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Tim Hagan – A Life Less Travelled

Hello. First let me introduce myself, tell you what I do, and how I do it. Then you can decide if you want to read on (you don’t have to, I won’t hold it against you, I promise).

Who am I, what do I do and what the hell am I doing here?

My name is Tim Hagan. I am 27 years old, a graphic designer by trade. I’m currently a freelance graphic designer and moving image geek. This short piece will talk about my views surrounding my mental health, and a short film I created about obsessive-compulsive disorder, called A Life Less Travelled. Along with that, I will hopefully open up lines of communication with the public so they can understand why mental illness has been one of the most important and life-changing experiences I’ve ever had (I prefer the term mental distress, as the term mental illness has often been misconstrued with derogatory stigmas. Just using the words ‘mental illness’ these days effectively denigrates a person’s experience and implies that a person is not of sound mind).

A Life Less Travelled from tim / hagan on Vimeo.

Going through mental distress and understanding it

I have experienced obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since I was twelve, and with it comes extreme anxiety and, at times, depression. A lot of people I know don’t know I have a history of it. I hide it well. I’ve learnt to, since I was young, for fear of alienation, which in turn alienated me even more. Prozac and psychiatrists don’t tend to sit well with fourteen-year old boys. Through this alienation comes a vicious cycle of fear and self-loathing, where detachment from the world around you is slow but progressive, and only stopped by the realisation at adulthood that you aren’t, and were never, any different from the person sitting next to you in maths class. So I decided to take a huge step and talk about my mental health issues in a very public domain – at University.

‘Coming out’ about my mental distress has been an enlightening experience for me. It has been the culmination of years of secrecy and guilt about a condition that is more common than anyone could know, but is sidelined to the cold shoulder of whispers and blanketed condescension, all because of historical misrepresentations and the fear of the unknown. This fear is a major factor in the stigmatization of mental health issues, and I believe it needs to be dealt with appropriately, and publicly, because putting a human face on a condition helps to elevate it from the realms of misconception.

Understanding my mental distress has involved coming through a lot of hard, often excruciatingly unpleasant discoveries and self-reflection. From the dark depths of depression to the utter loss of control in OCD, understanding and accepting my distress as part of who I am has been painful. But with the help of a caring network of friends, family and the right professional help, such a negative experience has turned into a unique and ultimately distinguished world-view. I have moved past the negative aspects, and delved into the rich resources of a unique perspective that I can use in all aspects of life.

Describing mental distress is an incredibly hard thing to do. It has so many facets, all integral to the emotion and intensity that creates these experiences.

Many people undergoing such experiences, or people trying to learn about such experiences, often place a high degree of emphasis in trying to methodically and precisely describe the meaning of mental distress. But I think this type of clinical view, reinforced through media, is what has exacerbated many of its stigmas. A good majority of the population now know about mental distress, through what they have been told, through personal research or popular media. But all these devices, although helpful in getting mental distress issues into the open, can be so one dimensional as to almost make the intended message a gimmick. For example, many people, when being told of my distress, have responded by wondering (sometimes laughing) if I switch light switches on and off. And although obviously these symptoms do happen and are very serious in their own right, they do only affect a small portion of people.

That’s why I believe it is important to provide different ways to view mental distress, to let people share a new emotional experience and ultimately shift a person’s viewpoint in relation to the topic of mental distress. In reference to my film work, it is ultimately about engaging the viewer visually and emotionally through a timeline: a beginning, middle and end. Most people have been raised on this premise through various ways of storytelling, and expect certain outcomes in an ending, where all loose ends are tied up and concluded succinctly. However if an ending is manipulated to be different from the perceived outcome, it can be a highly evocative way of making the viewer seriously engage with the subject matter.

My passions are graphic design and moving image, and put together I believe these creative abilities can be a vehicle for change and education in an increasingly visual world. Having experienced mental distress, I believe my skills as a graphic designer working in the area of film give me a unique creative opportunity to inform people of all ages about the positive potential and understanding of some lesser known sides to mental distress issues. A lot is known and heard about the painful and scary side of mental distress, but not much is heard about the unique opportunities it awards people not only creatively, but emotionally and spiritually, giving a ‘sufferer’ a unique gift in being able to truly view life, and the human condition, differently.

I can’t underestimate this point.

I believe that if you take OCD, and mental distress as a whole, out of the context that has held it down for so long, many stigmas lose their potency. People commonly view mental distress through skewed portrayals shown in popular media. Ideas of secretive, finicky introverts sidestepping cracks denigrate a person’s real experience. Therefore to treat mental distress in a fresh, provocative and creative way may ultimately open up conversations about mental distress to a younger audience. These are the people who will change stigma and discrimination in years to come.

The film is targeted at a younger audience. It is designed to be accessible, going places that the written word can’t explore. With the advent of new media technologies such as YouTube and Facebook, distribution can be fast and international. This means that work can reach people who might never have been reached before. The fourteen-year old boy in his room with a computer will have access to something that may talk to him in a language he understands. He may see that he is not alone and that mental health conditions can be approached in a positive way.

So hopefully you’ll join with me in spreading this message. All communication is welcome through this site or my email at timhagan123@gmail.com.

Thank you.

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