By Hannah Schechter
"I started making art when I was 40. I had been in recovery from substance abuse for 13 years at that point. I grew up trying to be invisible because I figured if I were invisible, I would be safe. Somehow, my parents and siblings always managed to find me when they needed a whipping post. I was a child who should have been removed from her biological family.
"Anxiety, depression and trauma were marbled into my brain chemistry from infancy. I did not know that at the time. I only knew I hated myself, believed myself to be unlovable and incapable of affection, of poisoning everything I touched. I started drinking and using drugs when I was 14. That gave me a way to deal with the pain, to relieve the internal pressure. I entered substance abuse recovery at 27, and I have been sober and clean ever since. I am 63 now.
"I started therapy after I was sober for a year and a half. I needed that time to find a stable foundation. I was diagnosed with PTSD, a mood disorder and major depressive disorder. I didnʼt begin to feel whole until I started to paint in 1995. Making things that are visible, claiming voice and space, are part and parcel to the relationship between my mental illness and my art.
"I work in three different media. My sculpture in clay is about bones. It is about excavating and reforming dinosaur bones, coral bones and reconstructions of ancient sites. In paint, I explore the relationship between internal and external landscapes, and the edge conditions between the two. I call my fiber work “The Salvage Project,” because I use only yarn remnants salvaged from thrift stores. My purpose is to create beautiful things, hangings and wearable art out of others’ discards.
"As a child, I believed I was a discard that my family had graciously consented to take in despite my deeply flawed character and personality. I grew up taught that art was frivolous, and hence, a stupid waste of money and time. Today, I have made it my lifeʼs work, both by making art and by starting First Response: Art, a 501(c)3 corporation dedicated to bringing art opportunities to the public free of charge. I take my “art mobile” (currently a 2002 bright-yellow Beetle) to events, set up a table, and invite children and adults to make art.
"There is always one person, usually a child, who is very withdrawn, unable to speak, but who waits to be invited to the table. I extend the invitation, set him or her up with materials, and step back. Sometimes people leave their work with me, and I assure them I will keep it safe. I have a scrapbook of these pieces."
By Alicia Rain Spotted Eagle
"My name is Alicia Rain Spotted Eagle. I am Blackfeet and was raised in Portland, Oregon. My mom is white, but she raised us in our culture. We were dancing, drumming and going to ceremonies since before I was born.
"I am an artist, and my story is about harm reduction. I am also a mother and an addict. I suffer from PTSD and depression due to loss, as well as the trauma of domestic violence and living on the river. While I still struggle with active symptoms, my family no longer fears for me, thanks to the work I did with the Future Generations Collaborative, a partnership working to heal the health of future Native generations. Their mission is to create healthy families and healthy communities."
"I express myself through spoken word. The poem, 'Coyote Songs,' portrays my life on the long side of the wrong side. The Coyote (and in some cases, Snake) in traditional Native stories is a trickster that gets you into trouble. My poems are stories of life, and if the listener pays attention to the lessons, they can use them to avoid the same mistakes in their own life. I can’t seem to fully shake Coyote and his brother, Snake, but I keep them at bay now. Someday, I may wear their pelts upon my belt."
"Many strong women have shared words of culture and the way to live with me. In the poem, 'Medicine Woman,' I am told those stories and what the consequences are if I cannot take up the heavy load of being a woman. Someday..."
By Sean D'Elia
"I started drawing before kindergarten. At 13, I did an oil painting and won first place in a state art contest. I have had a nervous condition all my life and schizophrenia at 15. It’s been a battle, but going to Thresholds and being there with my friends helps me. I love painting and going to my groups at Thresholds. My art teacher, Bonnie, helps me if I get stuck. She has a vast knowledge of art. I’m painting more now, and when I paint, I’m not nervous. Thank you, Bonnie, and everyone at Thresholds.
