Friday, October 28, 2011

What's your war story?

Everyone battling depression or anxiety has a war story, and I don't use the word "war" lightly. I want to discuss today the value of esteeming one's own story as a way of empowering the person struggling with mental issues.

One of the most powerful ways I have learnt to attach the significance my own story deserves is through discovering other people's stories in movies, art works, TV shows (and the like) that resonate with my own.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of travelling to London where I saw the West End theatre production War Horse. Later that same week I was in Madrid, Spain, where I viewed with my own eyes Pablo Picasso's masterpiece Guernica. I found the stories these two creative works depicted spoke intimately with my own life experience.

This is great news for the mental sufferer because if creative works have a power to heal and inspire, then this is a force that can be harnessed to your benefit. Let me demonstrate this by explaining how War Horse and Guernica helped to inspire me.

Against the backdrop of World War One, War Horse tells the story of the relationship between a boy and his horse who each wind up serving on the front line amid the terrible reality of war. Amazingly, the theatre production uses puppetry to animate the character of the horses in the play. The expertise of the puppeteers in making the horses lifelike is remarkable. Picasso's Guernica is a gigantic mural depicting the infamous bombing of a rural Spanish township in the lead up to the Second World War. Among the features of the painting are humans and animals - including a horse - being attacked. The piece is one of the most acclaimed works of its time (if not of the entire 20th century).

For those who are familiar with my story (for a brief overview click here), you will know my mental troubles sprang in part from a bombing (the 9/11 terrorist attacks) and living with animals through extreme drought. Something about the love between the boy and his horse in War Horse reminded me of the hardship I experienced alongside the animals on our farm. It told me that I was not alone in my suffering because other people had been through times where the world seemed upside down. To see this truth communicated on stage was breathtaking.

Similarly breathtaking was seeing Picasso's masterpiece in the flesh. It was my first ever visit to an art gallery as an adult (which reveals something of my lack of prior appreciation for fine art - Aussie males take note) and I was literally transfixed. I even came back the next day just to drink in the painting again. It spoke so much to me about the resilience of human beings (and animals too) and that stories that were once hidden can be revealed for all to see and understand.

I also share about War Horse and Guernica because a prized collection of Picasso's works is on its way to Sydney to be displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW over the Australian summer, and additionally Steven Spielberg has made a film version of War Horse which is also being released this summer. Maybe they can offer some therapeutic inspiration to others like they have done to me.

I come back to my point about esteeming your own story. Never discount its significance. Within it is the essence of what makes things such as feature films and great art so captivating: one person telling another that they matter.