I am Evelyn and I live with my incredible husband. I am close with my family and I love spending time with my mom. I have been an artist since I was a child. I enjoy creating digital art dolls. When I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I have the opportunity to work on my art. Creating my dolls helps me to feel peaceful and joyful.
Throughout the pandemic, I have felt isolated and sad. These feelings have been challenging for me but I am grateful to have my art as an outlet. I know that I can create digital art dolls and it will help to take my mind off of my fear. I love creating these dolls because it is fun and playful.
I am an outsider artist and currently am displaying my art online in the art groups and socially based groups I belong to. I have a fine arts degree and am a certified art teacher. I never wanted to work within the system but worked with disabled people teaching bead making and enameling.My house is covered with work I haven’t sold or given away. Presently I am doing combined painting and collage for people that have been kind to me during this stressful time.Art is something I have always done to keep me sane.
This last year I have been preoccupied by the political climate in this country and the pandemic.All my work concerns this. It has taught me that I have to make the best of this reality we are living in as that is what many of the characters I paint are doing. My art has taken on a life of it’s own as it seems to be painting itself and teaching me. The work I am submitting was an outlet for my distress. I am currently working on a small triptych concerning getting my Covid vaccination. It is the only positive and happy piece that I have done since March. My work is my salvation , without it, I would shrivel up and mely like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. I will continue to express my emotional responses through my work until my reality settles down.
Leslie Holt is many things, not the least someone who struggles with writing about herself in the third person. Her favourite media: markers / pen and ink drawing and photography with digital artwork enhancements.
Making art is a zen zone for me. It offers me the profound sanctuary found in the photographer’s dark room, something I was introduced to in the late 70s, long before digital or crypto art would emerge.
Today as then, time is magically suspended for me when I’m at my art. I am connected with wonder, clarity, peace and serenity there.
Lyrics from 1 Giant Leap remind me: “I’m the sum total of my ancestors. I carry their DNA. We are representatives of a long line of people and we cart them around everywhere – this long line of people that goes back to the beginning of time. And when we meet, they meet other lines of people. And we say, “Bring together the lines of me.”
Never more have I been challenged to bring together the lines of me than during the pandemic.
I moved households during the first pandemic peak in April 2020. I next arranged for and oversaw the transfer of a loved one from one Long-Term Care facility to another. These and other events and circumstances during the pandemic have … as it has for others … forced me to reckon with longstanding emotional and mental health issues in myself and those of others. I continue to be grateful for all the resources, support and help that have been and are available to me in this regard. So very grateful.
These ones who walk with me, many of whom are professionals, re-emphasize and re-affirm the importance of essential self-care: the need for good habits with sleeping, eating, exercising, downtime … and “a little bit of fun.”
The pandemic is teaching me how vital it is not to forget fun. The art I’ve produced during the pandemic is a joy and a solace as I navigate one day at a time. More than ever, my art reminds me to stay in the day, to just breathe and show up.
About this Work:
My submission “The Deep I” was created from a collage of photographs I took of the full moon on November 30, 2020 to which I added digital artwork.
It’s inspiration came directly from three teachers who have helped me with coursework in 2020: Eckhart Tolle, Kim Eng and Jon Kabat-Zinn, all of whom have encouraged me to go deep on the vertical to connect with my basic self and to do my best to get and remain grounded there in the moment and present.
These teachers, together with local mental health care professionals and other mentors in my life, have been pivotal in helping me to navigate emotions and to continue to hold to therapies I’ve received in the past for trauma, depression, addiction and alcoholism.
The Deep I is about relationship first with the lowercase self, leading to relationship with the uppercase Great I Am. Thank you for all you do at Mad in America. And thank you for this chance to respond to your call for art made during the pandemic.
Dylan Iolani Puʻu
Presently, I am “retired” devoting my life to cultivating a creative life, spiritual centric, that constitutes being the change I wish for the world. For three decades I journeyed as a “playfreshional” artist flowing within and through different mediums, and it proved to be one of my primary pathways to recovery from complex-PTSD and associated conditions. As “Misa” our performance work has been shared with communities in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Abroad in Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, and France. As Dylan, shows here and there. As Ginger Freedom, Iʻve published a few books on Amazon.
Iʻve treated this period like a creative spiritual hermitage, and my creative practice has interconnected with group support through the Santa Barbara Self Help Circle which has expanded into the hearing voices community. It has connected also to meditation, breema, and shamanic communities with a steady connection to mother nature. All of this support breathes in and out of it. The pandemic came at the heels of unexpected retirement and a decision to no longer put my body through the stress of interfacing with the public and exacerbating anxiety/panic and PTSD. In that we have been getting things delivered, Iʻve been working on “pandemic cardboard” and have returned to painting. Iʻve always made art as a part of my mental health journey and it has simply been continuing on with what Iʻve always known. I would say it has deepened a bit, and I now have a garage studio set up, and draw and paint regularly along with singing/songwriting and playwriting/acting. I have shifted names for this leg of the journey, Misa Miele Mandigo Kelly was the dancer journey, and now, to honor where the creativity came, Iʻm using my Hawaiian maiden name and my art nickname. Dylan Iolani Puʻu. I realized just recently, that while in the past I attempted to present as European with a little Hawaiian, I realize I am a haole Hawaiian who has been having a European experience. Iʻm learning the Hawaiian language and play Hawaiian music and chant hawaiian olis as a part of my creative process now and invite my well-meaning ancestors into the play.
