Art freed me

Mental health stigmas create a barrier for people to be truly open for the help they need. As someone with a mental health diagnosis, I have heard misinformation and experienced the barriers too many times to count. Those stigmas created shame within me, and such a discomfort to share what was happening, that I felt I was bursting at the seams. People are more comfortable with talking about physical ailments. Ailments that you can sometimes physically see, yet the mind can also be unhealthy and you can see its signs in the physical.

I decided to break free of the labels by seeking help outside of myself. I quickly found stigma was also in some of those places. I would feel tension in the room as I spoke my truth to a practitioner. I would hear a misconstrued representation of what I shared through judgmental verbiage. The picture they created made me feel lost again. I was just a diagnosis in their eyes – a plague that others didn’t want to catch. No eye contact, extra delicate treatment, walking on eggshells with how they spoke.

I knew I desperately needed help, though. I realized the tears I cried were from words I didn’t speak. I discerned that the lowly thoughts I had needed to be freed. I didn’t want any judgments from the people I was seeking help from. I needed them to ask me questions and not assume anything about me based on their own fears, labels, or perceptions about mental health. During that time, I decided to write a poem to the practitioners, urging them to ask me the right questions, engage into my world, and take them out of their own mental blemishes. I did not want to be seen only as a diagnosis, but as a human being pleading for help absent of stereotypes.

Poetry is the voice of my soul and writing allowed them to see into my psyche. It was a sculpture of my feelings and thoughts, and the journey that brought me to their office. Writing the poem also allowed them to witness themselves as me, it forced them to see me from an empathetic and sympathetic view. I was no longer just a diagnosis. Eye contact was given, they were occupied with who I was, and my poem made them reflect on themselves and created an interconnectedness.

It takes a brave soul to speak their about their pains.
Find a way to relate into their world.
Who doesn’t love music? Who doesn’t love art?
I know that when I finish a drawing, my anxiety level decreases.
When I draw it means that something is bothering me, but I don’t know what it is.
So it is helps me figure out my why I am anxious. It is a release for my anxiety.
The arts heal and assist with seeing a person without your personal perception and completely into their world.
Art can permeate the deepest parts of all of us, not just someone seeking mental health assistance or their diagnosis.
With the arts, you become fully engaged into their mental awareness.

The blemish on society’s eye of mental health creates a disfigurement – a disability within itself. It paralyzes the willingness to seek out assistance. Mental pain can be as excruciating as physical pain, yet is often not treated as such. Stigma and discrimination can feel like an endless cyclic trap.

The arts are what freed me. Now, I use this skill to assist others to heal their discomfited views of mental illness. I needed help, and the arts always came to my aid, when nothing else was there. I am uniquely me, I am art. I am not just a diagnosis, yet I am a phenomenon flair of life’s happenings, specifically designed for me.

Faatimah Waheed

Faatimah is an advocate for the relationship between mental health and the arts. As a Peer Support Specialist in NC, she works with guests’ healing through the arts, boosting self-esteem and assisting with emotional expression. The arts (writing, singing, dancing, painting, and poetry) have assisted her during her own recovery.