I Got My Mental Health Story Painted On My Skin & This Is What It Taught Me

Living Stories
Living StoriesImage by Pooja Sivaraman

The #SplatterSpeak event was a space for people to ‘come out’ about their mental health, where mental illness found a physical space and demanded our attention.

There are many pieces of writing that have helped me come to terms with my understanding of mental health. Despite being from a children’s book, the most insightful quote that often comes to mind is when Albus Dumbledore turns to Harry Potter in the final moments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and says, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I have always grappled with the reality of mental illness and took a lot of comfort in its perceived invisibility. If no one can see it, it’s easy to hide from. The thing is, most of the issues surrounding how we talk about mental health stem from our inability to recognize it — both in ourselves and in the people we love. At the Living Stories event this month, that invisibility was contested by splashes of colors on painted skin. The #SplatterSpeak event was a space for people to ‘come out’ about their mental health journeys where attendees narrated their stories to artists who would then transform their words into body art. Mental illnesses found a physical space and demanded our attention.

I was ready to experience #SplatterSpeak from the emotionally-detached space behind my camera lens, but I soon realized the selfishness in my silence. I am not someone who has had a very public relationship with mental health. My experience with counselling has been both private and healing. The concept of ‘coming out’ with mental health was never something I had considered, because frankly, to me it was no one else’s business. Opening up to a complete stranger felt like a jarring emotional challenge, one I did not want to face. However, when I sat down, it was my artist who opened up to me about his mental health journey and spared no detail while doing so. At a time when conversations around mental illness are still constricted by social stigmas and shame, it was refreshing to be in an environment open and accepting of pain. Creating a safe space may be even harder than finding one. It’s you and I — the silent allies — who can change that.

At times it can be self-serving to shy away from having difficult conversations, but it comes at the cost of disparaging the sufferings of people in our communities. I was in absolute awe of the sheer bravery splattered on the arms, legs, faces, and stomachs of the people around me. There it was: pain, for the world to see. But it wasn’t pain in the air of the #SplatterSpeak event, it was liberation. The vivid illustrations were a reminder that although mental health may be invisible to the naked eye, there are many of us who carry stories hidden beneath our skin. What goes on within our heads is real, and it needs to be recognized.

As I grow older, more and more friends have opened up to me about their mental health issues, which is the only reason I’ve been able to deal with my own with a sense of stability. The healing process is personal, but it’s important for people to know they are not alone. While the internet can provide content for comfort, it’s the people closest to us that create a safe space to ‘come out’ with our mental health experiences. It’s a collective duty to normalize pain and embrace difficult conversations. No matter what point you’re at on the spectrum of mental health, events like these can and will empower a sense of bravery in you. If you have a story, share it, because someone may need to hear it. If you don’t, listen, because you will need to know how. Creating a safe space is really as simple as that.

Living Stories is a non-profit for all things mental health. Their next event will be in Chennai on November 25th. Click here to visit the event page.

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