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I Have Mental Illness and I Am An Artist

I use art to understand where I’ve been and where I am. I’m curious as to how my mental illness will manifest through my art over time. Where it originally started as a word or question it is now manifesting in scenes and stories. Perhaps this can open up the mental health conversation and what we can do to live through these experiences.

In 2016 I attempted to commit suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I’ve been seeing a therapist. I have a psychiatrist who monitors my mood stabilizer. I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for as far back as I can remember. I’ve always had to deal with some sort of social anxiety. Hallucinations and delusions are also something I’ve experienced as a result of my mental illness. I’ve been an artist for most of my life. I grew up on Ren and Stimpy, Roccos Modern Life, Dragonball Z and X-men. I collected comic books and spent hours choreographing all-out wars with my action figures. I enjoyed the aggression and the violence I could express within my world. One of my favourite characters growing up was Spawn. He was this dark superhero that wasn’t as clean cut as the rest of the superhero world. I enjoyed that.

Throughout my life, I’ve used art for many different reasons. I wasn’t the best competitor at sports so as a child I’d recreate these characters in my sketchbook to feel strong. When I was 7 years old I witnessed my Dad beat my Mom and he ordered us to go to the bathroom until they were done “talking”. The first thing I reached for was my comic book and my sketchpad. It took my mind away from that place when it was too much.

As I got older I bounced around constantly trying to please different friend groups. At age 16 I changed high schools and had no idea how to start a conversation. I had never been the new kid before. I sat in the back of the class and hoped that someone would notice my art. I was into weed so I drew an elf pouring marijuana leaves into this giant pipe being smoked by another elf. “Jules you can draw?!” a classmate exclaimed. I was in.

For the past 2 months, I’ve created an Instagram tag called “morning monster” and it is a drawing exercise. The idea is to take a moment in the morning with whatever creative ideas you have and putting them towards making a creature of some sort. It can look like whatever the artist wants. The idea is to use what you have and accept what you come up with. The point is to allow yourself to be in a place without judgement. A place of acceptance. This is especially important because I struggle with anxiety in the morning. “You’re a waste of time.” “What are you doing with your life?” “You’re not productive enough!” “Who care’s about art?” “When are you gonna do something more meaningful?” These questions rattle in my mind and ultimately freeze me up from doing anything productive with my life.  At one point I was doing nothing but eating, smoking weed, sleeping and developed an addiction to porn and masturbation. Some days the voices are louder than others. They speak at different times. The morning monster exercise puts me back in the driver’s seat and I begin to drive the conversation. This is the shape I want to put down. I want this perspective. I want this many eyes with this shaped mouth with this many teeth. I give myself questions and I figure out the answers. The more I answer these questions the more the anxiety dissipates. It’s especially fun once I get to answer “What is this person/creature feeling?”.

I’ve also used art to better understand my experience with hallucinations. Although the common belief is that hallucinations aren’t real I can attest to the fact that they are. The mind treats thoughts as actual occurrences. The purpose of this exercise is to better understand what that reality was. I recreate the circumstances as a way to appreciate my mind and what it’s been through. Although it was a scary time and I hope I never have to relive those moments ever again I use it as a language to tell my story. I use art to express what its like for me to not feel safe with my mind. I wonder who can relate.

Work in Progress

Sometimes I start with how I feel and express that through a rough sketch of the character as best I can. I also ask myself questions about how I feel, emotionally and physically. What types of thoughts or voices are going through my head? I feel like everyone can see me when I feel strongly about something so I made this character with a large expressive face. The shoulders are shrugged upward in fear to protect himself. His hands are gripping his arms in a “self-hug” fashion trying desperately to love himself. I wanted the character to be out in the cold. Isolated.

“Leave the family or we’re going to kill you.” The voice repeated in my ear. I couldn’t take it anymore so I left the house. The voices had their say and I listened. I got dressed, had $1.75 in my pocket and embarked on my journey of self-discovery through this jungle that was awaiting me. I remember seeing a car parked out front with his headlights on. That was the hitman. He was making sure I didn’t return home. He was there to protect my family. I continued on across each town through the cold night, listening to the instructions the voices were giving me. A pain developed in my knee. The chip in my head was giving me a “perseverance test”. I picked up a walking stick and pushed on. “I’m winning this!” I thought.

Every time I came across a cop car it seemed as though it would speed off in the other direction. This translated in my head as not having any protection throughout this journey. My demons… my enemies were coming for me and that was the justice I was left with. I was constantly being reminded I was alone in this world but being very aware of another consciousness present, like a conversation I was having with myself. Eventually, the voices subsided. I needed rest. I found an empty Laundromat that was open at 3 AM, curled up and slept underneath a table


In the finished piece, I wanted to have this monster, this outcast frozen by fear. Speechless. Overwhelmed. I also added quotes to depict the voices in my head. I can’t really say why I take myself through this process but I do enjoy it. It feels good to be able to go back to a place where I lost my mind and use it for creative communicative purposes. The more I familiarize myself with the hallucinations the more grounded I feel in reality. These hallucinations were messages my brain was giving to me. I did not build this reality.  

I use art to understand where I’ve been and where I am. I’m curious as to how my mental illness will manifest through my art over time. Where it originally started as a word or question it is now manifesting in scenes and stories. Perhaps this can open up the mental health conversation and what we can do to live through these experiences. I almost didn’t.  

Written by Julian Medina (follow on Twitter @JulianMedinaArt)

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