Emma x Eloise
How does it feel to live each day under the weight of inner turmoil?
For mental health advocate Emma, facing the stigma of mental ill-health in a small rural community resulted in an inability to express herself. Working with artist and friend Eloise, Emma’s experience is shared here through a creative wearable expression that captures the entrapment of internalised turmoil, and the freedom that comes from stepping into the light.
Emma Pryse Jones (she/her)
My experience of mental ill-health began at a relatively young stage in my life. By the age of 13 I was hospitalised and diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD resulting in an atypical eating disorder. In addition to this, my family lived in a rural area and had no access to a service that was appropriate for my complex needs.
From this experience I learnt very early about the stigma that is sometimes associated with mental ill-health, particularly in a small rural community. Due to the nature of my mental illness and the lack of access to appropriate services, I struggled for the following decade particularly to manage my PSTD. I didn’t have the language to express what was going on for me on the inside, however on the outside I was able to hide most of these issues. It wasn’t until I left school and decided that there has to more to life than feeling like this that I began to find new ways for treating and managing my mental ill-health.
Eloise Coleman (she/her)
Frightened, powerless, dehumanized – messages that led to the creation of a garment from a quilt, experimenting with a feeling of being under a weighted blanket or hiding oneself under the covers in an attempt to protect oneself.
Emma associated a sense of heaviness with white as a symbol of numbness and void. The concept of feeling controlled and restrained all influenced the exterior of the coat, symbolizing what others might see when witnessing someone suffering through mental ill- health, locked away from human contact and society. Messages inked across the interior of the coat express Emma’s inner turmoil, hidden from the sight of others.
MY VISIBLE MESSAGE
You are not lost. You are probably just buried. Buried under shame, cultural conditioning, social learning, perceptions, expectations and the definitions of the western medical model.
Living with trauma, I spent a lot of time feeling lost and completely detached from myself and an equal amount of time running as far away from myself as possible. In my short experience on this earth, I know that trauma and disassociation from the self often walk hand in hand.
Upon stumbling onto this truth, I think that the most valuable process someone with a mental illness can undertake is uncovering the self. Often, we get caught up on the concept of ‘finding yourself’.
Finding yourself is the process of unlearning. It’s an excavation of the soul. It is learning how to hold your own light and honour your truth and to stand on your own two feet without wavering. It is allowing yourself to be fully seen, exactly as you are without living in the shadows of shame and fear. And once you know how to do that, it’s about empowering other people to do the same.
This was a challenging project, first to be able to gain insight into Emma’s thoughts, to understand her courage and trying to respectfully turn her story into a creative dimension. I was sympathetic to how the end result would be perceived and wanted to create an expression that not only Emma could identify with but that others could see and hopefully receive a sense of hope. When working with the medium of fashion, there are many elements that have had negative impacts on mental health so I aimed to create an expression that did not glorify fashion ideals and rather focused on the symbolism of wearable art and sending a positive message.
Eloise and I were in a beautifully unique situation for this project as we have grown up together. Eloise and her family have been present for my some of my highest achievements and absolute lows. Eloise has competed alongside me during some pretty competitive sporting competitions and equally spent many hours at the side of my hospital bed. This project allowed us to reflect on that experience and dive a little deeper into what I felt during that time. It was amazing to see how Eloise turned our conversations into a physical expression and to captured the complexity of mental illness with so much grace and detail.
Emma Pryse Jones (she/her)
Emma is in her final year of undergraduate study in sport and exercise science with the plan to go on and complete her masters in exercise physiology. Emma has chosen this path of study as she is passionate about a holistic approach to mental health and the importance of the mind-body connection.
Eloise Coleman (she/her)
Eloise Coleman is a 21 year old from the country town of Orange, three hours west of Sydney. Eloise is a student at the University of Technology Sydney completing a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Textiles and has always been interested in the creative arts – music, visual arts and particularly textile design. She intends to complete her Honours and then Masters degree at Central St Martins in London.