Gillian's Story

Gillian Richards was treading water for years before extreme burnout triggered a mental health crisis and hospitalisation. Following her admission, she continued her weekly treatment as an outpatient. The changes Gillian experienced over these formative few years have fundamentally altered every aspect of her life.

“I’ve struggled with self-sabotaging talk my whole life, living in the shadows and believing I wasn’t worthy. In times of stress, I would lose my voice, sometimes for days. I longed to find my metaphorical voice, to have courage and not shy away from life.”

“I found both the psychodynamic psychotherapy and art therapy at Currumbin Clinic extremely confronting. I was often resistant, but these ended up becoming the most revealing sessions.”

Gillian’s art has been a pivotal piece of her recovery puzzle, proving to be an outlet where she could explore her thoughts and feelings, while welcoming those of others. But it wasn’t always the case – during her illness, she was gripped with anxiety at the thought of putting brush to paper.

“I used to stand at the top of the stairs, unable to walk down into my art room. With encouragement, I eventually played with inks for 5-10 minutes each morning. I started at the kitchen bench and in time, ended up spreading out over the whole house.”

“Slowly, the roadblocks started falling away and I enrolled in an artist business course. This not only gives me support and direction but has been the source of meeting wonderful artists, strong friendships and venturing into the ‘forbidden’ world of galleries, exhibitions and workshops that I used to avoid.”

"Weeping for Tomorrow" by Gillian Richards on display at the 2022 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.

Gillian’s work is currently exploring visual poetry through printmaking, painting and artist books. She produced a book of poetry last year which included artworks and conversations. The artworks featured in the Recovered Futures Art Exhibition evolved from this poetry.

“Ultimately though, I’ve learnt a lot through my art. It helps me make sense of my thoughts. It’s not as though I have a clear idea initially, it’s in the process of creating where the clarity emerges. I love this innate response. It is a highly empowering experience.”

“I’ve finally found my voice; I’m no longer prepared to stay silent. I have something to say and I’ve found the way to say it is through my art. I want my audience to be drawn into my art, sparking conversations and debate about what they see and feel. My art is my conduit – my way of communicating what’s important to me.”

During Gillian’s time at Currumbin Clinic, she experienced ill-effects of her medication which resulted in Parkinsonism. It was a debilitating experience were Gillian lost the ability to do most things, including any sort of hand control. Under the care of a neurologist, she began to improve.

“Alongside this, my wonderful team encouraged me to find different ways to express myself. If I couldn’t do detailed work, perhaps I could loosen up and use movement and gestural work. When one door closes, I have learnt to embrace the detour.”

Gillian is forever grateful to have sought the help she needed to turn her life around. Professional help, paired with the ongoing therapeutic effects of a consistent art practice, have set her free in a way she never thought possible.

“It’s not as though you come out healed of all the rubbish that has impacted your life, nor does it mean it won’t rear its ugly head again, but you’re healed enough to move on and not drown in your baggage. You’re no longer weighed down; there’s a lovely new feeling of freedom. Each day, I aim to live my best life.”