Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mad In Public

The doctors here at the psychiatric clinic have told me that I am holding too much in. They tell me that this is the place where I’m not supposed to have a mask.
I don’t think of myself as someone who wears or hides behind a mask. If anything, I tend to be brutally honest about myself and my art. But in recent years, I have built a wall between my internal experiences and others' experiences of me.
I am open about having a mental illness but I am not open about what that entails, particularly the damage it wreaks, to myself and others.
I am, by clinical definition, insane almost all of the time.
Over the past 20 years, I have rarely been 'normal' or what mental health professionals describe as 'well'. When someone asks how I am and I tell them I'm well, I mean I'm coping, which is about as well as I get.
My early strategy for coping with my worst episodes was to withdraw. The rest of the time, I pretended to be sane as best I could. Those who were closest to me (and there are few) always suffered because it was impossible to hide it from them. They were involuntarily strapped to my roller coaster of psychotic delusions, paranoia, obsessions, auditory hallucinations, impulsive emotionally based decisions, distractibility, doubt, self loathing and rage. Nothing much has changed.
Other than the odd crying jag, my meltdowns have not been public. I’ve regularly had psychoses and delusions but on the whole, I’ve managed to keep the worst of my madness private. I've had to: to build a career, to maintain relationships, to make art.
I used to think that if people knew about my instability, they wouldn’t trust any my ideas, let alone respect my decisions. The fact is that I’ve been this way throughout my entire career: throughout every exhibition, every interview, every interaction with collectors, every blog entry, every public appearance, every success and every failure. I have tried very hard not to let my internal experiences fuck up my external ones, with varying degrees of success. But my being mad makes my every success assailable, subject to question.
I am always asked if my drive for success is 'good for me'.
Over the past couple of years, especially since my father died, I’ve withdrawn further from other people and from myself. I have come to loathe what madness has done to me. I try to take responsibility for it and develop skills to deal with it. But I have come to hate it – and with it, my self – and in many ways, I've stopped dealing with it as well as I should.
I don’t go there anymore in my art. In the past year or so, I’ve made some of my best art but I’ve stopped making anything that involves revealing much about myself. I tried to convince myself that this was a good thing: after all, my mental condition shouldn’t have anything to do with others' experience of my art or me. But it has.
The last thing I ever wanted to be a crazy artist. But in the end, that is what I am.
Not making art that is tinged by my madness hasn’t made me any more sane – even if I still suspect it has made me a better artist. If anything, it has had the opposite effect. Locked inside me with no outlet, my madness has grown restive and become less manageable. Denying myself access to the mad parts of me has greatly reduced the resources I have to to draw on when I make art.
So I've decided to let it out – or, perhaps more accurately, to let you in. I don't know how you'll react – I guess there'll be another slew of unwanted advice from strangers – but I know that if I don't, it will suffocate me.


projectgirl said...

No advice...just well wishes. At the same time you were destroying your work I was diagnosed with bipolar and lost my business. I lost all my so called friends. Almost destroyed my marriage. I agreed to take medication for my families sake and that ruined any chance I had at returning to photography. Haven't picked up a camera since. I hope you manage to get what you need and want out of your life and continue to make wonderful art (that one day...if I ever get my hands on some money...will be mine).

Sallie Escobedo said...

Stay strong. Thank You for sharing with us. You amaze me with your courage to share such a personal time in your life.
As human beings, and as an artist myself, I belive mentaly we have all bein there in one way or another. It is only the people that are brave enough to be honest about this that really gain something positive out of it and come out ahead. I feel that as an artist this experience will only make you stronger and will help you find peace.

Hazel Dooney said...

The comment below was sent to me as a personal email, from an artist I do not know. It's more appropriate that it's posted here:


In the past your rigidity has pissed me off no end, and I have expressed it both to you (not that you’d remember) and to an artist friend. But as someone who suffers demons of my own I have always found your analytical skills to be pretty amazing. Out of curiosity and, let’s face it, self interest, I will be keeping track of your struggle, so thanks for documenting it.


C. said...

Poor Andrea.

I think you're beautiful, Hazel.

Yvonne said...

In the current state of our world and society, I am far more alarmed by those who can stay sane.

Hazel, you are amazing and inspirational.

mizz corrie said...

take care ..you r so amazing!! if i can help with anything ..& i mean anything ...please ask!!corrie

ashley said...

hazel, i know this is something completely ridiculous to say to someone ive never met in person or even had a private conversation with online, but i love you.

not that i know what you are going through, but i think i have a general idea. i just lost my father a little over a month ago and all those emotions you describe is what im feeling, although probably to a somewhat lesser strength.

i hope you are able to overcome your demons, i wish you all the luck in the world :)