Disability and Art

To me, disability and art goes hand in hand. When I struggled to communicate what I needed or wanted as a young child, I would draw pictures of it and then show my mum. When I felt isolated or misunderstood at school, I would walk around the playground, daydreaming about the different artworks and stories I could create. I had trouble understanding faces and emotions, so I drew them over and over to understand them better. I would go to the library and draw with my peers as a way of relating to them in ways I couldn’t with speech. I use my voice through art and I always have, because for me, art is about communication, from vague to complex ideas, for others and for myself.

Art has taught me things that I used to find hard to grasp and it bridged that gap between myself and others. My autism has informed my art in ways that I hope other neuro-divergent people would also understand. I used to be ashamed of my condition and how I believed it limited me, but now I’m proud of the unique insight of the world, its living inhabitants and complex topics that it has given me. Art has helped me to tackle the problems and trauma in my life that I hope makes others feel understood and validated too.

About a year and a half ago I went through my first psychosis episode that hospitalised me for nearly two months. A while later I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder which is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. It completely changed my life and this new disability has brought so many new trials. But art, like always, has helped me. During those days in the psychiatric ward, I would spend my time painting and therefore processing my reality and emotions. At that time I found it hard to communicate what was happening for me, even to myself, so I would dump my thoughts, hallucinations, fears, questions and feelings onto a canvas. Just like when I was a kid, art helped me connect to others and myself in ways I couldn’t without it.

Art has the power to let us process emotions and become more brave with each stroke, which can be difficult to accomplish with those unable to voice their truth in other ways. Everyone who picks up a paint brush or a pencil or anything else to make a mark is a leader. It means having the courage to convey your being to others, communicating feelings and thoughts that can change the world and the way people think and act. People with disabilities often are incredibly insightful and wise and so their art is vital in our society that goes against emotional intelligence. We are needed.

Fear

I have accidentally stolen a bike because of my fear of embarrassment. There are lots of other things we can fear – shame, pain, failure and conflict, to list a few. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we continue to act in fear, instead of facing the problem. This just compounds the problem, like in my bike story.

When I lived in Japan in 2016, I rode my bike everyday to the train station that took me to school. I locked it where all the others were parked and then when I came back later that day, I went to where I thought I left my bike and used my key… which didn’t unlock it!

I knew that there were plenty of other bikes that looked just like mine, but I was stubborn and adamant that this one was mine. Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to each one and try the lock, because I stood out enough in Japan – I didn’t want to cause more attention and embarrass myself. I felt like doing that would look like I was trying to break into the bikes, or something like that. Looking back, I realise that kind of embarrassment is definitely not the worst thing to happen.

A few teenagers came to help me and after a while of wiggling the key, we decided we’ll take the bike to a nearby locksmith. They all helped me carry it and the locksmith cut off the lock and put on a new one with a new key. Huzzah! After thanking everyone and riding to my host home, a month passed and a policeman came knocking.

From what I could understand, (my Japanese wasn’t very good at that point) it was normal for policemen to check if the number on your bike is the same one on its paperwork. When I heard that the number was different, my suspicion was proven to be correct. I stole someone else’s bike. I still feel terrible about it – bikes aren’t cheap, the person who owned it probably needed it to travel and I can only imagine how devastated they’d be. All because I didn’t want to embarrass myself! In fact, trying not to embarrass myself just embarrassed myself more.

At that time I was afraid of looking stupid, which is a common fear that I have. I’ve been thinking lately about what else I am afraid of. It feels like I have become more scared of things than when I was a child. I loved adventure and I had no fear of death while doing dangerous things. I felt invincible. Now I’m scared of the dark again because that’s when I hallucinate the most. I’m scared of monsters under my bed again because it always feels like the alien and monsters are close. My second time in a psychiatric ward in 2019 lasted for nearly 2 months because of my psychosis. Ever since, I’ve been so scared. A lot of that fear is trauma, disability and mental health related.

There are other fears I have, such as trusting myself, leaving the house, socialising, people judging me, being a waste of space, homophobia, letting my disabilities limit me, vulnerability, losing those I love, loneliness and failure. And the list goes on! I asked Cassandra, my partner, what are her fears. Immediately she said mediocrity, another fear that I share with her, and then said isolation, meaninglessness, people and poverty. There are so many different kinds of things you can be afraid of. Everyone’s fears are unique to them, but also many are something you share with others.

Fears are formed to protect ourselves from hurt. There are different kinds of fears – ones that are helpful and others that aren’t. An example Cassandra gave was being afraid of snakes, which is a built in “survival” way of thinking, and isn’t an important fear to conquer, as it serves us and our safety. However, overcoming a fear of people has benefits such as connecting with others, as well as combating loneliness and anxiety.

I have asked myself the question of “how do I deal with fear” and it’s made me reflect on how I experience fear in my daily life. One of my biggest achievements lately is regularly going outside. In the past, the more I stayed inside, the scarier the outside seemed and the more anxious I became. So how did I overcome (more or less) this fear?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I was compassionate and empathetic to myself. I didn’t beat myself up for not going outside, because that would compound the problem and lead to more fear. There was no rush, there was no pressure, because I find that the more I am “forced” to do something, the more I don’t end up doing it. My psychiatrist recommended to me to go outside everyday. At first that seemed impossible and the first time he told me to do that I didn’t listen.

But it’s a bit more than just being compassionate, understanding and empathetic towards myself – I also need to seize the opportunity on days when I have more energy or I am mentally in a better place than usual. In times like that, I simply took the leap and was brave. Cass said to me the opposite of fear is love and that courage means “whole heart,” which shows how love is brave. Sometimes overthinking a situation can be a barrier against facing your fears. It seems so fucking hard, but it IS possible.

Sometimes you have to put yourself in “uncomfortable” situations (or worse) as to move forward and expand your comfort zone. The first few times it exhausted me to go outside. I was constantly paranoid and anxious about seeing someone I knew, because I was so down about my appearance, as well as my current lifestyle. I was afraid of seeing those who hurt me, with how upset I would be and how having them see that I’ve put on weight would give them the satisfaction of “winning.”

All of the above is fear based on possible consequences that might not even happen. Would it really be that bad if someone saw how I currently look like? Would people that matter actually judge me for my lifestyle or my mental health? You should ask what these fears have to show you, because perhaps it will lead to growth and insight. However, the important thing to do is to distinguish what is the kind of fear we need and what fears we have convinced ourselves that we need.

Yesterday Cass and I went for a drive and we stopped at a lookout, I looked down at the road beneath us and remarked on how small a car looked. It looked like I could just pluck the car from the road with my fingers. However, the car was so big when it was close – it was scary and threatening. But when the car drove away far from me, it looked tiny. It’s still a car in both situations, but changing your perspective can help you deal with it.

Pretend that you are looking down at a fear that you have, such as failure. You remember that when it is close-by it feels like life or death. It’s loud, in your face, with passengers that yell things at you like, “You’re worthless!” or “You’ll never accomplish anything in your life!” When it drives past, it threatens to run you over, instilling more fear. However it was an empty threat and soon it has driven away.

When you see this exact same fear below you, the fear of failure seems small and quiet. You hear faint voices coming from it that you can tell aren’t nice, but it’s far away, not personal and not immediately threatening. The safety in distance allows you to look at the fear without feeling and with logic – it is not going to kill me. That fear of failure is the same as the one that’s close-up, so it’s important to not believe its lies. It can’t make you anything less than you are, because you are not your fears.

Usually, overcoming your fears doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, but rather you have it in chains – there’s still a possibility that it can bite if you let your guard down, but you also have control over it. A book called The Happiness Trap talked about the “passengers” on your boat and it’s the same thing – your fears will always be on your boat and you can’t make them disappear. However, it will hurt you less over time if you assert your boundaries AND if you make friends with it.

The “making friends with it” part is the hardest. However, if you stop fighting it and start looking behind the scary face, you just might find things that are useful and helpful. A fear of failure that is a friend may help you stay on top of your work so that you are reliable and diligent. A fear of loneliness can motivate you to go to the social events, where you can meet new people. You might be surprised what your fears may teach you.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not your fault and you are not bad if your fears are messing up your mind. But I hope that through reading this you have a better mindset about it. Funnily enough, you don’t need to fear fear. It can help you, it can teach you things about yourself and the world around us, and you are strong enough to overcome it, at a compassionate pace that is best for you. Remember, when you encounter fear, try not to let it be in control with full reign, because that will make the problem worse. Instead, we need to face it. Fear me, fear.

Trauma Unpacked

“I’m bad!” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a waste of space.” Do these thoughts sound familiar to you?

I’ve been having two kinds of intrusive thoughts recently, and the first ones are like what’s written above – thoughts that we latch onto so tight, despite seemingly having little to back it up with. Sometimes we have a lot of reasons though, which are either delusional or correct, but the point is that the thoughts are intrusive.
I’ve also been experiencing a different kind of intrusive thought; memory stabs – a new name that I like to call them. To me it is like a flashback, but instead of a whole scene, perhaps you see a recognisable snapshot. Or one word or sound triggers a whole event in your mind, or a feeling of pain, disgust or fear you’ve felt in the past suddenly overcomes you in the present. Whatever it is, they all usually feel like a sharp shock, which is why I call them a memory stab. At least that is what it is like for me, but I’m certain that the equivalent is different for many.

Most of everything I experienced in 2016 I considered one whole lump of bad squished together, like something that can’t go down my throat, which I usually categorised as ‘Japan.’ That is unfair of me since the country itself isn’t to blame. That’s like travelling to New Zealand, getting mugged and then saying that the whole country is bad because of it. Every country and culture has something terrible, toxic or backwards about it, some more than others, and that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Humanity is the world’s worst relationship. If we accept that we, no matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, are free to live, then we must also accept that everything that is a product of us are free to live as well.

In a black-and-white perspective, humanity harms the earth and the life it holds and therefore we are bad and should not exist. That is an acceptable perspective, perhaps the most noble one. An optimistic perspective is that humans are needed to keep on living, because we matter – we live and so our love, art and beauty lives on too. This is true too. Pessimistically, none of this matters, we shouldn’t care because everything dies anyway. Another acceptable perspective. And finally, in a “grey” perspective; this all is true, but our flaws or negative traits do not make us less worthy and the good can only exist if there is also bad. Therefore, yes, we are destroying the world by living on it and being its worst relationship, humanity is an incredible source of love and beauty that we should treasure, everything dies so we don’t need to take everything so seriously, and it’s okay to be flawed and to have “bad” traits, because that’s the nature of all life. Should we exist or not exist because of all of that?

No matter who we are and what country we come from or live in, we were born and therefore continuing our legacy of goodness, shittiness, a mix or both, neither one and everything else that perhaps I’ve forgotten to mention. The differences between countries, cultures, groups and individuals are necessary, because nothing is categorically “bad,” or “good.” Our morals, codes and values are personal and are not universal. To create one true mindset that is “The Right One,” is to create an impossible God. Everything is flawed, including the country I am talking about, Japan, but the same experiences could happen in many other different countries. I just wanted to make that clear.

Almost every night for the last couple of weeks I’ve been having nightmares about being trapped in Japan and being unable to leave, and about an ex I had, either hurting me in the past or in new ways in my dream. I’ve been having these kind of nightmares for years now, but for some reason I’ve been having them almost every night recently. Like I said before, it is unfair of me to name the trauma I experienced as “Japan.” The reason why I use that word is because I do not want to think about the specific situations I experienced in that time of my life.

In 2016 I stayed in Japan as an exchange student for 9 months and I must admit that even though I am talking about the bad experiences I had, there were also lots of beautiful times and kind people I met during that exchange too. I am grateful for those good memories and I’ll treasure them forever.
I believe that the trauma from the whole experience was from a lot of different things, bunched together as if it was one. It was the harmful experiences I had, some of the toxic people I met, the loneliness I felt in a room filled with people, being in a culture that looks down on emotional expression, my limitations not being respected or cared for by me, my situation back home and my mental health at the time, which all tainted the whole experience.

I find it really hard to think about the details of each situation that hurt me. It feels like I’m reliving it if I try. I’m working on that. When I first came back from Japan in 2017, the year that everything changed for me, I had a lot to process. I did not want to admit to anyone that my exchange was traumatic to me, not even to myself. People asked me about it, not caring and not having the time for a truthful answer, and so I hid behind, “It was a great experience!” Which is true about some parts of my exchange. I travelled to see beautiful places, I met some wonderful people, I experienced new and exciting things and the food was fucking fantastic. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I truly am lucky to have those memories.

The problem is that it was too much. I have autism and I have limitations, but I did not respect that. I told myself that the only thing that mattered was that I get through the whole exchange, to prove to others and most importantly to myself that I am just as capable as anyone else. I wanted to prove that I was good enough, strong enough and normal enough. I was ashamed of being autistic, and I treated it like it was a dirty secret for my whole life. It made me feel like I was bad or dumb or like there was something terribly wrong with me.

It still feels weird accepting that my autism affects some of the things I can or cannot do, without feeling ashamed because of that. It’s okay if I need time and space to recover after situations that take energy, that I struggle socially and that my limitations of what I am able to do without falling apart is different than others. That doesn’t make me weak or bad. But in 2016 I felt like it did. It certainly didn’t help that I didn’t take my medication at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Perhaps I was being unconsciously self-destructive.

Back to the memory stabs. I think that the reason why I keep getting sudden snapshots in my mind about 2016 is because my brain is trying to tell me that I need to finally start unpacking my experience in Japan. I am definitely not a detail-orientated person. I’m good at looking at the overall big picture, but when situations come that require me to look at the details, I feel not in control. It doesn’t help that I have big chunks of memory loss about 2016, which I heard could be a result of having mental health issues. And it also doesn’t help that as soon as I try to remember things my mind instantly wants to reject it and run away. It’s hard work processing memories.

I’ve had a few therapists in my life, but for most of them, I only talked about the now, such as what happened last week. I never really delved into specifics about things in my past. I really am in need of a therapist as of now, but I have a fear that being unable to articulate and communicate what exactly happened in Japan will make me feel invalidated. My mind says they won’t understand, they can’t help and that they will secretly judge me. After being hospitalised three times since 2017, (for nearly 3 months overall) I am tired of feeling like I need to prove myself. It’s like I am fighting for my life to just be validated. I have all these fears, but still I want to try to get help. I want to heal.

I hope that people in a similar boat as me will feel understood by reading this. I feel sad, because there was so much I loved about Japan and how beautiful it is and I want that back. I want to be in control of my hurt, to be able to live fully despite the harm. I hope that for you too. Facing the details of your trauma is incredibly hard, but whatever you are experiencing, big or small, you are always growing, even when your branches are cut short.

