The blog post below was written by Ellen.
When I was 11, I began to suffer from intense panic attacks and I turned to self harm to alleviate some of that pain. Seven years later, I’ve got a long list of diagnosis, including anorexia nervosa, depression and anxiety.
Throughout my GCSEs I barely went to school. I taught myself the courses at home and pushed through my exams. I managed to get A*s, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t really living.
The school I was in at the time was very focused on getting the top grades and getting girls into the ‘best' universities. But even at 11 I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant or an engineer… but I couldn’t work out what I did want. And I’ve realised that that’s okay.
One of the biggest steps I’ve taken was starting therapy again. I stopped going for a long time because my body and mind were too weak to benefit from it because of my anorexia, but once I was at a stable weight I went back. My therapist has allowed me to open my eyes to the beauty in the world and always encourages me to chase my dreams, even if I’m not sure exactly what I want. She’s helped me to look for coincidences in life; the world starts to connect up and forms a safety net around you.
She was crucial in helping me transfer to an art college for sixth form, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Things are still really hard sometimes but I am learning to get in touch with myself more and I feel like the universe is there to support me.
I have found myself in art; I joined weekend classes in a London photography studio when I was 15 and I realised I could explore a format people want to see and that makes sense to me. I love to create narratives through both words and images; I am interested in psychology and colour theory and I use art to try and understand myself and others.
I created a scanography series in which I expressed my mental health journey through distorted self-portraits and eerie colour palettes. I was inspired by Amy Hughes, a painter I found reading Aesthetica magazine. Encased (2017) is psychologically and physically charged; I was struck by the strong highlights arching over a figure's back with an agonised, scrunched up face, distorted by the reflected light and texture of a plastic prison. I reached out to Amy and interviewed her for my project - she even invited me to the opening of her show! She encouraged me to express my true-self, which helped me develop my interest in the nature of mankind.
According to a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation 2018, 74% of adults in the UK alone report feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. 51% of these adults felt depressed, and 61% felt anxious. 16% had self harmed and 32% said they had experienced suicidal thoughts. It is hard to tell whether we are just noticing and appreciating the effects of mental health more nowadays, or if there is a crisis as dramatic as reported. Either way, to experience mental health issues or to support someone with them is incredibly, painstakingly hard. I know from my own experience how isolated, hopeless and empty these problems can make you feel. Some of my images are my attempt at describing how you can feel like you're living multiple lives; we lie to people and tell them we're okay, we are misunderstood by others, and we don't know how we even really feel.
As the scanner moved, I lifted my head and lowered it at regular intervals to create the more frozen style of image. I’ve also tried to depict the feelings of isolation, disorientation and sadness. I pressed my face against the scanner to create visible pressure on my nose and forehead; the world is so vast and scary, yet we can feel caught-up and claustrophobic living in it. The qualities of the images create a kind of wavering mood-line - a bit like a line graph - as well as confusion and feeling out of control. I moved my face along with the scanner, not worrying about the slight shake of my body as I did so as this is what created the wavering effect.
I didn't want to make them specific to any one mental health issue; they are universal and can be understood by many. For instance, some images may as a representation of schizophrenia. I wanted to create a sense of understanding for those suffering due to mental health issues, be it the one who is ill or the one caring for them, and also to educate those who think the mentally ill are simply 'over dramatic' or 'not worth helping'.
Reasons to try being creative 🎨...
1️⃣ Creatives activities can help to reduce stress levels, aid mental calmness and serve as a relaxing distraction. You can get absorbed in your mental flow when creating.
2️⃣ Art also helps creative thinking; it can better your problem-solving skills. There are no wrong answers in art and we are allowed to imagine our own solutions. Flexible thought can stimulate in the way that learning a new language can.
3️⃣ Art can improve cognitive abilities and memory for people with serious brain disorders, such as dementia, by stimulating cell growth in the brain.
4️⃣ Chronic health conditions can be left behind while you create; a positive experience, and a chance to achieve allows you to express your feelings and help you find your identity.