About this Work:
In my own making journey, I always had this awareness, that it was bringing healing to my body, my family, and the world. Now that I feel largely recovered, I have begun to realize that I have the ability to empathetically read what is within the model, and at times, I paint this. When I shared this work with the artist in a video montage of other drawings of her from that day here https://vimeo.com/513557463 She shared this story. She used to get really intense nightmares as a small child, and there was nothing except the color red, the sound of a waterfall in the background, with people talking and shouting. “They terrified me, and I wouldn’t be able to wake from them easily.” I realize with this session, that not only do I draw out shadow textures and make wonder from my own textures, but also, as an artist, of the inner stories of the people who I draw and paint. Iʻll be curious what the land will tell me when I begin to paint the land.
I had struggled with anxiety over 10years and depression for a year. I wanted change and I wanted a challenge. I had quit my full time job where I was an office manager and decided to work for myself and do things for my life that will be for the better, I do it all for my 2 boys.
I created a safe space for all individuals who want to not only explore art but their mind. So I created S.O.M Vibes Studio, LLC. It is an expressive visual arts and entertainment center utilizing the stress and trigger moments and transforming it into an artistic reflection of expression through art and music. I hold pride within myself on accomplishing a system for self therapy to reassure your mental state of mind. S.O.M Vibes provides a safe space for individuals to freely express themselves in a healthy manner as an innovative resource for alternative self therapy.
On September 21,2019 my husband and his best friend were struck by a vehicle. My husband sustained serious injury. The best friend he ever had was killed instantly. I began this piece to work through the grief and trauma of this senseless horror. Somewhere along the way a pandemic left us isolated with our grief. The process of creating this Tree of Sorrows made tangible the loss which had been only void and emptiness. It was an organic process. It took its own form and through it I was able to face the pain.
Art is such an integral part of my identity. I have always found solace in the quiet place I go to when I create. It has gotten me through much trauma in my life. I came to this place in New Mexico to heal from a lifetime of accumulated distress. My artwork is an extension of who I am. I create for myself. All of my creative expression is meant to heal through beauty. We moved to this neglected property in 2012. The process of transforming it from a barren weed patch into a garden of art has been transformative to my spirit. I was so broken. Walking this land under this incredible sky, I found my absolution. All the work I do here is my giving back for all the beauty that has touched me and lifted me from despair. I find the beauty in neglected things and try to lift and display them in a whimsical way. I make fantastical creatures that fill the inside space. Sometimes I give them away for a smile. I am trying to make something whole from all the broken things. I once imagined I would be a famous painter. But, I see now that I have come here to redefine what it means to succeed. My success is not measured in monetary values. It is not measured in fame. Success is a stranger stopping to stare and smile. I hope I may yet have many years to share the many gifts I have been given.
About this Work:
This was not built in a day. It is more of a process than a result. I put a lot of grief into this piece and it contains some of the ashes of my lost loved ones. I imagine that I will add to it always as it is really a kind of altar.
Steven T. Licardi
Steven T. Licardi is an Autistic social worker, spoken word poet, and performance activist who uses the power of spoken word to create empathic dialogue around, to confront the realities of, and to assist communities in dismantling mental health stigma. Since 2016, his ever-evolving performance series ‘Coup de Mot’ has complicated how mental distress manifests out of oppressive social pathologies, with versions appearing in Vigo, Spain in 2016, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 2018, and in Thessoliniki, Greece in 2019. His most recent collection of poems, ‘a billion burning dreams’ (STL, 2018) traces his own mental health journey.
In the last year, I have found myself with more time alone with my own cognitions, my own emotions, and my own bodily sensations then perhaps any other period besides my isolated childhood. In that familiar, yet distant liminal space, I returned to what I had turned to then to pick through the trash heap of my psyche: art, play, creativity. The clutter that had come to occupy my life — old receipts, dog-eared maps, disposable camera photos containing versions of me (that I had not disposed of), blank canvases, memories — suddenly became the fodder for projects not-yet gotten to. In my work as a social worker alongside individuals caught in the dehumanizing gears of community-based mental healthcare systems, what one might call “There-but-for-the-grace-of-Happenchance-go-I” work, I have learned that boredom can be its own kind of torment. It can also be a friend, like death, in so far as it may teach us how best to live. To survive. I poured my anxieties, my uncertainties, my lack of control, into collage. That dance between creation and destruction. Between the known and the unknown. I sliced up old poems, movie stubs, museum brochures, unpaid parking tickets; I eviscerated boarding passes, music notes, restaurant menus, business cards. The debris from a decade spent traveling, of unsettled movement, accumulated, unfurled, and fused to cheap canvases, rusted pins, and recycled pine blocks. In this way, I have been able to convert the collective catharsis of the world into bits of my own chaos. To imagine new worlds between these wallpapered walls. Isolated, but not alone. Kept warm by the detritus of what once was. A quarantined reality. Waiting to peel back, to fold up these ramparts, and to free the worlds that can (and must) be made a reality.
