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Illustrator Sonaksha, Who Draws To Normalize Mental Health, Gives Us Tips On The First Conversation

  • IWB Post
  •  October 10, 2019

I have OCD, seriously. I always need to have a clean home.

I am so depressed since I broke up.”

I haven’t been peacefully sleeping, I’m insomniac.

I’m sure you’re familiar with these phrases. Heck, I’m guilty of having used them in the past. But, did you know that those who suffer the disorders are not taken seriously thanks to our casual approach towards them?

To make a point, Bengaluru artist Sonaksha Iyengar started an A-Z series that discusses mental health. To dig deeper, we got in touch with her to know more about her project. Excerpts:

Describe yourself in delicious paint and sweet words.

Ummm… I think… Uh… I think I would be a splash of ocean colors?

Did you always wish to become an artist? Do you remember the first drawing for which you got an A?

I don’t remember always wanting to be an artist, I don’t think it was a conscious choice – I just walked into it Though, my teachers were always appreciative of whatever I did in primary school so that’s when I painted a lot. When I took up art again in grade 9 and 10, I remember that the teacher told me I can’t draw because I couldn’t realistically imitate objects, I had my own style of drawing them.

And, about having received an A for the project? I think I got an A when I was in the primary school for a colorful collage that I had made.

What was your personal struggle with the A to Z of mental health? How did your art help you combat it?

I was readily researching online, reading stories that people shared on different forums. If I knew someone who was willing to speak about their disorders, I’d try and include their inputs too. It was difficult because there was a lot of pain involved in the stories. It was also definitely therapeutic to share stories with each other and finally turn them into art.

For me, the conversations and the art were both therapeutic!

Terms like OCD, Depression, ADD, have become casually used terms which affect the seriousness of the conditions. 

It is a huge problem in the space of mental health because we should really be more aware of the way we use these terms.  People use these terms in their conversations as if they aren’t a big deal. It gives an impression that the condition is a choice and can be eliminated from the mind as and when you like.

“I’m doing everything wrong.” “Everyone’s laughing at me.” “I think I left the door open.” Anxiety comes in different shapes and sizes. #atozofmentalhealth – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_A #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #lettering #colors #anxiety #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #care #mentalhealthawareness #endthestigma

344 Likes, 22 Comments – Sonaksha Iyengar (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “”I’m doing everything wrong.” “Everyone’s laughing at me.” “I think I left the door open.” Anxiety…”

The relaxed approach towards the terms messes with those who are evidently going through it. And, that’s one of the reasons why the A-Z series happened: to create sensitivity and understanding towards the terms.

How do stress and overthinking affect the mental health?

Thinking about whether I’m thinking too much till all these thoughts blur into each other and I’m just staring into the distance – What am I thinking? Does your brain do this too, fellow overthinkers? Tell me please? I find it amusing but also annoying because I really want to know where the thread of thought started. #OverthinkingThinkingClub And now I’ve written the word thinking too many times, it looks strange?

500 Likes, 24 Comments – Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “Thinking about whether I’m thinking too much till all these thoughts blur into each other and I’m…”

To combat that, we could try and engage in mental exercises that will prove helpful in mindfulness and rejuvenation. It really helps ground you and I love practicing it too. Even a few minutes before sleep is a great time. It eases the stress. However, if it spirals out of control, it’s important to seek professional help.

Is it just me or does resting sometimes make you feel incredibly guilty? Years of conditioning to constantly value the act of ‘doing’ has really deepened our association of rest as a reward for productivity. I’ve been slowly trying to scratch and this and learn that resting can be a need without all the conditions we put on it. Tell me about your relationship with rest? #GardenOfKindness

700 Likes, 12 Comments – Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “Is it just me or does resting sometimes make you feel incredibly guilty? Years of conditioning to…”

What’s the key to start positive communication with a person suffering from any form of psychological disorder?

The first rule is to listen. When someone comes to you to talk, they expect no judgment. They think you’ll understand, and so please, understand. Let them know that their voice is being heard.

Words like, “don’t stress so much,” “you are not strong enough,” are negatives that will make them believe that they are not good enough. Mental disorders are not a choice so we should really stop invalidating the way someone struggling with their mental health feels. It takes time. Support and empathy truly help us build safe spaces.

Which amongst them was the most challenging for you to draw?

