Ethar Hamid, 21, was born in Khartoum, Sudan and is the youngest of three children. Now living in Sterling, Virginia, USA. Ethar is a junior in college studying creative writing and as well as her penmanship this talented artist is also putting her skill into drawing. A passion which was put on hold for six years but has now flourished with subject matter which is undeniably relevant and which has a message of strength and hope which accompanied with Ethar’s engaging writing, we urge you to not miss the opportunity to find out more and support this artist in their mission to discuss mental illness, which in turn inspires more creation.
I have been writing creatively since about seventeen. I did not think I was very good, when I first started (e.g., my poems had cliché end rhymes, and my prose suffered from predictable endings), but my love for writing made me continue, in the field, and these days I feel I have improved, considerably.
I have depression and my mental illness creates a lot of inspiration for my writing. For example, I have previously written poetry about how depression can weigh you down (emotionally and physically), and about the (short) frame of time that a depressed person can actually blend in with everyone else, before symptoms make it obvious that they are starkly different.
My themes in my drawings are mental wellness, Islamic values (like peace with fellow men/women), and nature.
So we at ASLI were keen to interview Ethar and find out more:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I was motivated to deal with the subject of “learning to live with mental illness” by my own struggles to attain mental health. I used to try to get rid of my mental disorder, but I have recently realized that doing so is an impossible task, and that the issue of mental wellness is not one of being forever free from mental distress, but one of coping with and thriving despite of mental health issues.
An Unlikely Friend
by Ethar Hamid
I know I will get ECT, one day. I think. I think I can trust myself, on this. After all, my intuition told me in the eighth grade that I was developing a mental illness…and here I am. (I knew because I was reading a book about a girl who had bipolar…and though I didn’t know what bipolar was, and I am no psychic, I knew I had something similar.)
The thought of getting electric pulses sent through my brain and getting a mini-seizure is a scary thought, I admit. But I am not one to discriminate against eccentric treatment (or eccentric anything, for that matter). Getting ECT may be scary, but there are so many other things in life that are scary, too…and I somehow manage, with all of those.
ECT will treat my depression, but I heard that it can help with OCD, too. So, hopefully the ECT will alleviate my mind’s fierce gnawing at itself, softening its pain at walking away from the stove or the car. (Part of me wishes I could stand by my kitchen stove and by my car for hours, checking to make sure the stovetop is turned off, and the car doors are locked.) And I hope it will help with the feelings of being contaminated by dirt. Thankfully, I am not an obsessive hand washer when it comes to feelings of being dirt-infested, but when I do wash my hands, I go over-board—scratching the bar of soap with my fingernails to get 100% clean, washing and rinsing up to 6 or 7 times…I know I have a skewed perception of cleanliness, because I fantasize about soap (for Pete’s sake). This may seem wholly inappropriate, but when I was living in a dorm, my sophomore year of college, I was in love with my suite mate’s hand-soap. I used to pump a few dollops of soap onto my eager hands when my suitemate wasn’t looking, and enjoy myself. The hand soap had little blue beads, in it, and smelled like the ocean. Against my hands, the soap lathered into a terrific foam. The beads scrubbed against my palms, and dissolved into a sapphire liquid. Watching the whitish suds and the blue streams of melted beads running down the drain gave me a comforting satisfaction. Since I left my dorm, and my suite mate’s hand-soap, I felt like a small part of me had died.
I think I displayed signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was a little kid, too. (Like most things, this is easy to say, in retrospect.) I remember that, if I were to be walking down the stairs in my house, and my right arm happened to brush against the wall, I would have to take a few steps back, up the stairs, and deliberately brush my left arm against the same spot my right arm had touched. Call it “needing more balance in the universe” or just a chemical flaw…it was what it was. And it was just a given—it was a no-brainer. And, what’s more, I thought everyone was like that.
I am pretty sure that I’m also obsessive-compulsive over things that I don’t even think about. I’m probably obsessive-compulsive while watching TV—subconsciously, I probably make sure the head of the remote faces the right corner of the TV, while sitting on the carpet, using invisible parallel lines, in space, as rough measurement. Why? Because. Just because…There is no logical answer.
Despite every bad feeling that has come with it, I don’t want my disorder to go away. It taught me about myself…it made me a more compassionate person. It’s become a friend (more loyal than even some people, who you’re “supposed” to have, as friends). I just wish that, as a friend, it would play nicer, with me, sometimes.
(This article has been published by Beautiful Minds magazine and Muslim Bipolar
What is your process when creating?
