In ten days time my exhibition Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too will launch at Rich Mix on 4th June, there will be a debate about art and psychosis with three psychiatrists: Dr Bass, Dr Read and Dr Thys on the opening night, and a play on 5th June entitled: 'Do I Look Like a F*****g Mad Person?' The latter was written when I was naked and manic. For years I eschewed social media for fear of being trolled if I dared to come out about my 'hot' brain, but after writing my book Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, under the pseudonym Q.S.Lam, I decided that living in fear wasn't going to help me or others much, so I have come out. Thus far, apart from some minor trolling, it's been ok.
It's Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Although I don't suffer from schizophrenia, Dr Bass diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder in 2003 and the two are close cousins.
What is schizoaffective disorder exactly?
Since every person's brain is unique, each mental health disorder has distinct nuances specific to the individual even if you are given the same diagnosis.
I suffer from fluctuations in moods, oscillating between extreme euphoric highs to the depths of chronically suicidal depressions. Sleep deprivation can precipitate auditory and visual hallucinations, and I am predisposed to psychosis given a specific set of circumstances. In 2009 and 2010 I suffered my first major psychotic episodes. I thought I was the chosen one on a mission to save the world, the numbers 3, 6, and 9 took on mythic importance, I ranted and sang on a street corner in east London, and I ran naked heading towards Brick Lane.
Gravely ill, if my husband had not been with me during my second episode it's most likely I would have been sectioned or severely sedated. When the police arrived they wanted to handcuff me, they didn't allow me to put on any clothes even though I was standing outside my front door, nor any shoes. I was escorted to the police car barefoot. When my husband talked his way out of the hospital, I wore his shoes and overcoat and he walked to the cab in his socks.
The above is a truncated version of events. Psychosis is complex, incredibly traumatic for the brain - some people don't come back to the real world.
To say the psychosis and subsequent postpartum psychosis I suffered after the birth of both my children has not had a corrosive impact on my life would be an understatement, and although we have learnt to shield our young offspring from my condition, my husband suffers and continues to suffer, because everything revolves around my disorder.
I find social situations stressful, I can only see specific people, usually one-to-one, I need order to the point where it can become oppressive, my sleep patterns are sporadic, either sleeping too much or too little, up all night and therefore easily triggered during the day. And yet, I feel that I am making progress. The flip side is that I can write books, create 30-foot scrolls and be incredibly prolific if I harness the forces that threaten to split my brain in two and transform them into something 'other'.
Progress at times seems torturously slow, I tell my husband, 'Listen I am exhibiting, writing and getting published, I am doing well because I am functioning.' But I think none of that matters, he wants me to be a normal wife, a normal mother, live a normal life and do normal family things.
The Ants Are Coming At Me (pen on paper, size A5, 2006)
Normal, I am not sure I can ever be that if I suffer suicidal ideations almost every day. Performing ordinary tasks often puts incredible strain on the tectonic plates of my brain. Engaging in mundane or superficial chitchat can be unbearable or induce mania. My husband thinks if I go on medication that's the answer, but I refuse, making art is my substitute for taking pills.
I remain optimistic and believe that it's possible to have a good quality of life and raise my children well. My latest exhibition is completely inspired by them and depicts my continued fight to protect them both from Fred.
Fred with a Gun (oil on canvas, 10x10 inches, 2010)
Who exactly is Fred?
Fred is the negative and rebarbative voice in my head; I would argue that everyone has a Fred. Actually his full name is Frederick Vladimir Pucco of Russian/Italian descent. There are others, Sophie the dreamer, Mia the diva and then there's the Warrior who rescues me when I am in real trouble. Fred is never far away and at the moment he's telling me on a daily basis to jump out the window. I haven't, I won't, it's vexing, perturbing, distressing and tedious to be subjected not only to his incessant vituperative demands, but also the accompanying visions that play out like vivid movies in my head.
Scary self-portrat 369 (pencil on paper, size A3, date not known)
My condition evolved over time, from depressive episodes, to ones punctuated with intense bouts of mania and productivity, to a persistently phlegmatic, inert state of being, to hearing and seeing stuff. It was after I consumed a cookie laced with skunk, in the club Synergy back in 2003, that things were never quite the same. The chap selling them was a diminutive skinny bloke with a long beard, I was ravenous, they looked innocuous and only cost a pound. I devoured it greedily, ended up tripping for days, totally unaware that consuming the cookie would permanently change the neuroplasticity of my brain. Smoking skunk is like playing Russian roulette with your mental health and I will be warning my children of the dangers.
Sketch of Sophie the dreamer for the animation film White Wall (pen and ink, size A5, 2010)
I wrote my book to give them insights into my brain and arm them with the tools they need to help navigate the complex maze of their own brains, I wrote it for partners of people with my disorder and for mental health practitioners.
Yes I have a wonky, dented, damaged brain, but it's what I do with it that counts, each day is tantamount to going to war with Fred, it's exhausting, but I refuse to ever let Fred win. The fight is on-going, but it's not lost yet.
Author of Schizophrenics Can Be Good Mothers Too, Q S Lam (Muswell Hill Press, 2015)