’s World Art Day and SANE – The Mental Health Charity asked me to do a drawing to celebrate and raise awareness of how affective art can be to help with mental illness.
Art saved my life. Not figuratively, but literally. I was at the end of the road in 2010, after suffering my 4th severe break down. I was suicidal and told that there was no support for me. I then stood at a cross road, with a paint brush in one hand and a self distruct button in the other.
Then I just started to paint.
I am able to communicate with art, sort through painful memories and help create change for others by raising awareness regarding mental health and the stigma people like myself deal with due to having mental illness.
I encourage people to find a creative outlet this world art day, you won’t regret it.
Please support SANE and if you need help or resources follow the link to find out more:
Hope was a young woman who carried around sadness, as if it were a suitcase of old belongings she had lost the key for a long time ago. Hope wanted to be free of this baggage that weighed her down each day; wishing she could take flight as if she were a bird heading for warmer weather.
One day Hope felt a pressure in her head as if something was trying to escape, it pushed at her temples and made her ears pop. The feeling was excruciating and left hope feeling overwhelmed and scared. Suddenly something was in her mouth, it had made its way up her throat and was now sitting on her tongue as if it were a pill waiting to be swallowed. Instead she went to the mirror apprehensively and opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, to her disbelief a perfectly intact leaf sat there, she reached into her mouth and carefully took the leaf out to examine. It was an ordinary leaf, from a tree or plant and it was a glorious green. Hope was very much perturbed by this turn of events, feeling very tired suddenly and still suffering from an intense headache, the only thing left to do was go to bed.
Upon waking the next morning after what felt like a years worth of sleep, Hope opened her eyes and could only see green; she wiped them and blinked repetitively, hoping it was just a dream. As the green came into focus she realised that she was surrounded by branches and on those branches grew leaves like the one she had found in mouth the night before. Hope was unable to move as she was in so much disbelief regarding these events before her. In an attempt to move her head in order to sit up, she felt trapped; her head was heavy and felt as if it was tied to her bead posts. Hope reached into her bedside cabinet and blindly hunted for a small hand mirror she knew was there, finally she found it and opened it up to see what was holding her down. When hope looked at her reflection she did not trust what she could see; it was surreal. Hope had somehow – overnight, grown branches out of her head, there was no blood or pain and the tree looked the healthiest she had ever seen a tree to be.
Hope was able to free herself from her bed and navigate her way to her bathroom, she washed her face and brushed her teeth, rustling around as the leaves touched. It was a struggle to get dressed as her head weight pulled her down – if she was not careful, but eventually she was ready to go outside. Hope lived in the middle of nowhere and had acres of land beyond her garden. This was a relief to Hope as the idea of seeing anyone right now filled her with dread as she didn’t know how she would explain her appearance. The aim she had in mind was to go to the woods and see if she could find a matching tree and maybe this would bring about some sort of explanation.
Hope ducked under her door frame and stepped outside into her garden, she looked around and the world seemed the same, nothing obvious had changed so she proceeded down her path to her gate. As Hope closed her gate and looked back at her little home she felt a sense of loss but couldn’t put her finger on why she felt this way. With no further thought she walked toward the woods and was determined to find answers.
The trees looked dense and there was a darkness – that you would think would fill you with fear, however it was inviting. As Hope approached the edge of the trees, she stopped and heard a noise and felt something moving about “up there” on her head, in her branches. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the hand mirror she retrieved earlier and took a look to see what was going on. It was a beautiful bird, sat there looking at her; before she could think of what to do the bird started to sing. The most beautiful of melodies came out of this delightful creature, she felt calmer and prepared to carry on. Thinking to herself:
I shall name the bird Journey.
Hope and Journey entered the woods and manoeuvred their way through the trees, trying not to get her branches tangled with the foliage. Inspecting each tree she passed, looking at each leaf desperately trying to find answers to her predicament. All the while listening to Journey sooth her with song. Suddenly she heard a new tune and it was complementing Journey’s. Once again Hope got her hand mirror out and glanced to see what was happening. Another beautiful bird was sat up there harmonising with Journey. Now hope thought it only fair to name this bird too:
I shall name this bird Duality.