Having writer’s block quite often, my creative process when writing (once I have an idea for a piece) is to just write…Just write, and to not worry if it sounds bad (nonsensical, boring, or otherwise). I have found that often, a wonderful chunk of a story will be born, if I keep a constant flow of words, on the page.
After at least a few hours, in total, of writing without worrying about how it sounds, I will analyse the work, choose a chunk of words that I really like, and elaborate on them. A poem, essay, or short story will then be born, out of those words.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
I am influenced by the poet T.S. Eliot. I had a hard time understanding some of his poems, but I still really loved them because of the diction, imagery, and harmony of the words. To me, that is a mark of a great poet—when comprehension of the meaning (of the poems) is hard, the beauty of the poem still shines, through, and is visible to the reader.
Who inspires you in general?
I am inspired in general by my parents, who try really hard to help me with whatever difficulties I face, and by everyone in the world who has a mental illness, but who finds happiness and contentment, nonetheless.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
Along with mental wellness, I am passionate about black rights, and freedom and security for Palestinians. In addition, I am passionate about the universal trait of tolerance between people who differ, in views. (To me, a good example of this in action would be religious people and sexual minorities finding tolerance with each other).
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
To me, the statement “art saves lives” creates a picture in my head of a person engaging in an artistic pursuit (like drawing, or writing) and relieving some of the sadness, anxiety, stress, hopelessness, or whatever negative emotion that she feels.
To me, the phrase “art saves lives” can be interpreted in two ways; 1. Art plays a major role in saving a person’s life, by running so deep in her heart that it creates a revolution, inside of her—a revolution whose aim is to keep on going…keeps on living, and 2. Though it doesn’t completely save a person, art relieves a person of a lot of psychological ills, and gives a person enough resolve to keep going/keep living. Either interpretation taken, art can be very important to a person’s well-being.
To me, the statement “art creates change” means that art can create positive affects in a troubled person (taking her from dark places to peaceful ones), and that art can create social change, by changing the attitudes of the masses (who view the artwork) on any particular topic.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
Creative writing has definitely played a role in saving my life, many times. Writing has given me something that helps alleviates intense sadness and anxiety, sparking happiness in me, as I’ve done it. This, in turn, has led me to re-evaluate my past and current situations (the distressing ones related to both mental illness, and life, in general). I have re-evaluated them in light of my newfound happiness—I have said to myself that the happiness I’ve felt is stronger and more powerful than any sorrow or pain that mental illness or life can bring, and as such, I should live in my happiness more than in my pain (if that makes sense).
I hope that the messages in my writing can help create change, in the world—I do think that they’re capable, of that, just because I promote messages that are in line with what other true leaders have already espoused (like how mental illness should not be stigmatized, since it is a range of health problems, not something dirty or dishonourable)…
What are your present and future goals for your art?
I would love to be an author who deals with mental illness/wellness themes, in my writing. And I would love my poems, essays, and other work to be used by expressive arts therapists as tools, to help their patients. (I don’t know if I can ever become a therapist, myself, so the thought of being part of the healing process for sufferers of mental illnesses, nonetheless, is very special to me.)
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
I have dealt with psychotic depression, anxiety, and OCD nos, in my life. My mental health issues began at thirteen, and have carried on until today. It has been very difficult, but I wouldn’t change anything about my struggles if it means giving up the compassion and courage that I’ve gained, living through it.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
My artistic expression helps me with my mental health in that it gives me something to look forward to, every day, and that has given me a lot of happiness (which combats any sadness). My artistic expression also places me in a different world—a happy one, whose aftermath lingers on even after I put the pen, down (and that alleviates any sadness or worry I may be going through, as a sufferer of depression and anxiety).
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
I have, except that the marginalization I have faced has been in the form of people reacting (negatively) to the (obvious) symptoms of my disorder (like depression and social anxiety). But to give those people the benefit of the doubt, they didn’t know that I suffer from severe mental health issues. (So, I guess a follow-up question can be: can stigmatization occur without people knowing about a person’s mental disorder? …It’s a tough one, but I think so, seeing that people interact with a person behaving in a socially improper way (which is roughly equivalent to interacting with a mentally ill person), know that that person is not “completely normal” (for all intents and purposes), and (yet) still treat that person with contempt. People should be compassionate and accepting of others’, whether they know them to have mental, physical, developmental, or emotional problems, or not. But they aren’t, and that’s where the marginalization (and stigma) comes in…
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
I have been seeing psychiatrists and therapists for my mental illness since I was thirteen. Some were private practitioners, and some worked in state-funded clinics. The treatments they have given me have helped me enormously, and I am so grateful to them for that. (I am especially grateful for their working with my schools to give me accommodations, and helping me with other needs, and for being understanding that my disorder can make life difficult).