The Future You

At school, teachers at some point ask us, “Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?” or, “What is your dream job?” My dad and I have been preparing for my future for years. When I was little, I wanted to be a pop star like Miley Cyrus, but after realising I couldn’t sing, dad said I should go for a career that guarantees a job. At some points of my life I’d dreamt of being an author, an artist, a game creator, a script writer, or a movie director. I mainly kept these dreams hidden, because I really wanted to impress my family, others and myself. I had no doubt that I was going to finish high-school and I believed I definitely would go to university. I was going to have an impressive job like an engineer, doctor, lawyer, optometrist and the list goes on. I love my dad – I know he wanted me to have a good life without worrying about money and he believed in me so much that he thought I could get any job.

As much as I wanted to impress myself and others, my heart just wasn’t in it. I didn’t dare to try to be an artist, because people told me that art could only be a hobby. It was when I was 16 that everything changed. After my attempt I was in a psychiatric ward where I was extremely self destructive and I didn’t want a future at all. All I wanted was to die. That experience changed me – I was afraid of leaving the house, because I would be overwhelmed and have panic attacks for a long time after coming home from the ward. I knew that I couldn’t go back to school, because of fear and anxiety, so I felt crushed when I became someone I’d never guessed I’d be – a high-school dropout. I was in the Boxhill ward when when my family said they would support me if I wanted to be an artist. I was so emotional when I was given this support to be someone I always wanted to be inside .

5 years ago I would never expect that my life would be the way it is. It is so scary to think about the future. People focus so much on what career we have and not who they are as a person. When thinking about the future, you can be so obsessed with the outcome that you never end up doing it. I find this particularly hard since I’m impatient and I often have my head stuck in the clouds. I write down so many goals of what I’d like to do and because my vision is always looking at the future, I end up not doing it in the now. The thing about being in the now is that you can see our current status. Our morals, values, beliefs and identity can be pulled apart and analysed. Are you satisfied with who you are? Do your actions reflect your values or what you find important? What parts do you wish to accept? What parts need to grow or change?

I know that picking yourself apart isn’t always kind. In fact, it can be extremely hard to accept it or see it. If you are not ready to do this, that’s okay. But when people ask you, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I believe what is more important than your job, status in society or how much money you have, is who you are. Five years is a long time and people change. What kind of person do you wish to change to? Someone who is more generous? Kinder? Someone who has broken through hating yourself to loving yourself? Rather than asking, “What is your dream job?” we should ask, “What do you dream to become?” Loving yourself and who you are as of now is important, but the moment you don’t want to change at all is the moment you stop growing. Growth is so important and we should all open ourselves to it.

I ask myself, “What do you want to be in the future?” and my answer is to be more mindful and loving. What about you? What do you want to be?

Body Positivity

Here is an excerpt of something I wrote not too long ago.

I’m still wrapped in blankets, at nearly 4 pm, and I am finally ready to do something productive, which is this – writing. There are so many stories about today that I can run with, especially since it’s nearly dinner time and I have not moved an inch or done anything with my whole day. Our nasty “leaches” like to tell us that resting and recovering are not allowed for us, even when our illnesses debilitate us. But if we see someone else in the same boat, we would probably understand and recommend them to take the time they need to recover.

We are always so much harsher on ourselves than we are on others. I look at myself and want to claw out my skin and guts because I have what I deem a disgusting body. I pull and pinch and scratch at the skin under my chin, because my jawline isn’t as sharp as it used to be and now it seems like in my head that I now no longer have a chin – it’s just face rolling down to my neck. But when I stopped to think, I realised that if I saw an exact copy of myself in front of me, I would celebrate that person for the body they have. I would reassure them that they are beautiful.

I’ve always been a body positive person, but only for others. I know its not any of my business to judge others based on their appearance, and it’s not okay to assume someone’s heath. I think plus size people are absolutely gorgeous, along with any other body shape. I’ve always been attracted to body shapes like mine, or bigger or smaller. People argue that they look down on fat people because “it’s unhealthy.’ You can’t know someone’s health or background just based on their appearance, and even if they were, how is that any of your business? People that are happy and confident in their own body are not affecting you.

Even though I believe all these things, I started believing them when I was skinny. I’ve always been fairly slender growing up – my family nicknamed me ‘tweaka’ as a kid, because I had twiggy limbs. I have always been very body positive, but now that I am the heaviest weight I have ever been, I realised that maybe I am only positive towards other bodies, not mine.

4 or so years ago I had an eating disorder that involved not eating for days, throwing up as much as I could and doing exercise when I had no food or energy in my system. I had cold baths because shivering burns calories, I would subscribe to blogs that told you that you were a fat piece of shit as a way of “motivating” me, I counted the calories of everything I ate, even not allowing myself to eat fruit and vegetables sometimes, because they still had calories.

So I got to my lightest weight I’ve ever been as a teenager and still I felt fat, ugly and unsatisfied. That all was happening right before my suicide attempt, so to me, my unhappiness with my weight is connected to my suicidal tendencies. This meant that every time I put on a bit of weight since then, it played alarm bells that told me I needed to die.

So here I am, with my first stretch marks and a body that does not feel like mine. I want to tell myself that I’m beautiful just like I would tell a friend who weighed the same they are beautiful, but I can’t. I want to one day be able to be supportive of myself no matter how I look, but right now that feels a bit impossible. At least writing about this helps.

  • Looking back at this piece of writing, I have changed in certain areas and have stayed the same in others.

I recently went to Kmart and target, which are infamous for their mirrors that make you feel awful. The target dressing room had mirrors in every direction, so you could see yourself in every angle, which played alarm bells once again for me. I got so upset, but since then I have been trying to be kinder to myself.

I have been somewhat eating healthier and bike riding every second day with some walks, but it doesn’t feel the same as when I tried to “lose weight” in the past with my eating disorder. I want to be body positive, so I am learning to treat my “healthier lifestyle” as just that – a healthier lifestyle. I’m learning that the goal of me doing a bit of exercise is not to lose weight or be skinnier, but to do something that makes me feel good.

My worth is not equal to how healthy I am either – I am allowed to love my body in any state. Showing self-love when you don’t have the “ideal” body is not a criminal act, and in fact, I think it’s pretty bad-ass. I and I’m sure many others, will continue to be on our journey of self-acceptance of every part of who we are. I am happy and proud that I’m trying my best, despite the leaches and illnesses that try to tell me otherwise.

Everyone is going to have step-backs. Some days it might feel like you have gone backwards, but that’s okay. Be gentle, be understanding. We are allowed to take up space and fight for our right to love ourselves, however long it takes. You are doing a great job and perhaps I am too.

Thank you for reading.

Art is Therapy

  • Below is an excerpt from my book! It’s a first draft, so the final version of my book may or may not have this in it. Even so, I like this topic, so I wanted to make it a blog post!

I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again; art is therapy. However, it is also frustrating, crushing and disheartening. It builds up my being as well as it destroys it. If the process of every artwork always went my way and therefore was easy, then that would not make it truly and wholly therapeutic. The times when an artwork goes awfully awry and all I want to do is angrily paint a big blob over it, throw it or just simply cry, are just as much a part of the therapy.

Art challenges you, or more so it should, for if you do not push outside your comfort zone, whether in your art practice or in life, you will simply stay stagnant. Each piece is an adventure of emotions and processing, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously. So I try to embrace the challenges, see the importance and value of each “mistake,” and learn to love being an imperfect creator. I do not remember this all the time and so I sometimes question the validity of calling myself a true artist. But what does that title even mean?


