This Winter, Unsinkable is honoured to be be partnering with Twentytwenty Arts (Founded by Unsinkable ambassador Megan Kee) for Life on the Line. Life on the Line is a public art project and mental health awareness campaign using art to raise funds for mental health support. Ten Ontario-based artists will be sharing their artwork and stories on Unsinkable every week until January 2021.
This week we have the honour of sharing Alexander’s story.
All ten works will be available for sale in signed and numbered limited editions of 50, where 75% of all sales will be donated directly to the Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto’s Family Outreach & Response Program. Canadian Mental Health Association is the largest service-based mental health organization in Canada.
The work that I submitted for Life on the Line is an acrylic painting titled, “The Fatherless Son”. It is a painting I made with the intention of highlighting how our perception can fail us when it comes to judging people off of their appearances alone. I consider it a self-portrait and it is meant to replicate how people have perceived me in the past. Some people see me and just off of appearance believe that I’m some sort of pothead who lacks motivation.
The title, “The Fatherless Son”, which pays homage to Renee Magritte, is also meant to inform the viewer that there is a deeper story here. You probably won’t see things like my struggles with mental health, and you might not see the potted plant as a symbol for untapped potential and growth all at first glance, but I hope people keep looking at least long enough to see beyond the potential racial biases and assumptions.
My mental health story started when I was a young. I was always considered a “shy” kid and I think back then there wasn’t much awareness around mental health, so a lot of people got written off as just being shy. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a detachment from my body. I didn’t know until I was a lot older, but what I was experiencing was a panic disorder and frequent bouts of depersonalization. There are a number of experiences I can pull from, but one that vividly comes to mind was when I was 12.
At that time, I remember feeling really weird about the action of walking and it always made me uncomfortable. At school, I would always try to run to spots in order to avoid having to walk. If a teacher needed to speak with me, I would get out of my desk and run to them. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t avoid walking forever, so I tried studying how people walk and tried to imitate them hoping to blend in. Walking is something that usually comes naturally for preteens, so my mom took me to see a doctor. I remember the doctors asking me to walk down the hallway and they just laughed and thought I was a weird kid and sent me home. That heightened disconnection with my body stayed, but over time I got better at blending in. Every action I made, however still felt very off for me.
As I got older, I started to become more ambitious. There were things I wanted to accomplish, and because of that, it became harder to avoid situations that made me feel out of place. I came up with very problematic solutions to these problems. I would hand in tests before I was done, not because I didn’t know the answers, but because I hit my limit of time where I was able to stay in a room with a large group of people. I started experimenting with drug use for the brief moments it would make me feel at ease. I also picked up smoking because I felt like it gave me a valid excuse to leave any social interaction whenever I needed to.
None of those things were solutions and in all honesty, they made things much worse. The boiling point was probably 4 years ago. At that time, I had nonstop heart palpitations and I was having multiple panic attacks every day. I signed up for support groups, tried meditation, and a bunch of other things before I was finally prescribed medication.
These days I am doing a lot better. I still have moments of extreme anxiety and detachment, but I am able to power through them to pursue the goals and aspirations I wish to accomplish. In all honesty, I wasn’t super comfortable sharing this, but one thing I’ve learned is that sharing these stories can be very needed. Mental health awareness is so important and I feel like this is especially the case with the black community. As a black man, I was dealing with all of the things I mentioned, but then on top of that, there was a lot of anti-black racism and racially fuelled micro-aggressions at every turn. For black people and people of colour, there can be both a war going on internally in our minds and externally in society. I think it’s important that those people know they aren’t alone.