In a way this is the exhibition I wanted to hold from the very start of eight cuts gallery. I have spent years trying to raise awareness of mental health issues, have written for the fabulous One in Four magazine, have acted as consultant on several major debt and mental health projects, and spoken at a conference on debt and mental health in the media.
It’s certainly true that my most passionate – and commented on – blog posts have been about mental health, in particular Dealing With the Dark Places, which tackles the vexed question of mental health and the arts.
This summer I finally felt the time was right for the exhibition. I sent out a brief to a very small group of collaborators, the aim of which was to produce a show that would speak to people at their very lowest, not from a survivors’ story perspective (though all the artists are, of course, still with us) and not in a sense that in any way glamorised or glorified the darkest hours. It’s a balance that is almost impossible to maintain, but in speaking frankly and openly about their lowest points, and those of loved ones, I hope what we have put together here can provide a point of connection for anyone who feels that no one understands.
What There Is Instead of Rainbows
In the Bible, after the Flood, God is said to have put a rainbow in the sky as a promise that it wouldn’t happen again. So whenever the rains came and however hard they came, you just had to look up at the rainbow and know that it would be OK. It would end. And it wouldn’t end in a flood. When you find yourself locked in that grey pit of despair, guilt, self-loathing, anguish, white noise screaming inside your skull, slashing at the inside of your head to get out, people often say something similar. “It’s OK,” they say, “you’ll get through it, I know you will.” They mean well. Most of the time. Some of the time, it’s true, it’s just a knee-jerk lazy response they give without thinking because it makes them feel better. The chances are though it won’t make you feel better. When you’re down there in that tight bubble of simultaneously heightened and greyed sensation that is your world, all shrunk down to the exact size of your skin and trying to get smaller, it’s impossible to make a connection with ten minutes ahead, let alone the idea that it will one day be gone, be “better”. And the tragic truth of the matter is that sometimes it won’t be better. And sometimes, even if it does get better, it will get worse again one day. Those well-meaning wishes, the survivors’ stories reassuring us with their “I got through it, so will you”, those rainbows held out to us – sometimes they can feel like the cruellest joke of all. Sometimes what we need most is to know it’s OK not to feel OK; to know it might never get much better but that’s OK too; to know that someone else has reached the depths we’ve reached; to know the noise is there in someone else’s skull too, the universal hum, the cosmic background radiation of pain folded into the fabric of time. When we’re at our lowest point, those moments that reveal the traces of that pain as they intersect the tiny lives of others, like a Hubble telescope pointed inwards, are what there is instead of rainbows.