About this Work:
Constructed entirely of trail maps, brochures, and parks passes gathered from state and national parks in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Carolina. This work represents the only collage piece constructed of materials gathered solely over the course of the year 2020. Living on the ancestral lands of the Monacan and Tutelo peoples in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the humbling gifts of nature quelled our anxieties. We were reminded that waterfalls keep falling, indifferent to death tolls. In addition to art-making, hiking allowed us to hold onto our (in)sanity and to ground us in our spiritual connections to the land. Living in this part of the nation has meant we could forage for delicacies — turkey tail mushrooms, yellow archangel, witch’s butter, lemon balm, and garlic mustard — in our own backyard. I wanted to honor those gifts in this piece, as a reminder of nature’s awesome power to subvert humanity’s suffering. I’m certain we will need it in the future.
I am a queer artist and sociologist living in Asheville, North Carolina. I combine my love for nature and the biological sciences with artwork that explores the ways people navigate the complex environments they encounter daily. By incorporating a mindfulness approach to art, I experience the creative process as both praxis and practice and have found it a deeply reliable tool for managing some of the more intrusive symptoms associated with ptsd, anxiety and depression.
Art has been the true constant in my life as this pandemic has unfolded. I lost work, experienced a divorce, relocated to a new city, and nearly sabotaged my graduate degree, but art kept me tethered to some kind of hope. Art and the practice of mindfulness. The ritual of appearing each day before a blank piece of paper with intention. This is what I’ve done day in and day out.
On days when I felt especially inspired, on the day my grandmother was sick with Covid, and even on days when I didn’t think I had it in me to create anything. Each paint stroke, each and every dot inked served as reminders… breathe in…… breathe out.
My submission is a piece titled “Neuroplasticity and the Artist”. I play with the imagery of neurons, acid spills, and organic matter. The end result is a piece meant to represent hope and resilience. The gray and brown hues that form the fog of past trauma are interrupted by a flash of awakening. A moment of creativity, a moment of clarity, a moment of growth and healing.
I am 62 and for most of my life suffered with depression, anxiety and gender dysphoria. In January 2014 I attempted suicide from years of anguish largely caused by my gender issues and in 2015 started hormone replacement therapy. In July 2020, I underwent Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) and pretty much am the happiest I have ever been, even with Covid-19.
I currently work for the Mental Health Agency of Columbia-Greene Counties providing peer support and facilitating various virtual groups, two of which are for art. I find art to be a great stress reliever.
Since 2004, I have been participating in a 100 year-old hobby called Letterboxing, which is a treasure hunt for rubber stamps, most of which are hand-carved. From this hobby, I discovered a love of carving or engraving rubber stamps and linocuts.
These engravings are, in turn, used to create limited edition and signed printings, after which they are all destined to be planted as Letterbox stamps somewhere in the wild for others to find. Letterboxes contain the stamp engraving and a logbook, when a Letterboxer finds a box they leave an impression of the stamp in their logbook and their personal stamp in the Letterbox’s logbook.
After carving for more than 10 years, I now teach others how to create and print their own stamps, and how to Letterbox! However… Covid happened and I had to stop teaching people how to carve as I have a very hands-on teaching style. I struggled at the beginning of 2020 just to carve my own art. And I became very anxious, with hospitals stopping all but emergency surgeries, I was concerned that my GCS in July was going to be cancelled or delayed, after waiting more than 8 months since my consultation with my surgeon. I was lucky in that numbers in NY were starting to decline in June and my surgery was not cancelled.
I have a goal to carve at least one stamp per month, it was all I could do this year to just try to carve the best I could carve each and every month. Apparently I was happy that 2020 was over as I carved six stamps in December!
In the Letterboxing world, I am known as Phoenix Rizing, the Z making it unique, just like me!
About this Piece:
A friend of mine draws Zen Tangles and I asked her to draw a tangle on a piece of carving material for me to carve into a rubber stamp.
It is a very convoluted image and I felt that it represented 2020 very well. The image uploaded shows the stamped image, the stamp and a quarter for size reference.
Hi! My name is Olivia, but you can call me Olive. Throughout COVID I have been attending college, working, and trying my very best to cope. I attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and art has always been a passion of mine, and a much needed coping skill. Throughout COVID, my anxiety and depression has reached a high, not knowing my future as well, having my entire life uprooted and moved. All my plans fell through, but honestly through it all I had art, it’s the one constant.
