Friday, April 9, 2010

Guest post from VP of The Awakenings Project Joel Munson

Today we have a guest post from the Vice President of the Awakenings Project, Joel Munson. The Awakenings Project is a peer run coalition of artists with mental illness. Joel recently shared his own story of mental illness with Erasing the Distance. He agreed to write a little bit about how he feels creativity has helped him to transcend his limitations.

As far as I can remember I have always been at least a little different. I have suffered from paranoia, and have always been organized and orderly. At age fifteen during my first psychiatric hospitalization, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and mild depression. From that point on I have been diagnosed with almost every psychiatric disorder on the long list. My current and I believe to be the most accurate diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder bipolar type with anxiety. I will now look at how I have dealt with this progression of illness in some very unhealthy ways.

Unfortunately for me as I stated in the last paragraph my illness has progressed at a rapid rate. Needless to say, it was difficult for psychiatrists to keep up. Therefore, I found relief in some very unhealthy alternatives. I used alcohol and various illegal drugs in order to cope and I thought I was holding myself together. What I have discovered is that I held myself back in life in a variety of ways. Also, I made doctors’ and therapists’ lives harder in their effort to treat me. I am now clean and sober and vow to get it right this time. This leads me into traditional forms of therapy that work well for me.

Of course I see a psychiatrist about once per month, and she takes care of medication management. I see a therapist about twice per month in order to deal with current and past issues. Lastly, I attend a weekly MISA group (mental illness and substance abuse). All of these components add to my stability and enhance my life. However, what has really propelled me to becoming the person I have the potential to be, has been my involvement in the arts.

I write everything from poetry to prose. I photograph in black and white and color. I have used 35mm film and now use a digital camera.

Another creative endeavor I partake in is beading jewelry. I call my creative work Mind of Munson Creations. Mind of Munson Creations coincides with the Awakenings Project a non-for-profit artist organization that helps enhance the lives of individuals’ living with psychiatric disorders by providing an artistic outlet for them.

I am now the Vice President of the Awakenings Project, and this allows me to integrate my creative mind with my business mind. Through Awakenings I am able to organize and participate in art shows, poetry readings, and various other activities.

As you can see, having a mental illness can be debilitating and at times even destructive. Yet with the right resources anything is possible. Through art and the Awakenings Project I have developed a new sense of self, and I am growing in confidence and identity.

-Joel Munson

We are grateful to Joel for sharing his experiences with us and with you our readers. Both photograghs in this post were taken by Joel. To see more of Joel's photography and other artwork you can visit his website, Mind of Munson Creations. To learn more about the Awakenings Project please read our post on art therapy and visit their website,

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