By Micha Frazer-Carroll
CN: Bulimia, bipolar,
drugs, alcoholism, stigma
Janet Ford, a 36-year-old artist living in Vancouver, documents her experience with bulimia and bipolar through art. Having stumbled across her recent comic-style series, in Instagram’s much-utilised #100Days format, I caught up with her on her work.
Where did the ‘100 Days’ idea come from, and how have you found this format? What’s special for you about minimalist, sort of informational cartoons?
Years ago a friend and I challenged each other to make one piece of art a day for 100 days – I came up with the idea to focus on bulimia. Well. I ended up dropping out of the challenge a few days in – I saw 100 Days of Bulimia as a book and I wanted to take some time to write it and come up with the art for it. So I did.
I fussed over it for a long time. My perfectionism kicked in. I wanted the art to be special and weird – have some style. I talked to different artists about collaborating. I didn’t think I could draw the images myself. Then finally I just said “fuck it” and realized that the writing is the important part. The message. So I drew simple little illustrations for each one and got it done.
I have to say, it was hard. 100 days is far too many! But I committed to 100 in my mind and somehow came up with the ideas to get it completed. I do feel as if there are a few “fillers” in each series but the funniest thing is that the pieces I dislike the most are often ones that get the greatest response from people. So go figure.
I chose to draw and write because I think it’s more effective at getting your message across. People love to see pictures of things. At the same time, I kept the images minimalist because I wanted the focus to be on the message. And I think cartoon-like images balance out the often hard to read message that is being conveyed. Also it’s just how I communicate best. I didn’t want to write big essays on bulimia or bipolar, I wanted to draw it.
You talk a lot about using art to help others feel less alone. How does loneliness relate to mental health problems for you?
I started making these pieces to help myself. To relieve the shame I felt for my behaviour whether it was related to my bulimia or my bipolar. I was tired of feeling bad about things and realized it was only fueling my problems. I felt very alone in both my illnesses.
I think most people have a hard time talking about mental health. The stigma and lack of knowledge surrounding mental illnesses is baffling to me. You can’t release the shame or get help unless you are able to talk about what you are going through, and unless there are people out there who understand.
But sharing my pieces on Instagram has been such an amazing experience for me. I wake up to a message from someone almost every day thanking me for understanding what they are going through. These messages make me feel less alone in my own madness.
I too, have people that get me. It’s been so incredible it’s hard for me to describe really.
Aloneness and mental health problems go hand in hand. These pieces are for both people who struggle and people who don’t. They are meant to educate as well as help other’s feel less alone.
What’s it like sharing stuff that’s both so hard-hitting, and so personal?
I believe art is meant to create change and push boundaries. It’s meant to throw something in your face. That’s what good art does. It makes you uncomfortable.
I wanted to get people’s attention but not in a “poor me” sort of way. These aren’t meant to be a sob story. I wanted to make fun of myself, of how ridiculous things like bulimia and bipolar can be at times. I just wanted to bring about some awareness of these issues and the only way I knew how was through my own experiences with them. So I wrote about them and I tried to be entertaining in doing so. The aim was to shock people and make them laugh – something different.
As far as sharing the personal stuff it can be hard at times. I have days where I struggle to hit the post button and other days where it’s easy – so it’s up and down. But overall, I feel liberated in sharing all of my dark secrets. The shame that has been stuffed down inside of me for so long is getting released, and it’s helping people. I think I have a gift in being able to talk about myself so candidly. Others aren’t able to. So maybe I can be their voice.
What do you want to do in the future – art-wise, mental health-wise, recovery wise, and life-wise?
Oh gosh. Who knows haha. I haven’t figured out my life yet – and I’m 36 years old.
But 100 Days of Bulimia and Bipolar are going to be made into books by a local print shop and publisher here in Vancouver. Bulimia is coming out this fall.
I’ve almost finished writing and illustrating 100 Days of Recovery (from bulimia), and
I’ve started writing 100 Days of Alcoholism. I’d like to collaborate and write more 100 Days books.
Mental health-wise, I am just getting on my feet. I am still not working but have finally found a combination of medications that seems to keep me stable and functioning, so I plan on looking for work soon. I also practice vigorous self-care; I jog every morning, I go to bed early and wakeup early, and I eat really well.
Recovery-wise, I’m coming to the end of a 20-year battle with bulimia, but am pretty much there now – which is nice, but it still takes a lot of work on my part. I have the odd slip from time to time, and would like to not, so there is still work to be done. It’s been the hardest battle of my entire life – I wouldn’t wish bulimia onto my worst enemy.
What. A. Monster. A really really terrible illness.
In a way, it makes me sad when I get messages from people who can relate to my posts; I wish nobody could relate to them. But I’m happy to make them feel less isolated with it.
Life-wise, I have absolutely no idea, but I’d love to keep going with the 100 days books. Maybe if I feel up to it, get a teaching job one day. I’d like to do that.
Check out more of Janet’s work on her Instagram: @fordjanet
All embedded images by Janet Ford