As I said before I attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and my art is my passion, its my core. I want my art to speak to people, incite change, and provoke thought. I feel it’s important for art to have an impact, for it to strive towards building a more accepting world. Art should also make the viewer feel less alone in whatever circumstance it might be. “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed”- Cesar Cruz. For this piece I am submitting, I aim it towards people who believe it is a hoax, or even the anti vaccine people, and those who are in the stream of anxiety and depression surrounding the virus. They need to know the threat is real, the loss is real, and the pain is everywhere. Everyone is effected by this, mentally and physically people are hurting, and demanding its not real, not wearing your mask, is deadly. I personally have been living in fear, my anxiety has been an everyday battle because of the uncertainty this virus has caused. I fear for the lives of my loved ones, because there are people in my hometown who don’t wear masks, and have no regard for others well being. Although this piece is dark, I think it needs to be, because this is a dark time we are in, and I usually try my best to be positive, but I believe it is important to recognize the dark sides too. People need to know their feelings and dark thoughts surrounding the virus are valid, and shared.
About this Work:
I wish I could submit more than one! I want to be able to show both sides of the coin, the light and the dark of this pandemic, because no matter how dark this looks there is always something good in it as well.
My struggle has been managing relationships without the embodied component. Its hard to build connections when all we see are little visual boxes of videos or texts. It’s easy to.misunderstand each other through texts. I remain grateful though for food, shelter and meaningful work and gave been trying to help and give as much as I can to support small businesses. Through the particularly challenging days, I remember the transient of everything including our lives. Everything shall pass.
Art practice including art, poetry, reading, walking in nature, and dancing have been my toolkits for coping with the lockdowns. I have been challenged by caregiving at times for my school-aged children. In teaching them how to manage their moods, I have learned how to self regulate better as well. We have survived a year and I imagine this is what it must feel like for rural families generations ago. I have also learned to consider my home as my sanctuary:my ashram. A place of safety, contemplation, nurturing and creation. In my most lonesome days when I felt alone and irrelevant, I remembered to just make it through that one day, adding one element to an art project, a sentence to a poem, some makeup on my face or a dish cooked up in the kitchen. As Riley said: no feeling is final.
About this Work:
This artwork was inspired by an online interaction last year that was both emotional, fulfilling and eventually difficult. I tried to capture the complexity, ambivalence and layeredness of human existence through this work.
I’m a photographer, digital artist, and painter, from Rockland County, NY. I’ve struggled with mental illness for most of my life, I have bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder, but I want to show the world that my strengths as an artist are not just despite this, but because of it.
The pandemic has taken more than its toll on my mentally. I constantly feel isolated and depressed. Just getting out of bed in the morning can be a struggle. But I’m still trying to channel it into my art, because I want to inspire others who are battling similar demons.
I’m 59 years old, and I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a toddler. Later, as an adolescent, and then in my 40’s, with addiction (‘eating disorder’, ‘alcoholism’). One unique viewpoint of mine is that, I don’t consider to be a disease. Because of that, finding a support system that feels true to me, has been very challenging. And so I’m glad that I learned about this organization. I feel so often that people find it difficult to understand me.
I don’t have an art practice per se. I am not a professional artist. I turn to it because it soothes me. When I draw, I open a doorway into a different space/time continuum. Words don’t happen there. It’s comforting and gentle. Except when my critical mind starts chattering. I think children are the world’s greatest artists.
About this Work:
The reason I’m submitting this is because it represents my triumph over fear.
I had recently bought a huge box of crayola crayons because they’re about all I can afford right now. I had tested positive for covid in late October. With so much time on my hands, I watched many artists on Youtube and found one in particular who inspired me to just let go and have fun. Have you ever tried it?
I have experienced a decent share of anxiety and depressive symptoms during this past year, and I believe it is primarily due to physical isolation from friends & family brought on by the pandemic.
I have experienced a significant decrease in my productivity, with little motivation to tackle my responsibilities in school and work.
I am making effort to move toward a better version of me, one moment at a time. All I can do is accept my experience as it is, resist less, adapt, and move with the world.
Art is my primary mindfulness practice. It is the one thing that has helped to keep me grounded; and “close-to-self”. When I am making art, I am anchored in the present moment. I ask the art where it wants to go, and it becomes alive because I allow for to be expressed without resistance. My creative space involves curiosity and discovery; not expectations or regret. It is full of risk-taking and experimentation – it is fully process-oriented. I care less about the final piece I end up with. I care much more about what I learn along the process of creation; what I learn about myself and nature.
Art is simply a medium for me to interact with the present moment. It is a back-and-forth, or a dance, with the present moment. The present moment is my teacher. I make art to learn and to listen, not for the final product.
For me, the pandemic has brought on significant feelings of isolation and depression. Art has been a therapeutic practice for me to maintain my ground. Art takes me back to what is truly around me, and out of my racing-thoughts. It reminds me of what truly exists.
I make nothing impressive when I am full of thoughts, or if I have a plan, or if I am afraid to take a risk. Art teaches me openness, and to see the value in taking risks. It also teaches me that I can mend my own mistakes, no matter how bad it initially appears. Everything is dynamic and can be transformed into beauty. This applies to everything beyond a drawing.
About this Work:
I created this piece during our first lockdown of the pandemic. We had a spare slab of drywall sitting in the garage – it is quite large at 68 x 48 inches. This piece is titled “observe” as the process was primarily a mindfulness-based practice. I observed my experience, moment-by-moment, without judgement or expectations. This piece was entirely freestyle and spontaneous: Not one bit planned. Since it is such a large piece, there were many “raw movements” involve.. movements that just felt good to do.
