If you’re in or near the Charlotte-Lake Norman, NC area next Tuesday evening (November 17), come see me! It’s the opening of “Story.” The opening is at Old Town Public House in Cornelius, NC and starts at 7:30 p.m. Here’s the Facebook invitation.
The name “Story” refers to the stories told by the visual images in and of themselves, the mini-fairy tale-like stories (and fables) I’ve written to accompany the Eternal Childhood series (a series that features children in fantastic, magical, or dreamlike scenarios/places), and my own account of healing childhood trauma, which I’ve never talked about publicly before. Monday will recount the beginning of my healing journey, discussing six works of art in relation to it. Discussion of more art and more of my journey will follow in two more receptions–one in December, one in January. If you’re in the area, come out!
In 2010, Ed Newman interviewed me for his blog Ennyman’s Territory. I was just beginning to find my legs creatively and his interest was a huge encouragement for me. A few weeks ago he contacted me again to do a followup interview. It was perfect timing. It made me think once again about why I do what I do and how I do it. It even helped me think more deeply about my current show “Story” and sparked the idea of turning the receptions into a weaving of autobiography, fairy tales, and images. So, thank you once again, Ed! The new interview, which came out today, is also at Ennyman’s Territory: “Artist Melissa D Johnston Revisited.”
Several years ago, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I didn’t mind sharing my story with others. I was struggling with horrible symptoms, due in no small part to being prescribed the wrong meds, and I sought community–both for encouragement and to encourage others. I was a grad student in a department very tolerant of mental illness; indeed, some faculty and students still held a romantic notion of the link between genius and mental illness.
But as I found the right medication and my symptoms receded, I found myself less vocal. I felt I was now a “normal” person–or at least acted like one. When I left grad school, I said even less unless I knew I was in a “safe” environment to do so. I was incredibly uneasy about people from high school or college learning that I’d been diagnosed because I didn’t see them as a group of people who would be understanding. I felt the societal stigma of mental illness in a way I hadn’t before.
Something happened near the end of my time in grad school that changed my mind about publicly sharing my story with others, but I’d not been able to make good on it as I’d wished until recently. In February I shared the story of what happened in an article–“Stigma. Own it.”–written for a new blog called Real Spirituality for Real Life. I finally owned my stigma. Publicly. Standing in solidarity with others. And it turns out that having high school and college friends read it wasn’t so scary after all.