“I started taking psych meds at 15. I didn’t like those meds and found that alcohol would calm my nerves better, so I drank instead. I had paranoid schizophrenia. I drank, and it helped until I was 28. I had a very severe breakdown. I was always hallucinating and things. I was drowning myself with alcohol every day. They came up with a new medicine: Clozaril. I got a lot better and was able to paint again. I had quit drinking for a year, and now it has been 29 years.
“One of the great things about painting is that when I paint, I feel safe. I’m somewhere else and not paranoid. I love painting way more than I like drinking! For some reason, I don’t have visual and sensory hallucinations while I’m busy creating things, and that really helps me feel better.”
By Johanna Rauscher
I am a musician, songwriter and teacher, but above all, a certified peer specialist living with a serious mental illness. As a grown woman, I deal with the memories of an abusive childhood by expressing the pain through song. When my protective grandmother passed away, an emotional floodgate opened, and this song, Now You’re My Angel, was the first of many songs to come. This is my song of hope.
By Olivia Springberg
“I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was in sixth grade. Art, for me, has served as a medium of expression that has allowed me to find a sense of comfort among conflicting emotions. This piece conveys what I envision is happening inside of my body. The painting focuses on my head, represented by a large skull, a symbol I use to justify the low levels of serotonin in my brain. Instead of allowing the serotonin neurotransmitters to reach me, the skull is eating them.
"The piece also shows how the corrupted brain is affecting other parts of the body. The skull is connected to my heart through a chain of nerves and muscles, making the heart rate increase. The small person who clings to the heart represents me when I attempt to slow my heart rate during an anxiety attack. Visualizing these processes allows me to give reason to the inexplicable sadness I often feel. Through art, I am able to gain perspective and find a sense of comfort.”
By Disa Turner
I've had anxiety since childhood and stubbornly recurring depression since my early teens. Some days, it’s a mild annoyance. Other days, though, it’s so utterly exhausting that I feel like I'm fading, evaporating (the inspiration for “Portrait of Defeat” and “Vanishing Act”). Before I realized how many other people dealt with mental health problems, I felt like a frightening outsider (“Monster Hunting”). I created “We’re All Mad Here” when I realized I wasn't alone after all.
By Kurt Joachim von Behrmann
“Cutting is a solitary act. Cutters are some of the most closeted of those dealing with mental illness. Being an artist that likes to discuss ‘difficult topics,’ I opted to talk about my own experience with cutting, in art. The arm with the horizontal lines represents the cutting side of mental illness. The opposite, lighter side represents the energy of mania. The eagle is symbolic of the soul being split in half by mania and depression. Instead of eagle eyes, this eagle has human ones. ‘Cutter’ is a deeply symbolic painting. Elements represent themselves while representing so much more. There are assorted hidden meanings present in the work. Some are easier to decipher than others. However, the thrust of the work is a discussion of bipolar, cutting and the feeling of being split in half by mania and depression while trying to remain complete.”
“Mental illness is an alienating experience. The realization that you are dealing with issues that most do not is alarming. When you see that you are not like other people, that your perception of the world is radically different, even the way your emotions operate, you realize how different you are. You see yourself as removed from society. The abstract figures on the left side represent individuals that comprise society. The lone one on the far right is representative of the individual living with mental illness. I think of this work as a psychological self-portrait of sorts. It took me years to make something this abstract and thematic.”
“I had a colorful dream about what it was like to have bipolar disorder. There was a horse in the dream quickly running between two poles. One pole was bright and yellow. The other long pole was cold and icy. The cooler pole represented depression. The warmer one represented the highs of mania. At this point, my art was becoming symbolic. Objects were representing states of mind along with ideas. For me the fast-moving horse is what it feels like dealing with such strong and opposing emotions. The journey around these poles is constant. The visuals of my dream turned into a painting. This was a first for me. I had never had dreams this precise and this specific until I started medication. Now my illness was becoming my inspiration.”
“Dichotomies of any kind are prevalent in my work. The concept of two different halves making one complete autonomous thing goes way back in my work. Being bipolar and dealing with borderline personality disorder, my fascination has had some deep roots. The inspiration for this work came with the idea of being split. It is also about the anxiety that arises when something is not together. The sensation of being split, of being parts broken and fractured, describe some of the sensations that accompany mental illness. The struggle comes in integrating parts.”
