Widely considered to be the most stigmatised mental illness, you don’t often see schizophrenia discussed in a positive light. But the reality is – people with schizophrenia can and do go on to achieve great things in life.
Just ask Matt Whittemore.
“I haven’t felt this proud of myself in a long time. I’m at Uni studying design and I just got commissioned to do my first portrait. I’ve moved to Brisbane and have a great place. My housemate even said I’m motivating her to organise her life! The last couple of years have been pretty good overall.”
Matt is testament to the fact that a diagnosis will not stop you from getting where you’re going – but it can signal a slight detour.
“Up until recently, I’ve had a psychotic episode every year since I was 18. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was a big shock, but reading through the symptoms I thought, ‘yep, that’s me’. Without my incredible support network, I don’t know where I’d be.”
While Matt’s diagnosis changed many aspects of his life, he remained the same strong, determined person.
“There are some tough parts of schizophrenia, not least of which is the major stigma. People just think about the guy who shot JFK or Lennon, they don’t think about everyday people like me with the condition.”
“The medication can also really knock you around. You feel like doing nothing, but you’ve just got to push yourself and get out there. I’m a very motivated person and always have been. You’re not going to do yourself any favours sitting around and hoping it’ll get better.”
|"Of Two Minds" by Matt Whittemore on display at the 2021 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.
Matt was an exhibiting artist in last year’s Recovered Futures Art Exhibition – his first ever exhibition.
“It was really encouraging being involved in the exhibition, especially when I sold my artwork. I wasn’t a creative kid, but art has become a big part of my adult life. After a terrible experience as a tattoo apprentice in Sydney, I laid off the art for a while. I got back into it when I started my Bachelor of Design.”
Art is now a part of the puzzle that keeps Matt on track – alongside regular medication, music, a solid sleep regime and a strong support network.
“I think a big part of getting well is acceptance – accepting that you’ll likely have to take medication for the rest of your life, accepting that you need to find a routine that works for you, and having an honest discussion with yourself that, ‘this is a part of me now and I’ve got to manage it’. Time is a big factor too – things won’t get better overnight.”
Matt recalls his visit to the Recovered Futures Art Exhibition fondly for its authentic nature.
“I found the exhibition really interesting and visually appealing. I could generally tell which of the artworks were done by artists with schizophrenia even before I read the bios, because I could relate to them so much.”
“I think that’s an important message that the exhibition conveys – mental illness impacts people from all walks of life. Personally, I had no family history and was blindsided by it. Everyone has a role to play in helping make society free of judgement and stigma.”