Hope, Journey and Duality continued on their path searching and singing together in perfect harmony. Suddenly a clearing appeared, it was a circular clearing with one lonely tree in the middle, it was huge and looked to be well over a hundred years old. It was so big you could build a small home in its trunk. Hope continued towards it and could see something glistening in the sunshine, it was hanging from the tree. As she approached it another beautiful bird flew down from the other tree and it too had something dangling from its mouth, it was a key. Both items were keys and before she could process what was happening the bird dropped the key into her hands and took a perch in her branches. Hope compared the two keys and they were the same except for their colour – one being blue and the other pink.
what could this mean?
Hope thought to herself.
The third bird joined in with the singing and looked at home with Journey and Duality. Hope put both keys in her pocket with her mirror and started to inspect the tree before her, the leaves were the same as hers, the branches were identical and the aroma was a perfect match. But how and why had this tree which naturally grew from the ground, also grown from Hope’s head and what were the keys purpose. This thought was so tiring and complex to understand, as nothing seemed real or based on the natural order of things, so Hope surmised that if and when she needed to know these things, they would unveil themselves to her in good time.
The third bird seemed to complete the harmony so exceptionally, the sound was enchanting, it made Hope feel less weighed down by her past and her sadness, it elevated her to a place which felt unlike any other, it was as if she had found her home. Not the kind of home she had left behind earlier, it was not that of bricks and mortar it was the sense that home existed inside her – meaning that she was always home and this feeling made Hope feel whole.
Hope suddenly had a thought and said:
I shall call this third bird Transcendence.
This name felt fitting as this is what she felt upon meeting this bird and hearing the symphony this trio had created made her feel that she had gone beyond ordinary limitations. Hope sat beneath the tree and lay against it, with her branches touching the other tree’s, weaving herself into a comfortable position. Journey, Duality and Transcendence began to sing a slower melody, lulling Hope with a lullaby, soon she was asleep and the sun set. As Hope slept her branches curved around her creating a blanket of leaves and all three birds nuzzled into Hope and one another.
When Hope woke up the next morning she was alone and she felt different, she raised her hands to her head and all she felt was her hair and beneath it her head, simple skin and bone. It was a relief that she had returned to her normal state, however she was sad to loose her friends, Journey, Duality and Transcendence. When she stood up and turned to the tree she had laid under all night, she was shocked to find a door. In front of the door were three little parcels made out of leaves, one was filled with nuts and berries, the second was a cup shape with water and the third was a little growing bud, ready to be planted. Hope ate the berries and nuts, drank the water and carefully put the bud in her pocket, which is when she remembered she had two keys, she pulled them out and went to the door – but neither worked which perplexed Hope very much indeed. Then she had an overwhelming feeling that this door was not for her and she felt strongly that the blue key was the correct key, so she hung it on the door knob and decided to return home.
On Hope’s journey back she started to ponder what this all meant, knowing that her life had been filled with pain from her past she wondered if this was a wake up call from some kind of higher power – such as the force which aligns us and keeps the earth spinning, the sun rising and setting and the tides drawing in and out. Was it a window into the in between, with the duality of body and mind had she found the centre, the answer to – what are mental states and what are physical states? Had she experienced a mental state which took her to another world where trees growing out of heads, bird friends, keys, magical trees and little doors were the norm. Or were these things physically there, tangible and part of the order we know to exist, just undiscovered? Or possibly she had transcended, moving beyond physical needs and realities.
Before she knew it, Hope was at her gate and could see her little home which when she left yesterday she had felt such loss, today she felt excited to return home and be amongst the things she knew to be real. Once Hope had opened the gate and walked up the path she was met by a small trinket box with three beautiful feathers beautifully attached to it, as if they were a gift tag, she knew these patterns they were from her friends; Journey, Duality and Transcendence, this made Hope smile and she knelt down to open the box, inside was a tiny note which read:
Plant the bud, watch it grow – in dirt and darkness, watch it burst through to reach the light, tend to it, water it and even when nothing moves know that growth happens from within and one day you will have a tree which will nourish you with fruit and bring you shade when weary. This growth is part of you physically and mentally, it is your journey and being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge you have transcended from your past and hold the key to your future.
