I'm Cured

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The 72 000 + strong Facebook group “Wow thanks I’m cured” gives you some insight into the frustration felt by those suffering from mental health issues about the misplaced advice given to them. It’s a welcome sanctuary from other parts of the internet where you are not valid unless you have photos of yourself in your underwear, are sun baking on a yacht, or have 1 million neopoints.

Yes we all crave validation. Even if it’s through having the cutest neopet. Don’t worry I’m going to stop talking about neopets now.

 

I don’t believe that people intend to hurt those who are experiencing mental health issues, or even more broadly, those who are grieving. Comments like, “try exercise”, “do some mediating” are things that help, but can be infuriating because it can feel like your illness is being dismissed as something with an obvious remedy.  

Diagnosed anxiety, depression and eating disorders (I’ll focus on these because of my own experiences) cannot be ‘cured’ because they are not diseases. Anxiety is not the flu. Depression is not the plague. Eating disorders are not cancer. Yet anxiety, depression and eating disorders are still classified as illnesses.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

It’s confusing because we often refer to those experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety as “mentally ill”. “Mental Illness” is the umbrella term that refers to a group of illnesses. The Australian Government Department of Heath (2007) defines mental illness as, “a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.” Giving some weight to the use of the term “illness”, The Department of Health also mention that “mental health problems” are the same, but to a lesser extent than a mental illness.  Mental illness is diagnosed per standardised criteria. You see your doctor for a treatment. There are plenty of parallels between depression, anxiety and other sicknesses which make is easy to slip into using the same language we use when someone is sick.

So what is clinical depression and anxiety. Are they illnesses or issues? To be honest I’m probably not going to do a 12 year medicine degree to answer that. However, when I was diagnosed with anorexia and binge eating disorder (separate occasions) it was a huge relief because I felt like my struggles were justified. I had a medically recognised disorder. That doctors, psychologists, government agencies – all the big important people agreed was a cause for concern. I felt validated for the harrowing experiences and feelings I had. Throughout my adolescence I desperately tried not to think about how my life was railroading. I thought that if I didn’t talk about “it”, “it” would go away. I couldn’t even think about eating disorders in my own head. Every birthday candle, every shooting star wish was to be normal, to be able to live again.

I’m still not normal, but I have recovered from the eating disorders. Wishing upon a star didn’t work, nor did my strength of will. Cognitive behavioral psychological therapy did. 

Defining a disorder can be helpful. Yet, not everyone has the luxury of getting a diagnosis. Many will experience extreme amounts of shame about being mentally ill and think of it as a weakness to hide. Sometimes those around us mislead us into believing our thoughts and feelings aren’t worthy of concern—and sometimes this lack of empathy gives us a place on the “Wow thanks I’m cured” Facebook page.

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There is still an incredible amount of stigma around mental illness. People experiencing any type of mental unrest need understanding and support. Acknowledging and listening to those experiencing mental illness can be the first step in someone’s path to a full life.

I’m not a doctor or psychologist. My experiences may not relate to you always seek professional help. In Australia we have bulk-billed doctors and your psychology bill is covered by medicare. Certain psychologist will make allowances on their rate under certain circumstances. There is no substitute for a clinical psychologist.

 Further information:

All images from the “Wow Thanks I’m Cured” 

Defining mental health : http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-w-whatmen-toc~mental-pubs-w-whatmen-myth

It's All in Your Head

Emotional timeline, 2017, Oil on board

Emotional timeline, 2017, Oil on board

Have you ever noticed the language we use to describe emotions? When we see a parking officer putting a parking ticket on our car, we are angry, so we will curse and yell. When someone close to us passes away, we are sad, and we cry. We talk about events that happen in the world as triggers for anger, fear, disgust, sadness and happiness and the actions that we took because of the triggered emotion. Emotions happen to you. You have no control over them. That's the way our culture thinks.

Respected neuroscientist, professor and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett is now asking us to reconsider how we think about emotion. Two decades of research has brought Barrett to understand emotions as constructions of the world, not reactions to it. That is to say, that anger you felt getting that parking ticket, was an emotion you learnt. You saw someone in the street cursing at a parking officer and you learnt how to react. You learnt a concept. Think for a minute what this means for how we experience the world.

The world is built on concepts and we are all passing on these concepts to each other. We have responsibility and control over our emotions. It’s a complete game changer for understanding mental, physical and neurodegenerative disorders (Barrett, 2017).

