Sunday, December 28, 2008


Fear is a very powerful human emotion that has been historically exaggerated by the media. This is done in order to sell a story or catch a viewer's attention. I decided long ago that I would not sacrifice an hour of my day just to hear about what is wrong with the world. I would rather surround myself with positivity and hope. 

Why are we so fascinated with violence and madness in the movies? So many films exaggerate fear while sacrificing the truth. When a film exploits and twist the truth about mental illness, we subject those (with the illness) to unnecessary discrimination and prejudice. I was apprehensive to watch The Dark Knight because I was afraid this movie would continue this misrepresentation of mental illness. I recall a quote I had heard around the time of the movie's release. The quote described the joker as "a psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy". I don't know how the joker could be diagnosed with schizophrenia when there is no evidence that he hears voices or experiences another hallucination/delusion. If anything, he was portrayed as a homicidal sociopath (which is in no way linked to schizophrenia). This sends a very negative and inaccurate message about mental illness. When people are not directly affected by mental illness, they rely on what they see in the news or even movies to form an opinion. I think that society could benefit from more education on the subject.

In The Dark Knight, you find out that the joker uses individuals with paranoid schizophrenia to carry out his plans. Batman stops Harvey Dent from killing a man because he says something like, "he's paranoid schizophrenic, broken out of Arkham, just the mind the joker would prey on to do his dirty work". To someone who has a brother with the disease, this did not make any sense to me. Schizophrenia does not cause a person to become violent or make them more capable to carry out violence. In fact, multiple studies have shown that those with psychiatric disorders are more vulnerable to being victimized and are more likely to harm themselves than others. Another statistic shows that 95% of murders are committed by sane individuals. 

There was one part in the movie in which a man is locked in a cell with a bomb in his chest (put there by the joker). He states that the joker promised to take away the voices. This line left me a bit sad because if anything, most people with schizophrenia would do anything for the voices to go away. Luckily, medicine and cognitive therapy help people achieve this peace. 

When people are commending Heath Ledger for his portrayal of the joker, they should be concerned about how a movie has the power to label millions of people (who struggle with mental illness). I personally would like to see a day when writers are forced to run their scripts by the NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) in order to get their facts straight. You need to do your homework Hollywood. 

I would like to thank the brave directors and writers for producing positive films about mental illness. They choose to focus on hope. Please see my links to the right to view a few of these film trailers. The media needs to focus a little more on empathy (not fear) when it comes to the topic of mental illness. 

Friday, December 26, 2008


Prior to my unveiling my art exhibit, I was fortunate enough to meet a woman named Lori Cullen. She works for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), in NY state, as the communications specialist. Lori also writes for the Times Union, a newspaper in Albany, NY. In order to raise awareness about the stigma that surrounds mental illness, Lori was interested in featuring my story in the Times Union. I was surprised yet very excited. Lori wrote an inspiring article which pointed many readers towards my website (featuring my artwork). Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


On November 15th, 2008, I finally unveiled my art exhibit, Gaining Insight: An examination of the relationship between schizophrenia and stigma. It felt like all of those months spent painting in a cold, damp basement finally paid off. Thanks to an email answered by Trix Niernberger (Executive Director of Nami, NY), my exhibit was on display at the 26th Annual Educational Conference for NAMI, New York State. I was welcomed by the rest of the NAMI staff on the morning of the conference. They accommodated me in so many ways. For those of you who haven't been to my web site, I created this exhibit about a year after I found out my brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Part of the exhibit requires the viewer to put on headphones and carry a portable CD player as they listen to 15 minutes of audio. This audio directs you through the exhibit and follows an individual from disease onset to recovery. I was humbled by a woman who handed me the headphones with tears in her eyes. She was thankful that she could see and hear what it must be like for her son, who deals with schizophrenia. I also knew exactly what she meant when she said she just wants him to be happy again. I feel the same way about my brother. 

The day was marked by countless visits from people who thanked me for my endeavor. I was surprised at how open others were to talk about their personal experiences with mental illness. When you deal first hand with mental illness, you do keep things bottled up inside because the subject is so taboo. However, this wasn't the case that day. I was able to express myself in every way I wished and so did everyone else who was there. I am thankful for organizations such as NAMI for showing others that they're not alone.

The butterflies in my stomach started to flutter because I was on schedule to give a 1.5 hour presentation. I sit at my exhibit table and feverishly go over the 7000 words, video, music and images that make up the presentation. Soon, I enter a large conference room equip with a projector, screen, podium and enough seats to hold almost 100 people. I start to panic as I learn my Mac computer is not compatible with the AV set up. I was bummed that the video and music could not play, but the show had to go on. Aside from the technical difficulties, the audience was very receptive to the content in the presentation. Many people told me that I should continue presenting. The presentation shows a connection between creativity, mental illness, stigma and hope. I plan to post more about the content of this presentation in the very near future. 

Thankfully, my mother and eldest sister were there to support me. We were hoping that my brother would be at there for the exhibit but, unfortunately, he was in the hospital. Even in his absence, I felt he was with me in some form. After all, he was the reason I was there in the first place. He also gave me the courage to start and finish the exhibit. 

I forgot to mention that at the end of my presentation, Lori from NAMI entered the conference room with a Mac cord that would allow my videos to play (thanks Lori:). I only had time for one video, though. I chose to end with a slow motion video of my brother when he was about nine years old. I had to cover my face and run out of the room because I couldn't fight back the tears. This was the first time I had cried since my brother's diagnosis. The video shows him smiling and laughing as the camera zooms in and out. Once I compose myself, I walk back into the room where I am welcomed by an applause. I finally realize that everything I am doing is part of my own therapy. Art allows me to cope and express myself in ways I can't explain. It bring me joy. However, this joy doesn't last forever. I am reminded that my brother is trying to find the happiness he once brimmed with but sad that I can't find it for him. However, I will be there to support him every step the way!