Fara Johana Rasoanindrainy (pen name: Johana R.), 31, form Mauritius.
Johana describes herself as being a Mauritius-born citizen of the world and is of Malagasy origin. Currently residing in Mauritius but grew up in three different countries. Johana loves learning about other cultures as she finds diversity extremely enriching. Johana’s artistic background is creative writing, expressing words are her world. Having studied graphic design also, there is no doubt this multi-talented artist is one to watch, with a particular interest in writing for film and stage. Watch Out for her name in lights at a theatre new you soon.
Joana submitted to ASLI for our 3 month campaign “mental illness, health and recovery” and we chose her for her important message and the creativity in her delivery of that statement. Johana has tried being open about her mental health issues and found that it made people uncomfortable, not always but most of the time. So when she saw ASLI magazines “call for artists” with an opportunity to contribute and to be part of the mission in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, Joana felt that maybe if more people speak out and are open about mental illness, it will help end the prejudice and possibly be considered like any regular illness. Asserting that “maybe one day, one will be able to say “I have OCD” just like one says “I’ve got a cold” making mental health a physical illness”. Which it already i,s but is not seen this way by society.
What is your process when creating?
I like using real-life situations, feelings, or stories as starting point and then I rely on standard writing principles to make something out of them. The process usually is a journey full of surprises and satisfying as an end in itself.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
Strangely enough, there is only one name that comes up to my mind – Jarod Kintz. He’s the self-published, outrageous, wild type of author and I just find him freaking awesome.
Who inspires you in general?
Anyone with a touch of humanity or anyone who has dared to dream and go after his/her dreams. They range from people like the Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King to the kid who gives his seat to an old lady in a bus, the Rwandese people, the teachers and people who took the time to show me the way in life, pretty much anyone that helps me believe that there is some good in humankind.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
Education would rank first. As Mandela put it, it’s “the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world”. On the other hand, I am also passionate about environmental and third-culture kid issues.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
Art helps us hang on to life when there is nothing left to hang on to. It helps us escape things that we are unable to face in a healthy way. It offers an outlet for things we could not otherwise express. It helps us rebuild ourselves too. In short, it offers a survival kit that contains a map to the living kit.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in any way and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
Certainly. They are one of the few reasons I hung on to survival when I could have decided to give up; I have found a means of expression in them, which has enabled me to let go of negative feelings that were bottled up inside of me; ultimately, they are helping me rebuild myself, my self-confidence, self-esteem, and so many other things.
I expect I’m not the only person in this kind of situation so there would be at least another person somewhere out there that it could help. However small, that would already be a change in the world.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
I do not have or set any formal goals for my art. What matters to me is just being able to create. That is all I’m interested in – just doing it, freely, with no pressure. Writing is a very personal matter and process and I mostly do it for myself.
COMFORTING THE DISTURBED
By Fara Johana Rasoanindrainy
I was drawn to art from an early age – no pun intended. To this day, I still recall the cool, squashy feel of the tiny man I was trying to shape from a lump of clay, on that damp, gloomy afternoon I was stuck in bed with a burning forehead and a sweating back. Those garlands and sketches I filled my textbooks with and touched up, over and over again, until my own eyes became fascinated with them. Those endless hours of whittling soap bars into chains and roses. The pictures my eyes made out of the folds of the curtains or the lines of the cracks in the walls: Greek profiles, cartoon characters, slithering snakes, intricate patterns…
As I look back, I was probably looking for beauty, somewhere, anywhere. Beauty to comfort, beauty to hang on to, beauty to relieve. And when I could not find it, I tried to make it.
For the truth is, like everyone, I had been granted a life – a life that has a very ugly face, just like the moon has a darker side… It is a gift, they tell us, but often, the chalice is imposed on us, hurting us, framing us.
Like everyone, I had been introduced to higher beings who supposedly look down on us benevolently but, most of the time, are used to plant fear in our hearts, guilt in our minds, palsy in our arms.
Like everyone, I was born among my kind and therefore knew how senseless it was that pain could be inflicted on us with the best of intentions, unwittingly, or with the clear intention to hurt.
Where there is sin, let there be grace.
Where there is pain let there be art.
Art, to help us make sense where there is absolutely no goddamn sense. Because at the end of the day – as well as the night – we still have some leeway on our destiny.
Art, to help us create beauty with whatever is at hand – including shit. Because although shit is but shit and shit will stay nothing but shit, somewhere in the deepest, darkest, remotest corner of your beautiful self, there may be a patch planted with strawberry seeds, waiting to be fertilized.
Art, to help us transcend our shattered selves, rise above the ruin, and piece ourselves back together because every dab of paint is a lick on our wounds, every step danced is danced towards healing, and every note sung is a bad feeling let gone.
The following questions are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, agoraphobia, and used to have claustrophobia. With the help of an excellent counsellor, I’ve been freed from it.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
They help me face and address issues I’m unable to address otherwise. I stutter and have difficulties speaking. Writing is so liberating. I can write what I am unable to say. I can write as much and as long and as filthy as I wish – I’m the only one listening to myself and I can be as patient as needed with myself. I can rewrite my story, recreate characters, change their reactions – a bit of sense of control and relief never hurts. They also soothe me down, help me relax and forget my issues – a bit of respite is always welcome.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
I have sensed people’s discomfort whenever the topic of mental health was brought up. They either felt uncomfortable or thought it was funny. I have not really experienced stigmatization or marginalization as I have learnt to conceal my problems or keep people at bay so they will not become aware of them. But probably that is because I am aware of the stigmatization and marginalization they could lead to…
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
Yes, I have had counselling for five years now, although intermittently. I do not take any medication. Counselling has helped a lot. A lot. I can more or less function now and my physical health has significantly improved too. I know there are things I will never be free from but when I look back at where I started from, I feel grateful. I paid for all my treatments.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
At least where I am, society and culture would rather pretend they do not exist as it is disturbing. But that is just my perception.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
I know there is a State hospital for psychiatric disorders but I’m not the kind of person who relies on the Government to get things done. Still, there is always room to do more.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No, but I have been practicing some form of art at all times.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
Yes, I’m sure it does even if it would just be the fun aspect of it. Fun is a good medicine.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Of course, arts are a medium like any other and a very powerful one too and I believe they can be taken advantage of.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
I wanted to get involved because mental illness is something I face on a daily basis. This was something about me and so many other people around the world. I just had to speak up and contribute.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Yes, mental illnesses are just like any disability. For example, it would be great if agoraphobic people had the opportunity to work from home just like wheelchair users are not expected to roll down the stairs.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
They have a bad connotation so the sooner we de-stigmatize them the better.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
Think twice? Nope. I do not look at how ASLI conducts its business or who does it – I look at the results and they seem pretty good so far. I even think this is a good way of showing that in spite of our mental illnesses we can still do stuff. And any contribution is a contribution.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
I really can’t think of anyone except the late Robin Williams who was open about his struggle with depression. It takes courage to just be open about it.
Joana was chosen because her message is brave, open and needs to be heard. We value the way the words in Joana’s piece of writing speak frankly about stigma and how art can create change and heal us from despair, anxiety and other stresses in our every-day lives, especially mental illness. We know that this message needs to be shared further to create a bigger impact! So please share this article…
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