Many of them were quite challenging because it’s hard to imagine what it must feel like. But I think OCD was particularly more challenging because we have visuals in our head of how it looks. Clean. Organised. But in reality, people with OCD tend to struggle with repeated thoughts that can feel chaotic.

 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has become so widely known that it is regularly a part of jokes (No, that is not okay). While it is good that people are aware about it, it is unfair to claim to have OCD when you don’t. Everyone who loves cleanliness does not have OCD. OCD is characterised by recurring thoughts and actions and please don’t tell them to ‘relax’. What is very important to understand is that these are uncontrollable and cause a great deal of anxiety. While excessive cleaning, aggressive thoughts and compulsive counting are the most common manifestations, please don’t self diagnose. People who live with OCD everyday spend a significant amount of their day thinking about these compulsions or performing them, not by choice, and it can get exhausting to say the least. #atozofmentalhealth – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_O #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #lettering #ocd #anxiety #tired #obsessivecompulsivedisorder #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #care #endthestigma #brain #mentalhealthawareness #panic #huffpostarts

407 Likes, 17 Comments – Sonaksha Iyengar (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder has become so widely known that it is regularly a part of jokes (No,…”

I think it’s a long process, and we need to begin by creating spaces for people to share their stories. And, as I mentioned, we’d need a place that is judgment-proof.

People struggling with their mental health don’t want pity, they want you to understand that everything is not okay and that’s okay. Everyone struggles with their mental health at different points and in different ways, so we should try to be kinder to ourselves and everyone around us.

Your Facebook bio says that you are also an advocate of Body-Positivity. How are you advocating and encouraging it through your art?

Yes, I think it’s very important for us to realize that there are different kinds of bodies and that’s okay. I try and include fat bodies in my work because fat people deserve love and respect just as all other bodies do and mainstream media focuses so much on toned airbrushed bodies. I really hope we can normalize all bodies. Whether it is body hair or being fat, it’s normal.

Repeat: My body is growing in so many different ways everyday and I will continue to love it. 100/365 – – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #bodypositive #mentalhealth #art #positivity #watercolor #woc #bopo #igart #effyourbeautystandards #strength #love #colors #kindness #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #selfcare #calm

437 Likes, 6 Comments – Sonaksha Iyengar (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “Repeat: My body is growing in so many different ways everyday and I will continue to love it….”

I feel that art is a great way to normalize body-positivity, as it makes people feel more relatable to it.

What do your drawing style & color preferences reflect about you?

I think even in my head I’m fluctuating between organized and messy, so my art too tends to swing between the two.  

My color preferences, I’ve noticed have hues of blue, green, and mostly ocean colors. I like dealing with issues from a calm perspective.

What other issues or social stigmas do you plan to address through your art this year?

I’m planning to do a lot more with mental health, body positivity, gender stigmas and fighting stereotypes.

Share with us the things that you have on your work table.

A couple of books here, a children’s book I love, a lot of pens, color pencils, my laptop, a bottle that has flowers made out of shells and postcards from some of my favorite artists, and a few notebooks.

If you know of someone who has or has had an eating disorder, please do not make fun of it or of them. It’s not ‘cool’. There are various ways eating disorders manifest and it’s important to address them and know not to take it lightly. Support them, in anyway they might require. #atozofmentalhealth – – – – – #365daysofart #drawingaday #36daysoftype @36daysoftype #36days_E #36daysoftype04 #mentalhealth #art #typography #lettering #colors #bodyimage #eatingdisorder #anorexia #bulimia #bingeeating #watercolor #igart #sketchbook #digitalart #illustration #selflove #endthestigma #care #mentalhealthawareness @instagram

211 Likes, 12 Comments – Sonaksha Iyengar (@sonaksha) on Instagram: “If you know of someone who has or has had an eating disorder, please do not make fun of it or of…”

The biggest myth about an artist that you want to break?

There are so many myths. Artists are trying to find their own ways to approach art so grouping them and making these assumptions really limits our view of artists. It doesn’t allow space for the heterogeneity that exists in the space. I think one of the biggest myths is that you’re just born an artist – that art is something instinctive. But this is quite unfair because the artists, just like everyone else spend a lot of time honing their craft, looking, learning, doing. There’s so much practice involved. It also stops a lot of people from engaging with the art because they feel they don’t have it instinctively.

First published on Oct 1, 2017.

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