Art Speaks

May 31st, 2019

As an artist, McKenzie uses her creative skills to let others into her experiences with mental illness.

NAME — McKenzie Chaffins

OCCUPATION — Student at Lipscomb University

HOMETOWN — Murfreesboro, TN

FUN FACT — McKenzie is studying animation

How would you define yourself?

“I’m rather quiet and reserved — the kind of person who loves to sit back and observe life. I tend to not talk much unless I have something to say, in which case I become an enthusiastic bubble and can’t stay silent. I’m passionate about all forms of art and animation. I also can’t get enough of hugging every dog or pet I meet (except for cats since I’m extremely allergic).”

What is your experience with mental illness?

“I’ve always struggled with mental illness my entire life, but I didn’t start seeking help for it until I was around 16 years old when I started to recognize how bad it really was. As a child, I faced an unfortunate situation that instilled in me a great fear toward people, and I never felt safe. Even though I was fairly young, I have strong memories of feeling extremely hopeless and depressed while not fully understanding why. I remember first hoping and praying to never wake up again when I was 4 years old.

But on top of that, this intense, physical pain slowly grew until I turned 11 when I reached a point of not being able to function and eventually would pass out from the immense pain. That led to a long journey of blood tests, IV treatments, surgical procedures, various doctors, and constantly trying new medications. I’ve been diagnosed with far too many illnesses that, altogether, almost took my life. Pain was all I knew, so I believed everyone else felt exactly how I did. My physical pain only heightened my mental pain.

During this span of my life, I battled with even worse depression, an unhealthy relationship with food, overwhelming anxiety, and constant suicidal thoughts. By being open about how I feel and through seeking professional help, I am very happy to say that my mental and physical health have greatly improved from the dark place I was once in. I still have much more to battle in both areas, but I’m working as hard as I can and am hopeful about what will happen in the future.”

Have you ever gone to counseling? If so, what was your experience like and what would you tell others about counseling?

“I have. I actually started going to counseling in 2016. At first, counseling was really rough for me. When you go, it will either be easier than you had thought or harder than you thought. When you start to see your progress, though, that’s such a great feeling.”

Why are you passionate about mental health awareness?

“Since going through struggles of my own with mental health, I’ve loved using art to express how mental illness shows up in my life. I express my feelings and thoughts on mental health through my artwork. I use art to speak since it’s easier for me to put thoughts on paper through a piece of art than it would be to use my words and explain what I’m feeling.

I didn’t have any people or resources growing up that could’ve helped me understand the serious problems I was dealing with. Now that I have discovered my voice about mental health, I’ve realized how much I can represent and help other people suffering from their own demons.”

What do you want to change about mental health and awareness of it?

“I want to change the idea that some people’s issues are worse than others. Some people would look at someone and say that one form of mental illness ‘looks worse.’ But everyone’s struggle is real and your emotions are valid and important. I don’t like how people view mental illness as a weakness or only associate it with ‘psychotic’ people. Mental illness comes in many different forms. One thing can lead to another sometimes. Medication doesn’t always help, but sometimes you can’t live without it. Medication shouldn’t be a shameful thing.”

Even though you struggle with mental illness, that doesn't define you. What would you want others to know about yourself?

“I always try to work on bettering myself and my mental health. That doesn’t mean every day is perfect, though, because each day has its own set of struggles.”

What do you want others to know about mental illness?

“Just because someone is having a good day doesn’t mean their anxiety or depression is gone. It also doesn’t mean that those feelings won’t come back. It’s a constant back and forth battle.”

My name is McKenzie, and I am not defined by my struggle with mental health.

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