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Oct. 2023: After the storm, regrowth
Hope in the darkness, tenacity in transformation
Last month I wrote about many successes in my life. This month, my biggest success is my survival. And that is still worth celebrating.
Those of you subscribed to my weekly posts already know this, so I’ll just briefly summarize for those who don’t: I was in a psych hospital earlier this month, after a scary downward spiral. I want to say that I didn’t foresee it, but I kind of did. I just didn’t think it would get so bad, so soon.
I don’t feel like rewriting what I’ve already written about, so here’s a post I wrote about my experience in the hospital:
And here’s a reflection on my relationship with spirituality as I work towards healing:
Things are somewhat better for me now, but still difficult, and much changed. Some opportunities I was excited about last month have now been lost, either by choice or by necessity. There is sadness to that, and yet there is even more grief in no longer having the bodymind that I had. I’ve always been sensitive and intense, such that my schoolteachers were frequently both fascinated and worried about me, and there were then-uncertain signs of my bipolarity even in late 2020. But something has still recently changed, and it’s destabilizing. Especially when I have already struggled and grown through so much in the past few years, and I thought that I had greatly healed. Especially when it felt like my life was just starting to blossom. Now, it feels like I have to start all over again, with much more caution, much more care.
But Spirit will prevail, and I will grow stronger. The next chapter of my life is being written, and I shall be the author. I don’t need to rush anything; indeed, rushing would probably make things worse. Sometimes I feel guilty at not being more financially independent of my parents as a college grad now, especially when many people don’t have the choice. But I can acknowledge my mixture of privileges and disadvantages and still live my own life, and more crucially, tend to my own survival.
I am lucky to have a strong support system: the mental health IOP (I’m doing a second round of it), my individual therapist, my neuroqueer pals from the hospital (it was an LGBTQ-specific unit, which was delightful), my friends, and even my mother, who has grown in her understanding of mental health matters especially as they affect her two children. And if you want to send me some encouragement, in whatever way suits you, I’d greatly appreciate it. This is a difficult stage that I am passing through, and anything that reminds me that I matter to the world is a sweet and strong succor.
I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite books, The Fire Never Goes Out by ND Stevenson. Stevenson is a graphic artist and a brilliant bigender-bipolar mess (I’ve come to believe that there’s a lot of us), creator of Nimona and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. The Fire Never Goes Out is a graphic memoir that spans 8 years of his young adult life, when he experienced rapid professional success, realized he was a lesbian (he is AFAB and only came out as bigender after the memoir’s publication, though the memoir is shyly trans as it is), and struggled with his mental health without a diagnosis. Rereading this memoir gives me strength and hope; seeing that other people have made it through, even when the world is cruel to those who dare to live so honest and messy, helps me to believe that I will, too.
(By the way, Stevenson’s Substack I’m Fine I’m Fine Just Understand, is also full of deeply reflective yet quietly humorous comics exploring topics of gender and mental health as well as the randomness of life. Go check it out.)
Two months ago, Facebook started advertising to me some rainbow-colored dresses designed “for mature women.” I’m not sure how I got those ads as a young non-binary person who doesn’t normally shop for dresses or particularly “feminine” clothing; the marketing for the rainbow dresses had surprisingly nothing to do with LGBTQ pride. But eventually I caved into the algorithm and bought a dress. Here it is. A symbol of hope in the darkness, tenacity in transformation.
I have a launched a creative advocacy project centered on my musical piece freeing child, which I composed at the Nief-Norf Summer Festival in June. The piece, the score of which is textual instructions, guides performers in a reflection about childhood and their role in bettering the lives of children and youth today. I am aiming to have my piece performed in a variety of settings, both formal (like concert halls) and informal (like parks and classrooms). I am also inviting people to create art (visual or otherwise) that reflects upon youth justice and liberation, which will be displayed on the project’s website and social media. Check out the piece, the reflections project, and resources on youth justice at the freeing child website. If you’re interested in taking part in the project, whether by performing the piece, creating an artwork, or sharing with me resources on youth justice that I can put on the website, let me know!
I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year! But my goal is unofficial; I find the official writing goal of 50,000 words of a novel within a month to be too much for me right now, especially as I’m a slow writer who never figured out how to roughly draft, and I want to aim for something that I have some likelihood of achieving. So instead, I’m counting the number of minutes for which I work on my novel, aiming for 1800 total minutes in November, or one hour per day. It will be a challenge to work towards this goal consistently, but I know that I can do it, especially with people to cheer me on! If you’re also doing NaNoWriMo, sign up to be my writing buddy here. And if you’re not but still want to support, feel free to email me so I can keep you updated on my progress (and offer sneak peeks into my work!).
Chanika Svetvilas is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural worker whose practice focuses on mental health difference. Her work is an extension of her continued interest in using narratives as a way to challenge stereotypes in contemporary society and to create safe spaces.
She has presented her work in a variety of spaces and contexts including the College Art Association Conference, the Society for Disability Studies Annual Conference, and the Pacific International Conference on Disability and Diversity. She has exhibited at the Denver International Airport, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Asian Arts Initiative, and the Wexner Center for the Arts among others. Her work has been published in Disability Studies Quarterly, Studying Disability, Arts, and Culture: An Introduction by Petra Kuppers, and A Body You Can Talk To: An Anthology of Contemporary Disability, edited by Tennison S. Black (forthcoming). Svetvilas was the co-founder of ThaiLinks, a collective that was based in New York City and promoted awareness about issues affecting the Thai American community. She also co-founded the biennial Thai Takes Film Festival. Svetvilas was born in Buffalo, NY to Thai immigrant parents. She earned her BS from Skidmore College and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. She was the artist-in-residence at the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab at Princeton University for academic year 2022-23.
Comments from Margin: Chanika’s work is super cool! Pieces include prescription bottle sculptures, charcoal drawings decorated with Thai designs, and a dance in a CVS. I got to take part in her project at the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab at Princeton University, Anonymous Was the Data, which transformed data from a survey of Asian Americans living with mental health difference into 3D-printed prescription bottle sculptures. Take a look at the project here.
A Contemplative Offering
I think today of something I learned in IOP, about seasons of the soul: the springs of budding, the summers of flourishing, the autumns of both harvest and decay, the winters of hibernation. We go through different seasons throughout our lives, time and time again; sometimes, different parts of us experience different seasons at once. I feel myself going into winter, retreating into the warmth of weighted blankets and relaxing tea. It’s a season I’ve never really liked for its apparent deadness, but even the barest of trees in winter are still brimming with life inside them. The respite of winter is essential to a dynamic, deciduous life.
Which season(s) am I experiencing now? How does the stage I’m in now fit into larger cycles in my life?
Which season(s) do I favor? Which season(s) do I feel least comfortable with? How I can befriend my disfavored season(s)? How are my disfavored season(s) essential to my favored season(s)?