The following pieces are poems, articles, art, and interviews from contributors who are living with various mental illnesses. Send us your artwork at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured.
IMPACT: AN INTERVIEW By Shreeya TULADHAR
In a previous article, I had written about stigma against bipolar disorder and how it can affect not only the patient, but also their family members. To find out first hand, I sought out to interview someone with experience. The following is an interview with a fellow student who has a family member dealing with the disorder. He has requested to stay anonymous.
(Disclaimer: The subject switches between pronouns, and refers to the past as when he was female vs. the present when he has switched their gender identity to male.)
"WHAT ELSE IS HOLLOW?" A poem by Vidya KOESMAHaRGYO
I seek out that deep, blue
light at dusk, when it feels like all the air
around me have decided to hold me hostage
and bind me to the earth by its wet pavement
I love out of inconvenience, out of gore and horror, the smell
of me bleeding all over the carpet
listen, we get it, theres some people you just can’t change
no matter how much you love them
there is a difference in our religions, any life
except for my own I wouldn’t take for granted
listen, we get it,
you’d rather kill your body than be forsaken
I know I’m not the only one with a strict observance
of whatever I’ve put my faith in, such as:
palpable things, closing your eyes in pleasure,
the soft smell of longing, every instance of weight
put on you like an intention
nothing’s a promise, we get it,
it gets worse before it gets better,
everything worthwhile left for interpretation
POETRY FOR THE WOUNDED SOLDIER BY NIKITA VOZENILEK
Graham Cordwell was born in April 1956 in Gloucestershire, England. After joining the British army at only 16 years old, Cordwell, at the age of 18, became a full adult recruit and was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) and served for 15 years, resigning in March 1988. Cordwell served 4 tour duties in Northern Ireland, and was an active serviceman in the Falklands War in 1982. In 1994, Cordwell attended college and became a Social Worker, working with individuals with substance abuse problems. After a breakdown in 2002, Cordwell was diagnosed with chronic PTSD, and has spent the past years in treatment and rehabilitation. In 2007, Cordwell began writing poetry, and has contributed his works online, and to books featuring poetry highlighting personal experiences from those who have served. Graham Cordwell is one of many veterans of the Falkland war who have influenced the poetic world, via the book “Falklands War Poetry” which depicts soldiers experience not only on the front lines, but the later effects of their time serving.
Life on Hold – An Ode to PTSD
I do not own the causes of my pain
But they demand ownership of my mind
Grief and trauma are not contagious
But no-one wants to be touched by them
The unseen wound that never heals
The mental scars hidden from prying eyes
You pass me by with surprising regularity
Seeing what others do not
Hearing the sounds, smelling the odours
Vicious and invasive to this day
Dreaming uncomfortable visions
I cry out, remembering effortlessly and without desire
Slow-motion replays in an eternal loop
The sweat, the anguish, the shame
I should work as others to earn a daily crust
But am I valued even though I cannot provide
I once had status and responsibility, long gone
Once independent, reliable, energetic
The demons have captured me, body and soul
I stare at the flickering screen, it holds my gaze
I am overwhelmed by indecision
My mind aches for relief
Release from this mental struggle
I am tired, oh so tired of being tired
I want to sleep again without intrusion
Not to fear the laying of my head upon the pillow
Not to struggle with long nights of lonely vigil
I want to feel awake, alive, refreshed, anew
Once at the centre, now the fringe
The boundary pushing ever outward
Friends and colleagues getting fewer
The loneliness of a crowded room
Days without purpose, yet no time for thought
I see no future, but obscure the past
A haunting melody with sad refrain
I feel, therefore I must endure the moment
Attacked relentlessly by predatory thoughts
Mental knives that slash into my brain
Feelings uncontrollably surging, my heart awash with sadness
Gushing tears of bloody anguish, staunched only by chemicals
Then emptiness, a flat-lining void bereft of sensation
Empathy with the dying soul
Still here, life on hold
No rewind possible for this poor soldier
My imposed employment, to exist
Ask the existential questions, endure without respite
Fleeting moments of happiness in a sea of pain
I am a soldier still on duty, staggering on
Don’t pity me, just don’t look away!
