I remember when I was about six years old, my Dad picked me up from a birthday party and was pulled aside by the mother throwing the party before we left. Later in life my Dad told me what was said during that exchange. The mother pulled my Dad aside and said, ‘I am really concerned about Brandy, is she ok, is everything ok? She sat in the corner most of the party drawing, reading and building things, she did not laugh and did not seem to enjoy the party games.’ My Dad responded with, ‘There is nothing wrong with her, she is happy, that is just who she is, she is fine.’
Years later I reflected on this moment and smile every time I think of what my Dad said to the mother. Dad had my back, he understood. Truth is, to this very day, when I am at a larger gathering or party, if it’s not engaging for me, I detach and become an observer.
So, why am I writing about this? Well, its ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ day, let’s talk about mental illness. But what is mental illness? Personally, from my perspective I believe that we all enjoy various degrees of mental illness, some more crippling than others, but we all have those things that pop up and cause road blocks in our daily lives. I know people who can’t even get out of bed. Chemical, psychological, social or just plain exhausted. I feel for everyone who must contend with opinions and judgement and without support.
Because I was not the smiley super social kid, and I spent my first 24 years in and out of the ER due to severe asthma, I was often underestimated and disappeared into the background, willingly. I spent most of high school holed up in either the art room or the sewing room at lunch hour. Were it not for my jock Dad, I never would have gotten out of those rooms and enjoyed the outdoors and the physicality life had to offer. When I was twelve, Dad decided to coach softball and he encouraged me to join the team, but first I had to get fit, he bought me a rowing machine and gave me a workout regimen to follow. I have enjoyed going to the gym and sports, every day since that day. I even went on to win many awards in figure skating, badminton, softball, tennis and to this day still try to get out for a golf game.
I credit my Dad with increasing my mood, health and stamina through sport and I credit my time in the art and sewing room with feeding my need to create art daily. It was how I communicated and processed daily life.
I came to attack life with a competitive spirit. Every time someone said, you could never do that, all I wanted to do was prove them wrong. From speaking on stage in a room of hundreds, to being hurled off the side of an 1100ft building. Doing naked group yoga on a Mayan beach, to walking a runway while a giant screen beamed a video of me singing Over The Rainbow. Whether it was painting live for judges at the Miss Teen Victoria Pageant or painting on site at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, I am always determined to push outside of what is comfortable. For me, there is nothing more revealing than spending years painting your heart out and then hanging all in a gallery for the world to review.
I have never liked classifications like introvert and extrovert, as I believe neither is better than the other, and we all experience both depending on what is going on in our lives. I feel that I am very lucky. My job as an artist is to feel the exhilarating highs and the knuckle dragging lows and live in both in order to make my most truthful work. This is why I describe myself as an intermittent extrovert, sometimes I am the carefree life of the party, other times I just want to hibernate, but most of the time I am just your average gal laughing my way through life.
I have always loved this quote from artist Georgia O’ Keeffe, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Well said Georgia, well said. So talk about it, share yourself, don’t be afraid to let others love you for exactly the person you are. Life is beautiful, even when it is ugly.
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