mental health, cancer and art

this is my first peopleized interview. peopleized is a site where you can find people to interview, offer yourself for interviews, and post interviews, which are then available for anyone to use. neat concept. [update on september 2009: that site doesn’t seem to alive anymore]

it’s friday, so of course this is a frozen pea friday post – a post about cancer. got a few pennies to share? why don’t you donate them to the frozen pea fund, here, where you can also find out what the dickens frozen peas have to do with breast cancer.

today we have an interview with addy, who, he says, is a little crazy, a little kinky, and suffers from bipolar type 1, depression and self harm. “they are illnesses i suffer from and are not a reflection of my personality. i’m tired of the stigma surrounding mental health, it’s time we gave it a damn good spanking.”

moritherapy: addy, i just spent a little time on your blog and saw that we have a few interests in common: fighting mental illness stigma, making depression visible, art, talking about cancer, and generally being a bit, how should i say – eccentric. tell me, for you, are there any connections between these topics?

addy:: eccentric, wow! i don’t think anyone has ever called me eccentric before. i’ve been called pretty much everything under the sun, but eccentric. i feel quite honoured.

is there a connection? who knows, i’ve never actually thought about any connections between all the things which make me who i am. i do however think that there are a lot of connections between who we are and what we’ve been through.

i have seen some very dark places in my life, more darker than i would wish on anyone i care about, and i think it’s having the strength to fight through those dark caves and chasms which has made me into the person i am.

moritherapy: how did/do you deal with the impacts of cancer on your mental/emotional health?

addy:: with a huge amount of difficulty.

i had spent a lot of time and energy over the months leading up to this diagnosis in trying to control and overcome my mental health problems that i actually truly felt i had them beat. at the time i was also suffering from glandular fever so my physical energy, as well as mental and emotional state, was at an all time low.

then being dealt the blow that i had cancer absolutely 100% knocked me for six. my initial reaction was disbelief, denial, confusion, and that whole other gauntlet of emotions which comes from such a shock. i didn’t know what to do, who to tell, how to deal with it at all.

i made the decision to tell my then girlfriend who just wouldn’t listen, and as i’ve explained on the blog, being broken up with by her so soon after this shock – and whilst i was having various tests and biopsies performed – had a cataclysmic effect on my mental health.

(the breakdown i suffered i am still dealing with today.)

in terms of how i deal with the impact in an ongoing sense, i just don’t think about it. simple as that. i don’t even really talk about it to anyone; because of what happened when i discovered i had cancer i find myself unable to talk to or ask for help from anyone in regards to this, or any, part of my life.

i have tests, feel like shit, go in/out of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, hide bits and pieces of information.

i know this will most likely kill me, but because i’ve been dealing with it – and everything – by myself for so long, the only way i’ve been able to cope with it is to go it alone.

i guess i’ve learned from my experiences in life that ultimately this is what we have to do.

moritherapy: … and conversely, how does/did your emotional and mental health state relate to having cancer?

addy:: pre-breakdown i actually felt i was dealing with the cancer pretty well, in fact i’d be willing to say few people suspected there was anything so serious wrong with me.

post-breakdown i just haven’t been coping. with everything that is happening i just haven’t been able to focus any strength or energy on this part of my life, which creates a myriad of problems in fighting and dealing with the physical ramifications of such an illness.

the emotional/mental state i have been in since the breakdown has made it hard for me to fight the physical aspects of my life, as i just can’t summon the energy. it’s just a huge drain on my energy both physically and mentally.

moritherapy: : what place do art and creativity have in your life? does this place have anything to do with cancer or mental health?

addy:: art and creativity have, since a young age, played a huge huge huge part in my life.

ever since i was a bouncing baby i remember drawing and craving new colourful pens and pencils.

i remember sitting in front of the tv writing stories, new indiana jones adventures and long rambling stories about all sorts of things.

this is what i love, this is what i’m most passionate about. my creativity, my ability to manufacture whole words, languages, people, cities with my writing. or my ability to capture still, peaceful resonant beauty with my photography.

this is all intricately linked to my mental and physical health problems. i struggle when i’m emotionally wrecked to write anything, a factor which ultimately led to the loss of my college course (as it came at a time when i was struggling with the huge emotional whack of cancer, loss of important relationship, glandular fever and mental health collapse).

depression stifles my creativity, and yet things like self-harm help bring it out. whereas if i’m manic or brimming with hypermanic energy i can’t stop writing, drawing, scribbling and creating.

i still haven’t quite figured it all out, but like i mentioned earlier, everything is connected. so there is definitely a link between my creativity and cancer/mental health problems.

then of course there is the obvious “escape hatch” theory; when dealing with so much don’t we all just want to run away into a fantasy world where everything is perfect?

moritherapy: do you find people with cancer are generally seen or treated differently than people who are dealing with mental health issues? if so, how?

addy:: see, now having both, this is interesting because i’ve experienced both the obvious differences and obvious similarities with how people treat me.

the obvious similarity is that regarding both health issues few people ever – and i mean ever – ask any questions about them. they know of them, but i’m very rarely asked any direct questions about either the cancer or mental health issues. they just hang in the air never being raised or discussed. as if people are scared of them.

the difference comes with the reaction. when people find out you have cancer it’s all sympathay and words of support and ‘is there anything we can do to help?’…but with mental health issues, with the depression, self harm, bipolar and suicidal issues it’s all ‘your own fault’ or ‘you’re just weak’ or ‘sorry, can’t have anything to do with you because those illnesses are contagious’ and you never see or her from those people again.

it’s funny, the stigmas surrounding cancer and all those myths from the 70s and 80s are now surrounding mental health issues. just cause i suffer from depression, self harm, bipolar etc doesn’t mean you’re going to get them – they’re not contagious – and it’s this stigma which annoys the hell out of me.

there’s a lot wrong with me both physically and mentally; and that’s all people see. they see the depression or the bipolar or the cancer. they never see me for who i am, and i like to think i’m more than that.

moritherapy: would you like to add anything?

addy:: i think i’ve rambled a bit too much, don’t you. then again there’s so much that should be spoken about more openly both with cancer and mental health issues that i urge people to think more about their health; both physically and mentally. think about their friends and family. think what you can do to help. although i say i go it alone i wouldn’t reccommend this to anyone else because loneliness is a huge strain. find help, find support, find love and care. this is a hugely undervalued form of medication…and hey, feel free to drop by the blog to get to know me – the me beyond the mental and physical illnesses. this is the best therapy of all, because we are all, above whatever we go through, people with thoughts, feelings and emotions.

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