I don’t particularly feel like repeating neuroscience jargon on a blog post but if you’re interested in the exact science-brain happening there are some references at the end of this post.

So where did I learn this information? My doctor? A journal article? No. A podcast. Invisablia’s “Emotions” podcast, released June 1st 2017.

The argument sounded incredibly malicious, yet I almost certainly agreed with the idea. Barrett sounded like one of those people who tell people diagnosed with depression to “Suck it up and get on with it” or people with anxiety that “It’s all in your head”. Nothing enrages me more than anyone downplaying the importance of seeking professional help for mental illness.

So why did I agree with Barrett ?

I’m starting to have a problem with the internet's dark information magic. Podcasts, like Invisiblia, Youtube personalities, Instagram heros are telling us information which may or may not be relevant to you or your situation. Who has time to cross check a podcast? Who would want to cross check a podcast. The answer is me. I'm that nerd.

It’s the nature in which podcasts are accessed that annoys me. Podcast’s are listened to as a time filler, to keep your mind preoccupied and usually while your doing another task. You learn something new which you can add into a conversation for a little extra spice and that’s about as far as podcast’s take you. At best they can ignite an interest in something you can continue adding knowledge to through other resources. At their worst they plant ideas in your head that grows into strange mutations and feed destructive behaviours.

I hear this most potentially in the “Emotions” episode by Invisiblia. Hanna and Alix even acknowledge how risky the information they were presenting was for audiences, “This isn’t a quick bite you get in a podcast, this is huge”. This understanding of emotions being constructed by us, means we are the creators of own experience. This is an ideology I unknowingly brought into in my post-pubescent life and it created fertile ground for eating disorders to flourish. It was not a good time.

Whether it was reading the body and soul in the weekend Australian or a predisposition for perfectionism or being a Scorpio? The full moon? That green ghoul that visits me in my dreams sometimes? The magic potion the fairy gave me at the Eumundi markets when I was 9? There are a lot of factors behind why I developed these eating disorders. It’s something I will never be able to justify, but i was able to overcome it.

I believed I could better myself with diets and hard work. This was the answer my 15 year old brain came up with. Control your eating, control your emotions. I wasn’t aware that’s what I was doing at the time. I couldn't go to parties because there would be alcohol, alcohol had calories. I couldn't go to sleep overs because there would be junk food. I isolated myself.

I remember these prize moments i would play over and over every time i grew hungry. Standing outside of art class clutching my sketch book across my chest a classmate came up to me and grab my wrists, "Your so skinny!" she exclaimed. Or when we did health and physical fitness class and we had to record our bmi weekly. The teacher would get us to read out our measurement and mine had dropped from healthy to underweight. "How the hell did you do that, what did you do?" one of boys on the table asked me. Finally, something i can be proud of i thought.

I stuck with it for three years. Until I became so very underweight, and so very depressed. Despite spending every waking moment outside of school at the gym, my high school friends, remained my friends. To this day, they are my best friends. They just kept being my friends. They accepted me not because i was skinny but because I liked music, drawing and quoted the Simpsons. I began to eat. I was seemingly better. I resolved the physical appearance of the disorder I neglected why I had developed these destructive behaviors in the first place. It all seems so obvious now to link the mind to behavior, but for nine years I tried to resolve these eating issues myself. But, you’d better be joking if you think the internet is going to be able to define your cognitive behavioral problems that had been constructed from your childhood.

“Ok just eat the meal Shannon, don’t eat 5 meals, just the meal, no 15km running either, everyone else eats normally why you don’t?” I had no answer to that last question. I didn’t know why I was choosing not to eat and I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop eating. I still believed the answer was inside of me and that one day it would all just stop. Hope buys you about five days of normal eating. Then you binge for two, restrict for three, binge for two, read a helpful article online and eat normally for two days, then mispronounce a word in your design presentation and binge for four days, you feel guilty and pathetic and restrict for a 3 weeks. Did you get exhausted reading that sentence? Imagine reading it over and over again for nine years.  

It’s impossible to overcome an addiction without understanding why you are addicted in the first place. Eating disordered behaviors produces the same chemical stimulation as all types of drugs and alcohol. When I started seeing a psychologist I started to understand how these eating disorders were how I escaped an underlining loneliness, depression and a feeling of being worthless.

