EXHIBIT UNVEILING: 26th ANNUAL NAMI, NY EDUCATIONAL CONFERENCE
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!