Alice is a young woman in her 30’s, with multiple health problems, including seizures. She lives with her mother, and although she has worked outside the home, she is not currently employed. Instead, she cooks for her mother and brother, and cares for her pets. When asked about a typical day, Alice described it this way:
Alice: It’s a struggle that … just to … leave my doorstep. (laughs). I, uh, I struggle with it.
Interviewer: How so?
Alice: Um, It’s so … hard to go anywhere, for me. I always want to stay home.
Alice: I don’t want to go out anymore. I used to be skinny. And … I gained a lot of weight.
Interviewer: Is that why you don’t want to go out?
Alice: Yeah. ‘Cause I get made fun of.
Interviewer: Even now, sometimes?
Alice: Yeah. And um, and I might have to catch a bus home today, but, um … I don’t like catchin’ buses home because that … people on there make fun of me.
Interviewer: What do you do when they make fun of you?
Alice: I go home and cry.
Alice reduces stress, lessens her symptoms, and finds purpose in her life, through her artwork. The artwork that Alice shared with us was composed of bright, vivid colors. It pictured nature, angels, and in one piece (see homepage to view this piece), outstretched hands upon which were optimistic and hopeful phrases: “Love the People in the World,” “Trust in God,” “World Peace,” “Give Back,” “Give our Hands to Others.” Art emerged as a focus for Alice when she was still quite young. As a child, she hoped to become a cartoonist, and she invented a cartoon superhero who wore a cape and had a square TV set for a head. She called him Mr. TV Man.
“What I like to do for fun is artwork. When I was a child I wanted to become a cartoonist … I do it to keep me from being stressed. It’s my form of, way of having fun. It keeps me from thinking negative thoughts. It makes me feel good after I get finished with it … I live in a neighborhood where they play real loud music, and it disturbs me … makes me go off the deep end, you know … because I don’t like to hear that loud music … I yell, and hit myself in the face sometimes … It helps me keep balance of my negative feelings.”
What some find surprising is the insight many of our narrators have into how they are viewed by the rest of society. At one point in her story, Alice acknowledged hearing voices, but then promptly added, “I don’t know if I wanna tell you this or not. Uh, I don’t think I should.” (And we told her it was fine not to talk about anything she didn’t want to talk about.) She is aware of the stigma against individuals with mental illness, as clearly seen in her message above. She is aware that complete strangers would assume that simply because she has a mental illness that she is dangerous. Hopefully, Alice’s story is one to help challenge that stigma.