Hope felt a tear fall from her eye and she felt such relief, she reached into her pocket and got the pink key and placed it around her neck as a reminder of her lesson, she then hurried indoors to fetch her gardening tools so she could plant the bud. When she returned outside her three friends were all splashing away in the bird bath, chirping with delight. Hope knew this was the beginning of a new adventure and that there was no turning back.
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The giver of life and the carrier of the burden of death is how I see and portray my symbol of “Mother Earth”, she (unlike myself) can give life to anything and does so – with no pain relief, no support, it is simply her obligation to continue our species. With Mothering comes abandonment – for her strength is not in the nurturing it is in the facilitating of life. Feeding you when hungry or starving you when she wishes, giving you shade as well as ripping away all that comforts you.
To her life and death are justice, it a natural order or law which aligns us within the universe. Life and death obviously exist and she reminds us of this, with the scale tipping slightly lower for death – indicating how death is a consequence for living.
The devouring Mother who both produces and destroys everything is like our earth, like our solar system, our galaxy , our entire universe. However the representation of her as female is an interesting depiction, in most mythology goddesses and deities are depicted as troublesome but still have a complex persona which is shown through various symbolic personality traits, showing strength, virtue, rage, love and of course the most important of roles, the creator of life and nature. Matriarchal societies are prevalent in mythology, although they have been disputed to have ever existed in history as a female led society or civilisation. Patriarchal rule and ownership of women is the reality, making these mythological symbols even more important.
Depictions of women for most of our history as a species have been of the virgin, mother, obedient wife, whore, witch or old crone. With each woman being a one dimensional character, with no complexities or ambition. They were not even elevated as “creators of life” instead treated like cattle or a conveyor belt of babies.
Women can be anything and everything just as men can be, gender as a concept rather than a biological definition is on its way out. So these figures that we create and lift up – they must be more than just the roles assigned to us from birth, this earth needs all of us to be creators, destroyers, givers and takers. That is the essence of all existence – here today gone tomorrow, death does not discriminate even if you have the privileges that afford you a longer life, you will still die and return to the earth.
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This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
This piece of art and poetry addresses how it feels to be in a state of depersonalisation or derealisation. I experience both as symptoms of my anxiety disorders (OCD, GAD, CPTSD and AGORAPHOBIA) as well as my borderline personality disorder.
These sensations and feelings of being unreal or not being able to know what is real or not – have been causing me issues since I was a very young child. The worst times were when my voice used to speed up and I would hear myself speaking a million miles per hour, but others around me heard me speaking at a normal speed, or when I felt objects were to large or too small causing me to question all perspective, but by far the most disturbing is when you feel like an illusion, like a left over imprint.
As someone who has a degree in philosophy and who has studied philosophy for over 10 years now, “the theory of mind” was and still is one of my favourite subjects within philosophy. It has simultaneously helped me to accept that none of us truly know what reality is, as well as further perplex me and leave me questioning everything even more.
There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to these disorders, often when people do not understand something or have not felt the things being described – it is easy for them to dismiss. However – why would anyone assume their reality is the same as another? There is evidence that we all experience the world differently without having any kind of mental illness or neurological damage.
How am I to know what you see… and how are you to know what I see…?
When I am touched does it feel the same as when you are touched?
When I eat do I taste the same flavours and interpret the textures the same as you?
Do I see the world as a “glass half empty kind of place or half full”?
Do I think the same thoughts?
The list goes on and on…
It is never as simple as “reality is reality”.
So question these ideas more, never judge another persons reality to be wrong or fake and remember that 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives and some of us will have it for life.
End the stigma and learn how to better understand others and their reality.
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Open Thought Vortex is happy to announce Charlotte Farhan as our Artist-in-Residence for the summer of 2016. Charlotte is internationally recognized as an artistic ally. She runs the non-profit Art Saves Lives International Magazine which seeks out and promotes artists whose work raises awareness for such topics as mental health, domestic violence and survival.
Charlotte works tirelessly to expose the underbelly of the ableist hierarchy both through ASLI and through her own art which chronicles her survival of abuse and assault. Like our previous OTV Artist-in-Residence Aaminah Shakur, Charlotte’s art is expressed through multiple mediums. Her path to wellness is paved with paintings and her writing and art have opened doors for hundreds of others worldwide to speak up about their own survival.
