Being an insider

Most people in my world would recognize me and my work as an artist and teacher or maybe a mom or academic. But what I am really going to talk about today is to speak about the issues of mental health that I have experienced and my thoughts about how we might move things forward – along with you all.

I would first like to acknowledge that there has been a lot of work put into what to call people like myself, and I still struggle to find an adequate and comfortable fit with any of them. Service user, consumer, client, patient, all sound rather “labelly” and don’t represent the rich and diverse people who they are applied to. So I have given up giving a good solid suggestion, so I like to refer to myself as an ‘insider’ but also fully embrace the word ‘crazy’ in all its definitions, (but prefer “mentally interesting”). “Insider” embraces the idea that it is something that others may not understand or appreciate, and is also a nod to the duress and battle that happens on the “inside”.

So what does this have to do with my campaign, my art and my life? One of the two exhibitions that I’ve been working on for a couple years that I’m gathering funds for is called Patient Property. It started a couple of years ago when I had a drug interaction after a surgery that caused a condition called Seratonin Syndrome. It caused a chemical storm in my head like nothing I have ever experienced and I became very unwell in various ways. One of the ways was an extreme heightened anxiety that was like a panic attack that was 24 hours a day. Long story short, I ended up in hospital to deal with the physical and mental manifestations of the condition. While there I started to deal with my situation by attempting to soothe with my art and writing. It was one of my only coping mechanisms and after the syndrome faded a bit and I was sent into a deep depression as the doctors played fiddle-the-meds in an effort to help, I started to talk to other people. I heard story after story about the mental health system in NZ and the failings it had, but also some good stories. I met extraordinary people who were often brushed aside by doctors, their communities and the world in every socio-economic, ethnicity, or gender you can imagine. It was an extremely awful, dire time for me, but also one that was enlightening.

I began to document people’s stories and produce art in response to all that was happening around me, and was adamant to retell some of what happened over these years in some form visually. So many, many people are struggling and dying and not getting the help they need due to inadequate funding, overstressed mental health sector, and a general misunderstanding from the world as a whole about what mental illness is all about and the many forms it takes. I made it a promise to myself that I would do whatever I could to lobby government, assist those working the battles to have better outcomes, and grow with my own black dog nipping at my heel. And so here I am.

Patient Property is important. One in 4 people has mental illness in our world. If you don’t, I guarantee you know someone who does. We can not get anywhere hiding these issues under the carpet and we need people to stand up and say that not dealing with these issues has social, political and life affecting consequences.

This is where you come in! I need funds in order to help get this show out there! I plan to exhibit the art that is currently half completed and needs further funding to finish – a mix of all sorts of media works and writing about my own journey and others’. I hope to make this exhibition part of a dynamic workshop with panels, speakers, writers, artists, doctors and work together to advocate for change in society and addressing how our mental health system is working. You may not know how to help someone who is in the throws of mental illness (though, ask me! I have ideas!), but contributing towards this exhibition and playing a part in making art meet social change is definitely one way that I would love! Come on board and see what we can do together. Let’s help that one in four “Insider” around you!

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