Worth a Thousand Words: Mental Health in Pictures
by Lou Rambeau
These pictures are not entirely the pretty picture the public wants people to paint. They are reality. They are dirty, messy, uninhibited, and true. The captions exhibit scattered thoughts—some are uplifting and some are downfalls. Like a glance into the mind or a glimpse in between closed doors, I tried to display real emotions and words and, above all, truths. The things we experience and hide on a daily basis. Everyone has mental health struggles from time to time. Everyone can relate to shared moments of highs and lows and the human experience of intense emotions and stressful life circumstances. We are in this together. Recovery is more than the short narrative I spelled out before you. It’s all the moments in between the flash of the camera. You are not alone.
These pictures are more than just a reflection or display of a commonality. Art, in all of its forms (photography, writing, painting, pottery, etc.) is very influential in my own life. Many creatives speak of how art has helped them pull themselves out of a rut, or channel their negativity into making something bigger than themselves. There’s even correlation between artistic talent and mental illness. Picking up a camera, taking photos, and capturing a raw moment that even just one other person out there might find solace in is an original take on discussing mental health. That song that makes you feel better in times of sadness isn’t just a one way street, the artist felt relief in creating it and you feel relief when you listen to it. That’s the magic.
I consider any artistic outlet, whether it be journaling, singing, or glass blowing, to be of major aid in times of mental struggles. Learning this truth about myself has not only helped me recover or cope, but it has also allowed me to bring this newfound discovery into activism such as this project. There are plenty of educational resources out there, but there are fewer artistically-inclined takes on mental illness. I find those to be most helpful. Making something beautiful out of a hardship can be transformative for both the artist and viewers.
Labels can be hard to escape. “Anorexic. Anxious. Depressed. Manic.” Yes, these are diagnoses, and they are often necessary for moving forward in recovery, but I find that the action of resonating with a photograph that captures the same feelings you are dealing with is often more freeing than the tied down fear of being defined by a clinical label. That’s the catch here—that moment of safety and clarity; that realization that you can delve into a poem or a drawing and share it with others in the hope that someone out there feels less alone because of it.
People tend to think that others have it better, that someone else’s grass is greener, or that they are the only ones up at 2 a.m. crying inconsolably. I didn’t realize that my writing about sexual assault and anxiety could touch thousands upon thousands of people, but it did. I didn’t realize that influence until I had it, until there were people in my Twitter DMs thanking me for sharing my words, until people told me that my art helped keep them alive. I didn’t realize the power of art until I caught myself getting out of bed to get lost in a painting, or when I caught myself eating while traveling to see my favorite singer in concert. These little things that I picked up on slowly helped me better understand how to go through life in the best way that suits my needs. That’s the point of all of this.
Mental illness is a bitch. Yes, I said it. It’s mean and rude and shows up drunk and uninvited at the worst possible times. Therapy, seeing doctors, medication, and education are fantastic ways to go through recovery, but there’s also art. When you’ve exhausted the conventional ways of coping, it’s okay to do what makes you feel better. The air of shame and misunderstanding surrounding art therapy needs to dissipate. It’s okay to do whatever helps you. Everyone is different. There’s no shame in doing what is best for you. Self care and recovery are not identical. By all means, if art does not help you in your journey of recovery, then find something that does. Stay true to yourself. Recovery is not a “one size fits all”. So, go on and create beautiful things. You can do it. I believe in you.