I enjoy that in the end, it I see an “eye” in the middle. This was the very last part I coloured in for this piece. To me, it represents an observing of the moment, exactly what the creation was based on. My experience of creating the piece was reflected back to me, as the piece itself.
I’m an interfaith hospital chaplain. The deaths of my mother, step-mother, friend, and sister in 2020, along with the trauma of accompanying several Covid sufferers through their last days, and comforting their families, caused stress that revived my usually managed depression and anxiety. I suffered panic attacks at work and am now on a leave of absence for a few months to heal.
Painting has been an important part of my healing process in a very difficult year. I joined a mail art group at the beginning of the pandemic, and sent small painting postcards to people around the world. My mother, sister, step-mother, and dear friend all became sick in the spring and all of them died within months of each other. Painting portraits of them has been especially healing for me, and has been a way to share my grief and love with others who loved them, too.
While on leave from work, I’m experimenting with new media and forms. I find these times of beginners mind and not-knowing mirrors my own experience of not knowing what will come in the future and learning to be ok with whatever arrives.
About this Work:
My mother suffered from dementia and my sister from long term addiction. When both became sicker in the spring of 2020, I painted this portrait of them together. Though I didn’t have any way of knowing they would both pass away within months, I did feel at the time that it would be a last chance to have them receive this gift. It is now on my mantle and I feel they are near.
@nadavsart on Instagram
I live in California and am currently on a gap year before hopefully starting college next year. When Covid-19 began I was a high school senior with ADHD and General Anxiety Disorder. I always felt I had a brain that worked differently than others but was only formally diagnosed in high school when my differences started really holding me back and interfering in my life. High school years were both wonderful and terrible and I fluctuated between severe anxiety, and times of relative normal function. I have been in therapy and have tried medication with varying degrees of success.
Art has been cathartic throughout this last year, helping me escape my anxiety. Prior to Covid-19, I would doodle during class to help with my ADHD because I found it helpful to aid my attention issues. Once we moved to classes online my attention problems were really exacerbated, and it would be easy for me to spiral out of focus and not manage my time or follow through on assignments. I was on the brink of failing. Also, without social interactions, I felt isolated. Luckily I discovered art and it categorically helped me in so many ways.
Art was instrumental in helping me focus during online classes. However, aside from helping me focus, the really big impact art has had is on my self-esteem and confidence which I sorely lacked previously. I believe this has also alleviated some of my anxiety. I’ve found a way to express myself and it has aided in building my self-confidence. It has become an instrumental part of how I communicate.
Although I had doodled and was interested in photography in the past, during the early months of Corona I tried other artistic mediums such as painting and sketching for the first time. I began with painting pavers on the pathway to my family’s home. During the first months of Covid I would look out and see people walk past our house and look at my art and it excited me to see I could spark interest and joy. I was passionate about the particular mural I am sending in because it was my first painting on such a large scale and I wanted others to see my art and improve their lives, especially during these times, and because I knew how much my art helped me.
We live in a remnant culture; collage takes forgotten ephemera and reanimates the fragments to say the unsayable. It is a dialogue and a communique I dig up as I go along, piece by piece. It’s a conversation with the world: a juxtaposition of society’s terrors, histories and attempted seductions; the deconstruction of gender roles and the absurdity created in reformation of images. A story emerges from these unconscious bits of myself I find in print media of the last century. I can learn to subvert my own expectations in the freedom and restrictions of the images found by chance.
I began 2020 with strong prospects of new beginnings. A new occupation, an academic scholarship, creative opportunities and collaborations. Then COVID happened. It happened to us all. Pandemics take by design- It took much more from others, I was aware that my suffering was far from dire but I was watching everything disappear. I realized it’s okay to mourn and not diminish your losses, to give yourself permission to process trauma. I needed to navigate my depression and the solitude.
In September, I began to make collages by hand to manage my anxiety and feelings of loss of control. Collage required deliberate decisions, placement, painstaking pasting; it was a way for me to say the ‘unsayable’, a place to be intentional. It gave me voice, a dialogue when our access to others has been cut off. Collage helped me to communicate with others. What began at my kitchen counter, has now taken over the dining room and is generating a life of its own. The pandemic took but it also gave me an unexpected gift, creating art.
About this Work:
The Migraine begins with being overwhelmed- the light, the color, the noise; our senses overload. 2020 was a multitude of components all competing for our attention: Pandemic, politics and constructs of power. Notions of ‘my head is blowing up processing all of these frameworks and containers’. The Migraine uses symbolic imagery of broken frames, as well as vessel to demonstrate the rejection of constraint. The overabundance of vegetation, jewels and grasping hand idealize the nature of chaos; the lack of focus, too much energy unharnessed.
On the surface the image is beautiful. Artistically, beauty is an intentional coping mechanism that aids to offset societal reality; the ugliness, the brutality. There is something soothing about the flowers- the bursting color; but it is really a commentary on the unspooling of an interior mind, a reckoning moment that has been over-fed on consumption and privilege.
