During my illness, making art — painting, writing, performance and film — helped me find a narrative that would say what words could not. Being creative, I could express what was inexpressible (sheer agony and torment). What I produced (art, words, film, data) then provided both testimony of my experiences and medicine, to ease the pain I felt. The art media opened truth, catharsis, connection with others, and empathy.
Later, during my recovery, telling the story of what I had experienced was empowering. I found it validating to talk about my journey from the absolute worst (being told I “should be locked up for life”, as “treatment resistant” with no chance of surviving my deep, dark illness), to gaining hope and building a new life for myself.
I became a mental health campaigner. Telling my story was a vocation; I wanted to give other people who were suffering hope that they too could recover. I did a TEDx talk. I made films about recovery. My story was important – talking about it helped me solidify what I was saying.
One day I realised that I did not want my whole life to be about my (previous) illness. Although I was talking about recovery as a campaigner (etc.), often I became tokenised and identified as someone with lived experience of illness. I wanted to be known as so much more than that, so I decided to stop working in mental health, and build an entirely new life for myself. Having no eating disorder (etc.) in my identity provided a brand new story and the epitome of recovery.
What does recovery look like now? I am healthy and well, but I still have a damaged brain (on the temporal lobe and frontal lobe, amongst other places). This in effect means that that the edit or filter button on my imagination is damaged. I am left with pure, incessant imagination. This is a condition called ‘organic hallucinosis’. I see the most extraordinary characters. Telling their stories (our stories) becomes a way of managing, dealing with, celebrating our existence together. I do this by dictating, writing, painting or performing what appears to me. Storytelling.
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