Interview and images by Samantha Moss
Content Warning: this article contains references to eating discorders
Mads is a 22 year old psychology student, born in Perth and living in Melbourne. Despite choosing to pursue an academic/science based career I’m still passionate about art and draw/paint/put ink to skin/photograph to stay semi-sane.
What is your personal experience with mental illness?
I’ve always had ‘quirks’ that I can now put down to being an anxious child and not just a weirdo, notably having such extreme home sickness that id be vomit at friends houses whenever I attempted to have a sleepover (thankfully I got over that as a teenager). As I started to reach the end of high school my anxious quirks became more severe and I was initially diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the diagnoses varies depending on which doctor you talk to. Its been an annoyingly drawn out journey and I’m only just starting to feel genuinely stable and work out who I am without my symptoms.
Can you touch a little on your experience with an eating disorder? How did your ED affect your mental health and vice versa?
For me, my anxiety has been the root of a LOT of self destructive (bizarre) behaviour. The most destructive branch of this anxiety was my eating disorder, which accumulated from a need for control and self loathing, progressively getting worse over the years until it was full blown anorexia. Honestly when you’re in an eating disorder mindset you have complete tunnel vision and reason with yourself in the most absurd ways, theres little anyone can say to help you see rationally. This mindset was so much more blinding and destructive than any other aspect of my mental illness and completely stunted my ability to see forward. After years of having an awful relationship with my body, mind and food, I basically just became exhausted of having this be the centre of my universe- I knew there was more out there for me. I had lost years fighting a losing battle, I had nothing to show for except a complete loss of my sense of self. As soon as my mindset genuinely changed and I wanted to recover life got better. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t any harder than continuing to live in the chaotic headspace that I was in.
How do you use creativity as an outlet?
Creativity manifests itself in me as a lot of pent up energy, kind of like a dog who hasn’t been taken on a walk in a while and is dying to run. Using my hands to translate the chaos into something tangible is crucial, it doesn’t matter what medium I’m using or if what I’m producing is any good.
Do you have any advice, tips or tricks for anyone suffering from mental illness?
Getting out of bed is often the first and biggest hurdle a lot of people with mental illness battle, iv found once you can conquer that and get outside you’ll start to feel more capable of getting on with whatever tasks you have to do that day (even if its just to get a coffee or walk the dog). I’m kind of like a holistic lizard, sitting in the sun for a bit recharges me and reminds me that everything that isn’t bed - isn’t completely awful. On particularly bad days, iv found even just getting out of bed and moving myself into the lounge room to watch tv helps me feel like less of a grub (I find watching day time tv centres me and stops me feeling as disconnected from the rest of the world, not sure why, I might just really be a fan of of ready steady cook and the morning news).
Reward yourself for little things, I often use incentives to bribe my lazy or depressed self to get tasks I’m procrastinating or dreading done (something my parents would do when I was a kid, and surprisingly still works). Things I deem rewardable vary from just getting out of the house and going to uni (definitely deserves a frappe from starbucks some days) to remembering to shower and clean the house. To most people those might seem like a normal part of everyday, but to a tired depressed person- they’re a hurdle. Learning to acknowledge and accept some things are more of struggle for you than for most people is a step towards learning to cope.
Structure has been the key to keeping myself feeling stable, wether its studying or a job, I need to be able to allocate my time and have set goals to be working towards or I become unproductive and mental illness has a chance to dominate. I’m an organised loser who loves my journal and has to write everything down (grocery lists, appointments, course work, friends birthdays). I love my to do lists, it removes the stress of remembering and once I can see it written on paper, it becomes more manageable.
Optimism genuinely took me a while to get my head around after years of being a complete cynic and frankly its underrated - Always look for the little wins, I know thats one of those things you probably always hear from someone who’s never experienced depression before but bare with me. I try to rationalise happiness in the most pathetic ways, but it genuinely stops me falling into the negative self talk cycle of depression.
Any final words?
I have a tattoo on my foot that says ‘learn’, its supposed to say ‘learn and cope’ but I couldn’t be bothered finishing it. If i’ve learnt anything during my short life, its that most the time all you can do when in a rough patch is learn from the experience and get through it, knowing that it won’t last forever.