Shay Seaborne became a trauma awareness activist-artist after she experienced psychology, medical, and pharmaceutical abuse when she asked mainstream medicine for help with Developmental Trauma in 2018. Her experiences are so horrifying she can only safely tell her truth through art. The nervous system dysregulation of trauma robbed her of nearly everything but watercolors, wits, and words. Influenced by her study of the neurobiology of fear and appreciation for Art Spiegelman’s “MAUS” graphic novels and Lynda Barry comics, Shay creates outsider-underground art to help herself and others heal, inform providers, and empower survivors. She is initiator of the #TraumaAwareAmerica campaign.
I began my art practice in 2018 after a week in the mental hospital. The Cuckoo’s Nest so dysregulated my nervous system I couldn’t hold a brush, but only drip, splash, smear, and blow the paint. Over time I showed myself I can paint a pretty portrait or lovely landscape but the horrors and cruelties of my lived experience are best expressed through an underground style. Comics or cartoons can more safely illustrate horrifying subjects like surgical and psychology abuse. I use art to convey my experiences as well as my understanding of the neurobiology of fear, trauma theory, and principles of trauma recovery.
The pandemic has a huge impact on my mental and physical health because my dysregulated nervous system needs other nervous systems to help it regulate. I spent most of the year alone with Complex PTSD. I’ve most needed safety and connection when the whole world feels dangerous and disconnected. The cumulative and compounded allostatic load kept me near-death for seven weeks in the past year.
For months I was in survival mode, too dysregulated to paint. It was still a good year for my art. Social media feedback encouraged me to embrace the artist’s identity. I came out as an artist-activist on my blog, public Facebook page, other social media, and interviewed on others’ podcasts, Facebook Live events, and a radio program.
In the past year I developed my cartoon dingbat and avatar, Della the Janked-Up Ladybug; created illustrations for an “Intro to Trauma Awareness” webinar I presented to health professionals; was inspired to paint a “Bad Psychologist with a CBT hammer” cartoon character and began a series of pieces with him in the story of my psychology abuse; and created my first exhibition, “Defiant Bitch,” in a lapbook gallery.
About this Work:
Trauma is cumulative and compounded. The weight of trauma looks like mattresses because mattresses are hard to carry by oneself. Also, mattresses were unsafe for me in the bedroom I shared with my sister when we were small and again during my year of enslavement. My slaver pressed me between the mattress and box spring to terrify and immobilize me into compliance. Heavy burdens, mattresses.
Siv Helen Rydheim
Norwegian, Female, born in 1955 Mental distress is something I have experienced almost all my life, it’s something I have understood many years after the mental health system diagnosed me with psychosis i 1992, which really changed my life. I’ve had a long way to walk, but I’ve learned how to cope with what I’ve learned is Traumatic stress reactions. Now I’m working at the recovery based hospital: Hurdalsjøen Recoverysenter (Norway), from where Robert Whitaker published a MIA-report in 2019: https://www.madinamerica.com/2019/12/medication-free-treatment-norway-private-hospital/
My artworks has exploded into writing poems and short texts, and in creating paintings since march 2020. I wrote a lot before that too, but that was longer and less poetic texts. That’s my way to cope with the kind of distance I experience. I live alone, and in lack of someone to share my thoughts about my inner life, I do express myself by writing and painting. It’s now more than 40 paintings. I also started a new blog about my inner dialogues. During this time I have got to know my needs from a new perspective because of the change of interactions with friends and family. One of the most typical PTSD-reactions I live with is the need to be alone, to escape from everyone, has really been fulfilled this year. Into such a way which has given me an opening to work with that specific part of me who has the need to escape from people. i guess I have been able to learn that actually I need other people more than I have been able to recognize earlier. In Norway we have a saying:
“It’s never so bad that’s nothing good will come out”. And to me this pandemic-situation has given me a new possibility to get to now my self better and specially to understand more of the more or less hidden parts I carry with me.
The shadows follow you whether you are aware of them or not, and in them there are also hidden treasures. Most of what I write is in Norwegian, but in November 2020 I wrote a blog in English: Who am I in a traumatised society https://stemorsblomsten.wordpress.com/2020/11/08/who-am-i-in-a-traumatised-society/
About this Work:
“One meter” It is mixed tecniques. At that moment when I published a photo of the painting on Facebook I had no title. One of my friends gave med immediate respons: “One meter”, and yes… what else could it be 😀 Well, I also call it “The fences between us”.
One morning I woke up with a sence in my stomach, which I suddenly got able to describe as a big, big hole in my stomach, a feeling of having a emptiness, which I also really could feel as a big hole in my chest.
I could not cry, but I could no longer push away the feeling of emptiness. And I guess it is the combination of painting and writing which helps med to put words on my emotions. On what the “no touching” means to me.
It is the “being alone feeling”, of being lost in a way, if I don’t do something. And I’m addicted to the “to do something”. It is the moments when I wake up before I do something, I might meet myself and my needs. Well there might be a way to meet the needs I have, but I have no idea, how to fulfill that part. Actually to paint and to write is my way to escape the mental and the strange sence of actual physical emptiness. And I do that most of my freetime, in addition to tell lies to myself that I’m doin just fine all by myself. I wonder if I would have admitted to myself, if Covid not had changed the way I see my life so radically?
