By Susan Schellenberg
This evocative exhibit examined how the act of painting helped one woman to move through her mental illness towards a path of healing and recovery.
September 20 to December 15, 2018
“As my husband drove me along Colonel Samuel Smith Drive, the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital’s red brick buildings that poked through the trees revealed to me that rather than being the Blessed Virgin or the Devil, I - a former nurse, wife and mother of four small children - was mentally ill.
That images of these buildings brought about such a discovery was auspicious, as my soul’s language is image, and painting dreams was to later become my way out of the mess that I was in on that early September 1969 evening.
My decision to learn why I became ill through painting dreams was preceded by a ten-year course of prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. Medications that in addition their debilitating effects on my speech, coordination and memory functions triggered suicidal thoughts, monumental amounts of rage, and last but in no way least, further buried the very rage-producing trauma stories I needed to remember.
Once committed to what would become a four-year clinically supervised withdrawal from antipsychotic medications and to leaving a painted record of my mind as I recovered, I blindly followed as my new story unfolded. An array of gifted mentors also entered my life and began to foster my understanding of story, its power as well as its potential to heal. In my case, the buried or repressed stories, that were locked as memory in my body’s matter (Latin mater, meaning “mother”).
The painted dream image in my case eventually forged missing links to childhood trauma stories. As a child, my survival required that I bury these stories, as I, like all children, depended on the generosity of parents or authority figures who were implicated in my trauma. But, as an adult, my survival required me to unlock and bring conscious knowing to the same trauma stories.
I met psychologist Rosemary Barnes in 1990, when we both became active in the Women’s College Hospital’s fight against a merger with Toronto General Hospital. As our separate stories moved forward (never in a doctor/patient relationship), events later placed us in agreement to co-author a book. A rich fourteen-year writing process followed. Aspects of my own and our book’s history are integral to the Good Grief exhibit.
While writing, I came to understand the term “heal” to mean following the psyche’s direction away from addiction towards wholeness, and thus towards growth in one’s ability to love and forgive self and other, to cope, to feel pleasure, and to engage in meaningful activity. A growth process that eventually allowed me to understand that the healing of self is inseparable from the healing of the planet, our Great Mother Earth.
As an artist, I now see how the written and painted dream journey that helped me to reconcile the split-off parts of myself echoes the larger current needs of the whole. The incidence of collective alienation, of being split-off from self and others, which manifests in escalating global violence, the dishonouring of children, the lack of spirit in institutions, political corruption and the destruction of the environment, speaks of our collective need to heal inner/outer partnerships and find the global will to commit to wholeness.
My hope is that my story and dream art can contribute to contemporary meditations on what it means to heal and can allow others to recall the world and peace -making possibilities of their own dreams.”
- Susan Schellenberg
About the Artworks
Artwork by Susan Schellenberg Description
Dream Interpret Grow
Video by Susan Schellenberg Description
My Old Movie of Dreams
A play written and produced by Susan Schellenberg. (Description & link to script?)
COMMITTED To The Sane Asylum
Narratives on Mental Wellness and Healing
By Susan Schellenberg & Rosemary Barnes
In Committed to the Sane Asylum: Narratives on Mental Wellness and Healing, artist Susan Schellenberg, a former psychiatric patient, and psychologist Rosemary Barnes relate their own stories, conversations, and reflections concerning the contributions and limitations of conventional mental health care and their collaborative search for alternatives such as art therapy.
Patient and doctor each describe personal decisions about the mental health system and the creative life possibilities that emerged when mind, body, and spirit were committed to well-being and healing.
Interwoven patient/doctor narratives explain conventional care, highlight critical steps in healing, and explore varied perspectives through conversations with experts in psychiatry, feminist approaches, art, storytelling, and business.The book also includes reproductions of Susan’s mental health records and dream paintings.
This book will be important for consumers of mental health care wishing to understand the conventional system and develop the best quality of life. Rich personal detail, critical perspective, clinical records, and art reproductions make the book engaging for a general audience and stimulating as a teaching resource in nursing, social work, psychology, psychiatry, and art therapy.
Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine 2009 Book of the Year Award in the Psychology Category
You can purchase this book here