My name is Carmen. Here’s how I Still Matter happened.
I Still Matter was an idea I came up with five years ago. Initially I wanted to work with the elderly population but I could never truly bring the concept to life. A few years later when I was out of work I decided to hold art groups once a month and call them I Still Matter. Through conversations with individuals who came to the group I learned a lot of people attending had a history of trauma and struggled with mental illness. The groups continued to run monthly during Art Walk until my father died in April of 2014. I lost some steam after that but eventually started the group up again with a renewed and more direct focus.
I Still Matter is going to be a part of One Spark this year and the goal is to try and raise money to continue bi-weekly groups that encourage a sense of community and promote emotional wellness through self-expression.
The One Spark project is going to be the first venue for the exhibit titled Inside Out. The title comes from a personal experience I had with a friend that was visiting me in Jacksonville. I hadn’t seen him for about 6 months. He asked how I was doing and I decided to be honest. I told him I was very depressed and felt very sad and lost. He was shocked and said he couldn’t tell I was sad from my Facebook. Well, I am not my Facebook. Heck, sometimes I’m not even what shows on my actual face. Inside Out is an exploration of self. It’s a journey into the inside of mental illness and it encourages people to “come out” about their diagnosis in hope that others will feel comfortable doing the same. It encourages a sense of togetherness which is exactly what one needs when one feels utterly alone.
My “Coming Out” Story
I’ve struggled with poor mental health since I was a teenager. During my early 20’s I spent a lot of time at my doctor’s office trying to figure out what was “wrong” with me. I felt tremendously depressed (all the time) and often contemplated suicide.
These are all of my “diagnosis’s” that I received over a 7-year period…
Major Depressive Disorder
Cyclothimia (Bipolar Type 3) (Never told anyone I was given this diagnosis until now)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (Never told anyone I was diagnosed with this either. I also think it’s bogus because a psychiatrist diagnosed me with GAD 15 minutes after meeting me for the first time).
I went through a period of time where I would self medicate with alcohol, OTC medications like Nyquil or Tylenol PM and I would smoke marijuana. I’m hyper sensitive to medication and had to go through a LOT of meds to get to the right one. I found myself on an anti-psychotic at one point but my body couldn’t handle it. I felt like the living dead. My doctor finally convinced me to attend therapy. My therapist had me complete a depression screen and he told me I tested so high that I could’ve been hospitalized right then. Since he personally knew my doctor and he also knew my grandfather (they were both Chaplain’s at the local hospital) I wasn’t Baker Acted.
It was very difficult to get through college but somehow I made it and I eventually went to graduate school where I, because of a very insightful and compassionate professor (who was also a therapist), escaped another Baker Act. He made me call my family on the break and they came up to my school after class to discuss a safety plan.
I eventually ended up stopping the medication I was on and about one month later found myself driving off to Texas to spend some time with a girlfriend I met in college. That was 3 months after I had married my on again off again boyfriend. I remember getting upset with my mother when I called her from Texas and she asked if I was on my medication. When I told her no she encouraged me to see my doctor when I get back.
I was happy to be off the Prozac. I finally FELT something! It was fantastic. During that time I learned a lot more about Big Pharma and decided I’d never go back on medication again. I somehow managed to remain off the meds until 2014.
Last year I was encouraged to try an anti-depressant again by three people I greatly trusted, one being my therapist. The day I picked up the medication from the pharmacy I literally cried for 45 minutes in my car before going inside to get it. I wasn’t happy about having to “give in” and take medication again but I’m glad I actually did it.
I write this because I’m asking 36 people (more, eventually) to be a part of a project that forces them to “come out” about their own mental health. This project calls for complete vulnerability and honesty so I write this because I want to practice what I preach. Inside Out encourages people in our community to share things that some will never utter a word of as long as they live. It only takes a quick look around to our family and friends to see how deeply afraid people are to discuss mental health. We aren’t our Facebook profile pictures. We are human beings who deserve a fight and if we cannot fight for ourselves we should fight for one another because despite the secrecy and shame….we still matter.
“i was the nervous white rabbit of your arms. i didn’t deserve to be loved that much but you figured time was short & life was tricky and i guess it was fun sometimes or maybe i was in spite of myself less painful to you than most” -The Rabbit Box