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:
Signs are like spoken word
pictures form sentences
letters are transferred
meaning is given
or even when blurred
the beginning of us
the metaphor of genesis
or the theatre of the absurd.
When waiting for a sign
one knows what to look for
the mind conjures meaning
without knowing or seeing
which is hard to ignore
constructed from nothing
like an imaginary being
or with warnings
such as folklore.
Stabilise the interpretations
surrounding images with words
can appear as
two lonely song birds
between sight and sound
so that signs
can be undeterred
in our expectations
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Are there two worlds, one physical and one mental?
Can we experience both with a conscious awareness?
What is introspection and how does one use it?
These questions were “in my mind” when creating this piece of art, as a student of philosophy and psychology the idea and practice of introspection – caused me to introspectively ponder the dualism of my body and mind, my consciousness of the physical self and the internal self.
Is my perception of what is thought in my mind governed by my external experiences?
Introspection is a process that generates, or is aimed at generating, knowledge, judgements, or beliefs about:
mental events, states, or processes, and not about affairs outside one’s mind,
or beliefs about one’s own mind only and no one else’s,
about one’s currently ongoing mental life only; or, alternatively (or perhaps in addition) immediately past (or even future) mental life, within a certain narrow temporal window.
Introspection is considered to be the process of “looking inward”, self analysis to understand and know ones self better. In fact this idea was what caused psychology and the theory of mind to branch out from philosophy with Wilhelm Wundt analysing the workings of the mind in a more structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control hence why he is considered the father of psychology.
“Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.”
We do not continuously introspect and it is not an automatic occurrence such as breathing, it is a reflective task on one’s own internal mental state – not unconscious, as we are aware of this monitoring and analysis. Introspection is comprised of attitudes and conscious experiences; our beliefs, desires and intentions as well as emotions and sensory experiences.
How do we know our own minds?
It is our first person access which privileges us with the awareness of self – how can we be wrong about our own internal perspective. Other minds can not know other minds, it is an exclusive “way in” which only ourselves are attendees with unshared knowledge. However being aware of your own inner workings does not mean one can truly know our own minds with authority; as they are small internal universes with expanses of undiscovered planets and solar systems.
Is there nothing that we can know about our minds with authority?
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique.
Introspection is considered by most to be a short lived state, some suggest from “The Inner Sense” view that our minds operate like a scanning machine which monitors certain thoughts and sensations.
“The word introspection need hardly be defined – it means, of course, the looking into our own minds and reporting what we there discover.” (William James, Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 1890/1981, p. 85)
Is self knowledge achieved solely by introspection?
Many philosophers an psychologists have claimed that the only way we can determine our own mind is from the observations of our own behaviour; the way we determine others is no different to ourselves. Gilbert Ryle argued that our first person experience of our own mental states is due to the fact we can not leave ourselves, we are always present within ourselves – as ourselves.
Is self knowledge an epistemic phenomenon?
There have been many claims that self knowledge is infallible and that we are omniscient about our own mental states; that upon being in a particular state of mind and knowing this to be happening, is sufficient evidence that there is self knowledge of this state. However does this ring true; or are we really “all knowing” and in charge of our own faculties enough at all times to be omniscient about our mental states?
“I think therefore I am – je pense, donc je suis – Cogito ergo sum”
Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum argument (Descartes 1641/1895), is the proposition which demonstrates that if you (the thinker) is paying close attention to your own thoughts, that not even a “powerful evil genius” who is able to control your thoughts and deceive you – can not mislead you into doubting your ability to think and therefore confirms you existence as a thinking individual.
In 1641, Descartes published (in Latin) Meditations on first philosophy in which he referred to the proposition, though not explicitly as “cogito ergo sum” in Meditation II: (Latin:) hoc pronuntiatum: ego sum, ego existo,[c] quoties a me profertur, vel mente concipitur, necessario esse verum. (English:) this proposition: I am, I exist, whenever it is uttered from me, or conceived by the mind, necessarily is true.
Introspection literally means “looking within” in its description it illustrates a metaphor which expresses the split between the “inner” world and the “external” world. There is an opposite view called the “Transparency View” which suggests that by looking outwardly, into the state of the world we determine our own thoughts – by “looking through” the transparent (introspective) mental states we posses, reflecting what it is like to have an experience with mind-independent objects.
What is “the ghost in the machine”?
The phrase was introduced in Ryle’s book The Concept of Mind (1949) and was a criticism of the Dualism theories within philosophy especially from Descartes. Ryle rejected the idea that mental states are separate to physical states, referring to this idea and distinction between mind and matter as “the ghost in the machine”, his main criticism being that logically – mind and matter are not within the same categories:
“it represents the facts of mental life as if they belonged to one logical type/category, when they actually belong to another. The dogma is therefore a philosopher’s myth.”
A category mistake is the mistake of assigning something to a category to which it does not belong or misrepresenting the category to which something belongs. For Ryle this means that the term “mind” and other terms which refer to mental states are often categorised inadequately; treating the “mind” as a thing, an object or even an entity. When it could be believed that physical processes are mechanical, whereas mental ones are “para-mechanical”.
Ryle believed that there was a dogmatic “official doctrine” which leads to unchallenged views to their own detriment:
There is a doctrine about the nature and place of the mind which is prevalent among theorists, to which most philosophers, psychologists and religious teachers subscribe with minor reservations. Although they admit certain theoretical difficulties in it, they tend to assume that these can be overcome without serious modifications being made to the architecture of the theory…. [the doctrine states that] with the doubtful exceptions of the mentally-incompetent and infants-in-arms, every human being has both a body and a mind. … The body and the mind are ordinarily harnessed together, but after the death of the body the mind may continue to exist and function.
(Ryle, Gilbert, The Concept of Mind (1949); The University of Chicago Press edition, Chicago, 2002, p 11)
The difference between Descartes and Ryle is the “inner” or “outer” view of the mind. Are we a ghost in the machine or are our mental states dispositions, to engage in bodily activity?
For me neither of these view points are adequate enough to explain the concept of mind and introspection, however they draw light on further questions to be asked in order to find more answers.
Introspection is a tool none the less which our minds use in order to ponder ourselves from our conscious thoughts, beliefs and judgements (whether external to us through behaviour or internal to us in a dualistic sense). It is our secret window which allows us private access into our internal selves (which no other can experience) .
[It is] impossible for any one to perceive, without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will any thing, we know that we do so.
(Locke 1689/1975 II.27.ix)
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However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:
How are you?
Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:
I am fine, thank you. And how are you?
However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:
I am fine.
Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.
The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:
It’s all in your head!
It’s mind over matter.
You don’t look sick.
These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.
Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:
I don’t really believe in mental illness.
Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.
Mental illness is just mental weakness.
So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.
This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.
Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.
There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.
Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:
Where were your parents?
How long were you left on your own?
How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?
Did you have to grow up quickly?
There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:
But still all I can say is:
I am fine!
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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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but the line “like moths among the whisperings” made me think of how it feels to live with anxiety disorders whilst among others who don’t. It conjured up this image of anxious people as moths and non-anxious people as butterflies.
The irony is that most of the people who visited the parties in The Great Gatsby were probably butterflies. However even there I am sure a few moths anxiously found there way around , maybe with some dutch courage to aid their cause.
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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.