Sitting in her art space at Curtin University, she is a poster child of an alternative generation. Blazing red hair, facial piercings, amazing art work surrounding her and an increasingly common sight adorning her skin, self inflicted scars. As she takes another brush from the table she stairs at the empty canvas and knows that within the next few hours she will transform the blinding white surface into a piece of art that her peers will applaud, her audience will admire and her friends will be proud of.
Anti psychotics are fresh in her system and she will feel them running through her veins until evening, just in time to dope herself up again before bed. This morning when she woke up she didn’t have any new plans to paint, she barely had plans to arise. That’s nothing new though; she had given up on planning long ago. Stability is one of the first things to go when it comes to mental illness. How can one be expected to make plans for Thursday week when she has no idea where her headspace will be at on that day?
I ask her is she feels understood. She pauses for a long minute and then looks at me,
“No” she says.
“People try to understand but sometimes I wish they wouldn’t because they just get it all so wrong, you can’t understand unless you have lived it.”
Her list of diagnosis’ read like a run sheet of modern day mental health; Depression, anxiety, bulimia, post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and Poly substance abuse, to name a few. With over 50 visits to the emergency room and at least 10-15 admissions to mental health clinics, she knows all to well the labels she wears to warn society that she is not one of them.
The nurses always ask the same questions and make the same assumptions, an overdose on pills is written in her notes as a “suicide attempt” but She tells me they have got it wrong,
“It’s just a rest” she says.
“I don’t want to die, I just want to sleep for a while until it doesn’t hurt anymore” She has known the awful touch of naked men. Wondered aloud and in silent if “no” ever really means “no”, and watched as she slides blades against her skin and blood streams down her arm taking her to a state of euphoria where she can be cleansed from her transgressions and numbed to her loss of innocence. But they don’t ask that question, they don’t care if she said no, she watches time and again as they look through her charts and scribble the word “promiscuous.”
I watch her as she continues to create, to paint, and to inspire. Her work is mostly autobiographical and writes a story that words could never do justice to “If people can walk away from my art work connected to it in some way than I have done my Job. I will know that my experiences haven’t gone to waste.” And as I look at the painting before me, I assure you, one cannot help but connect.