London, UK → Mother, Artist, Writer & Filmmaker → Schizoaffective & PPP → Sleep, Diet, Exercise, Meditation & Art.
R: Hi Sanchita, tell us a little bit about yourself…
S: I am an artist, published writer and commissioned filmmaker. I’m also the Director of Pigment Explosion
R: Who are you?
S: I might just be an alien from another planet, my mother has often remarked she feels she doesn’t belong to this world and gazes up at the moon thinking we would probably be more suited living up there with the stars for company.
Mia by Sanchita Islam – Oil on Canvas 2009
R: Where do you live?
S: I divide myself between London, Brussels and south east Asia. I have bases in all three places but it can be challenging coordinating everything.
R: What do you do?
S: I would say that I am an artist and writer, I am represented by Lollipop Gallery (signed with them last year) but I also am the Director of Pigment Explosion an arts organisation specializing in international and local art projects in London and around the world.
R: What did you study?
S: My educational background is a bit weird, I did my art foundation course at Manchester Metropolitan University, then I studied my MSc (econ) in Comparative Politics and my BSc (econ) in International History at the LSE to placate my parents I suppose. Before that I had a place at Oxford University at Somerville college, but when I was studying for my A levels in the public library I was sexually assaulted and that was the trigger if you like that changed everything, up until this point I was quite resilient as a child, but the assault shattered me and I would say my mental health took a tumble. I dropped a grade, lost my place at Oxford and hastily applied to the LSE to keep everyone happy.
When I was studying at the LSE I was lost, this was not a creative environment and I didn’t seek any help or counseling either. I still kept up my art and writing though, or tried to. Then I was awarded a Channel 4 scholarship to complete an MA in Directing and Screenwriting at the Northern Media School. After this I worked in TV as a researcher before enrolling for my BA in the Practice and Theory of Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art. By then I was 25 and set up Pigment Explosion, dropping out in my second year because I was exhibiting and travelling by then. Art college was quite a dispiriting experience, I knew if I stayed it would kill my spirit and confidence, but I don’t mind being an art school dropout.
Dadu by Sanchita Islam – Oil on Canvas 2012
R: What are the mental complications you are faced with?
S: Well in my own case I developed OCD aged 4/5 then melancholia as a teenager and then by 2006 it was a different beast altogether. I suffer from extreme oscillations in mood either suicidal lows, or dizzy manic highs where I can engage in dangerous reckless behaviour and go without sleep for days. The sleep deprivation in turn can precipitate a descent into psychosis, but I have learnt how to stop it from developing into full-blown psychosis. However, this takes its toll because it is like trying to push back a mental tsunami with your bare hands.
Day to day it varies, if I am in the pit, then doing basic things such as eating, brushing my teeth, getting dressed or saying hello can be difficult, I might feel excessively tired and feel unable to move or wake up.
If the mania has kicked in then it is impossible to sleep, I will work late, I might write articles very fast, fire off emails and keep drifting from my bed back to my studio, and this can go on all night until I crash. Mania is dangerous if it slips towards psychosis.
I also live with a voice in my head telling me that I’m a worthless piece of shit and should be dead, I call this voice Fred. I would say he is a combination of various negative voices from childhood. Fred is constantly trying to get me to kill myself, or he makes me work until I drop from exhaustion, he stops me from eating, hydrating, sleeping, he is very pernicious and destructive. He also controls the OCD, which is also exhausting because he demands order and perfection, something that is impossible to achieve.
I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder back in 2003 – still remember the shock when I was given the diagnosis.
R: At what age did you actually pay attention to the symptoms?
S: Although I was aware that something was wrong I didn’t understand why it was happening, now I see patterns in my moods. Sleep impacts my state of mind profoundly. I know when I am in the pit, I know how to get out temporarily if I call the helpline and make some art, I understand when I am manic and again how to stop the descent by for example turning off my computer and going to sleep. I am not on medication, I am easily triggered, and it’s not easy managing this day-to-day the way that I do. It’s like living with terminal and incurable mental cancer. There is no cure. I just have to live with the brain that I have and be aware of my triggers, patterns etc.
Luca by Sanchita Islam – Oil on Canvas 2012
R: How does your mental health condition affect your normal day?