Cordwell’s piece, “Life on Hold- An Ode to PTSD” discusses the implications of his illness in regards to feelings within himself; the inescapability and the impact post-traumatic stress has had on his life. In reading the poem, what stood out was the vivid imagery and detail in which Cordwell discusses even a passerbyer, who can not fathom the wounds in which Cordwell attempts to heal. The loneliness, and the changes in everyday life, including his difficulties sleeping, and controlling the sudden flood of memories, and emotions that he struggles to control. Cordwell discuss the symptoms of PTSD and at the end, urges readers acknowledge the disorder, especially amongst veterans, but also cautions that his humanity still is own strong, and valued. Throughout this cathartic piece, we can see an artistic and raw display of the impact of PTSD on the daily life of a war veteran.
Brett, M. (2011). Graham Cordwell's Poems. Retrieved from http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/cordwell.html
THE ARTFUL EXPRESSION BY ZACHARY HARDY
Art is often used as a therapy tool to engage children with autism. More than just a way to spur creativity, art techniques such as drawing and painting can help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their fine motor skills (Draycot). Art is also a way for children with ASDs to communicate their thoughts and feelings, which they often struggle to express. Through art, children with ASDs are able to display their talents while also overcoming their struggles with expressing emotions.
Cecilia, a ten-year-old girl with autism, created the self-portrait drawing shown. Her piece was posted on The Art of Autism, an organization that promotes the art of autistic individuals. You can learn more about the organization, and view more art pieces, here.
Draycot, C. (2013, October 16). Educating Autism – Art and Creativity to Engage an Autistic Child in the Classroom. Retrieved October 09, 2016, from http://the-art-of-autism.com/educating-autism-art-and-creativity-to-engage-an-autistic-child-in-the-classroom/
We Are More Than Our Illness by Allison Chan
As with many mental illnesses, borderline personality disorder (BPD) possesses a number of misconceptions. Those who possess BPD are often perceived as being attention seeking, manipulative, seductive, and dramatic, even by those in the medical community. It is often difficult for people to understand something that they haven’t experienced themselves. Being willing to share an experience or learn more about what someone else is going through allows us to become more conscious and empathetic. When we fail to acknowledge what another person is feeling, it causes them to feel isolated and ashamed of who they are.
ArtWithImpact is a non-profit organization that holds film contests every months in order to educate and initiate a conversation regarding mental health. In June 2016, writer and psychotherapist Betsy Usher entered in a film entitled I Am Borderline: Self-Regulation Project in order to display the realities of living with borderline personality disorder. The film became part of Usher’s campaign to reduce the stigma associated with BPD. Usher began the campaign with the intention of creating empathy and community around those with BPD while also educating the general public about BPD. She asks those who possess BPD to take a photograph of their talents, achievements, passion, and experiences and tag it with #Iamborderline in order to show that their illness is not a limitation or a definition of who they are. You can Click on this link to view some of the photos and learn more about Usher’s campaign.
Usher, B. (2016, April 30). I Am Borderline: Self-Regulation Project | Art With Impact. Retrieved from http://www.artwithimpact.org/node/2512
Self-Regulation Project at WILA. (2016, March 29). #IAMBORDERLINE. in Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/SRPatWILA/photos/a.1273634109320546.1073741829.218790811471553/1273540105996613/?type=3&theater
Death By Porcelain By Yasmeen Hamami
Early morning, sunnyside eggs
Television on, volume down
All she sees is a thin frame
Walking down the runway
Fair skin, spotless face
Blonde hair, pin-straight
Eyes hidden, blue moons
Perfect and fragile
She never understood.
There goes my appetite
She says, dumping her plate
In the trash. I don’t need it,
It’s just extra. I will never be
Like her. I am too much of me.
Look in this mirror,
What do you see?
I see big thighs,
Soft arms, heavy tears.
I don’t want this anymore.
They are short, tall,
black, yellow, skinny, and fat
Why we all just be that?
No, we have to be a white,
Vitrified ceramic, defined by
The images of media.
Fighting to be porcelain
Expecting to be thin and sleek,
She has not eaten for weeks
And she continues to weep
Drowning in her bed sheets.
Weaker and weaker,
She starts to feel like
Piece by piece
She is falling away.
Have taken her over.
How far can someone go?
Before the porcelain breaks?
Millions of vanished pieces.
Marilyn Monroe, Evelyn Nesbit,
Heidi Klum, Twiggy
Even Miss America
If you are not them,
You mean nothing.
We live by standards
That are meant to be broken
Shattered china, not dreams.
She should not have to feel
Forced, not to eat what she loves
Because for her,
Eating what she loves
Is loving herself and her body.
Today, she walks with her daughter
Past the dolls in the American Girl store
They still look and laugh, mockingly
“Watch out, she’s next.”
The porcelain cracks of the past will never escape us.