Emotions. The reason for my disordered behavior was my emotions. There was no way I could have resolved my disordered eating and mental health issues on my own without clinical help. Which is why I advocate for others to seek help so strongly. It’s not Barrett’s findings I have a problem with it’s how the information is presented and the lack of sensitivity around what is potentially harmful information.

We are responsible for our emotions and we can construct them and reconstruct them. To my understanding (as a non-neuroscientist or psychologist) my experiences with mental health support Barrett's findings. I had to become aware of my emotions and where they were coming from. When i could see the triggers I could avoid them or at least manage them, when they happened. Things that made me upset, I told myself--this is why you are upset. And then I would get upset, again and again and each time it would be less painful until eventually i had learnt that emotion didn't mean i had to repeat destructive behaviors.

I unlearnt hardwired concepts. Years of psychology helped me. Not a 1 hour podcast i listened to a couple of times.

I wonder how a high achieving school student would understand, “You are the architect of your experience”?  

There is without a doubt space for podcasts in the hypermetabolic information age but i just wish psychology podcasts would consider that most of their listeners are not neuroscientists or psychologists. Or at the very least acknowledge that they are not offering a substitute to seeing your doctor.

 

References

Barrett, F. L. 2017, The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interception and categorization from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience retrieved from https://lisafeldmanbarrett.com/academic-papers/

Emotions, Invisablia, July 2017, Podcast Accessed from:  http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/530718193/emotions

George Lacombe

Blue Seascape, Wave Effect,  George Lacombe,

Blue Seascape, Wave Effect, George Lacombe,

Ultramarine and cotton candy pink, golden yellows and turquoise foam. These are no ordinary seascapes. George Lacombe's spent his summers in the coastal village of Camaret-sur-mer in Brittany from 1888. Camaret-sur-mer is picturesque, however it seems Lacombe was more interested in the broody waves, depicting their power and beauty. In these works the waves consume almost the entire painting, with only a small margin left for the horizon line.
As a viewer, even outside of Vorhor, the Green Wave, the cliffs threaten and trap you in front of the rushing tidal surge.

Yellow Sea,  George Lacombe

Yellow Sea, George Lacombe

"Lacombe, by his refusal of realism, introduces us into a symbolic world: a kind of flux and surge of life, where the two contemplative forms, fusing with nature, stretch towards the sky, the only point of exit in the painting. "

Catherine Gendre, ‘Catalogue no. 3’, in Georges Lacombe 1868–1916, Versailles: Musée Lambinet 1984, p. 26 (trans. by author)

Vorhor, the Green Wave,  Geirge Lacombe, 1896-97

Vorhor, the Green Wave, Geirge Lacombe, 1896-97

Is Painting Outdated?

By making art we are endeavoring to comprehend the world. Art restores the world to us. We have constructed many things in this world to aid our time here. We have organisations and committees that work to better society. Science and mathematics that explains the world in figures. Yet none of these things achieve what art does. Art doesn't argue. It closes the gap between you and everything that is not you. Art translates feeling to meaning.

I am reasoning this purpose with myself as I feel confronted by how uninspired the medium of painting is in comparison to a recent experience i had with participatory art. As a part of the Dark Mofo festival this year there was invitation to "be apart of a party that will be artwork". The artwork was titled "Occasions" staged in the Contemporary Art Gallery of Tasmania hosted by artist Isabel Lewis. The gallery was filled with pine trees and an array of seating. A pleasant forest smell wafted through the air when we arrived and ambient music was playing. We initially expected nothing more than to sit in the pleasant space, and take full advantage of the unlimited free wine. We were made exceptionally comfortable with delicious food and blankets . There was no reason to leave the space. In the three hours we spent as participants in the artwork the scent changed 3 times. With each change Isabel would talk to the party about deeply philosophical ideas, and speculated why we love as humans. She was the perfect host. Creating a sublime atmosphere and was a incredible speaker. We were allentranced by her story telling.