S: Profoundly. I have two children and since the psychosis in 2009 and 2010 and the subsequent postpartum psychosis with both my children in 2010 and 2013 my brain is not the same.
My day starts early, my 2-year-old always wakes up at least once in the night, my sleep is always disrupted, then I wake around 6.30am-7.30am, my husband takes care of my eldest and takes him to school, I get the little one ready for crèche and then my day starts at 9am but by then because I am sleep deprived the OCD kicks in and Fred orders me to complete all my domestic chores before allowing me into my studio. He is quite precise in his instructions and things have to be done in a certain way, he will not tolerate a speck of dirt and all the cupboards have to be ordered, too. It’s exhausting.
I try to work during the day, but the light can distract me and the tiredness, usually I will collapse at some point and need to sleep, then the children return at 4 and I am pre-occupied with them until 7.30pm. I know my mental health has impacted on me as a mother, I had to tell my eldest about Fred from the age of 2; I am trying to teach them mental health early. But Fred is always around which makes things heavy because he orders me to do things when I would rather ignore him and focus on the children. I always try to read, to do art, to go cycling, to go to the playground etc., but often I am not in the room because I am trying to control Fred’s voice and what he’s commanding me to do. My son has made the distinction between Fred and Mummy, he says, ‘Mummy I hate Fred, but I love you’ that’s not easy to hear.
When the children and my husband go to sleep then I really start to work, my brain functions better at night but of course this is not conducive to good mental health because it would be better if I went to bed at the same time and woke up at the same time. I tried going to bed at 9pm but then I will always wake up and drift to my studio and start working.
The prognosis for people with my condition is not good; many end up homeless, jobless, friendless, childless or dead. I hope to prove the statistics wrong.
Whatever I produce or make or write it’s never enough for Fred, he always tells me I am a lazy pig. As soon as one piece of work is finished he demands that I move onto the next one, I can never really enjoy my achievements because he’s always pushing me to do more and more and saying that everything I do is complete shite, it’s tiring and tedious and draining.
R: Were you diagnosed by a Doctor / health professional?
S: Yes, Dr Bass diagnosed me, his junior thought I had bipolar disorder but then he told me it was schizoaffective disorder. I was very bewildered and incredulous but I must admit many of the symptoms correlate. The prognosis for people with my condition is not good; many end up homeless, jobless, friendless, childless or dead. I hope to prove the statistics wrong.
R: What made you see a doctor?
S: I go into more detail in my book, which I wrote to help give my children the tools to understand their own minds’. I was getting worse, things were deteriorating culminating in me going to A&E and that’s when I had the appointment to see Dr Bass. I was also told that going to A&E would increase the likelihood of my case being accelerated and getting on the waiting list to see a therapist. Since I first sought help when I was 26 I have seen over 40 different mental health care practitioners, case in point I see no one now.
R: Were there symptoms earlier?
S: I would say as a child I had OCD and anxiety, then as a teenager it was more depressive, then in my late twenties the mania began and by my thirties I had highs, lows, heard voices culminating in my first psychotic episode in 2009.
R: Has your mental health condition got worse over time? Or better?
S: Sometimes I think I am getting worse, quite recently Fred told me to go to the top of my building and to jump, the circumstances that culminated in this scenario are complex – it was scary. Once I rested I slowly recovered but I went through days of mania before I managed to cool down my brain. Now that incident seems like a blur.
I have observed that depending on where I am the condition alters in complexion, in Asia I am more in the pit and debilitated by the depressive symptoms, in London I am manic, in Brussels I can be both. I am probably more vulnerable to psychosis in London than in any other city. I wouldn’t say that I am getting better; I am just trying to manage my mind and as I said hold back the sea. If I had another full-blown psychotic episode I am not sure if my mind would be able to take it, since psychosis is very traumatic for the brain and it can take weeks to recover. Some make a full recovery; I am not one of those people. My mind was shattered by the psychosis and I am still reconstructing it out of the shards
R: How would you describe having a mental health condition in your own words?