My definition of myself over the years have been the role of single parent, head of household, full-time employee, home owner and mental health survivor. I have been challenged by the words and world’s view point of what is mental health. My diagnosis of PTSD, major depression, and wellness path have been made of days follow by tears. There were times, I felt like I was searching for a light switch in the dark with my emotions, but every blink of daylight I realized I survived each moment of distress to turn the days into years to be alive.
I paint when I feel very emotional. I work for the Dept. Of Social Services and each day have a eye opening view of how the pandemic has affected the basic needs of communities for shelter, food, and health. I work remotely and hear stories of this person needs help coverage. Every voice of every call share the same common questions which is help me to help others to continue on.
I’ve had “mental distress” throughout my life–hospitalizations (first in my twenties), 4 diagnoses, a 7-year ordeal getting totally off polypharmistic meds. When not actively involved in an art project, I lose all sense of meaning/self and isolate. Art orders and structures me; artistically active, I can enjoy being with people. My big fear is, what next?
Will there be a next? I tend to unconsciously turn a life problem into an art project, inverting value, like alchemy. What distressed me, under observation, becomes fascinating. Or, once it’s art, it’s no longer a problem. Or, an art problem is exciting.
Last March I uprooted myself from a rooming house in Boston because it was unsafe; shared kitchens, bathrooms, no ventilation, plus I’m old. For the pandemic, I’m lucky to be with my sister in rural Vermont.
She works full-time and usually is out. Aside from her, my interaction with humans is remote digital. I sit alone in front of a computer, my ‘real life’ in the city vanished. I go through extremes: elation at escaping my normal existence, drastic political passions, then despair, terror, up all night. I depend on art as ground, but what could I do while here?
Two pandemic projects:
CORONA CALENDAR: NATURE IS ON OUR SIDE
I decided to take at least 1 photo in the woods every day, to function as a visual clock recording duration of pandemic, noting cases and deaths. I thought maybe 3 months? At first I rushed into the woods and snapped anything. Then my walks began to expand. New creatures kept appearing, their interactions unfolded like a science fiction movie. I’d drop into a trance-like state of alert and take a hundred photos.
In September I had a total emotional crash. Wonder was gone. Everything looked the same. I stopped walking in the woods.
ZOOM GALLERY STUDIES
In November I began drawing on Zoom. I hadn’t drawn in a long time. I resisted Zoom. When I first did it out of such loneliness, I was put off seeing people right in my face, often with cameras pointing up their nostrils, stubble, etc. But what a relief to use my hands, do something tangible. I’ve never understood nostrils, or lips, or eyes. They are in huge close-up for me to examine as I could never do in person, liberated for a time from mousing and typing. Soon I will walk again.
About this Work:
Meant to be wandered through in close-up detail, exploring the image to actual scale of drawings.
I have been surprised at how a face sometimes emerges out of scribbles and no defining lines. Drawing on Zoom, not consciously paying attention since I am supposed to be listening, quick because images are transient (mostly speaker-view though occasionally pinning someone), my drawing is more intuitive.
My drawings seem to have more sense of humanity than the digital photo representation I’m looking at.
Me, a real person, looked at transmitted pixel patterns of a distant analogue person. I transform flickering pixels into a durable real thing. Redigitized, retransmitted, you see it now again pixelated, at a great distance.
All my work is done in the role of Test Human Participant-Observer for Universal Aliens: Salvage Ethnography [recording of the folklore and practices of social-economic formations on the brink of extinction].
*****Bygone instruments of daily life [in this case Zoom] possess the same importance for the investigation of extinct economic formations as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals.*****
I‘m an international student from China. Zeyuo is the name that I use on my artworks. I’m studying clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. In the year of 2020 came the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. I “decided” not to go home, to my own country, to my family and friends who were on the other side of the world. It was not just “distress”. It felt as if I’m completely disconnected from myself, the others, and the world.
I avoided consciously recognizing my distress at the beginning of the pandemic and tried very hard to persuade myself that everything was okay. When I started to face my own emotions was when I started to practice my art. I was aimless when I began my artworks, with no plan to draw or paint anything but just to map my feelings, states, and instincts at those fragmented moments. It was interesting because I would never know what the artworks would end up to be. The processes were painful but releasing. The media were bearing my experiences. The hues and strokes were expressing my feelings. The works have held me safe and sound, calm and composed. That’s where I began to reconnect to myself, the others, and the world.
About this Work:
It was another day of insomnia. I usually immerse myself in the phone when I couldn’t fall asleep. But, on that day, I picked up my iPad and started a sketch that ended up like this. I then uploaded it to my social media. Surprisingly, I received several private messages that night:
X: Hey, I saw the work you shared…I saw something…
Me: Saw what?
Dr. XiXi Zhai is a budding physician and artist-healer. She first experienced extreme mental distress during medical school and this continued at various levels throughout her medical training. It has only been recently that she has realized the damaging nature of labeling patients (including herself) with psychiatric diagnoses, the severity of adverse effects from antidepressants, and just how awful is to go through antidepressant withdrawal.