Something I really dislike is that there are a lot of people who believe that to be a “true artist,” you must do or be X, Y, or Z. Anybody can be an artist, or practice art, and anybody should. When it comes down to it, especially when it is utilised as a form of therapy, it simply does not matter if you have the skills or talent. You can be as emotional and messy or precise and detailed as you want. If you open yourself up to it, it can be therapeutic for anybody and it does not matter if you claim to only be able to draw stick figures, for that is art too.

The more you indulge yourself in the beauty that it can bring, the more the process deepens. I really do truly believe that anyone can create and that everybody should. We can always try to implement creation into our lives, as long as we let go of fear and expectation.

It’s nearing the end of December now and this month I have tried my best to create as much as I could. However, the one thing I started the month with – what I called the eye painting – has been sitting on an easel, waiting for me to continue it all month. I do not have any idea how to keep working on it, because right now it seems finished to me. And it very well may be finished, but it was just too easy.

Therapy can be easy. That kind of therapy – the nice, relaxing and soft kind – has so many positive benefits, because it is safe, and for a lot of people, safety is what they need. But when therapy is challenging, it can uproot some heavy and painful topics or memories, which can also be therapeutic if done right. There is so much to say about how facing things that are difficult or uncomfortable can break ground on the real issues that need healing. Ignoring these issues, intentionally or not, can lead to the behaviour of falling on the ‘off switch’ when things get hard or uncomfortable.

It seems so dangerous to face your trauma, mental health or difficulties head on, and it is, in some way or form. But this facing of situations that seem dangerous is necessary to growth, understanding and moving forward. That is why choosing to do something that challenges you is so helpful for your improvement. It allows you to learn through experience and mistakes.

It is important to remember that challenging yourself should not lead to pushing your limits in an unhealthy and damaging manner. This is where emotional intelligence comes in; there are times when everyone needs to accept their own limitations and take part in self-compassion and forgiveness. It is about knowing when to stop, allowing yourself a break and the kind of understanding and love that helps you to continue with the trials of life.

Sometimes you need to put the paintbrush down or do what is easiest or kindest for you. There is absolutely no shame in that – in fact, it is necessary to look after yourself. Challenging yourself will not be effective if it would be unwise or unkind to do so. The balance of challenge and self-compassion leads to a good life and powerful artworks.

  • If you want to read more, the draft of my book is here. Thank you for reading!

The heART Project

Hear, read, watch, play.

Those four words embody the massive project that I am creating called The heART Project – an experience that is a wholesome and honest blend of art and mental health. It will be expressed through many different mediums, creating a whole experience that you can hear, read, watch and play. It’s a love letter to art, a hand that reaches out to support people with mental illnesses and an experience that I am putting my whole heart into.

It will be an art book, show, game and soundtrack.

  • The book is filled with words, comics, poetry, short stories, art, puzzles, mindful and grounding exercises and more.
  • The show has episodes featuring animated stories, drag performances, short films, artwork tutorials, original theatre productions, etc.
  • The project will have a game that involves different kinds of gameplay such as a 2D adventure game, 3D puzzles, a RPG, therapeutic point and click, real choices that influence the story and more.
  • And lastly, the soundtrack will have songs about mental health and art, a podcast featuring different kinds of artists and activists, an audio book of The heART Book, grounding exercises, spoken word, meditative music and the list goes on.

This is not a tiny task. This is going to be worked on and created over many years as I grow as a person and artist. It will face scary walls, bumps on the road and many obstacles, but that will make it all the more valuable – at least to me. I really hope that someone will get something out of this project – my goal is to give my heart to those who need it, because two years ago I really needed someone to do that for me.

I want you to be part of this process, so I have put up the current first-draft version of my book here. You can read it, give me some feedback or just look at the pictures and layout concepts that I will gradually add more of over time. On The heART Project page you can see all updates about the project’s progress. After some thinking, I’ve also decided that I will create mini magazines that will feature the growth of the project, including things like concept sketches and journal notes. I am not sure if anyone would actually be interested in reading the magazine, but it will serve as an in-depth art journal for me and will be published digitally. (I might make physical copies one day)
I think it would be really valuable to see how the heART project progresses from the ground up! If you’d like to actually read these mini magazines, email me and I’ll let you know when a new magazine issue is out.

There is so much to say about this project and how much it means to me. I want to make it as spectacular as possible, but I also have to be realistic. This is going to be a fuck load amount of work and an incredibly massive challenge, but I need to do it. I hope you want to join me in the making of The heART Project, because I truly believe that one day it will be something important.

Stuck

I have been battling over what to write about, since so much has happened in the last several months and so much processing needs to be done. I currently have four drafts, each being picked away at when I have been ready to talk about the details within. I have noticed, however, that each time I write, at some point I reach a sign that reads, ‘Too hard to process any more – go back.’

I could be easily very frustrated about this, and I have been. “Why can’t I write anymore? Why am I so horrible with words?” I asked myself, unhelpfully. “I am stuck!” I yelled in my mind, thinking that not only can I not type up a finished piece of writing, but also it felt like I am stuck with where I am in my life. More than a month ago I spent nearly seven weeks in a psych ward and as of now, I do not have enough distance from the event to be able to look at it with some kind of “golden nugget of wisdom.” I have had a continuous fallout while I grieved my mental health, once again, and now I do not know what to do. What do you do when you feel like you are stuck?

After some thought, my answer to that was to focus on the passions and things in my life that bring me comfort and joy – something that brings me forward. For me, that is art. Art is so important to me, and it allows distraction and also the facing of my deepest thoughts, insecurities and worries. It has saved my life on many occasions and I am so grateful to it. Art is an odd thing to write about, since it is such a huge concept that is so ineffable. It can be found in all spaces and emptiness within life, death and any in between. It can be primal, accidental and completely raw, or methodical, elaborate and refined, as well as both or neither and on any part of the spectrum.

Art is magic. An accidental blob of paint may be repeated in the fashion of being accidentally on purpose. A planned line that goes crooked may be worked in the process of the painting itself; celebrated for its wildness and as a wondrous secret for the artist. I doubt you could find too many artists where the vision and the result is exactly identical to each and every detail, because with any medium, beautiful surprises may pop up. The thing about this and why I need the wonderful thing called art to go forward is that it does not matter about the outcome, other than the hopeful wish that it becomes aesthetically near to your idea. For me, I need art because it is therapy to me. With each stroke of wet paint, I am processing, thinking and visually depicting my thoughts about my past, present and future, as well as insecurities, the leeches that tell awful stories in my mind and my emotions. It allows me to do all of that when I paint and after a session, I often feel reenergised and hopeful. Because art is my love, when I take part in it I often feel like I am going forwards, towards my future.

However, not all the time, especially when I feel stuck, am I able to paint, draw or do some kind of art. Sometimes depression and anxiety is so painful that I cannot get out of bed. When there is nothing you can do, but be, it is important to be self-compassionate, despite all the leeches, or what I call windmills, that say that you are worthless, a waste of space or someone who is not doing what she has to do. And truly, those stories or windmills are never helpful in getting you to do what apparently “needs” to be done. People look down on being self-compassionate or gentle in times of pain, grief or feeling stuck, because they see it as some kind of laziness. But there is so much good that can come out of being self-compassionate for a while, weeks, a day or even just a moment. Which leads me to what Cassandra, my girlfriend, answered when I asked her the question, “What do you do when you feel like you are stuck?” I tried my best to write down her beautifully spoken answer.