Working up to the third scent she spoke about one of Socartes admires who was always the loudest most grandiose member of the party. Socartes despises this person. She described a particular event where Socartes had arranged a party for some supremely elite intellectuals which this admirer was excluded. Late in the evening the admirer, incredibly drunk, arrives uninvited to Socartes party and announces his love for Socartes. He expresses how he admires his wisdom and wishes he could learn from him. Socartes, known for his rational control of his emotions stands before, this man who has completely lost control of his and publicly humiliates the man for being so drunk and foolish. It was at the close of this story Isabel sets up the final scent. The soundtrack to this scent is Akon, "I wanna love you". As the previous scents were subtle and pleasant I sniffed the air as i wanted to experience and fully understand the meaning of the story. This smell was not subtle. It was pungent. I immediately recoiled in disgust and covered my nose with my own hair. I was embarrassed i had such a obvious reaction as no one else seemed overly unsettled. I couldn't even articulate to my friends why i had couldn't stand the smell. Then, with Akon playing, i realised. It smelt like the type of intimate experience you have in club. It smelt of sweat, urine, and alcohol. And it reminded me of a regrettable sex. A memory i thought i had suppressed. And upon this realisation i left the room.

I don't think a painting can make you leave a room. A little shaken it took quite a number of hours to feel normal again. I hated the artist for that smell. And then i loved the artist for that smell because never has art been such a powerful experience. I had been reluctantly immersed in my memories and experiences. I gave no permission to have this experience.

Are our senese of smell, touch, hearing in fact more powerful tools for accessing our memories and feelings than our visual perception? Is it possible the complexities of the age we are in simply need more than visual media to be comprehended? 

 

 

 

Place and Memory

One of the most amazing things about being a human is our ability to remember. We love memories. Sometimes we hate memories. They are incredibly powerful and greatly influence how we act, our opinions, our decisions and even how we live.

Emotions, however, cannot be shared easily. You can talk about how you feel using all kinds of adjectives sad, upset, frustrated, angry, but emotions are a little more complicated than that. Try explaining to a developer your "emotional attachment" to a building. Of course they will not understand because they cannot comprehend the experiences and the memories you have of the place. And if they can and they don't care, they are the devil. If we want to connect with someone we have to find something within ourselves that knows how that person is feeling. That means using empathy. Without empathy how can you understand why someone, for example, doesn't want the cultural center of West End to be replaced with a megalopolis of apartment buildings.

Marilena's Easel and the lushiousness, Oil on Canvas Paper, Feburary 2017

Marilena's Easel and the lushiousness, Oil on Canvas Paper, Feburary 2017

Place is not something that simply exists. It is constructed through our experiences and humaness. It's a beautiful thing. and on that note a life update! I've just moved house to a luscious spot with a huge space under the house for a studio. These are some paintings I've done in the afternoon light, when the garden starts glowing.

With the mosquitoes and the turkey, Oil on board, Feburary 2017

With the mosquitoes and the turkey, Oil on board, Feburary 2017

Making Art with Music

Have you ever noticed that music allows you to feel your emotions? This is large part of why humans listen to music. Music consolidates our feelings and emotions. We tend to listen to music that reflects our mood. Up beat songs when we are happy, slower sombre songs when we are sad.

Although i have always sort solace from music I discovered when i was struggling with anxiety and depression that combining art and music was an even greater healer. I found that music released emotions i was suppressing, and with a huge sheet of canvas and paints on my hands i made these feelings visible. I could see them. I could work with them and move on.

I now dance and paint and scribble all the time. I use art to like some people use medication. I take my sketch book everywhere; to parties, to bars and cafes. Friends and family often join in and quickly realise how calming it is to draw. You don't need a structured drawing lesson, you just draw what is in your mind. Shapes, figures, line. It doesn't need to look like anything. It doesn't need to be "well composed" or pretty, but you need to create it.

Everything else in this world has rules, art is one of the only activities that has no rules. Embrace it.

Art work from a recent drawing to music session with a few pals

References

Koelsch, S. (2014). Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(3), 170-180. doi:10.1038/nrn3666

 

Ocean Sand, Bahamas

I admit it. I spend around 50% of my day on the NASA website. This is satellite image of the sands and seaweed in the Bahamas. It was taken by some kind of science device also known as "the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus instrument".

HOW DAMN BEAUTIFUL IS IT.
Stop buying useless things and appreciate this for one second ok thank you.
Tides and ocean currents sculpted these patterns much in the same way that winds sculpted the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

I'm so excited to study these earth patterns more. I would assume there is a equation to justify there existence but beyond the equation what is there? 

NASA, Ocean Sand, Bahamas, Visible Earth, from: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=2780