My first dream was to become an artist. But life got in the way and I ended up with a medical degree. Little did I know that my journey to become a healer was because I desperately needed healing myself. During medical school, I took a leave of absence and officially started on my mental health journey. It was during this time that I reconnected with my childhood love of art. It was therapeutic and allowed me to be creative and expressive in a way that medical training stifled. I returned to school and continued creating when I could.
I’ve been on an intense healing journey since late 2018, arguably earlier. Fall 2017 was the first time I took an antidepressant. I weaned off it once, unsuccessfully, and had to restart it. When the pandemic hit, I had just tapered off of this SSRI for the second time. I had enough self-care practices in place that my tank was full and I was ready to pivot my tiny private practice into a thriving telehealth operation. However, my tank emptied out rapidly.
It wasn’t until August 2020 when I found out I was going through what was most certainly antidepressant withdrawal that so many things started to make sense. I had been suffering most of the summer without a clear explanation why. Sure, moving during the pandemic was stressful and I was getting pandemic fatigue but why was I getting hot flashes? At the urging of my therapist, I restarted my drug in August 2020 and my symptoms (which included waking up daily with panic attacks) subsided almost immediately. Shortly thereafter, I came across survivingantidepressants.org and that’s when things started to make sense.
I’m happy to say I am doing much better these days and I am in creative mode again!
About this Work:
This really reflected the state of chaos that I was in. I didn’t even like this painting and was ashamed of looking at it until now. My plan was to paint over it someday. It’s been hiding and in storage until now. This call for art has helped me reflect on how far I’ve truely come. I can now also appreciate just how well it mirrored my internal state during that messy summer of 2020 while I was trying to pack and move amidst a global pandemic, grieve the loss of the life I had been struggling to build for myself, and come to terms with the shame I felt in having to move back in with my family. All of that and more while suffering through an antidepressant withdrawal that I would never wish upon anyone.
I have struggled with depression, anxiety and substance abuse for several years. When I was 16 I entered into a relationship that quickly became both emotionally and physically abusive. I spent several years with this person until late 2019 when he overdosed and passed away. I spent several months struggling independently and eventually things hit a boiling point during last year’s quarantine and I entered into therapy. Since then I have been working hard with my therapist and through art making to find healthier ways to cope and try to find a happier version of myself again.
Conceptually, my art practice is primarily centered around the pain I have experienced in past relationships, both familial and romantic. Before 2020, my art was less personal and I had a harder time opening up about my past trauma. At the beginning of quarantine I felt extremely motivated to make art, but as time went on things got more difficult as my depression got worse. Eventually I reached out to a therapist and began opening up about my experience in an abusive relationship and how much I was struggling to cope with my ex’s overdose and death only a few months prior. Since then I have made a serious effort to deal with my struggles in healthy ways and grow through my experiences rather than pushing feelings down and continuing to be haunted by them. My art has become the best outlet to do this and as a result it mostly centers around my ex boyfriend and my desire to cut the ties that I still feel to him. Entering into such a volatile relationship at such a young age and being stuck in it for so long has been the most challenging experience of my life and the timing of his death and the pandemic made my emotions come to a head in an extremely chaotic way. Although this is true, I am grateful for the opportunities and progress that I have made both artistically and personally in the past year and am excited to continue to learn and grow from my experiences and those of the people around me. My experiences have granted me a multitude of knowledge, compassion and gratitude.
About this Work:
I had a lot of fun experimenting with new materials while making this piece. Much of my art work employs a personal language of symbols that I have created and several of them are on display in this mixed media piece.
I spent 10 years on benzodiazepines and after a rapid cold turkey i have spent nearly 10 more years in a severe protracted withdrawal. I’m 38 years old and live in Winston-Salem, NC. I make music, art, and also enjoy various trade skills and crafts.
I spend a lot of time in a state of perpetual disability and mental anguish, so creative endeavors are both a luxury and a relief. They provide a way to escape, express, and soothe symptoms. I spent the majority of the time before the pandemic socially isolated, so it hasn’t changed much in my daily routine, but the rest of the worlds reaction to the pandemic has definitely made my life easier and various services much more accessible.
Kaitlin Wilson Botts (b. 1983) is an artist, designer, and educator based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her photographic work revolves around themes of loss, absence, and grief as realized through both portraiture and abstracted manipulations.
My work addresses anxiety, depression, and psychological distress from the sudden death of my father in 2018. I am also the caregiver of my partner who is a benzo survivor.
My work in the past 3 year has revolved around the sudden death of my father. My work pairs portraits with abstractions of my experiences with grief and loss. This past year is particularly difficult because of a continuous threat to my family from the virus. My father was intubated when he was dying and the persistent images in our media of hospitalized individuals dying from covid has been very difficult to deal with due to my ptsd from my fathers death. This is just a small part of why this year has been particularly harrowing. After witnessing my fathers death first hand I’m confronted daily with this threat to my family. My partner is particularly vulnerable due to him being a benzo survivor