On days when I feel faded like someone has clumsily water coloured my surroundings and hung them up before they were dry, I look up to my wall where a bright painting and certificate hang. I stare at them until the words “you have accomplished that, you have the ability to accomplish much more,” forms boisterously above all negative thoughts in my mind.
It was the week leading up to my big night out and I daydreamed continuously, not of the event, but of my nurse and husband coming to the agreement that I should stay home that night.” Yes,” I imagined them saying “you can be safe in the comfort of your own misery, with your suicidal thoughts and unwashed skin, yes, we believe that is best for you.” However, I knew it was unlikely they would agree to this.
I talked to my nurse, who made sure to book me in for an appointment a few days before the show, knowing all too well I was trying to avoid that night. Once in her office I explained it was still too soon, I couldn’t face anyone in the condition I was in. She continued to listen patiently as I carried on, hoping she would take pity on me and agree, but when I finished she looked at me confidently and disagreed.Then, she went one step further and in precise detail explained the reasons why I needed to go , but more importantly the regrets I would have if I didn’t. As I left her office, I envisioned a brighter scenario for that night, but as I walked further, I felt the vibrancy of her words dissipate like the paint I rinse off my brushes.
I arrived home; thoughts once again muddied and told my husband I wasn’t ready to be in a room with that many people. He calmly reassured me “I will be there with you the whole time, nothing to worry about. “ I expected this answer, but still I hoped he would have agreed for me to go into hiding just until the night passed. I wanted to live the invisibility I felt, I didn’t think that was too much to ask. The problem was I had too many loved ones counting on me; I had to start fighting to get better again, even though all I wanted to do was accept defeat.
I woke up early that day, had breakfast, took my prescribed pills, and “one” extra. I thought the “one “would aid my shaky nerves, unfortunately, it did not help. I then went upstairs and laid out newly purchased clothes, costume jewellery, and makeup all bought two days before the event. I looked over everything and thought “I don’t deserve this” and more so, this is all just a masquerade. My husband urged that I must wear something spectacular for my special night, even though I would have been content in paint clothes.
I took a long needed shower and began to carefully construct myself.I painted my face immaculately as if it were one of my canvas and added the finishing touches, the most perfect, lively red lipstick I had ever seen. I combed and parted my naturally wild hair, pinning it in back with jewelled barrettes. I then slipped into a pair of long black palazzo pants and a flowing shawl top. I finished by putting on an ornate choker necklace and fake pearl earrings.I stood up, put my slumped shoulders back, and there she was, the illusion of the charismatic artist, the woman I used to be, once strong and confident.
My husband came into the room “you look like a doll!” he said and smiled “are you ready?” I knew this was not a question that needed a loaded answer and I replied “yes “but couldn’t help myself and added, “I am just so nervous” but as always he reassured me and we went on our way.
We arrived several hours prior to the show so we wouldn’t be stuck in traffic or get lost. To kill time and settle my worries, we walked around the cold streets arm in arm. We sought shelter from the bitter wind by sneaking into the closest place; McDonald’s. We ordered and sat down keeping the conversation light. He joked about how sophisticated we were eating here tonight, and then he added; “sorry I can’t give you everything” I responded back “this is perfect” and I smiled as we continued to eat our greasy food.
After we walked around the block a few more times, we went back and sat in the car; I was staling. “Look at all the people that are going in “he enthusiastically said, I replied “at 5:05 I will go in I promise “and at that time precisely he said, “Times up” and shut off the car.
Holding my hand firmly he walked me through the doors where we were greeted by unfamiliar smiling faces.They told us where to check our coats and me, being an artist in the show, was told where to get my name tag. After we had completed that, we walked the steps up to the gallery, confidently he held my hand, and lead the way looking back with a smile.
Once through the doors I looked for my work, there she/I was my reflection. “ Brand” in shades of vermillion paint , clenched arms around myself, gritted teeth and the most horrific feature, my psychiatric file number carved aggressively into my arm. There in front of me, displayed beautifully, was the torment I had tried to hide for so many years, with smiles and the right outfits, until I crashed and the hospitalisations began. I looked over at my husband with glassy eyes “I don’t think I can do this “he held my hand tighter “its ok, this is a good night “he said reassuringly. He took the lead again, we walked around looking at all the beautiful and emotive art, and I began to relax.
About halfway through the night, when the gallery was full and lively, an announcement was made. Everyone was asked to come into the main room as speeches were to be made and awards were to be presented. I listened and looked on intently, not for my name but to see who would be called.I was trying to get a good look over everyone’s head. Then it happened they said it my name. I stood paralyzed, thinking there must be someone else in this room with the same name as me when no one went up and they called out my name, again I knew it was me. For the first time since this depression took a hold, I had to find the courage to stand on my own, no Doctor, nurse, or husband could accept this award for me, I had to move forward, and to my surprise, I did.
I got up on stage and all I kept telling myself was “don’t cry, don’t break down here, please just hold on”.I looked around for something to ground me and there he was, as always, my husband. He had rushed up, front and centre and reassured me with jesters it was o.k. Still shaking I listened to the gallery owner speak beautifully about my work, my chest swelled with honour and pride. When he was finished I shook his hand and looked at the audience.I could feel the encouragement of the crowd, not because I was mentally ill but because I was there, like the many other artists and guests that night we had persevered, we had erased stigma simply by showing up.
I wish today I could tell you that everything is better in my life, but I cannot. However I can tell you this, when I won the award for “Best Emerging Artist “ at the Touched by Fire show on December 8th, 2011, I emerged as much more that night, I became a fighter again, a fighter who reaches for brightly coloured paint and smiles when it stains my fingers.