Her answer focused on how she descends into her ‘rabbit hole’, so that she can work out what is making her feel stuck without too much pressure or pain. Her rabbit hole is her safe place, and it is an imaginary house where there is nothing harmful. It is hers and hers alone, and it is designed to be comforting and reassuring. Usually before going in the rabbit hole, she puts pressure on and she gets angry at herself, which doesn’t make her do the something she is putting pressure on to do. She realises an alternative approach is to be gentle. Imagine someone else who is stuck and whether you would talk to them in the way you talk to yourself. Look at yourself as if you are your own friend. Always, in enough time, gentleness results in being unstuck.

She also talked about how when she feels emotionally stuck, it feels as though she cannot write or draw and the more she insists on doing art, the more she doesn’t want to. The instinct is to do some kind of writing or drawing, because that is her calling and what she is good at, however, when she puts pressure on, the result and process won’t be as good. She shared with me a saying she wrote, which is, ‘The doing only has worth when the being doing the doing has worth.’ Just being is enough. We are raised to believe that our worth is bound up in our actions and that our worth is our merit. But it isn’t. Whenever you are stuck, you more or less need to take in, rather than to output.

I thought this was excellent, because not enough people realise that going to this ‘rabbit hole,’ or safe place is not being weak, but rather strong and emotionally intelligent. It allows processing to be done – which is another thing that is so important but undervalued – in a way that’s gentle and self-compassionate, which is a way that you can go forward. Yes, you can push yourself, force yourself to do things that are “good” for you, but in the long run, it can cause you to crash or fall apart. We are all human and we need to allow our own limits. It does not make you weak or inadequate. You are good enough, more than good enough, when you are just being. And when you just be and fully accept you just being, that’s when you are able to do the things that are good for you. That’s when you become unstuck and that’s when you can move forward.

Over this month, I have realised that I have needed to be gentle with myself, because I am still healing from my past. It is okay to be self-compassionate, and it’s hard to say, but I am an example of that. It was so hard to get out of the house or get out of bed for the first couple of weeks after getting out of the psych ward, but since I allowed myself some love and understanding, I have achieved a lot. I have painted almost every day for the last several weeks and two days ago, I traveled to Melbourne with my art lover, Cassandra. Being surrounded by art was the greatest medicine, but I need to realise that being there and getting there was the hugest feat for someone who has such high anxiety when it comes to going outside and being around people. It’s hard to say and I am writing this with tears in my eyes, but I am proud of myself. I have been self-compassionate in a time I felt stuck and because of that, I can move forward in my own way. I really do hope the same happens for you.

Women doing Drag

I am a cis-woman who enjoys doing drag makeup when I can, because I look up to Drag Queens so much and the loving and powerful path they have paved for the LGBTQ+ community. I spend hours and sometimes the whole day just doing drag makeup, because it also represents the fact that I used to be a very theatrical and confident kid – I did so much acting and drama practice as well as productions and plays, dance concerts, debating, speech contests, (oh-so-embarrassing) video comedy skits on youtube, I played flute, clarinet and piano for a while, heck, I even tried singing lessons because I thought that I could even learn to fix my dying cat voice.

I love and have so much respect for the performance arts in every single way and form and so when I saw my first drag show at 12, I fell in love with the magic that Drag Queens have and share. However, I ended up losing all of my confidence and became even more shy and reserved than I ever was not long after. I will talk about in another post about how I was a very loud and confident kid who did not know what the feeling of “embarrassment” or being “nervous” felt like, but then turned into someone who had no faith in myself, hated every single part of my personality, appearance, body and character, had ptsd and therefore was too scared and had too much anxiety to even leave the house, let alone my bed for a good while. Now I am still fairly shy, but despite social and environmental anxiety I am leaving the house and trying my goddamn best in every way possible to come out of my shell, come out of my comfort zone, not be ashamed of myself and grow my confidence back to once again become the person who was not afraid to be my odd and (almost) charming self.

So for me, when I spend the hours to glue down my eyebrows and use all of the very little money I have to buy colourful makeup, just to create a messy drag makeup look, it is my way of trying to regain my confidence and become more loving of myself. The more of a mask I put on, the more I embrace the part of myself that loves art, creation, fun and a loving community. I recently went out in public in this makeup for the first time and despite anxiety, it was such a healing time for me to be able to do something that is important to me and a step forward for my confidence.

Another post I need to write about is my journey of embracing, then rejecting and now trying to embrace my femininity. I will not go into too much detail about it right now, but I have always been a very feminine person, but I have had experiences that have made me ashamed of this. I am talking about experiences of slut-shaming, homophobia within and outside the LGBT+ community for being a feminine or “girly” or “fake” lesbian and other experiences that has led me to see my body as a “little boy’s body.” I was not a woman, because I did not have big boobs or curves or a maturer looking face and all my life I have struggled with liking or even tolerating my own body, leading to very destructive behaviours, because I had a very distorted view of it – the story that I told myself was that I look like a little boy and certain people in my life have only reinforced this fucked-up idea I have of myself.

Therefore, due to all of these reasons and more, I wore only over-sized t-shirts and baggy jeans, cut my hair short, I stopped wearing makeup and I tried to present myself in a more masculine way, even in my personality. I even stopped eating and started throwing up and taking part in other destructive behaviours, because if I could not have a curvy body or big boobs, then at least I could be stick thin. I needed to prove to others that I was “actually” gay (which I look back to and absolutely hate) and if I and some people saw me as not a (stereotypical and extremely toxic society’s viewpoint of what makes up a “real”) woman, then I might as well present myself not as one. I still struggle to wear and present myself in the feminine way I used to, I still refuse to wear shirts that fit me and despite my very feminine personality, I do not want to grow out my hair (I like it) and I still feel the most comfortable in big shirts and jeans. I do not see any problem with this — my style/way of presenting myself as it is right now is completely a valid thing for a woman. But when I wear a dress, when I put on a good amount of makeup, when I wear tight, pretty shirts and skirts like I used to, when I even allow myself to eat a lot and look in the mirror and tell myself that my body is a feminine one, I am saying “fuck you!” to my insecurities and most importantly I am embracing my femininity. By doing drag, I am embracing my womanhood and I don’t think I should be shamed for that.

Something that brings the self-doubt and anxiety back is the reminder that a lot of Drag Queens, gay men or other people think that it is not okay for a cis-woman to do drag. I understand their point of view – it is more of a risk for men to do drag, there is more at stake, there has been more discrimination against them, more hate-crimes and as a cis-woman, I do not have to tuck, I have a more “feminine” canvas/body/face (whatever that means) etc. But I also have a very strong opinion about the right that women have to be able to do drag, that I hope that you can try to understand as well. I am very passionate about this topic and I do hate it when people come up to me and say that I am not allowed to do something that I love, so here is what I have to say on the matter. This is just a reminder that you do not have to agree with me and the last thing I want to do in this world is to hurt, harm or do wrong by someone or a group of people that I respect so highly. I do not believe that me doing this actually harms others however, because I am doing something that is helping me and my mental health and is helping me embrace my own homosexuality and helping me heal the idea I have grown up with – the idea that I am not a woman.