S: I would say that it has been hellish; it has robbed so much from my family and my own life. It can be very destructive for everyone around me and this is a cause of great pain. But having said that Fred’s tyrannical hold over me has meant that I have been prolific, I have now produced 15 films (or more), over 100 solo and group shows around the world and 4 degrees (OK 3 and half since I dropped out of Chelsea) and I have my writing regularly published in the Huffington Post as well as publishing 9 books, including a novel and volume of poems. Would this all have been possible with a different sort of brain? Probably not.
R: Is it a constant battle to stay on top of your condition?
S: Yes a constant battle, and there are so many aspects to my condition it is hard to navigate and hard for others to fathom what you are dealing with. Now I am campaigning for better global mental health awareness and I have found that social media has been helpful in terms of providing another outlet for my brain and by discovering an online community of people going through the same thing, so you feel less alone, you know there are others out there engaged in a similar daily battle with their own minds.
Happiness is about noticing the small details
R: Have you found any positive aspects to your mental health complications?
S: As I said I have been quite productive in my life and this is probably due to having a ‘hot’ brain and also driven by Fred’s critical voice.
R: If you had the option to be rid of your mental health condition would you?
S: During those rare moments when I experience a short period of happiness and elation I wonder is this what it would be like to be normal but I am not sure who is happy or normal – I mean what is normal?
Happiness is about noticing the small details, like a blue sky, or a flower in bloom, the sound of the bird or admiring a tree. My mother said happiness comes in small teaspoons, in my case it is miniscule drops, but when one drop lands in my brain I savour it, even if that joy only lasts for a few seconds.
Beauty, joy, happiness, I see these as transient emotions.
Life is suffering, millions of people are suffering and yet they are surviving, our minds were meant to be tested, to endure the impossible, and if you can survive these trials and tribulations, perhaps you can use what you have learnt for some higher purpose, outside your own small existence and the limited parameters of an individual life.
Of course my husband would prefer it if I could go out to dinner with his friends and interact with his family, I can’t do either anymore without faking it, and I am so bad at faking being normal I just don’t interact with them.
It would be nice not to have to cower behind Mia, my glamorous alter ego in order to face the world and be more relaxed instead of constantly hiding behind sunglasses and big hats. I don’t like being disingenuous or mendacious, I want to be true, myself and open, but society is not there yet in terms of understanding and empathy regarding mental health.
I have lived with this mind for so long, I can’t imagine having another one, I have concluded that I was given this mental health condition and meant to suffer so that I can ameliorate the suffering of others.
R: Does your mental health condition keep you awake at night?
S: Yes when I am manic, it constantly keeps me awake to the point where my eyes burn from sleep deprivation. Fred’s demands can be incessant. For example I just returned to Europe, the flat was clean and ordered but he insisted that I start re-ordering all the cupboards, so now I will be up late because he will not allow me to sleep until I have completed his demands.
Or he will make me write or complete art and only then will he allow me to eat, drink or sleep. It’s punishing.
R: Do friends or colleagues notice your mental health condition?
S: I have learnt to hide it well, I minimise interaction and if I do have to interact with other mothers or colleagues I have to mentally prepare myself, sometimes I slip up. There are very few people in Asia that I am open about my ‘wonky brain’, a few more in Brussels and a selected circle in London. I think my condition makes people uncomfortable, maybe it even repels, they would much rather I was looking glamorous and engaging with the world as Mia.
This is a solitary battle that only I can fight it seems.
When I have been unwell those close to me notice and can be concerned, most of them tell me to sleep, which is easier to say, harder to put into practice. But I try to protect them from it, I deal with it all mostly alone.
My husband has mental health fatigue, so I don’t talk to him about it and if I am unwell I try and manage it myself. My parents are elderly, my sisters are engaged in their own battles, so again they are often oblivious but if I do reach out it upsets them and this in turn gives me a bad feeling. This is a solitary battle that only I can fight it seems.
R: Does it affect your relationship with them?
S: Yes, I think because I am partially ashamed of my condition, I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or awkward, I would like to be accepted for me, but I am not sure if that is possible, I am always acting, accommodating, hiding. Very few people see the real me, perhaps only my husband and I think he preferred me before the psychosis. Maybe he feels robbed? I do feel a lot of guilt that I have not been able to get my old brain back or be a certain way, but at the same time you have to achieve a level of acceptance that many just can’t handle it so better to create a palatable veneer rather than make anyone uncomfortable.
