“Most of the strongest people I know have gone through mental illness.”
You’re a keen artist. Creativity and mental health problems are often cited as going hand in hand – do you agree with that?
I don’t particularly agree with the notion that people with mental illness are more creative. In fact, it can be harmful more often than not. I do however, agree that creativity can be a very important tool for people struggling with their mental health. It is a great way to communicate emotion, and express thoughts and feelings.
When people see an artwork they like, often the first questions are practical ones. So, what’s it like living with mental illness?
The answer to this question would probably change from day to day, but right now, Monday 23rd April 2018, I feel reflective about my mental illness.
Yet I still live with borderline personality disorder, I live with anxiety and sometimes extreme depression.
I know that having mental health issues has made me the person I am today, has made me resilient, caring, kind and thoughtful. It has also knocked my confidence and self-esteem, it has created scars, nightmares, memories and loss of friendship. But today, it feels ok.
I read recently about someone who had a tumour and she called it Steve as a coping mechanism to get to grips with her feelings towards her situation. How do you feel about your situation and what are your coping mechanisms?
I sometimes feel like the whole world is against me, that life is unfair. As I lie in bed, unable to shower, dress or eat, I feel like this is it. My life. A big fat failure. I hear voices, and ‘he’ is an American man, mainly telling me derogative things about myself.
My friend Kirsty calls him Yankee, it has helped me deal with his rhetoric, by thinking of Kirsty shouting at him to go away. I do have coping mechanisms that I have learnt through therapy, and through having friends who go through similar experiences. We all learn from each other, a little art/wellbeing bubble of friendship, which I am so grateful for.
Taking a bath is important for me too, reading in the bath even better. With lighted candles and maybe a bath bomb from Lush! Having the weekend off, watching the football, playing with my cat, sitting in the sun, calling my parents, practicing the guitar. All these things help me to cope.
Is there any sense in which you can talk about any positive aspects of mental illness? You sometimes hear of blind people who choose not to regain their sight. Would you swap any or all of your condition for a different hand so to speak?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have grown so much due to this mental illness. I have become stronger and kinder and more willing to listen and learn. But, I think if I was to swap part of this condition, it would be my anxiety. It is always there at the back of my mind, blocking positive thoughts from processing. Trying hard to stop me from doing things that could make me happy. I would get rid of that in an instant.
You create some amazingly intense and arresting images in your artwork which have an incredible directness. Do you think that that extra intensity is like turning up the volume of a song that we all know, or are you playing a different tune?
I would say it was like both! We all have mental health, and 1 in 4 of us will suffer with it. By turning up that song we all know, it brings unity, we can listen together, in a safe space, and know that it can be discussed openly.
On the other hand, I do feel like I’m playing a different tune, maybe I am out of tune as well? It can be very isolating and I find myself disappearing. It feels like nobody out there understands, and I’m trying to find your radio station but all I get is white noise.
Is there anything that you would like everyone to know about your condition, or anything you wished everyone ‘got’ without it having to be explained?
I wish people understood that and didn’t mock or belittle those in distress.
What is top of your bucket list?
To see the Northern Lights.
If Everton won the league, how would you celebrate?
I think I would cry a lot, then drink a lot and wake up in Amsterdam or something! I’d be happy with an FA Cup win to be honest, just any trophy. Please football gods!!
What pop group would you like to join?`
One Direction, so I can stare at Zayn Malik all day.
Which three songs lift your spirits?
The first ones I think about are…
The Pixies – Hey
D12 – My Band
The Offspring – Self Esteem
But there are so many songs that I could have picked! Music is just as important to me as art is.
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Having time to think about things, other than keeping my head above the water. Sitting in a pub with friends. Creating art. Listening to Nirvana. Laughing.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
Talk about it. Write it down. Make a zine. Go for a walk. Meditate. Read a book. Watch a film. Turn up your favourite song. Make a gratitude list. Draw or paint. Play with an animal. Practice guitar. Call a friend. Light some candles. Have a bath. Ok so that was more advice to myself, but I would hope my friends could take something out of this too.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lots of different projects on the go; working on my next solo exhibition, (at the CCCA in Coventry) writing proposals for open calls, working with Backlit Gallery in Nottingham for a big project in 2019 on art and wellbeing, planning a new art festival in Manchester with two of my friends and making work and researching new ideas to pursue.