Bychkova, Marina. (2011). Princess and the Pea. Digital image. Enchanted Doll. Retrieved from http://www.enchanteddoll.com/galleries/princesspea/princesspea.html.
Abstract Pieces By Samara Khan
South African photographer Tsoku Maela recently did a powerful series of photographs called Abstract Peaces, which chronicle his own struggle with depression and anxiety. Mental illness is particularly stigmatized in the black community, with many individuals considering mental illness as a “white people problem.” Culturally, especially within minority groups, people are often told to “stay strong” and “tough it out” when faced with mental anguish. Even if people have access to care, they might not want to take the opportunity due to stigma and shame.
Maela originally did not intend for these photos to be solely focused on mental illness. He states that the theme “caught him in the moment,” and even after creating the work, it took a while for him to come to terms with the fact that it was solely about mental illness. However, over time Maela realized that he could use his influence as an artist to bring attention to this issue. He states that it would be a crime for him to keep quiet about it given his own experiences.
With this set of photographs, Maela has sparked a conversation in South Africa and abroad that encourages people to use their own unique voices to contribute to destigmatizing mental illness.
Maela, Tsoku (Photographer). (2015, May 15). Seriti [digital image]. Retrieved from http://abstractpeaces.tumblr.com/
Visualising Bipolar Disorder Through Art By Adeola Adeyeye
Missy Douglas was through with keeping her Bipolar disorder a secret. She therefore dedicated a year to painting and expressing her feelings to describe every day of her year. During this long year, she decided to not take her medication in order to display her raw emotions that would reflect her exuberant highs and depressive lows. In doing this, she hopes to raise awareness of mental health and break the stigmas surrounding it. (Keller, 2014)
Here are some of her pieces of art from BBC.com:
Keller, D. (2014, September 13). Missy Douglas: Visualising bipolar disorder through art. Retrieved November 04, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-29016340
Once Upon a Narcissistic Personality BY NIKITA VOZENILEK
Narcissistic Personality disorder is a mental disorder in which diagnosed individuals have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. The symptoms of the personality disorder overshadow a very fragile sense of self-esteem. Narcissistic personality disorder can cause problems in various aspects of an individual’s life, in professional, public, and private, interpersonal spheres.
In the classic Disney tale of Beauty and The Beast, we are introduced to an arrogant Prince and his castle servants who fall under the spell of a wicked enchantress, who turns him into the hideous Beast until he learns to love and be loved in return. The spirited, headstrong village girl Belle enters the Beast's castle after he imprisons her father, Maurice. The tale introduces Gaston, whose interest in Belle clearly demonstrates symptoms of the disorder. “She’s the one, the lucky girl I’m going to marry. Here in town there’s only she who is as beautiful as me, so I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle”. Though Belle has absolutely zero interest in Gaston, we see him portray narcissistic characteristics.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Using VIRTUAL REALITY TO TREAT BIPOLAR DISORDER BY ADEOLA ADEYEYE
Virtual Reality Technology is being used increasingly to help people with mental illness by exposing the person to specific objects or situations in a safe environment (Psychiatry, 2017). This allows individuals to face and overcome their fears and anxiety. Studies have shown that virtual reality is beneficial to patients and carries over to real life situations (Psychiatry, 2017).
See how Alika Agidi-Jeffs, a young musician diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is using virtual reality to improve traditional treatments here.
Al Jazeera. (2015, July 14). Treating Bipolar Disorder With Virtual Reality. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/thecure/2015/07/treating-bipolar-disorder-virtual-reality-150713113149119.html
APA Staff. (2017, February 09). Virtual Reality: Expanding Use in Mental Health Treatment. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2017/02/virtual-reality-expanding-use-in-mental-health-treatment
Singing in the Age of Worry By Nikita Kohli
Music is an artistic rendition of emotions. Musicians possess the power to reach out to people and reassure them that they’re not the alone in their periods of suffering. John Mayer, an American guitarist and singer-songwriter, vocalizes his struggle with anxiety and panic attacks through music along with expressing his troubles in his interviews. Unfortunately, this has not always worked in his favor because some interviewers paint an image of him as a vexed philanderer to appeal to the masses, rather than communicating the gravity of his troubles with anxiety disorder. Having such characterization immortalized in print is most likely to be distressing for him as people with anxiety disorders tend to worry about insignificant details. The media has engaged more in portraying him as an hedonist and less on lauding him for confessing his troubles in public and making an effort to destigmatize the disorder. They frequently question him about his anxiety disorder and panic attacks, without the tone of seriousness that is needed. Such is the stigma of mental health.