R: Do you think your life would be different without the mental health complications?
S: I think I am a happy person trapped in this mental health strait jacket, so yes. I was the joker in the family, I was a different person before the psychosis and over time my life has become more complicated because of it. Life would probably be a lot more straightforward without a lot of the hassle that goes with handling all the symptoms and trying to contain it. It has also been quite destructive at times and damaging. My husband believes that it has held me back in my career too, I don’t know about that, but at times is has impeded my life profoundly.
R: Please Introduce your Mental Health Campaigning…
S: My book Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too written under the pseudonym Q S Lam (Muswell Hill Press, 2015) prompted me to start campaigning.
Although I sought help, I feel that I was ultimately failed by the mental health services both in London and Brussels and this is why I have started to campaign for better global mental health awareness.
Just as poor people are taught the importance of clean water and hygiene I want to teach better basic mental health to people in developing countries.
In 2015 I presented my book and film via the British Council and Arts Council (after being awarded an Artist International Development Fund Grant) in Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia, and I am continuing with my campaign since there is huge stigma and shame attached to mental heath in these countries and apathy from the government in terms of trying to deal with it. Just as poor people are taught the importance of clean water and hygiene I want to teach better basic mental health to people in developing countries. Initiatives are already taking place in the UK, I am sure these could be replicated abroad.
Before 2015 I shunned all social media, but now I use Twitter and Facebook to campaign, Instagram and YouTube and my pigmentexplosion.com website to share my work. I have my tumblr artmotherhoodandmadness.tumblr.com blog and I blog for the Huffington Post.
I wrote one article about suicidal ideation for HP (on my phone), it received over 1000 shares and the Samaritans contacted me to publish it on their website. Others such as Asylum magazine are also publishing my work.
People constantly write to me praising my work and encouraging me to carry on saying that I am making a difference.
I also have people like Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell and Baroness Kennedy supporting my work, but I am doing most of the campaigning on my own – it’s a slog but worth it if it helps just one person.
R: What is your opinion on medication for mental health issues?
S: People should do what is best for them, personally I choose not to go on medication because the side effects are awful and I believe sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, altruism, working, spending quality time with the children – all this helps to achieve a positive state of mind. But it is hard to manage a mind like mine without meds. Since the psychosis my prefrontal cortex doesn’t work properly and often my limbic system is in control especially when I am sleep deprived, but I understand this, I employ complex strategies to avoid psychosis, not everyone could do this. When I am very sleep deprived sometimes I have to take a pill to knock me out, but I do this very seldom, or at least I try to avoid taking anything.
R: Were you prescribed medication?
S: Yes I have been prescribed anti depressants and anti psychotics, but none agreed with me, all of them have had awful side effects, anti depressants made me psychotic, which is why I avoid all meds now. I also avoid alcohol and drugs, especially skunk, since these can have a corrosive impact on your brain and make you more depressed and more predisposed to psychosis.
“they are not doing it for money, they care and not all therapists that I have encountered do care, it’s just a job, some have looked bored”
R: Have you seen a therapist?
S: I have seen over 40 different health care professionals, I wrote an essay about this experience in my book, it’s not an easy read.
R: Did therapy help?
S: Not really, it made me feel very vulnerable and I found it stressful and time consuming and exhausting trying to make the appointments. This is why I use the helpline instead, I call, purge myself of all my mental shit and work at my desk at the same time. This works, it’s empowering, it’s anonymous, I can call several times until I feel better. There’s no time limit. People manning the helpline are volunteers, they are not doing it for money, they care and not all therapists that I have encountered do care, it’s just a job, some have looked bored, others have been quite cruel, it was traumatic doing therapy and I will never do it again. Now bits of my life are written in so many black books – what happens to all the information?
