What I Want You to See When You Look at These Self-Portraits
The day that I created these images was the first day in my life I actually felt disabled.
I had been reminded that while you’re usually called “brave” for trying to succeed with a physical disability, when you’ve got something like schizoaffective disorder, you’re just considered a risk, a liability or some type of miscreation. No matter how hard I try, whenever someone learns I’m a person with schizophrenia, they never look at me the same. And every time I see them after that, it’s always with a bit of nervousness behind their eyes. They begin going out of their way to finish our conversations early. It’s as if just talking with me puts them in some type of danger.
I’ve been discriminated and dehumanized because of schizoaffective disorder, but always unjustly. Countless people telling me to closet myself, to hide my illness. And of course, I can’t. Not while those with mental illnesses are still mistreated. Not while we are still killed by police who aren’t trained to handle situations of mental health crises. Not while more of us are in prisons receiving treatment than in hospitals. Not while treatment is so inaccessible. Not while mental illnesses are so misunderstood, and not while there is so much misinformation. Not while we can’t talk about it, and not while we can talk about it but don’t know what we’re talking about.
Art is the only way I know how to do this. Over the course of just four years, my life moved from straightforward and understandable to five medications and a constant feeling of my reality being just out of focus, just slightly unreal. From being able to love the quiet to forgetting what it sounds like.
With these self-portraits, I’ve tried to capture the noise of schizoaffective disorder. I’ve tried to capture the brightness of it. When you look at these images, I want you to feel overwhelmed, maybe even claustrophobic. And just like me, these portraits are just slightly out of focus and a little too bright. The haze of the color and lack of focus creates the cloudy confusion I have to fight my way through just to have a conversation with you, to just attend class, to just…appear…”normal.”
I hope they help you learn a little bit about me.
To see more from Syrena, visit Art About Mental Illness.