Haley M. is a college freshman at the College of New Jersey majoring in art education. Her recent series of paintings, seen throughout this piece, were inspired by her experience with mental illness. We talked with her about life as a college student, what keeps her going as an artist, and how she hopes to break down the stigmas of mental illness.
What was the first thing you listened to today?
My alarm clock.
But if this is supposed to be a question that reveals my music taste, I love Cage the Elephant, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Led Zeppelin and Fall Out Boy.
How did you come up with the concept for your art project?
As many artists know, artistic inspiration often comes from feelings of stress, sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. For me, I always felt inclined to put some sort of a meaning into all my art, and often felt drawn (no pun intended) to make that message have to do with the depression I was going through. Painting about it made it more real and less in my head. It conveyed what I was going through to people that looked at my art, giving a better understanding of what mental illness is like to viewers as well as letting the ones who could relate know they are not alone in how they are feeling.
Has it been hard for you to open up to your friends about your depression? Conversely, has opening up helped them?
When it comes to telling people that I have depression (and anxiety and as of a more recent diagnosis, Bipolar Disorder), I came to accept it a while ago, so it’s not as hard anymore. However, to avoid stigmas, I don’t go advertising either. If someone is an acquaintance who sees me in a strong, hard working, and happy light, I don’t always want them to know about my mental illnesses, even though I know it shouldn’t (and really won’t) matter.
I think my opening up has helped others. I was in a counseling group in my college this semester, and another person in my group said on the last day that it made her feel better to know someone was going through similar issues as her.
I know that when I have a friend who opens up to me about mental illness, considering I can relate, I feel more comfortable, and even enjoy, opening up back. This pattern will continue to break the stigmas and silence of mental illness.
Favorite social media app?
My favorite social media apps are either Insta or Snap. In college, I have pulled a couple all nighters while working on projects, and like to post progress pictures on Snapchat with the time stamp to show how late (or early) I am working on my art. I also post finished projects on Instagram, because Insta is a great place to share parts of your life with others.
Any advice for other teens going through depression or other mental health issues?
Try therapy. I still don’t even realize how important talking about my week to a therapist is until I’ll miss a week and get more depressed. It’s a place you can talk straight for an hour or so about whatever you want, and you don’t have to listen to someone else talk. And if you have a good therapist, they’re more like a friend after a few weeks. You’ll have a place you can just vent non-stop. And process your feelings. Sometimes to say something you are feeling out loud and see that someone’s reaction to it is not as crazy as you thought can make you feel better. It’s just good to know that when you need support, you have it, from someone who genuinely wants to give it to you.
Also, don’t eliminate the idea of medication, but don’t rely on it. For me, medication was the main thing that helped. I have been on Lexapro for a few years now, and it helped tremendously. Meds correct, to an extent, the chemicals in your brain. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder as well, I went on Lamotrigin, a mood stabilizer. I rarely get depressed anymore now.
Where do you see yourself a year from today?
In a year I see myself as a sophomore in college at TCNJ who holds e-board positions in Student Government and The Leadership Development Program with a tutoring job at a local center. I see myself with my boyfriend Ben (of four years), with a car, in Painting Studio 1 making art that matters to me. I see myself healthier mentally and physically (possibly on a club sports team), continuing to learn new mechanisms to cope with my depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I see myself happier and content with the person I am.