We are very proud to have Charlotte as a member of the OTV team. We look forward to showcasing her talent and collaborating with her on projects that serve the overlapping missions of Open Thought Vortex and Art Saves Lives International.
Having any unseen illness is a struggle and for obvious reasons. Some say mental illness is not a physical illness which I strongly disagree with, how can the brain not be physical? Having had severe psychiatric illnesses since the age of 11 would make some assume I would be well adjusted by now or even that I must know my own illness through and through. These are all incorrect assumptions.
The fact is my life has become more of a struggle with age. Being 30 now has made me want to take charge more than ever but to my surprise it is proving far harder than I would have imagined as my younger self. As a young teenager I did not understand and just felt out of place and suicidal. Then as an older adolescent I just became reckless and would put myself in dangerous situations. My twenties became a decade of denial, I did not want medication, therapy, hospitalisation or even to really admit my illnesses to my friends. I drowned my emotions and masked symptoms and behaviours with alcohol and drugs.
However, mental illness does not just disappear in fact it spreads like an infection and causes more illness until the infection is so severe the body crashes and there is no other option but to admit defeat and seek medical attention. This is what happened to me at 28 and has been a uphill struggle since. Although this has made my life more difficult it has not stopped me having a successful marriage and a progressing career.
A detailed list of the unseen illnesses I suffer from
Here is a list of my unseen mental illnesses the definition and severity. The list is done from the most severe to the least. As well as identifying which illness (untreated) led to another.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as sexual assault, warfare, serious injury, or threats of imminent death. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms, such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyper-arousal, continue for more than a month after the occurrence of a traumatic event
Borderline Personality Disorder – is a cluster-B personality disorder, is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. Impulsive behaviours, self-injury, experiencing severe mood swings, feelings of emptiness, and intense anger.
Depersonalisation Disorder – is a mental disorder in which the sufferer is affected by persistent or recurrent feelings of depersonalization and derealization. It is classified as a dissociative disorderand an independent neurotic disorder. Feeling disconnected from one’s physicality or body, feeling detached from one’s own thoughts or emotions, feeling as if one is disconnected from reality, and a sense of feeling as if one is dreaming or in a dreamlike state.
Agoraphobia – Anxiety about being places or situations from which escape might be difficult or in which help may not be available in the event of having a panic attack. Situations are avoided or endured with marked distress, many require a carer or companion.
General Anxiety Disorder – is a neurological anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry
Panic Disorder – is an anxiety disordercharacterized by recurring panic attacks. It may also include significant behavioural changes lasting at least a month and of ongoing worry about the implications or concern about having other attacks
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear or worry (obsessions), repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing the associated anxiety (compulsions), or a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.
Diabetes – Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.This is because the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin, or not enough insulin, to help glucose enter the body’s cells – or the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance).
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – is a condition in which a woman has an imbalance of female sex hormones. This may lead to changes in the menstrual cycle, cysts in the ovaries, trouble getting pregnant, fatigue and chronic pain.
Anorexia Nervosa (Restricting type) – individual does not utilize binge eating nor displays purging behaviour as their main strategy for weight loss. Instead, the individual uses restricting food intake, fasting, diet pills, and/or exercise as a means for losing weight.
Chronic Erythema nodosum – is a type of skin inflammation that is located in a part of the fatty layer of skin. EN results in reddish, painful, tender lumps most commonly located in the front of the legs below the knees. With chronic pain and tightening of the skin.
Depressive Psychosis – refers to a major depressive episode that is accompanied by psychotic symptoms.
With these unseen illnesses it is hard to explain on any given day why I can’t do what I need to do, or why some days I am able to do these said things. As someone who as had these issues longer than not, I am unaware sometimes that people take me at face value and as I appear “well” or “normal” to a certain extent people can often disbelieve if told or just can’t understand as I am not in a straight jacket, rocking in a corner, dribbling or fit into any other misconception or stereotype people have about mental illness.