This stigma, however, has not deterred him from expressing himself through his music. Mayer fuses his songwriting and guitar expertise to disclose his anxiety disorder in pop, blues, and soul music. While a handful of Mayer’s songs such as ‘Gravity’ and ‘If I Ever Get Around to Living’ are harmonies with a dispirited tone about what his life might have been like if he didn’t have anxiety disorder, ‘Age of Worry’ reaches out to people with anxiety in an encouraging and affectionate way. In this song, he offers advice to those among his listeners who have anxiety, telling them to “build an army” against the worry. He contemplates that people with anxiety tend to expect a lot from themselves to the point that they feel like they’re not enough. He implies that they have a voice inside them telling them that what they are doing is wrong; the roots of this voice originate from other people’s definitions of right and wrong and what others have told them to do their whole lives. People with anxiety often let these opinions and negative remarks set the standards they hold for themselves, as well as define the basis on which they judge their own behavior, forming an inner monologue of self criticism. Through his lyrics, he gives them permission to ignore this voice, do what they think is right, and not be afraid to like it.
His lyric “Be friends with who you are” from ‘Age of Worry’ is beautiful and inspiring while also targeting one of the biggest challenges people with anxiety face--loving themselves. His words depict how much he cares about his audience as he advises them not to let their anxious thoughts hold them back from trying new things. Overall, the song ‘Age of Worry’ is reassuring and filled with positive energy, despite his own struggle. He ends the song by saying “be alive, smile and go wild, in the age of worry,” and gives people the strength to defy their anxious thoughts and form a friendship with their disquiet minds.
In defense of John Mayer. (2016, December 26). Retrieved March 12, 2017, from https://itsonlyfear.org/2016/05/12/in-defense-of-john-mayer/
Hedegaard, E. (2012, June 06). The Dirty Mind and Lonely Heart of John Mayer. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-dirty-mind-and-lonely-heart-of-john-mayer-20120606
Sharing the Secret By Allison Chan
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a misunderstood illness that is often taken lightly or trivialized. “The Secret Illness” is a creative arts project that posts stories about those living with OCD; they create short films, conduct podcasts, and share artistic pieces. In addition to these pieces, they also have a section called “The Wall,” which is an open space on their site which allows people struggling with OCD to share their stories. Through these methods, “The Secret Illness” aims to deconstruct the misconceptions of OCD, such as that it’s a cleaning disease or that people who have it are just antsy. Liz Smith, a filmmaker who was inspired to make a documentary about OCD, said, “My hope is that together we can take some of the ‘secret’ out of OCD, that more people can be diagnosed early and get the treatment they need. I hope it will open our minds and make it more acceptable to talk about OCD and intrusive thoughts more openly,” (The Secret Illness, 2015).
Posts about The Wall on The Secret Illness. (2015). Retrieved March 12, 2017, from https://thesecretillness.com/category/the-wall/
The Half of It BY ZACH HARDY
While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) poses many challenges to those affected, it does not commit these individuals to an unworthy life. Kerry Margo, a motivational speaker and best-selling author, is on the autism spectrum. In his poem “Only if you knew me”, Margo demonstrates the two dueling realities of living with autism: dealing with the developmental struggles that come with the illness, while simultaneously striving to accomplish your goals.
“Only if you knew me” beautifully sums up the highs and lows of living with ASD. Although Margo has undergone difficult therapy and dealt with degrading socially-constructed labels, he has also experienced outstanding personal and professional achievements. Margo’s insightful poem is applicable to millions who live with ASD, and his words are a wonderful reminder that there is more to people than meets the eye.
Margo, K. (2010, March 15). An Autism Poem: Only If You Knew Me. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://kerrymagro.com/an-autism-poem-only-if-you-knew-me/
The Future for Those With Down Syndrome By Sabrina Bari
From birth, those with Down Syndrome are stigmatized and underestimated in their capabilities and aspirations. Because of their learning disabilities, they are not offered the same opportunities as others which reduces their chances for achievement. Karen Gaffney, a woman with Down Syndrome, shattered these stereotypes as the president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation. The Karen Gaffney Foundation advocates for the inclusion of those with Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities into their families, schools, communities and workplaces.
In this Tedx talk, Karen speaks of her accomplishments such as swimming across the English channel and as well as graduating from college. This would not have been possible without the generation of parents before her that fought for legislation which allows those with DS to have the right to education. She also mentions grassroots organizations that pushes for better medical treatment and research to aid those with Down Syndrome and how they will change the future. She is a prime example of how those with developmental disabilities have the capability to achieve success and happiness just like everyone else.
