I recently had the profoundly moving experience of seeing the new film Loving Vincent, which tells the tragic story of the Dutch Impressionistic artist Vincent van Gogh through a beautiful, completely hand-painted animated film. I highly encourage you to see it.
The movie and its hauntingly beautiful and emotionally charged images helped me better understand the life and struggles of this talented and tortured genius. Vincent van Gogh loved to paint flowers, but especially irises. The film reminded me that I, too, have had a life-long love for irises.
When I was growing up, Mother always planted a bed of purple irises in every yard we had. It was her way of telling us that we planned to be living there for a while.
When I was just six years old, I painted my first iris for my grandmother, Nennie. Even though my rendition of an iris was completely black, a curious choice, Nennie enthusiastically told me how much she loved it. She said, “Tyra, my prayer for you is that someday you will see irises in greens, purples, reds and yellows.”
Two years ago, I visited the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and set out on a quest to find Van Gogh’s famous painting “Irises.” Even though I had known that Van Gogh suffered from mental illness, I was rocked to my core when I read the label on his painting. It explained that Van Gogh painted “Irises” while he was in a mental hospital, diagnosed with melancholy. In today’s world, that diagnosis would be clinical depression.
Many of you may recall that I received treatment for this same diagnosis as a patient at the world-famous Menninger Clinic shortly after my husband Larry deployed to Vietnam in 1970.
Looking back at my own fascination with irises, I realized I often painted them as a child when I was feeling sad. Even as a relatively young girl, I knew my father was dying of heart disease; I often overheard hushed conversations among relatives saying he didn’t have long to live. The iris was, for me, became a symbol of sadness. Painting irises was a respite from the pain of my grief.
Watching Loving Vincent reminded me of how profoundly debilitating depression can be to those who suffer from it. It also inspired me once again to pursue my personal mission to help destigmatize mental illness through my work in writing and public speaking. The fact is that as many as one in four people in our country suffer from mental illness at some point in their life, and yet many avoid treatment for fear of what others might say or think about them.
I cannot say it enough—if you or someone you know needs help, please seek treatment or encourage them to. If you don’t know where to start, confer with your family physician or someone else you trust.
We should all seek to educate others about how mental illness is no different than physical illness and should be treated accordingly. The risks of not seeking help are significant – to your own mental health, and the happiness and well-being of those around you. So, make 2018 the year you pledge to take care of your own mental health, and that of those you love.
© Tyra Manning 2018