Kurt Joachim von Behrmann has followed in his father’s footsteps as an artist, educator and art writer. After earning his B.F.A in painting from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and his M.F.A. from The Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Kurt wrote art reviews for “The New Art Examiner,” “Art Papers” and “The Little Rock Free Press.” After working as a professor of visual art at Morehead State University, Kurt had his first solo show in New York City at the Cinque Gallery. His most recent solo exhibition took place in early 2018. Titled “Poles,” all of the work shown dealt with the theme of bipolar as a source of inspiration for fine art. Kurt resides and works in Phoenix, Arizona. You can follow Kurt on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Medium, or you can visit his website to view more of his art.
By Amy Kerr
"In January of 2017, while in the depths of depression, the phrase, 'I am more than this,' popped into my head, and a fully formed public art and writing project seemed to download into my brain. A day that began dark and hopeless ended with the plans for a project called 'I Am More.' It combines my portraits in pastel and colored pencil with the writing of the portrait subject describing how they are more than their challenges.
"Subjects from ages 15 to 79 are pictured in the location of their choice, and they describe how they are more than their depression, grief, PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, bipolar disorder, OCD, schizoaffective disorder, postpartum depression, anxiety, panic attacks, cancer diagnosis and more. The portraits and essays are now circulating in non-traditional display spaces like food pantries, schools, libraries, theaters, treatment centers ... anywhere where people will notice them and be reminded that their struggles are just one part of a person with gifts, talents, and loves that need to be remembered and celebrated."
Amy Kerr is a portrait artist from Gloucester, MA, who has struggled with depression for 19 years. In 2016, she shared her personal story of depression on her blog and was overwhelmed by the response. Friends and strangers were grateful for the opportunity to have a platform to talk about suffering in public and without shame. This conversation led to the idea for "I Am More." To view more of Amy's work, visit her blog.
By Tiffany Mei Yates
"'Aftermath of a Kettle of Fish’" is the beginning of a series of female figures with manifesting negative traits that I'm trying to accept and normalize as represented by animals. The main focus of the series is creating figures that are unrestrained and overwhelmed, feelings that I loathe and avoid by immersing myself in projects and work. The animals coming forth from their bodies as though they are raw emotions are being expelled. ‘Aftermath of a Kettle of Fish’ is about dealing with the myriad of feelings after an awkward situation, and observing and empathizing with the offender. Regret for acting out of vulnerability, mixed with sickening shame for the hypocrisy of trespassing the boundaries of others.”
Tiffany Mei Yates is an illustrator, designer and crafter. Her influences run the gamut: Fantasy and science fiction, as well as various biology, technology, medical and political articles. Tiffany grew up surrounded by art, attending and helping at art shows and spending many days after school in her mother’s studio, where she watched her make Chinese brush paintings. Absurdity is a reoccurring theme depicted in Tiffany’s work, which swings between humorous and eerie. Tiffany views her art making as compulsive, inevitable as a form of communication. Studio 23 in Fredericksburg, Virginia’s Libertytown Arts Workshop is where her drawings, sculptures and paintings can be found. View more of Tiffany’s artwork here, follow her on Instagram (@tyates.found) or contact her to learn more about her work.
By Kimberly Frentheway
"I created this piece when I was in the midst of a particularly difficult depressive episode as part of the bipolar disorder that I live with. The heart is shattered but holding together amongst all of the pain, because I have learned many new skills in the last couple of years to help me cope with the ups and downs of this illness.
"I created this piece as a way to express myself as an outlet when I felt like I was barely holding it together. I had recently started CBT, and those skills really helped to manage the depressive episode that I was experiencing during this period. I had just experienced a significant loss, as well, and this piece reflects that.
"I find that art is a way for me to divert excess energy or negative feelings (depending on my mood state) in a positive way, and it often helps me communicate those feelings to providers in ways that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise."
To learn more about Kimberly's experience, visit her blog.