Karen Gaffney Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2017, from http://www.karengaffneyfoundation.com/
T. (2015, July 01). All lives matter | Karen Gaffney | TEDxPortland. Retrieved March 05, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwxjoBQdn0s
Seth Chwast is a successful american artist who is on the Autism Spectrum. While Seth is mostly non verbal, he defied all expectations and communicates through his art. Seth paints beautiful and thought provoking work that has been exhibited all over the world. If you would like to explore more of Seth’s work, which is available for purchase as prints, visit his website.
She, An Enigma
Heels sprout up high,
Tug at string,
Release once more,
Satisfying it one last time.
Next up, hands cash,
Empties fist into purse.
Did I drop something?
Clench fist, open.
Stretch in words
Be back early, right?
Bolt goes out
Bolt in, bolt out.
The Dawn of a Very Human Superhero by nikita kohli
Sow Ay, an illustrator who states that he lives under his “hoodie and headphones,” draws situations depicting the thoughts of a boy called the ‘Forsaken Star’ who suffers from anxiety and depression. Although this topic seems unusual for a comic-drawing, he employs this style of communication to deliver important messages in a light-hearted manner. He implicitly educates his audience about anxiety and depression through the inner monologue of Forsaken Star during interactions with others. The personified character of anxiety and depression is described as a black ghost-like creature that follows him around everywhere. The audience learns from indirect messages from short story lines. For example, one comic shows when Forsaken Star goes out with his friends and has a good time, he thanks this monster for leaving him alone, thus shedding light on how difficult it is to have enjoy social interactions on a casual meeting with friends without being overtaken by negative feelings and thoughts.
Targeting the stigma surrounding anxiety disorders and depression using a unique platform such as comics allows Ay to problematize those who trivialize mental illnesses. Ay also entertains those who have similar experiences depicted in his comic with light-hearted humor, while making those who cannot relate sympathetically understand what it is like to live with anxiety and depression.
Expression Through Art by Victoria Radesco
This piece was created by Edmund Monsiel, a Polish painter born in 1897. Monsiel lived with untreated schizophrenia, and started sketching after experiencing symptoms. He used it as a way to express himself. During the course of his illness he created about 500 sketches, most of which are now on display in museums in Poland. Many of his pieces are untitled and most of them are on tiny scraps of paper. To see more of his work click here.
Edmund Monsiel. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from http://www.outsiderart.co.uk/monsiel.html
Monsiel, Edmund. (2016, July 3). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from https://www.astro.com/astro-databank/monsiel,_edmund
Down Syndrome in a World of Flowers by allison chan
The title of photographer Sigga Ella’s project is “First and foremost I am.” Ella photographs several people born with down syndrome in order to display both their individuality but also their normality side by side. The ages of the participants range from 9 months to 60 years old. The background of each photo is a colorful assortment of flowers. It symbolizes the diversity and complexity of humans. In the same way that each flower in the background is different and has bloomed, every person on earth is different and capable of flourishing in life. Each person pose, expression, and clothing are different but it helps express their individual style and personalities. Some smile, scowl, or neatly cross their legs. Although they were all born with down syndrome, they are, first and foremost, themselves.
Ella, S. (2015, January 22). “First and foremost I am.” http://siggaella.com/projects/first-and-foremost-i-am/
Fire and peace by Victoria Radesco
Famous for “The Starry Night” and his self portrait, Van Gogh remains a very talented and influential artist. While most of his work encapsulates nature at its greatest, the piece titled, “Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate)”, shows a different side of his work. Van Gogh experienced symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as bipolar disorder, neurosis, and epilepsy. He experienced episodes of psychosis and delusions. His artwork depicts a visual internal struggle with the man looking obviously distressed with a fire in the background.
Van Gogh places a fire in the background of this piece, just as there is a fire in the back of his mind. It sits and it burns, coiling its flames around his peace of mind. It sits and it burns while it brings in the delusions and the discomfort. It sits and it burns charing what remains and fragmenting the little he holds on to.
Who was Vincent Van Gogh? (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://psych.ucalgary.ca/PACE/VA-Lab/AVDE-Website/vangogh.html
Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity's Gate) 1890. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://theartstack.com/artist/vincent-van-gogh/sorrowing-old-man-eter?invite_key=melindamcdonald&via=pinterest