“As a person, I became embroiled in a vortex of inner crisis” – artist Nicky Carey describes what it’s like to live with a misunderstood mental illness.
But over 25 years Irish-born, Brisbane-based artist Nicky Carey says his views have changed.
“I actually now believe that the illness is not me and I’m not the illness,” he said.
Nicky says living with a condition that is almost universally misunderstood has also meant living with labels, stigma and demonization.
“There used to be this idea that schizophrenia was a split personality,” he said.
“The ‘schizo’ part was my true self and all the promises and hopes and adventures that people have in their lives; that part was taken away from me.”
He can’t recall how many doctors and psychiatrists he’s seen, but he remembers very clearly how the first doctor he saw considered his ‘condition’.
“He said to me ‘you just think too much’. At the time I was so angry and wanted to throw a chair at him, but now when I look back now I believe what he said that day is more true to me as a person, than what lots of other doctors have said.”
Ultimately Nicky says it is a breakdown in communication that leads to the stigma of mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
“Auditory hallucinations, unusual beliefs and paranoia, that’s a real subjective world to the person living it; as a person looking outside of that, they have a subjective world as well, which is different,” he said.
“I was told, even by family members, that these experiences were not real, that they were an illness, which in some ways that’s what they are to people, but it was very, very real to me.”
Art became a way that Nicky could express his thoughts, feelings and inner conflicts.
He says his early art was considered very dark, often using charcoal drawings “of people in horrible situations of stress” which were representations of voices he was hearing.
“They were distressing voices and very derogatory and I was displaying them in Ireland; people loved them but did not know the story,” he said.
“In some ways, I was probably crying out to tell someone then.”
His works now depict both humorous and dark visions from his childhood, showing a raw and comical intensity of an unflinching view of the human psyche.
His works are held in private collections in Australia, Europe and the Unites States and are widely exhibited in Australia, Ireland and recently New York.
Nicky Carey’s artwork will be displayed as part of the exhibition ‘Journey Through My Mind’ at King George Square from May 10 as part of Schizophrenia Awareness Week.
The annual exhibition is hosted by the Mental Illness Fellowship Queensland and features 300 artworks by 170 Queensland artists.
By Emma Sykes and 612 Drive
This article first appeared on 612 ABC Brisbane on 8 May, 2014.