R: How do you best manage it? (Medication, meditation, yoga, alternative medicines, or something else)
S: Sleep, good food, hydration, cycling for endorphins, dark chocolate for dopamine, gardening for nurturing and fresh air, Pilates and meditation (I teach both) and my art and children help too. I involve my children in my work, I have been drawing and painting them since birth, creating this work helped me to slice through the psychosis and visions to harm my children and myself. I try and immerse myself in their world, listen to their laughter, make them laugh. I am painting them every year until they are 18 and also making scrolls with them (some of these works have been exhibited in London and New York) and now I am doing my 1000 Postcard project, they make the squiggles and I transform them. My son also chooses Lego figures for me to draw. It gives me pleasure to see their delight when they tumble into my studio and study my work. Building Lego also helps, anything that involves using my hands helps calm down my brain. I have built an intricate Lego town for my children and I do get lost in this other world we have created. Having children allows you to be a child and being a child and joyous protects me against Fred, of course he tries to attack and undermine all my best efforts, but all these things help to keep him in check.
R: Did any treatments work?
S: Not in my case, but my strategies are working for me, of course a psychiatrist would argue the contrary and insist that life could get better if I went on medication.
R: Do you feel as if you’re in control now?
S: Not really, because my prefrontal cortex doesn’t work effectively, but because I know this I can do everything I can to stop a descent and at least I understand what is happening to my mind and that much of what occurs is chemical or related to lack of sleep etc. If I sleep, eat well and have a good routine perhaps I am one step ahead of Fred but it doesn’t take much for me to tumble.
God by Sanchita Islam – Oil on Canvas 2009
R: Where do your mental health complications come from?
S: In my book ‘Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too’ I talk about mental mapping, this entails plotting a mental map from birth to present day to try to understand the origins of the nascent madness, if you like. It took a long time to fathom the complexities of the mental map of my family, which extends to my maternal and paternal side, my extended family and my siblings.
My mother suffered a trauma as child, which she revealed to me in 2014, this was the missing piece of the mental jigsaw puzzle. Everything slotted into place and it all made sense – her behaviour, her rage, and her pain.
Everything stems from my mother, she carries the gene, two of her sisters manifest the same mental issues, but for my mother it is quite specific. As well as the childhood trauma, she was born after her twin brothers died, she grew up feeling should should have been a boy, so she had self-esteem issues. Then my father passed away when I was 8-months old, which impacted on her and my sisters profoundly, we were raised under a cloak of perpetual grief, my mother says she sees my late father everyday.
My mother worked fulltime and she had to cultivate this professional persona to the outside world, she was dynamic, beautiful and stylish, but when she got home she was exhausted and then she would just change, anything would trigger her. It was quite habitual to hear her say, ‘I wish you were never born, I wish you were dead.’ There was also violence too, both from my stepfather and my mother, they were exhausted and I have since forgiven them. It was a big economic struggle growing up.
My parents were also one of the first immigrants to come over in the 60’s and they were trying to carve a life, but they were isolated, far from family and although my mother sought help and was given medication she never really got better when I was growing up. Both my parents are much more mellow as they have got older and wiser, too. They are both sorry for what happened, but the damage was done during the early years.
Also, my middle sister manifested signs of mental health issues when she was very young, I knew something was wrong and wanted to help her, but didn’t know how, it was very painful growing up with a sibling who was clearly not well and my parents were at a loss too. No one was able to help her.
I think these factors all impacted on my mental health, from a very young age I became very compliant and obedient, when my parents hit me I didn’t cry, I didn’t show any emotion, I also shunned all affection and became quite repressed. This was when the OCD kicked in; I was always seeking external order to counter the chaos and violence of family life. My internal world was fragile at a young age. Family was not a stable nest – it was full of volatility.
I sensed a shadow of melancholy following me as a child, and this has continued into adulthood. Even though I understand the origins of my mental health issues, the patterns, the triggers, the mental map of my own mind, this doesn’t mean it makes it any easier living with a mind that has been battered continuously by internal and external forces that are beyond my control.
R: Did any health professionals explain where your they originated?
S: I would say the mental health care professionals did hint that my condition was partly genetic and also environmental, but I, by and large, worked it all out and pieced it together over many years.
R: Do family members have similar experiences?
S: My sisters have varying degrees of mental heath issues, but as far as I know I am the only one who has experienced psychosis, although tragically my nephew too has mental health problems. This inherited condition has blighted and ravaged my family.
My susceptibility to psychosis might also be because of my artistic temperament, historically many artists and writers have similar brain chemistry to my own.
Kobi by Sanchita Islam – Oil on Canvas 2012
R: You have 2 children, how does Mental Health affect being a mother?