Why I think Women can do Drag

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The photo above compares me with minimal makeup vs. heavy makeup vs. drag makeup

This is for those who want to say that women can’t do drag, because there’s no transformation to work with. Even with heavy makeup, I do not look like how I look in drag makeup, so it’s not just a case of, “putting on an extreme eye and calling it drag.” I believe that drag makeup is a completely different ball field than “normal” makeup. I hear often that one reason why cis-women can’t do drag is because we are born with a “feminine” face (which is not universally true) and that we can go out everyday wearing a dramatic eye and we can’t just call it drag. I agree to a certain degree. It sucks, but I do believe that with where the world is now, if women want to be a part of the drag scene, they must go above and beyond and work incredibly hard in the quality of their field to be taken seriously. *cough* Much like what women have had to in every other “male-dominated” job, hobby or area… But that is another topic. ;P

But if one of the reasons you think that women can’t do drag is because we are more likely and more allowed to wear makeup in public and that that by nature is not drag, then I must bring up one point… I love the fact that recently, more men are wearing makeup. Not Drag Queens, mind you, but as each year goes along, more people are starting to say “fuck you!” to cookie-cutter assigned gender-roles, and therefore more men are embracing their right to take part in the art that is makeup. This is bloody wonderful and it makes me so excited to see that for gay, straight men or otherwise, it has become more acceptable for men to wear casual or dramatic makeup in public.

We can all agree that these men are not drag queens. They are just wearing makeup as who they are, not as any other character or persona. They are not doing a “female impersonation” or actually calling what they are doing “drag.” They are, in every right, doing the same thing as women wearing makeup when they get ready for the day. So if we can see the difference between men/gender fluid/non-binary people who just happens to have a penis (shock-horror!) doing makeup (aka: Jeffree Star, Manny MUA, James Charles) and actual Drag Queens (Trixie Mattel, Bianca Del Rio, Latrice Royale, Karen from Finance) then why can’t we do the same for people who just happens to have a vagina? (Shock-horror!)

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Manny MUA (left) vs. Trixie Mattel (right)

We can all agree that makeup is not gendered – there are no shackles chained to a MAC eyeshadow palette that scans your genitals and gender-identity and then refuses to allow you to open the product. Makeup is open to all and there is a difference between a cis-man, trans-man or a person with a penis putting on makeup and those people being a Drag Queen. So why is it not the same for cis-women, trans-women or people with a vagina? What is Drag, really? Is it really, by definition, a man with a penis, impersonating a female and performing? Maybe you think so, but I have a different definition. For me it is valid, it doesn’t have to be for you.

To me, Drag is an art – It is an expression of gender, something that can be exaggerated as to portray a character.

I think “expression,” is a key word, because Drag is what you make it and it is a beautiful  representation of the LGBTQ+ community, which I think is incredibly key – it is a performance, it is fun, it is bringing a group together, not further apart. I do not feel like I am “culture appropriating” the LGBT+ community because I am a lesbian and therefore a part of it. Not only should there be less separation and more love and coming together between lesbian and gay people, the LGBTQ+ family and everybody else should come together as well.

We have too much discrimination coming our way, so why do we need to add more? The goal is to be equal, but still celebrate our diversity and be proud of who we love, and I think that allowing Drag to be about the LGBTQ+ family, expression, fun, love and art is so much more important than what is between our legs or what we identify as. I believe as long as you are using Drag to share more love and more equality between people, especially the LGBTQ+ community and minorities who need empowerment, then it is Drag.

I am sorry that you are so obsessed with what is between the legs of that performer you see on stage, but a penis does not equal drag. And if you think it does, then can I ask you, do you also think that trans-women do not have the right to do drag, whether or not she has had a “transition,” which is something that is none of your business in the first place? Trans-women and therefore WOMEN have paved the way for Drag Queens. You are allowed to think it does matter what you identify as and the genitals that you have when it comes to drag, but if you do think this, I am just asking you to possibly take a bit of time to think about why you think so.

Now, some people have also said that if you do present yourself as a woman or have a vagina, then if you want to do drag, then you should be a Drag King. I think it is awesome that cis-women, trans-women, people with vaginas and people with penises are doing an exaggerated masculine presentation of gender, AKA being a Drag King! In fact, I have dabbled in being a Drag King some years ago – contouring my face in an exaggerated masculine way, binding, putting on a fake beard, doing my hair in a “male” way or wearing a male wig, wearing guy’s clothes, packing and even going out in public and doing a masculine personality and way of speaking. It was fun and I thought at the time it was very empowering for me to blend the lines of gender, which is also what Drag means to me.

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Spikey Van Dykey

But with where I am now, it would be more upsetting than empowering to be a Drag King, because of what I talked about before about how I completely rejected my womanhood growing up and had a very toxic opinion about my allegedly “little boy” appearance. I have so much respect for Drag Kings, but that art is not for me and I don’t believe I should be forced to do something that personally, brings me down rather than raises me up. Like I spoke about before, I love doing Drag Queen makeup, because it empowers me, it helps my issues with confidence and self-esteem and it allows me to embrace my femininity and womanhood, and allows me to take part in something that is so important to me and influences my life in every way – art.

So yes, being a Drag King is an amazing option for cis-women, trans-women, people with vaginas, penises and otherwise. Notice how I am not gendering genitals – genitals are not gendered by nature, they are simply just what they are – a penis, a vagina, or other, such as for intersex people or in other circumstances. Your vagina or penis or otherwise can be a male body part, or a female one, or whatever you want to identify it as according to your gender or what is most comfortable for you. I want to stop the weird idea that penises are male genitals by default and that vaginas are female genitals by rule. Just because something is a majority and is more common, does not make it universally true.

While it is a great option (being a Drag King, that is) for people in my “group,” it is not the only option. So in comes the terms, “Bio Queen” and “Faux Queen.” At first I really embraced the term Bio Queen – it explains in the most literal way that keeps most people happy, that I am a biological cis-woman with a vagina, doing Drag in a feminine way. But when I thought more about this term and how fucked it is, I realised it was more dividing rather than accepting. It literally highlights the fact that I have a vagina and therefore discriminates pre-transition trans-women who wants to do Drag, gender-fluid or non-binary people who wish to not be defined by what is between their legs and is basically shutting out so many women out there in the world who want to be part of this beautiful thing.

Drag is an art that is part of the LGBTQ+ community and the whole point of our community is to not to discriminate against diversity, to accept each other and our identities and sexual orientations, and to be a loving response and action against those who wish us not to be equal. So I find it kind of hypocritical and fundamentally unhealthy, to have cis-women who want to do drag to call themselves a Bio Queen, because all that does is create a level of inequality and discrimination especially against those who do not fit under the “Bio” label. If you wish to and do call yourself or others one, then that’s your choice and all the power to you. But if you do, all I am asking for is the possibility that you stop and think about what that label actually represents in our community.

I think it is fairly obvious why the term Faux Queen is not really liked by me, because it literally means, “Fake Queen.” What, as to oppose a “Real” one? I think it’s a bit weird to call someone as talented and amazingly skilled as Creme Fatale a “fake” queen, when she is such a professional and real one. It seems to say to the world, “You will not accept me as a real Drag Queen, because of the fact I have a vagina or because of my gender identity, so I am therefore a fake one, despite any work I put into this profession or art-form.” Oh no, Creme Fatale has boobs and a vagina… Everybody freak out! As if any lack of acceptance of what she is doing from other people invalidates her Drag and stops her doing her thing… I mean… “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

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Creme Fatale

Coming back to what actually is Drag, some people are a bit confused where is the line between “normal makeup” and “drag makeup.” Like I said before, it is a bit sad, but with where the world is now, I do believe that if a person with a vagina wants to be taken seriously for their drag, they do have to go above and beyond to prove themselves. I am not saying I agree with this mentality, all I am saying is we have to work with what we got at this moment of time. To get past the point where we have to be perfect to be simply acceptable then we need to work with some superficial things that people look for when they want to validate someone with a vagina doing Drag.

