June 17, 2012

Photo of a man wearing a t-shirt with 'Disabled' written on itI don’t have that much of a problem talking about mental health, in fact I’ve got quite used to it over the past couple of years… And I’m a bloke. Well alright, I’m a man. I’m not even sure what a ‘bloke’ actually is.

It all started out of pure frustration, mainly trying to get the support that I was entitled to. I had been on benefits for seven years and became a self employed artist and filmmaker in 2008. Whilst working I knew that I could get support from Access To Work but in doing so I had to tell them everything, explain why my mental health issues affected me physically and how my physical issues affected my mental health.

This means that I have trouble carrying heavy equipment (which I often use for work) and I’m often tired and exhausted. I’m certainly not as fit as I used to be, despite in the past doing boxing and wrestling, and there’s always been a raging battle in my head between how much I want to do and how much I can actually cope with.

With this annoyance in mind, and knowing that the disability art world was far more accepting, along with knowing how frustrating it was to explain everything, I went to a photo shoot, and had a photo of me taken wearing a T-shirt with the word ‘Disabled’ on it. That image, take by Michele Martinoli, has been used quite a few times since then.

using visual images and written words to ‘tell’ people about me was a pretty good starting point

As an artist, using visual images and written words to ‘tell’ people about me was a pretty good starting point. I also blog for disability arts online, and publishing my first post led to an offer of work making films about mental health. Not something I expected at all!

So talking about my issues, in a variety of ways, has really helped, although sadly not often with the people from the mental health teams. When I was very unwell a couple of years ago, it seemed that every other agency (including the Police) was trying to help, except for the people who’s job it was to actually support me. Yet more frustration!

talking to a group of Surrey Police Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officers about my personal experience

Despite that, I have been lucky enough to be supported by others, and because of my experiences this led recently to me talking to a group of Surrey Police Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officers about my personal experiences. This was quite a positive experience for me, quite surprising too (I went through a hundred different scenarios in my head of how it would turn out).

I also learnt that locally 40% of people in the mental health system identify as LGBT (and that’s just those that are able to be honest). The national per cent is no doubt the same if not higher.

I’ve also been talking about my issues with friends, which is something very different for me

I’ve also been talking about my issues with friends, which is something very different for me, and they have been supportive too. For the most part, talking about mental health has widened the circle of people I have to talk to about things too, as well as given me opportunities within the art world to say things I (at one point) didn’t think I’d ever be able to say out loud. So I’ll be talking about things for some time to come. People see my work, and they normally want to ask questions. And I get to answer them. Why would I want to change that?

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Comments

Talking about mental health

<p>It's a very emotionally laden every time you pick up the baton to talk about mental health history. Making art about mental health issues is even more challenging: how to be positive or at least constructive about experiences which are by their nature distressing.</p><p>For me personally the best thing about having grappled with mental health issues all my llife has been the sense of community I've found, over the years, through projects I've been involved with like Survivors Poetry and more recently through the webjournal I edit at&nbsp; <a href="http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk">www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk </a></p><p>From my perspective as someone who has worked in Disability Arts publishing since the mid-90s there has been a resistance from the survivor community to relate to the disability arts community. Taking on the disability identity can feel like admitting that society is right and there is something wrong with you.</p><p>I prefer to look at it from the social model of disability which subverts the meaning of the word disability by talking about society disabling people through lack of understanding. For this reason I think Gary's stance wearing the t-shirt with pride, is a positive step.</p>

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