S: Yes of course it does, I go into tremendous detail in my book, my biggest battle was PPP and trying to deal with the visions that came coming at me and trying to fire bullets of logic back while breastfeeding and looking after two small children. It was very challenging and isolating, but my art and words saved me. It is very painful to write about to be honest, the shame, the guilt, the fear that exposure to Fred may have damaged my children – it can be too much to recount.
“Oh and I am a mother of two small children; there is an assumption that mothers with a mental health condition are bad mothers.”
I can only hope that all the art I have made with my children, the paintings and drawings of them both, the poems, the book, the articles – makes them see how hard I have battled with Fred to protect my children.
Having a mental health issue stops you from being the mother you want to be but you can still aspire to be that mother.
I think all mothers feel they are failing their children, those with a mental health issue even more so.
S: Where do I start?
You can see a lot of my art on www.pigmentexplosion.com
But I still have new work to put on there; I can’t keep up with my output
I don’t just write about mental health, I write about art, motherhood and also politics, ISIS, human rights issues and issues related to sexual violence
I launched a YouTube channel so you can see my films, but I have also started making little films related to mental health, poetry and art.
I created a Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too Facebook page and I regularly tweet and write posts on Facebook about mental health and I post new work daily.
Basically if you take a look at my work you will see that I draw, paint etc. but I specialize in 30-foot scrolls, A Soul on a Scroll took me 5 years to make, my latest scrolls are all related to war, I am exhibiting the first war scroll in Brussels on 17th Feb organized by KAOS. I am working on my third war scroll with my children.
My films were mostly funded by the Arts Council and British Council and have been shot all around the world and shown all around the world too. I also made an animation film about a little girl with mental health problems called White Wall funded by the UK film council.
Although I have published 9 books, I have written more. I write poems regularly and post them on Facebook; my publishers Chipmunker Press want to publish my second volume. The first volume I published was ‘Eternal Pollution of a Dented Mind’ much of this writing is related to mental health.
I am also working with a new award winning publishing house, Oyez publishing on several children’s books, The Tree People and also White Wall, the book.
Writing and art are intrinsic to my practice, and text often features in my work since 2006 my writing became incredibly small. Now the writing has become an artwork in itself.
R: What was your inspiration for writing Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too?
S: The book wrote itself, I was in the throes of PPP but had already attempted to write about the psychosis of 2009 and 2010. I faced many blocks, but then I was invited to speak about mental health and creativity at Pegasus theatre in Oxford, as a result of this I wrote an essay on the topic and then wrote two more. I sent these to Stephen Fry and he said they were ‘unbelievably brilliant’ so I continued to write until it became a book. It was my old psychiatrist Dr Bass who put me in touch with Muswell Hill Press and they agreed to publish the book straight away.
R: What is your primary aim?
S: To help pregnant mothers with mental health problems since their mental health impacts on their unborn babies. I have been invited to participate in an exhibition at the Houses of Parliament in June and all the work that I will be showing is related to mother and baby. It links in with the first 1001 critical days campaign. We have to protect our children and children born to parents with a mental health issue need to be educated early to give them the tools to navigate their own minds.
R: Have you received any great feedback / response?
S: Yes all those that have read it have been very positive. One lady from the US wrote to me saying she wished her friend had read the book, since she took her own life and that of her daughter when she was in the throes of PPP. Stephen Fry, Helena Kennedy and Alastair Campbell have all read the book and said it was brilliant, but as long at the book helps others, raises awareness about PPP, psychosis and helps to protect the mental health of our young then that’s all I can hope for.
R: Where are they available to buy / read / participate in?
S: You can buy it from amazon or Brick Lane Bookshop, the launch is on 5th Feb, 166 Brick Lane from 7pm
Gungi Blues and Eternal… are available via amazon or the Chipmunka website.
My other books are limited edition prints available if you contact me via the pigmentexplosion website.
All 9 of my books will be available on 5th at my launch.
R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues about these experiences?
S: Since 2015 I have been more open via social media, I find it easier being open online than face-to-face, I would say I am more guarded and vigilant when I am talking, but very open when I am writing about mental health.
R: Do you know others with complications?