I think the most obvious one is gluing down eyebrows. That is not to say if you do not glue down your eyebrows then you are not doing drag (I’m not throwing shade to Queens who don’t – doing Drag is about the character you are performing, so those who do a very “fishy” look are valid) but the issue here is that people will continue to say that “That’s not drag!” to cis-women and otherwise who do some slightly dramatic makeup and throw on a wig. And that’s fair enough, at least with where Drag is right now.

It’s a bit nonsensical to give someone a list of all the physical prerequisites of what doing Drag actually means (glueing down eyebrows, extremely exaggerated almost-clown looking makeup, padding, fake boobs, huge wig, tucking, cinching, shaving, etc) when there are so many Drag Queens who do not do these things and are still valid. AKA Raja Gemini, one of my favourite queens, is known to often do a very androgynous shape – she often goes for the “super-model” body which more-or-less involves no padding, cinching or fake boobs. And we all know how beautiful and valid her drag is.

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Raja Gemini

Some other examples are Willam, Courtney Act and Katya Zamolodchikova who do very “fishy” makeup that looks very similar to how “real” women actually do their faces, which sometimes involves no eyebrow glueing. Or they do glue down their eyebrows, but they work with the shape or placement that their natural eyebrow usually goes. The fact that their makeup looks more “natural” does not make their drag less valid. So how does this relate to “women” doing drag?

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Katya Zamolodchikova

There are so many things that can make up a Drag Queen. A “woman” doing drag, can still pad, cinch, put on fake boobs, put on a huge, stylised wig, shave, accessorise, wear a dramatic and expensive costume, wear 6 inch+ heels, spend hours and lots of money on a very dramatic drag makeup look, contour their boobs, work on their flexibility and fitness, practice day and night on lip-syncing, dancing and performing and go out to actual paid gigs regularly as their source of income. They can be the pinnacle of professional drag, but could still not be taken seriously because they do not tuck, an admittedly very uncomfortable sounding process that I give all the props to people who do it. Ouch.

The point I am trying to make is that a person with a vagina could literally perfect their craft and be incredibly talented, but since they do not have a penis, the only way they could be accepted as a Drag Queen is if they were perfect at it, and that doesn’t even guarantee that their drag will even be validated. You can argue the point that do we even need validation, but in an art-form that is literally part of a community founded on the goal of equality, love and acceptance and the importance of been seen as equal, then yes, I do think that someone is allowed to care about whether their drag is validated.

So where the world is right now, it might be the case that you have to work really hard in this profession or passion, if you have a vagina, and if you do a “fishy” look, then people will say to you that what you are doing isn’t drag. Thankfully for me, I am in love with Drag, partly because of the drama of its expression. That is to say, even if it was acceptable for a “woman” to do a natural looking makeup and call it drag, I wouldn’t, because part of the fun of it is creating the illusion, doing something beautiful and wacky and exaggerated and painting my face like it is a canvas. It is an art to me. So I am not overly bothered that if I wanted someone to even accept that I am doing drag-inspired makeup then I need to glue down my eyebrows and paint myself with large eyelids and eyebrows on my forehead. However, I do find it a bit sad that those who find their love in the performance and character they are portraying itself and are not too fussed about the makeup side of it, will be told what they are doing is not drag, when men who do the exact same thing with natural makeup are told that it IS drag.

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Smoky Bacon (ME!)

I have not even scraped the surface of what I think about this topic, but my goal is to make it universally accepted and validated that women can do Drag and can be a Drag Queen. I do not call myself a Drag Queen, because I have never performed, so I call what I am doing “Drag Makeup.” That is not to say that if you have never performed then you are not a Drag Queen, but because I am a cis-woman, I feel like I need to prove myself before I can own that beautiful and wonderful title. I won’t lie, it’s a dream of mine to be a Drag Queen. I’ve literally spent so many hours physically dreaming at night about performing as Smoky Bacon, but in this moment of time, my priority is focusing on my confidence and my “shyness” and working on my self-esteem so that I can come back to one of my first loves – performing.

One day when I worked through things and I am given the opportunity, maybe I will actually become what I so greatly respect. At the moment I am just working on saving up for a wig, good quality makeup (most of my stuff is $2 from Wish) outfits, working on getting back to sewing so I can design my own outfits, working on my fitness, flexibility and being able to walk and dance in heels, getting padding, a corset, shoes, jewellery, fake boobs and whatever else. The problem is that I do not have the money, but I am working my hardest to be the best that I can, because I truly want to do drag. I have so much respect for the Drag Queens that have paved this path before me. I want to thank them and celebrate them and let them know that I am not trying to threaten your craft by being so interested in it, I want to celebrate it and you, as well as celebrate it WITH you.

I have only started doing drag makeup for 6 months (literally today, the 12th of June is my 6 month anniversary) but I want to improve so much and I believe each time I work on my drag makeup, that I am learning so much and improving. I want all the help I can get, because this really does matter to me. If you want to see where I am at currently, my instagram account for Smoky Bacon, my drag persona (the name has a funny but embarrassing backstory) is @smokybacondrag Hello, shameless plug!

I really do want it to be accepted for women to do Drag. By making the community bigger, yes there is more risk. You might think it might blur the lines of it being a “gay” art. But there is also more possibility for love, equality and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and I believe if we allow it to be about the art and the acceptance of who we are and who we love, not what is between our legs, then it can be celebrated even MORE for being a gay art. I want to make the world accept us, I want to further celebrate the LGBTQ+ family and I want to share love, fun, family and art. And I think that accepting women doing drag, including queer women, will be the first step of going forward.

 

 

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Smoky Bacon (My progression with Drag Makeup so far)

Testing Limits

I have known that I have needed to write about at least a slither of my experience in 2016 even while I was living through it. I could write a book on just that year alone, but as I struggle to even think about some of those memories, let alone speak or write about them, I know that I need to start at the first step, which for me is just writing something – to try to capture a moment, no matter how fleeting.

So many people have asked me the question, “How was it?” whenever I mentioned the fact that I spent three seasons in another country. I know that these people mean well, but I also know that they are looking for the “correct” response, which is the one I always give. “It was such a great experience! I really have learnt so much from it.” This statement is true, it was a good experience, at least partly and I certainly learnt and have grown from every moment I spent on Japan’s soil. I still fully stand by my belief that if you have the opportunity to go on exchange, please do it! It is honestly an experience that is quite unique and is something that could not be replaced by any other. I saw so many beautiful places, met so many wonderful and nurturing people and I have so many exciting memories. My exchange involved a lot of beauty, fun, excitement and happiness, so why is that every time that the topic of my exchange in Japan is brought up that I get a huge lump in my throat and I begin to tear up?

Recently I was cleaning out my desk and I came across an old notebook, hardly touched, that had several pages that 14 or 15 year old me wrote in. If the words were summarised it would be,

Living in Japan will be so challenging, so difficult and incredibly hard. But I will get through it, I have to, because I need to prove to myself that I can.

