Interview and images by Samantha Moss
Trigger Warning: this article contains references to suicide and self harm
Frances Cannon is an artist and illustrator based in Melbourne. Her work focuses on body love and body loathing, anxiety and mental health, and sex and sexuality. Her art can be seen as diaristic as it stems from personal emotions and experiences. She looks at everything through an intersectional feminist lens.
What is your personal experience with mental health?
Frances: I have anxiety, I’m not diagnosed but I’m pretty sure it’s generalised anxiety disorder and I realised that I had it probably 5 years ago. I de nately had it all through high school but just didnt know what it was and it would have been great if I had of known, it would have explained all those random breakdowns every now and then and why I couldnt study for tests as clamly as all my friends. or panic attacks about boys. And I just thought I was very emotional but no, it was anxiety. And it manefests itself in different ways, like I’ll go through stages where I’m really ne and don’t have many panic attacks and then I’ll go through stages where I’ll have a panic attack every week, it really depends on whats happening in my life and what my enviroment is.
What did you know about mental illness growing up?
Frances: Growing up I didn’t know anxiety existed, I knew depression was a thing and it affected my family because my mum’s mum commited suicide, way before I existed when my mum was really little, so I knew this thing called depression existed and that it has affected our family but I didn’t know what it was and I thought it was this big scary thing where all of a sudden you would die. So my knowledge of mental health growing up was not much at all and I started learning more about it late high school but even then not really because my high school didnt really talk about mental health for example, this was after my time, there was a girl who was self harming and they expelled her because they couldn’t handle it and they couldn’t handle looking after her. So this was the school environment that I was in. My rst introduction into what anxiety was was when I was living for six months with my aunty and cousins when I rst moved back to Australia from Tailand and my cousin, who was six years younger than me, regularly went to see therapists and she talked really openly about her anxiety and her symptoms and I could see correlations with my symptoms and it was like “This sounds so familiar, maybe thats what I have” So I started looking into it and it just made sense. I really admire my cousin Maddy because she’s always been so open about it and she taught me so much in those 6 months I was living with them. It took me long time, a couple of years at least, for me to start openly saying “I have anxiety and this is why I’m responding to the situation in this way.” Whereas I think If it had been an open discussion when I was growing up it would have been much easier and my mum de nately has some anxiety symptoms as well but she is undiagnosed and never really talks about it, I try to talk about my mental health with her and try to coax her out of it because I think it would really help I just wish I had known that it was a thing when I was in high school, it would have been really helpful. It makes such a difference in resposnding to panic attatcks when you know what is happening, I’ve learnt to lacknowledge a panic attack when it’s happening and that helps me get through it. Just knowing more about your mental illness really helps, education is always the answer!
What was your experience seeking and recieving help within the Australian healthcare system?
Frances: It took me a really long time to realise that I needed outside help. I relied quite a lot on my mum and my boyfriend at the time for emotional support I realised at a really tough spot in my year last year that I needed to suck it up and go see seomone. I had tried seeing a therapist in 2016 and had maybe 2 or three sessions with them but I didn’t really connect with them and I was still at uni and was really busy, it actually would have really helped with my very stressful honours year but I was like nup, its not working for me. So last year I went to see someone and did the 10 government subsidised sessions which got me through a really touch spot and was easy enough. I think if you know how to get help, going to your GP and getting a refferal, its quite easy but I feel like not a lot of people do know because it’s not really spoken about. But there is help availabe and there is free help available if you know where to look.
What is your experience having mental illness and being self employed/having your own business?
Frances: It really affects me, some days because I manage myself I’ll push myself to hard and that will trigger my anxiety or I won’t push myself hard enough and fall behind which can trigger anxiety. So i’m still guring out how to manage it. This year I’m wanting to have strickter work times and stricker free time. In the pasted I’ve worked when I felt like it and not worked when I felt like it . So I’m wanting to actually schedual things in a more structured way like having a 10-5 work day and then have schedualed free time when I don’t even look at my emails. I think it will really help setting those boundaries, it will take practive though because I’m pretty much a workaholic.
How does your anxiety affect your art and vice versa? Is it hard putting your anxiety out into the world?
Frances: They are so closely reated. My art is all about what it’s like being a human called Frances, so I’ll often draw about my mental health and my anxiety. And usually I’ll draw about it as I’m feeling it or very closely after. so it’s a form of therapy for myself as well. I’ll draw a feeling and think about it and try to understand it then I’ll share it and others will do the same so its a cool cycle. I can’t imagine not drawing about whats going on in my life, thats what Ive always done, draw about my experience so iand my thoughts and feels . When I rst started posting about my mental health it was quite dif cult but now my page is known for that and I now nd it quite theraputic to talk about it and I like the idea of other people being inspired to talk about their experiences as well, as long as they are doing it safely. I think talking about it openly online can be really helpful, sometimes online is all youve got and you don’t have someone in person to talk about it with.
What do you do in your daily life to combat your anxiety?
Frances: At the moment I’m going through a stage where my mental health is quite good, but things that do help me are seeing a therapist, being open and talking openly about it, and listening to podcasts really helps me. I nd that if I’m having trouble sleeping popping on a podcast helps and it helps to calm me down if I’m out and about. Walking really helps, being outside helps me, yoga helps, when I remember to do it that is! Getting off your phone helps but its really hard, I’m not very good at it!
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be dealing with mental illness?
Talking about it is always, always the answer whether that be talking about it with friends or family or a therapist or both. Letting people in is the number one thing you can do and ask for help when you need it. Humans are social creatures, we are made to be in realastionships with each other. Talking to someone going through something similar is really helpful because you feel like you are not alone and you are not crazy. However one thing I’ve learnt fairly recently is that while its so important to talk to your loved ones, try not to put all of the weight on them, don’t expect them to x you or be able to handle it all the time because they might be dealing with their own mental health issues, thats what therapists are for. Also having a creative outlet whether that be writing or mustic or art aor gardening or cooking, anykind of creative outlet is so helpful because you are using your mind in a productive way.