Be part of the revolution! Change the way you view Mental Health! Create, don’t compete!
Whenever I begin to share my story, a prominent phrase automatically, and involuntarily trips clumsily off the tip of my tongue;
“…but I know there are lots of people who have experienced far worse!”
Within this simple justification is all that is wrong with the way we, as a society, have been strait-jacketed, if you will, into viewing mental health. We have been quashed into believing that we are only worthy of sharing our mental health issues and experiences if they are traumatic enough to compete with those around us.
Mental health has become a competition without the glory of a winner’s lap, or a podium for first, second and third. There is, however, in this societal mindset, an army strong of losers. The ones who cross the finish line last and feel like they have to justify their performance over, and over again, to the press and spectators. Taking refuge in blaming an old injury, or a fault with their equipment.
There are squadrons of sprinters and long-distance runners that just cannot manage another single step, and collapse from exhaustion halfway through, stretchered off the track. Sadly there are far too many to bare that fall with their horses at the first fence…never to finish the race.
Then there are all those of us that believe we’ll fail before even starting, or just aren’t talented enough to compete anyway. Out of embarrassment and shame, we sit in the crowd and plead ignorance when we hear them call our names. If Mental health is a sport, then there are no relays or team races allowed in this arena my loves, this is gladiator territory, and only Caesar gets to decide your fate.
For years I myself was a reluctant sportswoman, sat shoulders hunched and head down in the crowd , hoping not to be recognised and called up for my turn to race. I didn’t ever feel worthy enough of my experiences to compete, I was embarrassed and ashamed, and so, for years I suffered in silence. I self navigated my way through childhood and adolescent anxiety and depression, stumbled into adulthood, tripping from one abusive relationship to another, and finally I married a master gymnast.
The champion of twisting, bending and contorting reality and words. He honed his talent for controlling his and my routine to the toe point, smiling to the crowds but holding tight the tension between us. For two and a half long years I obeyed and relentlessly practiced his choreography, attempting in moments of bravery to offer alternate music to move too. In the end my Master gymnast took up his long coloured ribbon and swirled it around his neck, the finale to end all finales. The trauma of being the first to witness his final performance was suddenly far too much to bare alone, and so all those years of dragging my feet around the race track came to an end.
As an educated woman with a degree in Mental Health I finally kicked off my thin soled running shoes, lengthened my aching spin, lifted my chin and declared that I will compete no longer! I retired, just like that! After all, I was never really into PE much at school anyway! I was a lover of the arts… and so I offer you an alternative curriculum!
I believe that Mental Health lends itself beautifully to Art in so many ways. It is as individual to a person as the way they paint or draw. As tactile as the medium they chose to create with or upon; canvas, metal, wood, skin, fabric. A group of people can sit and stare at a work of art hung in the expanses of a gallery for hours, each seeing something completely different to another. Each interpreting the artists intentions, each being moved by the creation in their own emotive way, each hearing a different artistic dialect.
Mental Health is our very own art. It’s our mind’s way of expressing what it has seen, how it’s feeling, all that it can’t explain or rationally express. So it picks up its tool of choice, and it creates. There’s no right or wrong answer in art, only interpretation. Art isn’t a beginning, middle and an end. It’s a swirl and a splash, a flick, stitch, dot, curve, bend, fold, and every other conceivable way but straight. Although there isn’t anything wrong with a straight line either! It isn’t always soft and pretty, glitter and sequins, sometimes it’s harsh, ugly and undeniable realism. Sometimes it is just a perfect replica of a bowl of fruit on a table in the middle of the room! If you don’t feel like picking up a sketching pencil, then pick up an instrument instead, or write a chapter, compose a sonnet. Art is Art, in all it’s wonderful forms.
So please, I beg of you, never feel diminished or eclipsed enough to sit in silence, embarrassed you aren’t even in the running. Embrace all the colours of your art! Embrace it’s darks, it’s brights, and all the neutrals in between; and offer your incredible work of art, however abstract ,to those around you. You may just find that your creation is the much needed inspiration for another. If you ask questions, share inspirations and interpretations of your own art, as well as the creations of those around you, you may just find your own muse. Art doesn’t have to be a solo piece…incredible things can happen when different mediums collaborate, Stormzy and Ed Sheeran for example, just saying!
We are an army strong, those of us too afraid yet to express and create, how wonderful would an army or artists be? An army of exhausted and reluctant sports men and women transformed into a society enriched with every variation of colour and creation, enlightened…free.
My point is this…the sheer beauty of art is that it doesn’t matter if you paint a plate, knit a sock, or sing an ode to a sock on a plate! You don’t have to paint the Sistine Chapel to call yourself an artist.