Emilia Wilson – Self Portrait II (2018)

Self Portrait II (2018)

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I am someone who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (as well as depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis) on account of being subjected to multiple traumatic instances stemming from early childhood and continuing into my adult life. The fact that my trauma started when I was just 2 years old makes me feel like I was never given a chance to become the real me. On account of my trauma, and because it started before I ever had the chance to truly establish a sense of self, the ideas of identity and belonging are often lost on me.

Part of my PTSD involves avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma. As a result, over the last five years of my life, I have been constantly on the move – travelling from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Colombia to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. To put that into perspective, I have traveled the equivalent of crossing Europe 6 times). I have lived in both houses and tents; I have experienced homelessness. I have slept on beds and couches, in vans, abandoned buses and buildings, and under the night sky. The reality of such a tumultuous living arrangement, coupled with my PTSD diagnosis, is that the ideas of belonging and of community have become skewed to me.

With my PTSD, I also experience episodes of dissociation involving both depersonalization and derealization; I often feel as though I am drifting through time and space with high levels of anxiety and a sense of displacement. I lose attachment from my immediate surroundings, feeling both a loss of the sense of self and that the world is unreal. With dissociation, I feel divorced from my own personal self by sensing that my body sensations, feelings, emotions, behaviors etc.do not belong to me. I’ve had a difficult time feeling connected to the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met throughout my life. Even the most familiar of places and faces will often appear alien, bizarre, and surreal.

Moreover, I often ponder if the identity I hold now would be the same without my experiences of trauma and intrapersonal strain. I constantly am asking myself: Who am I? What does it mean to be a person? How does one identify with themselves and how does that identity fit in with its community? Is identity formed by belonging to a particular group, by performing a role in life, or by background and biology? Is one’s personal identity contingent and changeable? Similarly, is belonging simply calling somewhere home? If so, what happens if we are forced to move or are subject to a major change in our environment? Can one belong to a community if they don’t have a fixed address?

It is my intention to encourage discussion surrounding these topics in the arts, while overcoming the negative stereotypes that seem to loom over those with disabilities. I believe everyone should be given the chance to authentically exist and succeed in the world regardless of ability, age, gender, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation, social status or economic status. I believe that it is important to foster the acceptance of those whose differences enhance our lives. Furthermore, the subject of mental health has been in the closet far too long. It is extremely important for people with mental health issues to be able to freely discuss their experiences without the shame and stigma that is too often accompanied by them. Speaking up about our lived experiences can make an incredible difference to the lives of a countless number of people – it can literally save lives.

As someone with PTSD, I have become enthralled with the theme and exploration of the philosophical concepts of identity and belonging – in both an interpersonal and intrapersonal context. Experimenting with the relationships between colours, lines and textures, I allow myself to be present in the moment by reflecting on my emotional and physical self. Each art work I create is a self-portrait in and of itself in that it is a visual display of my own state of mental health, gender identity and expression.

Dissociation 1 & 2

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Abstract & Abstract 10

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