S: Yes I have worked with patients in Brussels via KAOS/TrActor suffering from mental health issues, I completed two scroll projects with them and I work with a Belgian photographer with schizophrenia. We are taking photos of one another each year for as long as we can continue, it’s turning out to be an interesting project about perceptions of madness, I showed some of these photos at my last show at Rich Mix June 2015.
R: How do you educate yourself on management and resources? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?
S: I try to keep abreast of developments by following certain people, doctors MH organizations, as well as reading articles related to mental health. It seems there is a mental health revolution-taking place and I am just one small part of it.
I would say that some psychiatrists are indifferent to the work that I am doing, others are more receptive, especially the younger generation, and maybe the old guard is slightly threatened or set in their ways about approaches to mental health.
But my point is not everyone has access to doctors or proper care, if people are given the tools to understand their mental health condition this would make them more independent and better able to cope when they are failed by the system which is becoming more frequent due to cuts in the UK.
R: Have you read any great books about Mental Health?
S: I read two books An Unquiet Mind and Touched with Fire by Dr Kay Redfield Jamison. Apparently it has now been turned into a film of the same title.
I disagreed with much of what the author wrote in the first book, she insisted that manic-depressive disorders could only be treated via lithium. The second book was interesting because it proved that many artists, writers, poets all suffered from mental health issues.
R: Or seen any movies?
S: I have seen a few like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Dangerous Method, Girl Interrupted, Silver Linings Playbook. I would like to see Touched with Fire.
“I hope to leave a vast archive of work related to mental health that will serve to help people across the world to understand their minds better”
To be honest I would like to see more written not only from a white perspective, I have been shooting my own ‘Portrait of Madness’ over many years, I am in the long process of editing it, stories like mine are seldom heard, rather than wait for funding I have decided to make it myself, it will be an artist’s film, but it will be true and honest and I hope provide insights into the unfathomable maze that is the mind. Some of the content will be honest and probably make uncomfortable viewing, perhaps I will show it at my gallery to a selected audience first.
Last year I performed my play ‘Do I Look Like A Fucking Mad Person?’ so there is a performer in me but of course writing and creating films about issues related to mental health makes you feel vulnerable.
The play was filmed so I will edit it and put it online.
When I die I hope to leave a vast archive of work related to mental health that will serve to help people across the world to understand their minds better.
R: Can you recommend any therapists / doctors / specialists / coaches / mentors / clinics / foundations?
S: I would say there are many groups emerging on twitter, but hard to recommend a single one. There are the obvious ones like Mind, Sane and the Samaritans… the online mental health community is vast and growing by the day. I would recommend people to look around, however the problem with social media is that it can make you ill, so limit time spent on the web. I would say though most of the resources or interesting people working in mental health are accessible online.
There is one doctor that is very compassionate and campaigning about mental health, I would recommend that you tweet him I am sure he will follow you straight away, he’s been receptive to my work: Raja Gangopadhyay as has a young psychiatrist by the name of Ben Pearce who is working hard in the realm of mental health campaigning up and down the country and my publishers Chipmunka Press and Muswell Hill Press who publishing books related to mental health written by sufferers.
R: What’s on your horizon for 2016?
S: I have my launch on 5th Feb at 166 Brick Lane Bookshop from 7pm
Scrolls by Sanchita Islam
There is also my scroll exhibition at KAOS on 17th Feb in Brussels.
I will be participating in an exhibition at the Houses of Parliament from the 6th – 10th of June 2016; the theme is motherhood and infant mental health.
I am working with Oyez publishers on my new children’s books.
I will be giving a talk and presenting some of my work at Ilham Gallery this year in Kuala Lumpur.
Finally, I am campaigning for better global mental health. I began my campaign in Burma, Bangladesh and Malaysia in 2015, but there’s a lot of resistance, it will be a long and hard campaign.
R: What’s next for your mental health?
S: Have to focus on sleeping, eating, regulating my time using social media and the computer, need to keep hydrated and do all the things that I know are good for my mind, and try not listen to Fred.
R: Anything else you’d like to add?
S: I think that’s everything don’t you?
R: Thanks for being so transparent about your struggles Sanchita, I (and many others) am very grateful for your deep insight.
Read Sanchita’s writing on mental health and more at the Huffington Post
Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Sanchita Islam
Cover Photo by Laurence Edney