Excited to say that I have another guest blog to share, this time from a wonderful woman who is using her immense creative talent to cope with mental health issues and raise awareness. Check it out!
My name is Laurence Dea Dionne. I’m a graphic novelist, and the luckiest person alive.
I was born from creative parents. I took up a pencil when I was young, and never looked back. I drew to better understand the world, pausing the television to trace whatever image I had frozen on the screen. As a teenager, I drew every day, to release the pain from the unending flow of my raging hormones.
I was addicted. If I stopped for a few days, my fingers would ache and I was as irritable as someone who got up too early and ran out of coffee. So I tried to continue drawing consistently between my everyday responsibilities. It became practically impossible when I started working as a teacher in the public school system. I spent all my time fighting to keep order in my classes, trying to convince everyone that art had as many benefits as any other core subject. On days when I felt defeated, I would take a few minutes to release my frustrations out on a piece of paper often with dark colors, broken pieces, and symbols of despair. I wanted to share my passion for art, but I was met with cruel dismissal, and even brutal attacks.
Eventually, I ran out of energy. The anger that had fueled my actions had run out and left a gaping hole, which a deep depression cozied into. I cried every night, opened a can of food, picked at it with a spoon, cried again and fell asleep. I had nightmares about teaching, and would wake up startled and dreading the next day. It was never boring: I was physically assaulted by students who never saw proper disciplinary action in return, and was harassed by the staff who would send to the school board official complaints of imagined inappropriate behavior on my part. Don’t get me wrong, I have friends who have had great experiences as teachers, and I’m very happy for them. It just seemed that I received the short end of the stick, and it weighed on me to the point of suicidal thoughts.
One day, as I was heading to work, I was hit by a bus while crossing the street. It felt like the best day ever. I finally had a good excuse to stay home. Later, I walked along the streets in my neighborhood, seriously considering throwing myself in front of anything that could potentially kill me. I decided it was enough. I sought all the help I could get, tried meditation and all kinds of therapy, and finally resorted to medication. I slowly started climbing out of the darkness.
When I had strength and will to live enough, I picked up the pencil I had gravely missed and started to draw out all the poison I had accumulated over time. I created a story in which superheroes would run into everyday problems, and this helped soothe some of the pain. It was like bringing a friend into my life, and I felt much less alone. I had other friends, for sure, but I was afraid to drive them away or become a burden, because every time they tried to help and it didn’t work, it disappointed all of us. So I turned instead to these imaginary characters where there was no pressure to perform.
At the same time, I had taken up drawing and painting again, and somehow found myself with 3 commissions, 3 sold artworks, and paintings in 3 different exhibitions. Tired of having spent so long swimming against the current, I decided to go with the flow, and engaged myself in this adventure.
As I started sharing my stories, it became less about me, and more about everyone. I realized so many others could relate to such an experience, that I felt it was necessary to turn into a full-fledged project. Through research, I discovered the Young Volunteers program, as well as the Lounak Studio, and managed to secure a sort of grant to work on it for a year.
I learned to write a script, make a storyboard, draw a graphic novel, color it, publish it, get it printed, promote it, and distribute it. The artists at the studio were very generous in helping me through the kinks and I got enormous support in the Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds to get it printed. It’s now available at many independent bookstores in and around Montreal, including Quebec City, and soon in Ottawa and Toronto as well. It’s been at a the heart of several comics and mental health initiatives, and will be the star of the coming book launch at Shaika Cafe in NDG on December 9th 2016. It will be sold at various events such as Holiday art markets, comicconventions, etc. And it has touched the hearts of many along the way.
The graphic novel, Nuances, is about my depression, and the transformation in my thoughts and my body as I was learning to live with it. Making it has helped me better understand and accept myself, and reading it has helped others do the same. I regularly receive messages about how this story has changed people for the better, and I’m consistently surprised by how well it has been received.
I learned many things from this experience, but the most invaluable lesson I understood was that the power of art is the strongest of all. It has the ability to move us and transform us, the power to heal invisible wounds, and the power to show us who we want to be, and how we can get there.
Every day, I’m grateful for having made the decision to pick up the pencil rather than the knife, and every day, I say to myself, with a smile, “this is your job”. I make graphic novels for a living. And I’m the luckiest person alive.
To learn more about Laurence and her art, visit her website here.