So this can prove to be very distressing in our world. As a survivor and someone who will not give up, I am left with only one option and that is to share my story, educate and break down these rigid ideas of what mental illness is. Mental illness does not mean you cannot have a life, friends, family and a career. However it does mean you may need to alter your opinions on what social norms you wish to follow or like myself hope to create a diversity in our society that will accommodate us all better. Such as attitudes towards work, money, health care, relationships and appropriate behaviour. These are all areas which may need to be reinvented and philosophised to draw the best conclusion for your life.
You will still be met with certain attitudes and archaic beliefs.
TOP 10 WORST THINGS SAID TO A PERSON WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
“Don’t tell people you have mental health problems, they will not understand.”
” You always seem so happy, confident, well… I can’t believe you have a mental illness.”
” Everyone feels like this sometimes.”
” Why can’t you work in proper job?”
” Stop focusing on the past, negative, bad times…”
” Get over it!”
” You would be fine if you just went out.”
” Your illness is a state of mind.”
” Stop mentioning your illness it brings people down and makes you seem like an attention seeker.”
” I don’t believe in mental illness.”
Living with my unseen illnesses everyday is just a fact of life. I don’t feel bitter or unlucky. All I wish for is that the world would see us and accept us. We are here on this planet and we deserve a voice and consideration. My wish is to stop negative associations with unseen illness, to break down the separation between mental and physical illness, to allow people the freedom to speak of their illnesses in social and work settings without the fear of stigma and unfair treatment.
My unseen world is not unseen because of shame or fear. It is unseen because many choose not to see it. It is unseen because people don’t listen and it is unseen because I gave up explaining. However now I am not giving up, I shall explain and speak up and I shall not hide the truth. This will not change things over night but it will be my change, my contribution. I am a warrioress and my fight has just begun.
“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”
I have suffered from mental illness since I was a pre-teen and have struggled to cope with very strong emotions and at times have not coped and have had to be admitted to hospital. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder and Post Traumatic Stress disorder after I had a break down and was hospitalised for my own safety after a serious traumatic event when I was 15 years old. In hospital I was introduced to art therapy and found a release and a way to express my inner turmoil which was so hard for me to voice to the doctors and nurses. My art therapist worked very closely with me and was able to see my pain and understand the language I had developed to communicate through my art.
I have struggled with these illnesses on and off for my entire life that I can remember and am now 29 years old and still suffering! Now the illness affects me in different ways. Instead of the dramatic full throttle emotions of self destruction and not wanting to help myself, now I am unable to leave my home without someone else, I have severe anxiety and have developed an anxiety disorder which affects all aspects of my day-to-day life.
Art has saved me more than once and when I had my third breakdown in 2010 I decided to find salvation in my art and creativity. I had to face the reality that my mental illness had stopped me from being able to attend a full time university and now was affecting my ability to get a conventional job. I had to make a decision for my future. I could not let myself slip even further with this realisation. My doctors, support workers and psychiatrists had no answers except for drug treatment which I have refused since I stopped all my medication in 2004. So I sat on my bed feeling hopeless and defeated. Then as if the Universe was trying to tell me something I came across an on-line gallery asking for artists to submit, as they were starting up a new website. I had to submit six original pieces and an artists CV and the decision would be made within 48 hours.
The next day I decided to do it! I put everything I had into creating art which not only reflected me but also as a creative challenge to myself. I finished my six paintings and submitted them and waited for the longest 48 hours. Then finally I got an email confirming I had been accepted and that I was now an artist. I then thought about this title, this irony and how my life had led to this point. I then invested all my time in launching my career and creating a portfolio, CV and a social media presence. As well as this I took the decision to start my degree with the Open University and to do the subjects I had always wanted to do, now I am in my third year of my part time degree, a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Psychology.
Two and a half years after I submitted to the gallery I am doing well with my career and the future is certainly something which I know I can influence and I have some very positive days. I am now with 2 galleries, I have exhibited in a group show and have two exhibitions booked for this year. I have sold over 25 paintings and have over 19,000 likes on my Facebook page. Yes I still have very bad days! Yes I have lost lots of friends because they could not understand me or empathise! Yes I still have a long way to go! But I can also say I have a lot more ‘good days’! I have gained some new amazing friends because of my art and found my true friends in my immediate circle! And most of all, yes art saved my life!
“The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving with passion and compassion and humour and style and generosity and kindness.”
For more info on Borderline personality disorder please visit: