She Exhibition Piece 10 – She Dreamed

Alison James. 2022. She Dreamed. Ink and Acrylic. 525mm x 465mm.

This is the tenth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

Not every moment She and I had were screaming, tumultuous things. After the reaching, came the dreaming. It was a moment of pause and I remember distinctly dreaming of a better time…a better life and finding it in myself to hope. I also knew that it was hard watching and supporting someone who was going through mental struggle, so when I dreamed, I dreamed of a better moment, not just for myself but for us all and I knew that the only way that moment would come was for me to find it.

I remember having a epiphany one day about the idea of backing myself. I was having a conversation with a friend about this idea of spending so much time and energy backing other people. Looking at other people’s work and loving it and because I love it so much, I like to promote it. I like to see other people’s success and am inspired by the incredible work they do. I will talk about them to anyone who will listen or recommend them on or post them through social media frequently, but when it came to my own art work, I was quiet.

I don’t like to talk about my work, or show it. When I do, this is the conversation my delightful brain comes up with…

Brain: Heeeeeyyyyy sooooo…Your work sucks.

Me: But…I’ve worked really hard at it. I practise and I consider each piece I do. I am constantly in the studio. Also…I have awards…and degrees…and multiple exhibitions!!

Brain: Yeah…nah. You are just really good at faking it. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, the things you do will NEVER be good enough…or even enough. You know one day they will all find out how bad you actually are at this and how little you know and how shit your work ACTUALLY is right? Then everyone is going to talk about you behind your back about how fake you were and how your work actually sucked and they can’t believe you actually have a degree at all and that you thought you were good enough to have an exhibition or be in an exhibition with other people. They are all going to laugh at you. Your work is TERRIBLE and the whole world sees that…it’s just you being egotistical and narcissistic that keeps all this going. You should give up. You’re so boring and so untalented it actually astounds me that you can find it in yourself to even get up in the morning.

Me: Oh my god…Shut UP brain.

Brain: But wait…there’s MORE. I could go on ALL DAY.

Me: …

Yeah that happens. THAT is imposter syndrome right there. It is helped along with a hefty dose of out of control perfectionism and unrelenting standards, that good old rejection schema and a number of truly maladaptive modes vying for as much attention as they can possibly get.

So when I was thinking about how easy it was to back other people and the things they do and how I look at their artwork with a different filter than I look at my own, I had this thought sneak in…”Why don’t you just back yourself?” And I took that thought and I followed it along a path of dreaming. What if I did? What would it feel like to look at my own work the way I look at other people’s work? What if I spent a lot of that energy backing MYSELF as if I liked my own work and what I did? What if I stopped being ashamed and instead was proud? What if I recognised that I put a lot of work and effort into what I do and judge the results not through unrelenting standards but on whether or not I achieved what I set out to do with each piece I made?

What if I just…block out other people’s criticisms and other people’s opinions, good, bad or indifferent and just let it be noise? Because that is all it is…just noise…and unless you are seeking someone’s professional critique on your artwork, it matters not at all and even then, it matters only to the point at which you recognise it as an improvement on your artwork.

What if I could be THAT person? How would THAT feel and what would that be like? And I thought…what an incredible dream that is. That would feel amazing. Back then, I remember holding onto that thought with everything in me and crying because I wanted THAT moment and to be THAT person and to feel THAT way so badly it ached. I had absolute clarity of vision about making that the new normal I wanted to walk into and every time I faltered, I kept that dream firmly in my mind and walked towards it.

This artwork is about having that moment of dreaming, when there is a break in the storm and you can look into a clear night sky and breathe and see a better moment coming. When you feel that moment of contentment because the next moment has every possibility and lifetimes of hope within it and it isn’t at all tainted. This piece is about taking a moment and setting it as a goal to reach for and live by, to push yourself towards a better time for yourself and in turn for everyone around you.

This style of drawing is very slow. I drew it with a dip pen and ink. I was constantly forced to slow my work and be mindful when using these tools. If you pick up too much ink on the nib, it makes a line that is too thick or even worse, you could drop a blob of ink on the page and ruin the whole thing. If you don’t pick up enough ink, it makes a scratchy, indecisive line. Every few lines, you are forced to stop, and re-dip your pen into the inkwell. Every half hour or so, you have to clean your nib because the ink dries on it and this means that the new ink you have dipped into doesn’t flow as well off it. The lines make this beautiful sound as you draw the nib over paper and the feeling of the marks you make are super satisfying. Everything is done with slow and purposeful intent and that kind of mindfulness is very much suited to the thoughts behind this piece.

She sits in this piece…and pauses. I wanted people to look at it, and breathe. You don’t have to think anything, just sit with her and know that this moment happened all because…

She dreamed.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 9 -She Reached

Alison James. 2022. She Reached. Mixed Media. 1520mm x 760mm.

This is the ninth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

The last time we were with her, she was finding her way. Turning thoughts that were heavy and tumultuous into things of beauty and symbolic of strength. She was beginning to bear the weight of these words and own them. And from here, she would learn to stand and reach.

This moment stands out brightly in my mind like the last one, as being a pivotal point where things turned around. I knew I didn’t want to sit in this dark place anymore. I didn’t want to struggle by myself and feel separate from everyone and everything. I knew that to find a new normal, I needed to gather all my courage and reach. It was a big ask. To come from storm and shadows and void, where I had lived for so long and had this weird kind of stockholm relationship with, and reach for something that was unfamiliar to me and uncertain.

Like the child that she was, she and I stumbled a lot in these moments. But time and again, she stood and she reached. There were days when I didn’t want to and days when I just could not. There were days when I screamed at the world about the unfairness of it all and how I didn’t want to do this anymore. That it was too hard and too much and I wanted it all to stop. But we still reached.

My psychologist and I were putting strategies into place. Practicing them over and over again so I knew what to do, when and how. I was recognising thoughts that were no longer acceptable in the mindscape I needed to build and finding the consistency of it was paying off. This painting is chaos and confusion and determination. There is so much happening that your eye is caught on many things at once. It was a moment of change caught in time and thrown into a painting that took months of building and rebuilding and transformation. I hated it, I loved it, I wanted to scrap it and throw it against the wall, I wanted to frame it and keep it forever…how I felt about this piece was parallel to how I also felt about this moment in my life.

This is the largest of all my pieces. She stands lifesize. She is that wild child still, caught in the storm and reaching for your hand. The void is around her, but it is less significant now. She stands tall and holds out her hand as if to ask for a hand up. If you were to stand beside this painting and look down upon it, you would see the child she is and you would feel compelled to take her tiny, skinny little hand. Her head is overlarge and stuffed with thoughts, like a young child, she is yet to grow into the size of it.

No longer bowed by the weight of thoughts, she can see the way out and knows her time in this place is ending. The void around her is a palpable thing. You can see it in the texture of the background, this movement and the creep of it over her in places as if it tries but is hesitant to hold onto her, and the melt of it as it drips down the canvas.

She also looks like she is melting. The splatter of paint drips from her and over her as if she is becoming less tangible here. And perhaps she is. This was still her place, she still was a part of it, but soon there would be a new normal because she stood up and….

She reached.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 8 – She Held On

Alison James. 2022. She Held On. (Diptych) Mixed Media. 1265mm x 1165mm.

This is the eighth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

We last left her floating in her own world of dissociation. It was a weird sensation of disconnection and of being separate from everyone and everything. To make a leap from there took time. There was a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy and a lot of schema therapy and apparently, for me, also a lot of looking up definitions of simple words like, for instance, do you know the difference between jealousy and envy? Jealousy is a fear that someone will take something that you already have and Envy is wanting what someone else has. It seems like such an easy thing to understand, but turns out I did not until I was made to look them up for homework.

There were a lot of other words that came up along the way. I remember that one of the words I used to constantly abuse myself with was, “Narcissist”. And I think part of the reason I would do that was because I did not really understand what it meant, I only understood it on a very surface level. Until I had to look it up and try to argue out loud that it applied to me. Then I realised how self abusive and wrong that actually was.

A lot of this picking of words came from negative thought journals I had to write. These journals are kind of a tool that are used where I was asked to write every negative thought that came into my head when I thought it and by doing so, we could start to see the patterns of thoughts that emerged and I guess also, the volume of them. Some days there were literal pages of my thoughts. I hated those journals. Everytime I looked at them I felt…awful. They dragged at me with their viciousness and aggressive hatred.

I think another thing those negative thought journals did for me was that it made me recognise when I was having a negative thought. I would have to stop, recognise that the thought was negative, write it down and consider it. That process made it easier later to argue against these thoughts when they happened because I had practiced recognising them and considering them.

Those thoughts haunted me. Even when I had learned to argue against them and they had lost a lot of their power because I had learned to not accept them as truth. So one day, I started stringing them onto strings using beads.

It turned these thoughts into something…else. They transformed somehow from being these ugly, heavy things to being somehow, beautiful and light. I could hold them in my hand and see them for the liars they were and that felt powerful.

This piece, “She Held On”, is about that feeling. Its about taking that ugliness and that heaviness and being strong enough to lift them up and show them to the world and in doing so, taking their power away from them. This piece is a diptych, so it is two paintings that work together to form one piece. It is meant to look like two cells of a comic book. She is standing in a classic hero’s pose with a giant KAPOW hand. She is powerful and holds the strings of thoughts like lightening bolts in her hands.

Her hand leaps out of the canvas at you, forcing you to stare at that which she holds with such force and strength. Those thoughts are heavy, but there is beauty in the showing of them, and for all that they had such weight…

She Held On.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

P.S. In case you were curious what each of the thought strings said, here are the pages of the notebook in which I wrote them. Some of them are confronting, some are triggering…so please be aware of that before you read through them.

TRIGGER WARNING!!! PLEASE BE KIND TO YOURSELF.

She Exhibition Piece 7 – She Floated

Alison James. 2022. She Floated. Ink. 985mm x 685mm.

This is the seventh artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

If you recall in the last post, She was consumed with worry and anxiety. It was a battle that was exhausting and most of all, overwhelming. Under normal circumstances, mild levels of worry and anxiety are easily dealt with. You can work out what is bothering you. You have a clear path to fix it, or it just doesn’t last that long. What makes this level of worry and anxiety disordered is the way it permeated everything and made my life unbearable. I was paralysed with it. My thoughts were consumed by it. Every day was a trial to do the simplest things in order to move through my life.

As a result of reaching that level for what was way too long, and when I look back, I realise it was months of constant battling and fatigue, I did what I thought was the only way. I decided the best way to cope, was simply to avoid coping altogether and dissociate from it all. Now…I really don’t recommend it as a strategy, but at the time, it felt like…relief.

I couldn’t feel anything. I was numb. I was able to move through life like I was floating through it. I could move on automatic pilot. Look after people. Say the right things. Do tasks that I knew needed doing. But I was strangely separate from it all. I was in a bubble and untouchable.

When I see this drawing of that time I remember that feeling. She is floating through the void, in her own bubble, surrounded by her cocoon of thoughts that were each encapsulated in their own bubbles as shown by the many tiny circles of colour. She is an abstract thing.

Believe it or not, this was the original sketch I did for this piece.

Alison James. 2021. She Floated – Sketch 1

She is much less abstract in that one. I like them both in different ways but I felt like the abstraction was much more relational in terms of how I felt. The finished piece is quite large which becomes important in terms of how it all felt at the time. It allows you to see the detail that can’t be captured in a photo very well. Like how tiny the little thought bubbles were and the shimmer of the inks I chose to use.

The background glows with a golden hue and dotted throughout the circles are also glittery colours. I used shimmer inks to produce this effect. They shimmered because I knew they were there and I knew they were important but they were also so tiny because to me, they seemed so very far away. The shimmer effect also lends a kind of unreal quality to the piece.

It would take me a few sessions of therapy in order to come out of that bubble. It felt safe but at the same time, it was also a frightening feeling. I wondered often if this was just how I was now. I didn’t trust myself to feel the things and not be overwhelmed with the stress and pain and anxiety of it all. There would come a day when I did. One thing my psychologist told me that seems so simple was, “It’s ok. You CAN cope with your own feelings.” It seems like nothing but it was just so powerful because of the WAY she said it and the trust she put in me. I felt like, if this person who I trust believes this thing of me, then I can.

Like Descartes suggests, (and please excuse the gross generalisation and reductionism here) when all is in doubt, sometimes we need to hold onto one essential truth and build the rest of reality into existence around that truth. And slowly, I learned to rebuild my reality back into existence around that one essential truth…that I COULD.

But here in this piece, when all the world was pain and doubt and fear, she did the only thing she could to hold it all at bay…

She Floated.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 6 – She Worried

Alison James. She Worried. Mixed Media. 310mm x 360mm x 260mm

This is the sixth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

Hey! Guess what? We managed to get halfway through the story! Or rather, we will have when we finish THIS part of the narrative, so we better get on with it.

My psychologist told me that worry and anxiety are time travellers. They pull you into either the past or the future. You are either worried or anxious about something that has not happened yet and projecting false realities onto those moments, or you are worried or anxious about past events that you have skewed in your mind to be something that also has not happened.

For instance, I have anxiety about social events that is fuelled by a pretty mean rejection schema. After I have engaged in a social event like an art opening or even sometimes just conversation with people, I will examine my every interaction and skew them in my mind. Kinda like this..

Brain, “Hey! Remember when you said that thing?”

Me “Nope. Not doing this today.”

Brain, “Weeellll Anyway…They thought you were stupid and ridiculous. Why would you say something like that? No-one likes you and they like you even less now. Did you see how they looked at you like they just couldn’t wait for you to shut up? And yet you kept TALKING. Why would you do that? You talk way too much and overshare everything. Also stop mentioning your degrees. No-one wants to hear it. And so many of the things that come out of your mouth start with I…I think. I feel…I..I…I. It’s BORING. NO-one wants to hear about YOU.”

Me, “Shut UP brain.”

Brain, “But I have SO MUCH MORE to tell you about what you did wrong and why people don’t like you.”

Me…Sigh

This kind of thought process can last for days. Then it will come back periodically in flashbacks that make me physically cringe. The critic in me is LOUD at times and can be really hard to ignore. And you can see that she clearly gets thrown into past events. The nature of this is overwhelming and paralysing.

When you see this piece, consider that. This is a piece about the feeling of being so overwhelmed by thoughts, ideas and emotion. She is crumbling under the weight of them and can’t lift herself up to shake them off. She is overwhelmed with worries that claw at her like they are determined to pull her down and consume her.

The toys were chosen for the symbolism of an almost childlike innocence turned a little frightening and twisted. The toys ARE the thoughts. Battling her and each other. Hurting her with a kind of vicious joy. The books, “Modern Entertaining”, “Fall of Giants” and “The Road to Paradise Island”, were chosen for their relational titles as well as the idea that these were books that would be found on anyone’s coffee table.

So, I was battling. The anxiety seemed insurmountable. The thoughts were interminable and harsh and suffocating. I felt broken under the weight of them and in the face of the fall and the struggle…

She worried.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 5 – She Struggled

Alison James. 2022. She Struggled. 610mm x 450mm.

This is the fifth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

Last post we were left falling and I would love to tell you that it was all easy breezy and everything was peachy keen from those moments on but you know this isn’t the end of the narrative right? So THAT isn’t going to happen. I WILL tell you that we struggled.

She and I fought. It was really hard to let go of those thoughts and patterns that had forged pathways in my brain that were so well worn that I automatically followed them. And you know what the horrible truth about that is? I didn’t want to. Well, that is not quite true…part of me DID want to but part of me did not. It was HARD. It required constant monitoring and redirecting of my thoughts in order to change the toxic patterns I had spent so long building up and believing in. In turn, that was exhausting.

It was also frightening. In some ways, it felt more frightening than the overwhelming nature of the mental struggle I had been through. At some point, that mental mindscape I had been in felt normal. I was used to sitting in it and it was what I knew for so very long that to suddenly up and leave it felt…strange and uncomfortable.

It is like…when you have a comfy chair you like to sit in that you have had forever. The foam padding is thin so you can feel the springs in places. It’s kind of dirty and you really don’t want to put your hand down the side of it because you don’t know what you will end up touching down there and it has a bit of a funky smell to it. But it is your chair and even though it is uncomfortable and gross and you would really actually like a new chair, you sit in it anyway. Then someone tells you that you can’t sit in that chair anymore because it is giving you a bad back and you are allergic to the dust that puffs out of it when you sit on it. And you are like…but…I like this chair. And so it goes back and forth.

That was what was happening in my sessions with my psychologist. I remember being told about therapy, “Do it, even if it feels stupid.” So I did. We tried many things. Some things worked and some things did not. We went back and forth.

So this piece is all about that struggle. It’s about feeling locked in and wanting to break out. I don’t know how many of you remember a band called A-HA and the video they did of a song called, “Take on me” but there is a part where the guy in the comic book is trying to break free of the page he is on and that is what I think of everytime I look at this piece. I drew it as comic book cells and each one is a different part of the struggle that is happening. Again, the noise of the lino block printing method helps to add to the movement and tension of the piece. The simplicity of the figures makes you examine the poses more closely and the grouping of the cells together as a singular page is intended to reveal the often conflicting nature of the struggle.

That was how it went for what felt like a very long time. It was hard, and in those moments I tried to remind myself that the new moments I was heading for could not possibly worse than the moments I had been in. But in THIS moment…

She struggled.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 4 – She Fell

Alison James. 2022. She Fell. Hand coloured lino print. 615mm x 465mm.

This is the fourth artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

In the last installment of this story, we left off at the point where she decided that she wanted to be seen. It was a moment that stands out very vividly in my mind. It was the moment I realised that I needed to get some help. I didn’t know where to start or who to trust. I was so mired in the mindset that no-one was going to believe me or that medication would be the only answer that just making the appointment to see my family doctor felt like an insurmountable task.

But I managed it. I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life where I have absolute tunnel vision. I decide to do something and I simply go until I reach that goal. This moment was like that for me. She was determined to be seen and heard no matter what. I have to give kudos to my doctor for the part he has played in looking after my mental health. He listened with compassion and helped me navigate the system to find someone I could talk to. He still is, to this day, one of the few people whose advice I trust when it comes to my mental health struggle.

I was sent to see a clinical psychologist for diagnosis and treatment. I didn’t realise the impact this would have on my life. For a long time, it felt like falling. Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I was falling into the mental struggle and examining it. My psychologist and I picked the thoughts apart on my way down considering the worth and truth of each one. I delved into ideas of truth and reality and came to learn slowly that just because we think something does not make it true and just because we perceive something does not make it reality.

When you look at this artwork, consider that idea of falling down the rabbit hole. It is chaotic and hypnotic and she is reaching for a lifeline while she falls. It is a tense piece as you look down into the mass of hair that swirls and moves around her, pulling her further down to an end which we do not see. The top down perspective adds to this idea of being pulled down as she reaches helplessly up to you and the natural noise from the lino print technique combined with intentional linework adds to the movement and chaos of the piece.

It was quite a time. I wasn’t sure when it was going to end, it certainly didn’t feel like it was ever going to. All I knew at this point in time was that…

She fell.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 3 – She Wanted To Be Seen.

Alison James. 2022. She Wanted To Be Seen. Mixed Media. 610mm x 610mm.

This is the third artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

So remember back to the last blog post about how she wouldn’t say a word and I was keeping my mental struggle to myself? Well…she’s about to say some words because there came a point where the void was too loud…too much…and the struggle was…too hard.

I thought I was doing so well, keeping it all to myself. I was coping, wasn’t I? This was coping…surely. I was achieving high grades at University, I was working so hard all the time to prove that I deserved my place. I loved the topic I was researching and I liked being back at a place where I was with people who had the same interests I did and there was creativity EVERYWHERE.

Turns out, I was not coping. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a panic attack I could not control. I was supposed to do a presentation in class and those voices that kept telling me that I was a failure, an imposter, worthless, nobody liked me…they were so loud and overwhelming and the pain of listening to them so great that I could not keep it in anymore. I was drawing things like this…

I remember being surprised at what seemed like a sudden breakdown. Looking back, I probably should not have been. But I was. I was surprised and frightened at my inability to control myself. I was crying and could not seem to stop and for someone who rarely cried, this was quite the anomaly. I left class that day, sobbed all the way home (to my mortification) and realised that it was time to make some choices.

She was pushing her face right into my view and screaming at me that she wanted to be seen. That she needed to be heard.

Or that it was time to end this story.

And that is why, with this artwork particularly, you get up close and personal with her. She is looking right at you as if she wants to talk to you. This painting is highly textured and lifts itself off the canvas more than the last painting. Whereas in the last painting, she looked as if she was sinking into the background, this painting makes it look as if you could reach out and touch her. She obscures your view of the void around her because she is willing you to SEE her. She is both childlike and mature. The more you look at her, the more you wonder what she has to say.

What IS she going to say? I didn’t know back then but I knew I wasn’t going to like it. I also knew that the thing that kept my story going at that moment and forced me to make the choices I did was that…

She wanted to be seen.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Piece 2 – She Won’t Say A Word

Alison James. She Won’t Say A Word. Acrylic Painting. 910mm x 610mm.

This is the second artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is an exhibition based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

This second piece is an older piece that I have been looking at for quite some time. I originally did it for another exhibition raising funds for domestic violence survivors and she has stuck with me because I often look at her and think about how hard it is to raise my voice to say the things I really want to say a lot of the time.

There are a lot of people who have said to me, “But you are so outgoing and you don’t seem to have trouble saying what is on your mind!” And that is true, to a degree. As I explained in the last post, a lot of that is masking. Some of it is my learned response to anxiety and stress or to situations I find confronting. For instance, I often overshare in order to cover up how I am feeling. It’s like a magic trick or sleight of hand. Look over here! Forget what is happening in my other hand…just look over here!

It’s a distraction from saying the things I NEED to say. An interesting thing about the mental struggle mindscape is that, for me, it is a trap that is perfectly designed to keep me locked inside and not saying a word. The conversation kind of goes like this,

“I need help.”

“Don’t say a word. No-one will believe you. You are being dramatic. They are going to think you are doing this for attention. What a failure you are. Everyone else manages to get on with their lives without all this nonsense. If you tell anyone, they are going to look at you like you are defective. What a poor example of a human being you are. Just work harder. You are going to bring shame on your whole family…again. If you say something, other people will blame themselves and then you have put the burden on them. That’s so selfish. You’re so selfish. If you don’t say anything, we can pretend all this isn’t happening and it will pass and then we can get back to being normal like everyone else.”

“But…I’m not normal…something is wrong…”

“Dont…say…a…word…”

“ok”

And so, when I see her listening to this conversation, I always see her alone and frightened, holding her finger up to her lips as if she is reminding me that we must not say a word, that we need to keep quiet about our mental struggles lest we bring shame upon the people around us with our defects. She is silent and locked in such a dark space that has no beginning or end. There is just her and the void and you know…

She won’t say a word…right?

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/

She Exhibition Art Piece 1 – She Was So Little

Alison James (2022) She Was So Little. Hand Coloured Etching. 450mm x 450mm.

This is the first artwork in my SHE Exhibition Series, which is an exhibition based around mental health themes. As a narrative series of works, each piece tells a part of a whole story.

This first piece is all about that feeling of being so alone and tiny and unseen. It’s about that feeling of being helpless and powerless and lost. I felt like that a lot. Like I was cocooned in my own small, dark space with thoughts that I was afraid of and overwhelmed by and that I could never escape from.

I chose to work this piece as an acetate etching because I really like that dream like quality it lends to the finished print and because part of the joy of printmaking is that each piece is unique. The colour is hand done with fountain pen ink, which has a tendency to fade over time, which is another quality I really like. To know that in 10 years time the colour in her will have faded significantly, even though these prints are sprayed with Krylon UV resistant coating in order to slow down the fading process, gives me a bit of a thrill. In some ways that fading is like the way we as people tend to change and fade and grow and we never remain that same but the core of us is always there. There will always be an imprint of us even when the moments fade.

So this is where SHE began. She was small and unkempt. She was a feral child and did not want to look at the world or be seen. It was all too frightening. Too painful. Too much. And who was she anyway to demand her place in the world when…

She was so little.

Please do know that if you need help, crisis support is available

24 hours, 7 days

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

or check out some of these links…

Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/

Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/

And this is also a really good article by Australia Counselling outlining different mental health resources in Australia and what they do https://www.australiacounselling.com.au/top-mental-health-organisations/