As an adult on autistic spectrum, I have experienced a lot of mental health struggles. In fact my artwork is based around our perception of mental health. I paint monsters. They are about the struggles that many of us experience in our lives. I started using mental health as a theme because I felt strongly that it need more attention than it currently gets.
I want to make it clear that this post will contain sensitive subjects that include depression and even suicide. If you think this could affect you then I suggest you give this post a miss. I have decided that I should be honest when discussing such a difficult topic and today on World Mental Health Day I felt was the time to talk about it. The post continues further down the page:
If you are still here I will introduce myself, My name is Haydn Gardner. I am an artist on the autistic spectrum. I am 24, tall and have brightly coloured hair. I love video games and I am a complete nerd. I also create brightly coloured artwork using drawing inks on anything I can get my hands on.
. Four years ago around this time of year I planned on committing suicide. I know this statement is probably really difficult to read if you know and care about me but I feel this very important to express this. I had always struggled with feeling down and living in my head but didn’t really understand it wasn’t normal behaviour. I had just come out of an emotionally abusive relationship and it left me thinking there was something wrong with me.
I don’t remember my train of thought at the time but I remember feeling like whatever I had to offer the world was not worth it. I said my goodbyes to a close friend and she called my parents to tell them what I was planning to do. This was a huge wake up call for me but I still couldn’t see how my actions were affecting everybody else around me. I was tearing up the lives of those around me with my self destructive behaviour with no knowledge of the damage I could do. I was in a self loathing pit that couldn’t see a future for myself.
This is when my parents took me to the doctors and I started to receive help from various mental health services. I was put onto antidepressants and got therapy alongside it which was designed to change the way I think. Unfortunately I didn’t continue the therapy as the doctor stated he didn’t think my recent relationship was helping so my girlfriend at the time got me to end the therapy as she saw it breaking us up (I now look back on this and wonder why I didn’t break up with her)
With the love and support of my family I managed to get my life moving again and began returning to University for my second year studying Fine art and Illustration. The depression was still bad but stable with the help of medication but I started forming bad habits as coping mechanisms. I began drinking a lot of energy drinks (Being autistic means I am attracted to taste and I loved the taste) which often made me feel better for a short time before sending my brain into overdrive.
Despite this I managed to break through my second year of University and spent the summer volunteering at the local Oxfam. I did this to get myself out there and to face the public to build my confidence. Anxiety made it a challenge but having that to do over the summer meant I went into my third year of University prepared after not spending all of it lying around panicking.
My last year of University threw new problems into the mix. I had managed to get a reasonable grip over my depression but I had stopped my antidepressants after being on them for nearly three years straight. They obviously helped my anxiety because after coming off them my anxiety reached crippling levels. This is when the IBS kicked in and I started to get intense anxiety everyday making the daily 4 hour commute a huge struggle. I’d often prepare myself for the day and have to be sick multiple times on the way to the bus stop. I’d turn back home and collect myself before trying again.
I pushed myself really far to complete my third year while catching up on some second year work and it took its toll on me. My IBS got worse constricting my life and put strain on many aspects of day to day living. The one thing that changed during Universities third year was I started using my art as a way of communicating my own mental state to others. I had always avoided using my mental health as a theme for my work as it could have made it worse by dwelling on it.
Using mental health as a theme for my artwork had the opposite affect. It actually helped me to get through my anxiety and to move forward. It didn’t stop it completely but creating artwork eased it to the extent where it wasn’t crushing me. Painting monsters became a way to get those feelings out of me so I didn’t dwell on them. It was a productive way of expressing myself and I started to see how this could not only help me but could help others.
I always remember having to do a talk in front of the entire Uni course talking about my artwork. I was very blunt and to the point. I asked the audience who had mental health problems. Only a few raised their hands and the tutor stated she didn’t think many people would want to admit that. She made my point that people didn’t want to admit it out of fear. Mental health has a stigma attached to it and it held people back. I told that room how I had tried to end my life and that I wasn’t afraid to admit that anymore as it didn’t have a hold on me anymore.
I left that talk feeling proud of myself for being able to do that as well as surprising an entire room of people who probably had never heard me speak before. My work contained a strong message and it was powerful enough to grab peoples attention. It was after this talk I knew where my work would continue and worked on evolving it.
Derek was a painting created not long after that talk. I started to become confident in myself now that I had direction. During my end of year exhibition I had several people come and tell me they connected with the work. They had read the artist statement and they understood the concepts and themes. A few people even thanked me for creating something that explained their feelings. It was a strange experience to hear people say my work had helped them.
It’s now been over a year since I finished University and during that time I have gained control over my IBS (even if it does sometimes get in the way) through Hypnotherapy. I was able to get control back over my life and moved on to start a business at the beginning of this year. I started Messy Miscreation as platform for my artwork to sell it and talk about my experiences. It hasn’t been easy but I have managed to get this far and improve not only my work but myself. I have stopped a lot of my bad habits including the energy drinks and have coping mechanisms in place that are healthier (like Pokemon GO).With the support of my family and friends I have gotten better a little bit at a time. In particular my girlfriend has helped me so much during the past two years of our relationship with all the support I could ever need.
2016 has been an eye opener. I have had a lot of friends struggle with their own mental health and I was able to help them through my own experiences. I remember walking the streets at 2am because my friend was feeling incredibly low and I told them what had changed for me since I felt like I wanted to end my life. I told her my favourite artist Alex Pardee creates artwork that inspires me to create. If he never existed that inspiration also wouldn’t exist. He has shaped a strangers life with his creations and by ending my own life I would possibly deny somebody else that same experience. If what I make inspires one person to also to find joy in creating then it is completely worth it.
I realised that no matter how small you are in this world what you do can still impact everything around you. I look back on the time I nearly did something stupid and realise I am truly glad it didn’t happen. If I told my past self I was here in four years time I wouldn’t have believed you. The cliche line “It gets better” actually holds an awful lot of truth.
That is why I wanted to write this post. Despite all the nonsense that goes on in my head I have prevailed and succeeded through my anxiety and depression. I found out what it is in life I want to do and I have pushed it forward. The best thing you can do for yourself is to talk to others. The stigma of mental health has gone on too long and I am not asking people to make it their identity. If you are having troubles with your mental health or even feel suicidal the help is out there and you are not alone even if your mind is telling you it is not. I know all too well that the voice in your head can tell you that you are alone but it is not the case.
This is a day for awareness but it shouldn’t have to be narrowed down to a day. Break the stigma of mental health and reach out to people.If you are concerned about your own mental health visit your local GP or doctor and tell them whats going on. That will be the first step to getting better. Don’t do as I did and deny the help that is there for you.
If you made it this far into this rather large read I want to thank you. Sharing my own experience might hopefully help someone else but if not I know it has helped me. Keep an eye out for future posts as I will be able to soon announce something really exciting for my artwork and will further bring awareness for mental health awareness.