[Art Schooled] Illustration student Greg McIndoe opens up about mental health
In today’s edition of my Art School column, I want to talk about something which plagues a lot of freshers starting a new course - anxiety.
My aim with this new column is to give a well rounded view of the art school experience in a multitude of ways. To do so, I want the weekly instalments to take all different forms. Some, like the first two parts are anecdotal and lighthearted. Others, like today’s, will look at more serious subjects.
A recent survey by YouGov found that 1 in 4 students admitted to having suffered from mental health issues while studying at university. The most common conditions were found to be depression and anxiety. Therefore, it is unsurprising that in the first few weeks of my illustration course, mental health has already been a common discussion point amongst my new friend group. This openness has made me in turn want to both speak and write honestly about my own experiences.
I also feel in a good place to discuss the topic as I can talk about it with a degree of hindsight. Over the past year, I have worked a lot on my own mental health and had some positive results. I still don’t have a “How to…” guide to get over anxiety however. Though, I have discovered a few things which have helped me, and might be useful to others too.
It’s difficult to place yourself under an umbrella term like “anxiety” when everyone’s experience with mental health is so unique. I’ll attempt to explain what “anxiety” is to me. Personally, anxiety isn’t so much about struggling with social situations – when I am actually in them – rather overthinking them beforehand. My brain has this rather annoying habit of convincing me that I don’t have anything interesting to say or that those people who I logically know are my friends don’t really want me there. Irritatingly this has led to me cancel many social occasions last minute, which, in hindsight, I would most likely have enjoyed.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a multitude of different oddities in my thinking which seem to constantly try their hardest to dissuade me from socialising.
My anxiety was at it’s worst the last time I left education. I had planned to go straight to art school after completing the HND in Graphic Design that I was studying, but hadn’t been accepted to the course that I wanted. To cut a long story short, by late 2016 I was working in a supermarket, not creating anything, and avoiding socialising with most people at all costs.
At this point I would like to interject and say that this article does pick up in tone soon. I know it’s been a bit of a downer so far, but stick with it – happiness is on it’s way!
By the end of 2016, myself and 2 school friends who were in similar situations decided we needed a change. Wanting fresh scenery and a change of pace we did what all middle class millenials do when they don’t know what to do with their lives – we went travelling!
Knowing someone who lived in the city (and therefore could introduce us to people and cheap places to eat and drink – both equally important) we rented an apartment with the money we had made in our dull non -creative jobs for 2 months, in Barcelona. Now don’t worry, if you have come this far looking for some genuine support, I am not about to suggest that the solution to mental health problems is swanning off around Europe for a few months. The setting was lovely but what actually helped me was taking time to think about my anxiety.
In a foreign city with a lot of time on my hands, I started to question my own brain and eventually drew some conclusions.
This was probably the most important step in realising that my mental health was open to change. Anxiety had been something I had had as a part of me for so long that I had stopped trying to deal with it. As soon as I started questioning my anxiety, it began to lift slightly.
The brain of course has two sides, but I think of these “two sides” in a different way to straightforward physiology; more metaphorically. One is for conscious thought and the other is for mental health. If my conscious brain is capable of realising how ridiculous my mental health brain is being then that’s the first step in changing it’s ways of thinking.
For example, as soon as I was invited to any social event the anxious side of my brain replies with “no” instantly. As soon as my conscious side started questioning “why not?” I started to see improvement. Even as I write this, I appreciate that it sounds kind of silly. My brain questioning my own brain won’t make sense to everyone but to those who have suffered with something similar hopefully it will.
Similarly, the discussion of mental health opened up between my friends whilst we were in Barcelona. We had known each other a long time and always discussed the topic. But with endless time available, we dug a lot deeper. Our experiences are very different (we don’t even class ourselves under the same mental health umbrella term) but some symptoms were very similar. Hearing your own thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth makes you really hear how nonsensical you can be. These conversations led to a lot more internal questioning and even more laughing about how ridiculous my thinking could be!
It might sound insensitive to laugh about mental health but it’s one of the things that I have found most helpful. Some of my favourite artists like Gemma Correll and Shuturp manage to dicsuss mental health through their humorous artworks. I think it’s healthy to be able to find humour in any issue.
You might not be able to control the mental health section of your brain but you can definitely laugh at it.
Thanks to this work, I didn’t feel as nervous starting my degree course last month. I lived in a completely foreign environment for 2 months and pushed myself to do things I never thought I would do. Suddenly moving to a city just a couple of hours away from my family home didn’t seem so scary. These challenges had rewarded me concrete knowledge that I could handle social situations. My mental health brain still pipes up with it’s anxious nonsense. However, now my conscious brain can shout over it, confident in the fact that I can handle anything I want to.
The process I used to get past some of my anxieties won’t help everyone. Hopefully though, the fact that I have shared them can. One of the most common things I have found with anyone I have discussed it with is that it helps to hear other people’s experiences with mental health. This can be through looking at art, chatting with friends or reading articles like this one. Whichever way you do it, seeing someone else’s point of view on the subject of mental health reminds you that you are not the only one who can’t always keep control of their own brain.
I’m also in no way saying my experience with mental health is over. I am sure I will have other struggles over the next few years. Now though, I’ll have this space to share them and turn them into something positive.
For more information about anxiety and mental health, follow the links below: