Jessica Caudery, 30, from Gosport, UK is a visual artist (painting, drawing, conceptual). The subject of her submission is how art helped her through the Post Natal depression.
Jessica is a mum of two children three cats, she is the second eldest of six children. Whilst at secondary school, art quickly became Jessica’s favourite subject and she decided from this early age that she would pursue art as a career. The more Jessica drew and painted the more she realised that she genuinely enjoyed art and that it gave her a relaxed feeling. Jess took art as an A level and then studied for her BA (hons) in Fine Art at Portsmouth University, telling us that it’s difficult to keep up with her art practice and balance family life as well as other work commitments but Jess is determined and likes to at least exhibit in one exhibition a year.
Jess’s story is one that many Mothers can relate to and with this in mind ASLI was keen to share her story and submission on the struggles which postnatal depression contributes to.
We at ASLI wanted to find out more about Jessica so here is our interview with her:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
The timing of this particular call out. I had only just started to feel myself, after experiencing either a nasty case of the ‘baby blues’ or Postnatal depression where I had gotten off lightly. Either way, in the initial months after childbirth I experienced some of my lowest mood ever. Art helped so did writing the article. I would like to think that my experience and being honest about it might give hope and inspire others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Shades of baby Blue by Jess Caudery
A few days after my son was born I held him in one arm and did a rough pencil sketch of my beautiful boy.
In 2015 I gave birth to my daughter El and because she had passed meconium I had to go to hospital instead of the birth centre down the road from me as I had planned. I desperately wanted to get home to be with my boy and in my mind the fact that I had just delivered a 9.lb 4oz baby in three and a half hours was no excuse not to. So the following day I was at home with my perfect little family, however it didn’t feel perfect. The first night at home was awful, I got the shivers so badly it felt like I was having convulsions, El hardly slept, she was hungry and unsettled, I was exhausted.
I hated that I needed help in getting my son to school but I was scared to take him, not because I felt physically awful or that I was afraid to take my insatiably hungry baby to the school screaming. It was the fear that mums would approach and congratulate me, I felt that I might break down in tears, when surely I should be ecstatic in my repeat maternal role.
This time it took me a little while longer before I could manage a sketch.
It’s normal to feel fragile after childbirth, our bodies go through big changes and our hormones take a long time to settle down. We have this vulnerable, new and totally dependent life to take care of, I was terrified by this idea and felt almost afraid of my little girl. I couldn’t feed her properly or make her feel okay and this guilt was excruciating. I loved my new daughter enormously but felt impossibly low.
I didn’t know if I had a severe case of Postnatal Depression, all I knew was that I was breaking down in tears on a daily basis. My doctor prescribed a low dose of antidepressants and with help from my health visitor and support from friends and family I begun to feel a little better, art was also a huge help.
During my pregnancy I had organized an exhibition for after my daughter was due, however when the time came I didn’t know how I was ever going to be ready, but I said to myself that I would do one new piece and I did. I gave myself mini deadlines and tried to be easy on myself when this didn’t quite happen. Amazingly though, I finished my exhibition preparations and even managed to paint the new piece.
When I am painting I feel calm, which allows me to be happy and healthy, parents who are mentally healthy contribute to happier healthier kids.
This time in my life, art didn’t just save me; it gave my son his mum back and helped me be a better mum to my daughter.
What is your process when creating?
Sometimes a concept comes first or sometimes there is a visual idea in my mind. The material sometimes depends on the concept and I don’t always know how a finished piece will look. I suppose my process is quite organic in that it kind of just happens – there is energy between me, the work and whatever given thing has inspired me so that it is difficult to say what my process is other than sometimes messy. Hopefully people who view my work can feel some of that energy.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
Akroyd & Harvey- a brilliant duo who question things to do with humans and the environment in their practice. Carrie Reichthardt – the passion and energy that goes into her work is inspiring. Andy Goldsworthy – he has a beautiful way of working that has beautiful results. I find there is something quite spiritual about his work. Julie Chappell, for the message behind her art and the awesome result of her hard work and creativity. There are so many wonderful creatives in the world – past and present that inspire me. The list could go on and on!
Who inspires you in general?
Aung San Suu Kyi, for standing up for what she believed in and making sacrifices for her cause that I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to make. Xavier Rudd – a gorgeous musician with a philosophy based on peace and harmony. Friends and family- I try to see good in people and occasionally the most ordinary people in my life show themselves to be extraordinary in some way.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
The way we as humans treat the planet and also each other. Environmental issues often crop up in my work. Other issues that matter to me greatly are equality and education. I believe by showing each other kindness and patience we could go a long way. I also believe that western society has grown to place value on wealth and possessions so much that this has become an attitude seemingly impossible to undo. Maybe this is something I will address in my work in the future. I have volunteered in schools and for a short time with a marvellous organization called Motiv8.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
Art can help people grow, help people to discover themselves and can be an outlet for all sorts of emotions. Art can bring people together, it can be thought provoking. It can give people hope, show people an alternative perspective. All these things can contribute to keeping a person going and therefore potentially saving a life.
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?
I don’t know. When I was in Sixth Form College, my ten year old sister died in a road traffic accident. My whole family were devastated and dealt with it in different ways. I think I was lucky in that I was studying art as an A Level and having this creative subject to concentrate on gave me a focus away from the real world. Writing, painting and drawing, directly and indirectly became a way to express my emotions. It is difficult to say to what extent art has saved my life but it has been a constant positive, something which has perhaps kept me afloat during times of stress, anxiety and mild depression. These states of mental being may well have gotten out of hand without the opportunity to be creative. In terms of changing the world through messages in my art, I would like to think so but try to be realistic. Some of my pieces are meant to provoke thought and therefore positive change. I don’t like to preach too much, I want people to come to their own conclusions but I might attempt nudge them a bit in a certain direction.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
To try to make time to keep doing it! Sometimes it feels impossible to keep being arty and in my current situation, with my family and trying to make ends meet art doesn’t always take priority. I want to keep it there as a background thing at the very least. I am setting myself a new and ongoing project involving natural organic pigment and handmade paper and when I have got my head round the technicalities of blogging I intend to start a blog as a kind of online journal for this work. In the more distant future, perhaps when my children are a little older, I would love to train as an art therapist and put my art to use helping others in some way.
The following questions are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
I have dipped in and out of depressive periods and been on and off medication for depression and anxiety. When I feel low it can be difficult to get out of bed and face the world and there is this part of me that longs to be able to curl up in a ball and hide. When I am going through a good patch however, there is this frightening feeling in the back of my mind that at any moment the buzz and energy that I am feeling will be swept from me suddenly and knock me sideways. I feel worried that the more elated I feel the greater the crash could potentially be. I have also seen friends and family who have and do suffer from various forms of mental illness. This is not always obvious for those who don’t look and listen and this maybe some of the reason that mental health issues are often overlooked.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
I can become frustrated at times when I am unable to draw or make time to create. Although I try to accept that my creative endeavours cannot always take priority with children, a disabled partner who is unable to live with me and other work commitments, I feel better when I get the time to be arty. I can become absorbed in a piece. I have noticed sometimes when I paint that a sense of calm washes over me and I am immersed in what I am doing. I feel a better person for having been productive and I can come back into the ‘real world’ refreshed. I think that is a real benefit for my nerves in particular.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
I’m pretty sure I was declined a job interview on one occasion when I tried to be honest but positive towards my mental health. I guess things like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ are still taboo despite being incredibly common.
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 prescribed antidepressants – the first of which were not helpful because they made me feel more tired and part of the reason I went to the doctor in the first place was because my mood and energy levels were so depleted. My medicine was later changed and though I am on and off them a bit (this is part of my problem and very naughty – I know) My partner informs me that my mood seems a lot better when I am taking my tablets. I have also had some counselling in the past through college and university. I tried talking therapies with a few different counsellors out of which there was only one I found particularly useful. Thankfully I have never been hospitalised due to any mental health problems. I appreciate that others have received institutional treatment.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
I think society is becoming more accepting in that there are a lot of people out there with varying levels of mental illness and that this is becoming more spoken about. I think everyone experiences problems with their mental wellbeing to some degree at some point in their lives but some people are more accepting and/or better able to deal with this than others. There is so much information out there in the form self- help, statistics, psychology etc. People as a whole probably have a better understanding of mental health now than they used to. There is still a long way to go however, and I can only comment on British society and culture as I have no experience of attitudes toward mental illness in other cultures.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
The NHS is sometimes helpful but this can depend on particular doctors at particular surgeries. More information on alternative therapies to medication and guidance might be helpful. Befriending charities could also be useful in some situations. I think it would be beneficial if people were better educated on mental health, perhaps more aspects of mental health could be discussed in school as part of health and social education.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No. One counsellor that I spoke to tried to get me to do something with colours but I felt unable to move in their presence so on this occasion it didn’t help! A close relative of mine did go through some art therapy though and benefited from it.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
Yes, maybe not for everyone but yes. It depends on all sorts of varying factors. I think some people administer their own creative therapy without necessarily even knowing it. In my case I think art has helped me but I don’t necessarily feel comfortable working with an audience.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Yes! This magazine is testament to just that.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
It felt like a really positive thing to do – to be honest about my experiences. I think mental health issues are so much more common than people realize, by speaking out and being honest, hopefully more people will realize this and the stigma might lessen. I had heard about ASLI through a friend and thought it seemed admirable.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Yes. Just as any disabled person should ideally have equal opportunities and their needs realized and catered for.
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?
Diagnoses labels are okay as long as people don’t feel they then ‘become’ their mental illness –much the same as with any other illness. It can help to put a label on things and to have a better understanding of why we act and feel a certain way and it may help people deal with the problems they face within their sphere of mental health. I also think, however that it is important for people to remember that there is more to themselves than just their mental illness. As you can probably see – I have mixed feelings on labelling.
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?
It doesn’t make ASLI less professional in the least bit! If anything due to the nature of the organization ASLI is more professional or more effective due to its members. There is so much information available from ‘health professionals’, it is refreshing and inspiring to see and hear from creatives who have been or are going through stuff themselves. I think the members of ASLI probably have a greater depth of understanding due to their experience.
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?
No one famous springs to mind but a very dear musician friend of mine wrote a piece about music and shyness which drew upon her performance anxiety. I think a lot of artists reflect tiny elements of mental health within their work without even knowing it.
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
Yes. It’s a bit scary knowing that strangers might end up reading my personal thoughts, feelings and experiences on these subjects but hopefully the honesty is helpful in some way!