My feelings are stuck in my head…I feel like I can’t get the feelings out…
It was April 2008. JD Dehne felt like he had everything in the world a 25-year-old could want: a loving family, a new wife, a house. The next day would be the culmination of several years of study – an art show to earn his MFA from Fontbonne University. It was four years after his dad had died, and he’d taken over the family business, as well as doing his art.
That morning, JD tried to take his life. His family had no idea what he was feeling. He’d managed to hide his mixed-up feelings from everyone he knew. They didn’t know until they found him overdosed on medications and took him to the hospital. He spent a few days in ICU. JD had been feeling dramatically depressed, wasn’t sleeping and had suicidal thoughts.
“I could say and do things on the surface, but underneath, I was struggling,” he says. “I could not reveal my feelings to others.”
While in the hospital for 74 days, JD was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
On top of feeling scared, distraught, angry, distant and more – so many feelings, so many overlapping, confusing feelings – JD was bored. While in the psych ward and at aftercare, he started to sketch his hand. This was the start of something that would lead to his recovery.
An art therapist saw JD’s sketches. She asked him to draw what he was feeling. The Center gave him pastels and paper. They left him in a room by himself to do what he wanted. He wasn’t concerned about form or function…he just kept drawing. He talked to the therapist about how he was finally able to express his feelings. They were going out of his head and out to someone else for the first time in a long time. He was speaking through the drawings.
“Doing the art gave me a way to let people in,” he says.
There were so many feelings to get on paper, JD would do four to 10 drawings a day. He’d be working on the oil pastels, getting the colors all over the table, but no one minded. The feelings. Oh, the feelings would go back and forth. At lunch he’d feel hopeful, then after speaking with others, he’d be angry. Things were rapidly falling apart – the idyllic life JD had built on the outside was coming down around him. He was feeling out of control. Distant, lonely, disconnected. Meanwhile, his family worked hard to understand what was happening. They hadn’t ever known what he was feeling, because just like many families, no one talked about their feelings.
Over time, things began to change. JD started to do his artwork as a profession after being released from the hospital. Thanks to support from doctors, family and friends, he was learning how to restructure his life and do more and more.
“I feel very lucky to have had family support,” JD says. “I now understand I have these issues. There is no hiding. I realize what I need to do to stay healthy and not ignore my thoughts and feelings.”
Even though his parents look back and think about what they should’ve noticed or done, JD feels strongly that he had to go through what he went through to live the life he has now. He says that if he can just help other young people avoid going through what he and his family went through, then the show is worth it.
“If at least one person is able to communicate any depressed feelings or things they’re thinking to their friends or family members as a result of this show, then I’ll be happy,” JD says.
What he’s going through is an ongoing process…each painting is not an isolated moment in time. The paintings still represent part of what is going on in his head, if not quite in the same way.
JD writes: “While today I am very healthy and do not outwardly display any of the typical symptoms of this disease, this has come about with patience, hard work and faith.”
Today, JD continues to do his art in multiple media – oil pastels, jewelry, paper cutting, metalsmithing. He exhibits in shows both in Missouri and all over the country. He’s happy, healthy and an important creative voice for the community.
Contributed by JD Dehne