“Strangers No More”
Materials/ Process: Acrylic, gouache, charcoal, aerosol,
latex, metallic pigment, and oil pastel canvas.
Dimensions: 183cm x 122cm (6’ x 4’)
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CANADA - Urban Art
A few years ago I was diagnosed with Depersonalization Disorder. I’ve been dealing with the condition for many years, but like most who struggle with mental illness there was previously not light on what was happening. Just the inexplicable strangeness and the problems that flow from it.
Depersonalization Disorder can be best explained by imaging that you look in the mirror one day and no longer recognize the face staring back at you. I don’t mean in some kind of ridiculous, existential way that says, “I’m so lost, I don’t know who I am in life”. I mean literally. You have not even a shred of familiarity or recognition. The effects are horrifying, and when I first recall experiencing them I honestly thought I was high, or dreaming. They last anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so. Needless to say, depression and anxiety where constant companions.
I kept this secret for a very long time. After all, how the hell do you explain it to people when you don’t even fully understand it yourself? The casual ease with which I discuss it now betrays none of the overwhelming fear that once shipped with it. Fear that you are losing your mind. Fear that you are becoming schizophrenic, or that you are not actually you at all.
Of course, I finally got help and came to understand what was happening. It’s important to note that this disorder does NOT make you lose touch with reality. At no time was I ever confused about what was real and what was not real. Turns out it was more manageable that I’d imagined it could be.
In the wake of diagnosis and treatment (there is no medication for this disorder – it’s entirely therapeutic, and meditation helps) I made a number of interesting conclusions. One, that “I” can be an elusive and fluid concept. Two, that “I” is who I chose to be consistently. And three, the complexity of being a stranger to myself has made me understand that none of us have any reason to be afraid of connecting with other people. Hell, most people don’t even know who they are – let alone who you chose to be. How many people can tell me what their purpose for existing is? How many have clearly defined edges and concrete personas that never evolve? None. We are all blurred at the edges, and partially abstract in our nature (now you understand why I combine realism and abstract in my artwork).
I recall watching the interview with Jim Carrey about the Andy Coffman documentary called “Man on the Moon”. He discusses becoming so wrapped up in the character of Coffman that at one point he struggled to become Jim again when the role was at an end. During that process, he realized that what we call “I” is essentially nothing but a character or persona – only as real as the extent to which we live and breathe it. Psychology confirms this, as does my condition and those similar to it. The rise of AI may push the notion of Self right over the edge of current definitions. Interestingly, the word “persona” comes from the ancient Greek word referring to a mask worn by actors on a stage.
We’re constantly connected through technology, but we so often remain a mystery to ourselves and a stranger to others even in our own lives. Brands and media signals erode the shores of Self, working their way into our minds until we define ourselves not through a process of personal sovereignty, but though surrogate methods like social media, fast fashion, voyeurism, fantasy and fictional versions of who we really are. We can be anyone. Anything. But with anxiety, depression and mental illness skyrocketing can we really call this a good thing?
If my work is meant to do anything, then it’s to build bridge for you to cross the threshold and reclaim the connection that’s faded under the duress of social pressure. To see yourself in a new light, and others in their own. And that one day we will see each other, and be strangers no more.