Give up your day job and become an artist they said. But don’t do that, you need to save for your retirement. Along came lockdown though and with it both the opportunity and desire to get out my acrylic paints from 20 years of storage. It always seemed like a slight chore to complete a painting with any competency, the greats like Monet, Manet and Van Gogh would in my mind put a pin in any comparative skill level I might possibly reach. My mum introduced me to David Hockney though – his art is rarely based on accuracy, and I felt inspired to begin.
In February 2020 my equipment was still usable and I worked in my garden on the first sunny day. It was colourful and I was grinning with surprise by my first effort actually coming together, swapping brush for brush from my teeth to my hand, remembering a few tips from Bob Ross, the guy from the 80’s with the afro hair who presented ‘The Joy of Painting’ recently re-run on BBC Two. This was fun.
I knew I had to get set up properly if this was to continue so the next day I bought supplies from already picked at shelves in the art section of Wilko’s – oil paints, proper brushes, canvasses and thinner. My second painting came out well too, I added some thought provoking moments in the landscape, hoping they would not be missed by my friends and family who encouraged me from Whatsapp. It’s nine months later now and I can’t stop painting. My boss at one of my part time jobs saw the little online gallery I’d put together (see menu, top right) and asked me to do a series of murals in his shop, I’m now finishing the fifth mural on a theme of Basingstoke (my hometown) landmarks and beauty spots.
Throughout this year and especially at the beginning, people have spoken about being put down by the man, of being stifled, bored, which I understand and respect – but I have never been so productive. The fascination and achievement in my new hobby is with me all the time, like I’m in some new relationship. My boss’s shop is closed at the weekends, so now I’m actually looking forward to Monday mornings so I can carry on. I’ve not felt that one before and I’m 38.
I am a person who has had a long and serious journey with mental illness and recovery. I consider myself 90 % recovered now and I’m fine, and better than fine. For the last three or four years I have been preparing, working on, overthinking and enjoying writing my memoirs of becoming unwell in 2002 (cannabis induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature/anxiety), sectioning, escaping from the locked ward (twice), jumping off a bridge and breaking my back…so the recent extra time has enabled me to make progress on my book too, and I recently sent it off for another professional manuscript assessment service.
My last hospitalization was in 2006, and since then I have been working at getting better. I have found what works for me, including the right medication (I’m still on clozapine, in a low dose) and incorporating a veritable smorgasbord of other things into my life, different things at different times. Perseverance and hope have been instrumental, therapy, family support, a varied bunch. But from 2004 to 2010 I was extremely anxious and for two years I had panic attacks, made particularly tough by the fact that my psychosis had me thinking that I was telepathic and that every person walking by my house in the town centre could hear and feel my panic attacks and that I was spreading the despair to them.
At any moment these louts walking home from the pub could break in my door and kill me dead. But I eventually saw that recovery from serious mental illness is possible, and I have even come away with it with many positives. In a way I often consider my journey to be my training, like ‘The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei’ who trained Uma Thurman in the film ‘Kill Bill’. I think of how I got through and learned how to deal with the worst things, and the challenges of everyday life now feel like things that I can surely handle.
I also got used to minimal socializing. I got used to not having friends. My anxiety taught me how to function and thrive without the positives like holidays and parties that other people enjoyed so much. So the March orders of only going out for exercise and if one was a key worker just rolled off me…in a rare moment of the remnants of my psychosis returning I even wondered if the anxious panickers who have got used to being indoors might now inherit the earth.
I have coped well. I have been lucky, my family and friends are okay. I have video calls with my nieces in America, I have zoom calls with the others in the Basingstoke Mental Health Service User Advisory Board twice monthly, I am back at two part time jobs now, I go for walks with my mum and I enjoy photography, I look after my mental health blog, I do social media, I watch TV and I socialize when I can. I’m not a drinker but I love playing snooker. I’m practicing guitar and trying to make something akin to progression with my violin. Though everyone seems to suggest investing in Netflix I watch YouTube like it is going out of service tomorrow.
To be honest, my life has been falling into place a bit this year. And why not I say!