New Brunswick

'I was existing': Indigenous man uses art to recover from mental breakdown

A young Indigenous artist who has struggled with addiction and mental health problems says he's now channelling his destructive energies into safe, creative outlets.

Bathurst art show expresses Chris Grant's use of creative energy to heal

Chris Grant's art show, Disposing Sanity: Life After the Psych Unit is open to the public until the end of August at the Bathurst Heritage Museum. (Submitted)

A young Indigenous artist who has struggled with addiction and mental health problems says he's now channelling his destructive energies into safe, creative outlets. 

Chris Grant of the Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick is exhibiting his art at the Bathurst Heritage Museum in a show called Disposing Sanity: Life After The Psych Unit.

"I decided to put up my art as a way to show healing and recovery because I've had a lot of really difficult situations happen in my life where you don't know where to do with that energy but destroy yourself," said Grant, 21. 

His work depicts his struggles with mental health issues and addiction. 

Grant said where he comes from, people are very "hush-hush" about mental health issues. 

"A lot of people don't want to admit that they're going through something. My show is my way of putting my foot in the door and saying it's OK to talk about it." 

Grant said he wants others to know it's OK to express their struggles with addiction issues and psychosis​ or any problem that may come up in their life. 

"It's completely healthy to understand the meaning of suffering and what you're willing to suffer for." 

Grief and sadness

Grant said a misdiagnosed mental illness early in his life made him very quiet and withdrawn, rarely standing up for himself.

"Since I was a child I have seen things that weren't there, heard things that aren't there," he said. "I felt extreme grief and intense bouts of sadness, but also bouts of euphoria and grandiose delusions." 

Chris Grant of Pabineau First Nation said art was his way of recovering from his mental breakdown and addiction. (Submitted)
As a teenager, Grant had a lot of energy that he couldn't handle, which made him suicidal and self-destructive. He began hurting himself and trying to get high any way he could. 

Within months, he was an addict. He was abusing his own depression medication and smoking a combination of tobacco and marijuana. 

"I would constantly find a way to give myself a head rush to escape from my issues, but all it did was further my psychosis issues more and cause me to spin more out of control." 

Breaking point

While he was attending university just a year ago, Grant said he was still dabbling in psychedelic​ drugs including LSD and mushrooms. 

That's when he hit rock bottom.

"I had this breaking point where I couldn't deal with all the pressure anymore and I was extremely suicidal, self-harming and had no will to live," he said. 

Grant describes himself as being out of his mind, staring at the sky. People would find him sleeping in ditches or under a bridge. He didn't attend classes in his Fine Arts program and cared only about getting high or getting drunk. 

"I was just existing." 

After quitting everything cold turkey, Grant had a moment of clarity when he thought about the support of his family and where he came from. 

"It brought me into a really intense bout of manic crying where I couldn't bear the weight of what I had done to myself and the guilt associated with that." 

Grant was put in the psychiatric unit where he stayed for close to three weeks, a stay he said helped him get better. 

A journey of learning

Grant said his art, expression and reading a lot of poetry have also helped him on the road to recovery.

Chris Grant used his art to help in his recovery from a mental breakdown and addiction. (Submitted)
"There's been a lot of learning on this journey," he said. "I'm at a point these days where I kind of live under one main goal in mind and that's to make art and then die." 

Grant said he's trying to inspire other people to look at their life in a dualistic way. While his art centres around scenes of death, suicide and drug addiction, things that make many people uncomfortable, he also wants people to see the positive things his art can bring to them.

"I've always been a person who has to create something just out of basic necessity for my survival." 

Challenge himself

Chris Grant said he's learned he has to do what makes him happy. (Submitted)
Grant said he's previously never felt like anyone challenged him enough to make him feel like he was accomplishing something but now, things have changed. 

"The key to life for living a happy life, at least in my case with the mental issues I struggle with, personally is living an authentic life. Even if others think it's eccentric or a lunatic, there's no such thing as an absolute truth. There's only what's true to you." 

 Grant said to him the best way to deal with it is find what you love, practise it and don't worry too much. 

"Do what makes you happy." 

In addition to creating art, Grant is a content creator and a musician who is working on an album. He will be attending NBCC in Miramichi to study animation in September. 

Grant's art show continues until the end of August.