Dana's Story

The 2021 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition was Marine Biologist and Scientist Dana Cusano’s first ever exhibition, and she managed to sell both pieces! Her aquatic artworks - a haunting ship and a stunning whale – spoke to her marine leanings, and were crowd favourites.  

“This was the first time I’ve ever sold artwork and it was a great but weird experience. It was a little bittersweet, as you put so much of yourself onto the canvas. I’ve always been creative, ever since I was a kid, but this was a first for me. They say, ‘paint what you know’ and that’s what I did!” 

Mental illness has been ever-present for Dana’s whole life, but it’s never stopped her from building a fulfilling career - including getting her PhD. But she’s had to fight along the way. 

“I have never let my bipolar get in the way. Obviously, it tries – but I always try to be the bigger woman. That’s not to say I haven’t had hiccups and setbacks, but a setback doesn’t mean it’s all over. Any time I’m having a bad day, I always remind myself that it could be worse. That helps me maintain perspective.” 

Dana found the loss of identity associated with mental illness to be a significant hurdle to grapple with on her path of recovery. 

“I was diagnosed when I was 21 and it took the next 14 years for me to accept and get comfortable with myself and the situation. I just had no idea who I was – I’ve been medicated since I was 13 so the question of identity was huge. It took a bad relationship to let me know that I like myself. It goes to show you can take something good out of everything.” 

Dana finds art to be a tool for managing her illness – somewhere she can be completely present and grounded. 

“I didn’t realise that I paint more when I’m in a bad place until my friend pointed that out. I can completely lose myself when I paint – when I’m painting I’m not in my head. When you’re trying to make something as perfect as it can be, there’s no space to think about anything else.” 

 Dana Cusano's Megaptera painting shows a huge black and white whale
"Megaptera" by Dana Cusano on display at the 2021 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.

In terms of moving forward and continuing to kick goals, Dana’s a huge proponent of ‘being selfish’. 

“I make sure I’m giving myself exactly what I need to be the best I can be. An hour every morning is dedicated to drinking my coffee, reading my book and lying with my dog. I also have an extremely stubborn mindset, so I refuse to give in and give up, even when the bipolar is trying to get me down.” 

In terms of encouraging others to live their best life in the face of mental illness, Dana says it’s all about perspective. 

“It takes time to get the right medication mix, it took me 15 years. Things get better, but you need to fight for it. The world doesn’t stop because you have a bad day. That might sound harsh, but the reality is tomorrow is a new day. And I also like to remember something my dad always says: you only get one life. Let’s make the most of it.”