When I was 4, I believe, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, or Aspergers, depending on the year and what the doctor was most comfortable with, and ADHD. There are so many stories I could tell about my beginning years, how I was a horrible, tantrum-throwing brat and about my struggle with words, speaking, reading, writing and mostly understanding humans and what was socially appropriate. That will be another blog post, because I have a lot to say on the matter. However, when I was a bit older, I became so grossly ashamed of how hard I made it for my parents who raised me and also I became grossly ashamed of who I was as a person.

I believe when I was around 8 or 9, I made a promise with myself that I would be well-mannered, polite and most importantly, that I would try my best to be what I considered, “normal,” aka: neurotypical. I did not want anything more in the world than to be able to do what I thought everybody else could. I did not want my condition to define me, but by striving so hard to be “normal,” I completely rejected who I truly was and I simply did not accept any weaknesses from myself. I worked so hard on understanding what all the different facial expressions and body language meant, what was considered socially appropriate, to always think hard before I opened my mouth and essentially, how to act “appropriately.” I transformed from Satan’s loud and angry spawn to a quiet, polite, but constantly self-judging child. I worked hard on my studies, thinking I would dazzle everyone and become a doctor or lawyer, as I used to be a child who almost did not make mainstreaming education. I wanted to be perfect and I allowed no mistakes. But the most reoccurring thought in my mind was, “There must be nothing that I can’t do. And if there is, I will do it anyway. I will never let my condition stop me or tell me that I can’t.”

I have a lot to thank myself for, due to having that mindset. If I didn’t work as hard as I did basically “studying human behaviour,” and improving my reading, writing and speaking, then just maybe I would not have the capabilities that I do today. But this adamant goal I had to “pass,” was actually incredibly toxic and harmful for my self-esteem and acceptance of who I truly am. If I wasn’t perfect, I punished myself and made myself do it anyway. This mindset followed me way into my adolescent years and it was a reason, if not the main one, why I needed to go on exchange in Japan, that I had no choice but to. I needed to prove to myself that I could do something that involved going against almost every single one of my limitations and what I considered, “flaws.”

So when I got the response back from my application for an exchange in Japan, I was crushed and offended by the word, “No.” Their reasoning was that because I had autism, that an exchange would be impossible for someone like me – I would not be able to cope. This reinforced the insecurities I had about my capabilities and made my blood boil.

“They are judging me based on some meaningless words on paper! If they met me, they would know that I am more than capable and hardworking enough to be able to do this!” I would angrily tell anybody who would listen.

I still believe that an organisation should not judge someone’s applicability based on their condition, but even so, I have often asked myself, “Was this one decision the catalyst? Would my depression have gotten as bad as it did if I never went to Japan?” I admit that a lot of things that contributed to my mental health was because of my experience as an exchange student and I made certain decisions that had terrible consequences because of it, but I also am aware that my mental health became a problem years before I even considered going on an exchange. The jury is still out on this.

After they declined my application, my parents and I worked hard on changing their mind. And it worked! The organisation had several meetings and one day I got the response I was looking for – that I were to pack my bags because I was to arrive in Japan very soon. I was leaving one month after than originally planned, therefore cutting my 10 month exchange to 9, but I was so incredibly excited – the thing I worked so bloody hard to be able to do, was now a reality!

It is so interesting to reflect on this experience and through writing these words, I now understand that I must continue. Those 9 months in Japan was a rollercoaster like no other. The lessons that I learnt from it that I hold the dearest to my heart, are that I could no longer hide from who I am, that my condition is not something I should be ashamed of and most importantly, that it is okay to have limitations. Through it I learnt to shed myself from having to be “perfect,” or “normal.” I learnt so many things about myself and how that even though I am very capable, acknowledging my weaknesses does not make me weak. The only reason that I lasted the entire exchange was because I was running from the reality of these limitations that I had. Yes, I am now able to be proud of myself to have achieved something that was honestly really difficult for someone like me, but there was a lot that could have been avoided if I just allowed myself to be human.

Not only is it okay to make mistakes and to be gentle with your limitations, but it is also crucial for building character and to achieve true wonders…

The wonders of being human and therefore flawed.

This is part one of, ‘Testing Limits,’ as I want to explore with further blog entries my experience of the lows and highs of living in Japan and how I came to this lesson of teaching myself self-acceptance. Thank you for reading, (you are wonderful!) and allowing myself to explore a topic that I have struggled with talking about truthfully until now. Love and light and please always choose compassion.

Proud to be neurodivergent!

Beauthentic

You can either be beautiful or authentic. Be one, but please still strive to be the other. Because when both collide and form a fusion, it furthers and deepens what they are. Be beauthentic.

I really want to be those things. I really want to share the rambles of my mind and I do not want to waste what I have to say. I believe that everyone has an experience or a message worth sharing; something that could create connection and further compassion with the world. Some of these truths are ugly and confronting, and therefore some are beautiful because they are both.

I have been creating, writing and scrapping blogs, diaries and novels all my life. I have never finished a notebook, endured a long-lasting blog or finished writing a book. Part of the reason is because I have always struggled with forming words due to a past speech impediment and learning disorder, partly because I am incredibly impatient and easily distracted, and lastly because of fear. Fear of judgement, fear of inadequacy, fear of failing. I think we can all relate to that, at least to some degree.

I have many goals at the moment. I hope that at least some of them will be achieved – I do know I will do my best to at least try. One of these goals is to write. I want to finally leave the story I tell myself that I am “bad with words,” because despite the fact that I stutter sometimes, or it takes me a bit longer to form the sentences that are abstractly born in my mind, or that I can hardly speak when faced with social anxiety… Despite all these things or the fact that it took me a couple more years longer to learn how to speak, write and read than most, I CAN speak, write and read, and damnit, while I may make mistakes sometimes, I actually am good at it! It’s hard for me to even write that, but I think it’s true.

Because I’m trying to pursue this goal of writing and of learning to be proud of my words, I have started a blog (again!) and while there may be hiatuses and shitty entries over its life, I am going to try to prove to myself that I can be authentic, maybe even beautiful, with my words and with what I write.

The Simple Idea

The next two weeks after a night of undiluted fear, would see my most extreme experience of change and growth. A few days before the fortnight ended, one drop of empathy and an added thought remodelled my entire outlook and dreaded story. As I reflect on this experience on its first anniversary, I remember details that I left behind in those confronting enclosed rooms of a hospital hiding as a home. The countless meetings with doctors who were only intelligent in their understanding of medicine, but not in humans, seemed to make my situation even more hopeless. Soon they grew tired of employing a bodyguard to eye an adolescent, so I was given a bed three hours away in Melbourne and there I arrived as a puddle in my boots, ridden with just more fear.

The teenagers there bore similarities to the previous patients, but the difference was in me. For the first time I opened myself to their offers of connection, because these people understood, and at that time that was all that mattered. And through sharing my compassion and empathy for their stories, I learnt to be compassionate and empathetic to mine. I drew almost obsessively in those unending hours, connecting to myself visually and therapeutically in ways I could not yet wrestle with words.

The most monumental moment was in the white sheets of a stiff bed, when my family visited me and I saw my sister cry in a too familiar fashion of defeat. This mirror did not shatter, but instead it did the shattering and I decided at that moment that if not for me, but for them, I will try my best to keep on living. And as though I was cementing this promise, I scribbled on my already defaced bathroom walls, the words, ‘It is ok to not be ok.’ This was an idea that was simple and obvious enough, but it took the weights off my shoulders. It allowed me to stand straight for the first time in my life, as I realised that my depression, my emotions, my state of being is not only allowed, but accepted within me.

Here comes the true struggle; a lifelong promise… My devotion to fill in the cracks.