"Art has saved my life, literally. It has given me a voice, a purpose and taught me discipline, which in turn has strengthened my mind and allowed me to take the same approach I have used to learn to paint to tackle my recovery head-on. I have found strength through sharing my journey and my work with the public. This has led me to pursue change within our society, focusing on the public and challenging them to rethink mental illness by creating engaging conversations and educating them from an individual's perspective of living with a mental illness. I am now a member of the East Regional Committee for Rethink Mental Illness, a national charity that provides support for those struggling with their mental health and running a group called Norfolk Together which sets up and provides classes and services free of charge for people to attend in Norfolk. I am actively involved in an art class in my home city that is part of this group. Here I teach the power of art and using it as a tool for self-help and increasing well-being.
How did I get to this point?
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a baby when I was given a lifesaving blood transfusion. I spent the first 15 years of my life in and out of hospitals and doctors’ surgeries and the treatment I received and the feeling of having no control have become the root cause of my mental health. Living with multiple mental illnesses and trauma has presented a lot of difficulties. It hit me unexpectedly when I was 19 and I went from being an outdoorsy, risk-taking adventurer, to being confined in my bedroom at my mother‘s house. This escalated the bad relationship I had with my mother and she ended up asking me to leave home. Between sofa surfing and sleeping rough, my mental health became much worse. I lost myself to my mind and spiralled into trouble.
After several months on the streets, I started living at a YMCA hostel. It was awful there. I ended up staying at a squat to get away from it all which is where I first started drawing. The YMCA offered a re-housing program and at the age of 22 I regained my independence and started renting my own flat. I was still struggling daily with my mental health, but I decided to seek professional help and started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My therapist helped me realise my safety behaviours and that I had always started drawing when I panicked. Keeping my hands busy seemed to help me gain control. As part of my recovery I decided that I was going to actively pursue a creative path and become an artist.
I began painting. The attention demanded in order to master painting was exactly what I needed. I began painting and studying every single day, sleeping for 5-6 hours a day, the rest was spent teaching myself through online resources and reading through art history books. I was too ill to leave the house at this time, so I barely took any days off, it suited me and I was able to find comfort in my isolation as it felt purposeful.Eventually It gave me the confidence to return to formal education and I became determined to go to my local arts university. I worked hard and got myself onto a college foundation course that than led to me being accepted to NUA for a BA in Fine Art.
During my degree, I continued to develop my practice and push my personal boundaries. I created a small community online who feel empowered by my work and that encouraged me to continue to speak out and tackle the stigma those with mental illnesses face in our society. To give a voice not only to myself but the thousands of people out there who are suffering, feeling lost and let down by their country and community.
In 2018, I found myself homeless again after my landlord decided to sell my house and gave me a month’s notice. I was three months away from graduating. Due to other things going with the added pressure of completing my degree and being reduced to begging for a sofa to sleep on again I became suicidal which led to two attempts. When I was willing/preparing to take my own life, I remember thinking to myself if you are willing to end everything you must be willing to start again, to try anything. I decided if I couldn’t find happiness within myself that I would dedicate my life to helping others and find meaning through that. Shortly after this I curated an exhibition for Rethink Mental Illness in Norwich called ‘Art of the Mind’ at the Forum. This provided an opportunity for artists from their art groups to share their work with the public the response they received and the conversations I had with the public regarding mental health was incredibly positive. It showed me how important art is and how it can be used to not only help people suffering but to educate the public and challenge their ideas of mental health. Challenging that fear and creating empathy as a replacement is powerful. It strengthens communities. I started sharing my work online and have gained a following of people who are empowered by and often message me to thank me for speaking out and sharing my journey.
I continue to make art because it has given me a voice, a purpose and taught me discipline, which in turn has strengthened my mind and allowed me to take the same approach I have used to learn to paint to tackle my recovery head-on.
I feel compelled to do something to change the attitude of the public when concerning mental illness. During my recovery I lost friends and family due to my mental illness. I learnt not to talk about it and became ashamed of it. This hindered my recovery and I ended up losing myself to my illness. When I finally found art I felt empowered, it took away everything negative that I was thinking and feeling. It’s given me a voice and I want to share that for and with others. Sheer determination is how I’ve taken myself from living on the streets to completing a degree and now setting up a business. It’s this determination that will continue to push me forward and help others who find themselves in similar situations as I did." Find out more about Siris on his website.