How long have you been writing about your experiences with the differently able community?
Since I received a request for my story a little over a year ago from Whitney Hill (SPORK! Founder & Director). I had not considered writing my story before that.
What inspires your writing and artwork?
My writing is inspired by the comfort I feel from reading articles about living with mood disorders. That kind of catharsis is priceless, and the way that information resonates with me means the difference between giving up on life and sticking around to see if I can create a healthier way of being. I know that if I can help add to the amount of stories on the internet that I, too, am making personal accounts of the mood disordered life more accessible. Thus, I am giving a new resource to people who may only have a physician, with no personal life experience with the affliction, to talk to. I don’t think my writing is all that amazing, but what I choose to write about is important and needs to be disseminated much more than it is.
My artwork comes from a different vein; it’s less explicitly intended for someone else. Obviously art originally intends to be experienced by other people besides the creator, but making the art has more to do with introspection for my own sake. I have embarked on a long journey of making self-portraits for a purpose I have not discovered yet but I just know that there is something overwhelmingly compelling for me to make a mass repetition of one of the hardest things to look at so closely: myself.
What medium do you like working with when discussing the community?
My college training was primarily in sculpture although I did considerably more figure drawing than sculpture while I was earning my degree at Brandeis University. The comment I receive the most about the work I make is consistently “you draw like a sculptor!” What I have learned that means is I draw in a way that heavily defines volume before any sort of treatment of the surface of my figures. That plays enormously into my intention for myself, the female figure, to take up a confrontational amount of space in the image. I usually achieve this with a series of washes made with acrylic or watercolor paint and heavy draughtsman techniques with charcoal or oil pastels laid on top. The surfaces of the skin are abstracted with the use of organic/geometric shapes that lend themselves to creating the volume of the face or the body instead of the typical recognizable fleshy colors. The opposite of Rubenesque in many ways.
I have always been heavily geared towards the female figure, a subject constantly dehumanized and objectified throughout the ages, and I want to bring life to a new kind of image of women - one that another female gaze can connect or even empathize with instead of feel like she was strictly on display for the perpetuation of some idealized male - generated intention. In line with that I want the visual idea of 100% consent to be made into an image. The only possible way I see of ensuring that would be to make these images of myself. Like I am giving the image of myself as a woman, as a person with a mood disorder, back to myself entirely. I am returning the agency of my image back to my own hands.
It feels really good.
You often write about the misconceptions that society has about those with cognitive & non-apparent differences. What's the biggest stigma you've noticed and/or experienced?
This isn’t necessarily a stigma, but the most challenging experience for me is the struggle of hospitals, doctors and insurance. The insurance companies largely have decided that regular therapy and psychiatric checkups don’t count as routine maintenance, and therefore mostly decide not to cover those resources appropriately under their health plans. This leads to the idea most people hold about mental health treatment only being for rich white folks who want to have mental health problems. Right underneath that, there are the providers who have decided that it is more important to fill their wallets with pharmaceutical incentives rather than proscribe you something that would be more appropriate to your needs (which just makes people even more sick). It often feels like a cruel vicious joke perpetuated by people who want to exploit my illness for their own financial gain. I feel taken advantage of and helpless and most people who never have to deal with this problem end up criticizing my involvement of treatment saying something to the effect of it’s all in your head anyway so why don’t you just find a different way to deal.
Don’t even get me started on the whole gun-violence-comes-from-lack-of-mental-health-treatment bullshit.
What is the main take away that you want readers to have from your work?
Everybody in this world has their own super heavy bag’o’shit to carry, and I hope that instead of hating their narrative they find that they actually have a lot of power to take control of it. I also really want to share that despite the reputation of “crazy” you get from receiving mental health treatment, it’s painfully ironic how much you will begin to notice that most people without a diagnosis don’t have any real concept of their own emotional behavior.
Genevieve Armstrong is a Dallas artists, illustrator and writer. You can visit her at www.gennarmstrong.com