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
I don’t believe that society and culture are fully accepting (or even close to fully accepting) of people with mental illnesses. I think those elements of society that are, are few, in comparison with those that aren’t. I think it is deep-rooted stigma surrounding the issue of mental illness that makes it hard for societies and cultures to accept it as an affliction—no worse than other afflictions (like physical disease, or abuse).
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
The government in my country (the United States) does vital things like provides patients with government-funded mental health services (like clinics/treatment centers), as well as funds mental health organizations (some of which exist to carry out tasks as research mental illness, in hopes of understanding it better/finding treatment/cures). I am ever thankful to the U.S. government for the work it does in supporting mental wellness.
Despite this, I think that my government could do more in the mental health movement by standing up even more firmly to the stigma that faces the millions of Americans who suffer mental health issues.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
I actually (sadly) have never had creative therapies as part of my treatment…that’s what makes me long to create material for expressive art therapy, for others, I think.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
I fully believe that artistic expression can be used to help people with mental health problems. For example, written work, visual art, plays, and other art forms can do such things as let sufferers know that there is a mountain of hope for them, in their journey to attain health and happiness.
Used in therapy, artistic expression (such as discussing a relevant art piece, or creating a piece, and then talking about it) has so many benefits to the sufferer of mental illness. Feeling understood, realizing that others have experienced what she has, and releasing bits of negativity that she has, inside are only a few of those positive outcomes.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Artistic and creative expression can most certainly be used to achieve such a goal. Art speaks very loudly. Even though some may view certain art work as rebellious and not keeping with the order of society (e.g., a painting that calls for normalization of the subject of mental illness), there will surely be others who are touched by the artwork, and who support it.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
I wanted to get involved with ASLI’s campaign because I am hoping to reach others (who suffer from mental disorders) with a message of love and understanding…
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Absolutely. Discrimination in the workplace against mentally ill people (and everyone else) needs to end, in my opinion. Our conditions don’t define who we are, as people, or how well we can carry out our jobs…so why should there be inequality and prejudice against anyone on that basis?
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?
Firstly, I agree with and applaud you for wanting to achieve de-stigmatization of diagnosis labels; while it’s true that all mental health issues are stigmatized, there are labels like “psychotic,” “delusions,” and “manic/depressed” that are far more stigmatized than others (like “anxious,” which is seen as quite normal). Labels such as these need to be de-stigmatized because mental illness symptoms are just that—symptoms of an illness. And illnesses should be empathized with, not stigmatized…
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?
Knowing that everyone in ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness actually makes me happier and more keen to work with them. I feel good knowing that the organization is “for me” (if you know what I mean—I feel better knowing that we have both been through similar experiences). I have actually been actively searching for arts organizations that deal with mental illness/wellness, and knowing that ASLI is that type of group, and that the people behind it suffer from mental disorders makes me feel like I have found a space where I belong.
Having mental health issues (or caring for those who do) does not make the team of ASLI any less professional than any other group…everyone had to deal with difficult things, in life, and it is the spirit and character of the organization that matters, not the life situations of the people who created them. It is for that reason that ASLI will remain successful, despite any threats of unprofessionalism.
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?
Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist who suffers from manic depression, is a big inspiration, to me. She has written acclaimed works about mental illness, and I have read parts of her books for projects, in college. I’m glad I found her biography and books early on, in my own recovery.
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
Yes—there was a time in my life where I believed I wouldn’t make it…that my life was surely going to end (due to my mental health struggles). But hope for a better future really does create a better future, as hard as it is to believe. You will never be in a difficult place, forever. All that is needed is hope, and you will eventually find yourself in not only a better place, but in a beautiful place. Just keep believing…
ASLI are so pleased to have Ethar Hamid as one of our international artists. We feel it is also important to speak up about mental health within minority groups, people of colour and communities within religious faiths. So our organisation is a great supporter of Minority Mental Health Month in July through the American organisation NAMI and feel people like Ethar are what holds these awareness campaigns in place, by being honest about who they are, the struggles they face and this then inspires more people who are suffering to step forward from similar backgrounds.
Read Ethar Hamid’s poetry and other creative writing submitted to us by clicking this link…
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