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Artist Miguel Colon on community and learning to see himself

New York artist Miguel Colon suffered for years before finally receiving a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, during a hospitalization. In the psychiatric ward, he did a lot of drawing, working on a graphic novel and realizing the “life-affirming” nature of creativity and how it brought other people to him. Colon offers his brief but spectacular take on learning to see himself.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We continue our Canvas series now with tonight's Brief But Spectacular and New York-based artist Miguel Colon.

    He is a member of Fountain House. It's an organization dedicated to supporting individuals with mental illness.

  • Miguel Colon:

    I often wonder about how people see me. Sometimes, in A.A. meetings, I talk about that I'm dual-diagnosis and that I also have mental illness. And I worry that I'm putting myself in a vulnerable position.

    The first time I went to a therapist and a psychiatrist was probably when I was around 23 years old. I have been told that I seem like I'm high-functioning. I really didn't receive a definite diagnosis until my most recent hospitalization, which is schizoaffective, bipolar type.

    I had been hearing voices, and I was also, I believe, experiencing things that may not have been happening. And I felt that the whole world was out to get me. And I checked myself into the hospital.

    When I was in the psych ward, I was drawing a lot. I was working on this graphic novel, and it just sort of kept me doing something that was life-affirming and enriching. And then, too, people would sort of see me working on it and come around and want to know what I was working on. So it was — there was a social component to it also.

    The first time I started drawing was when I was 4 years old. I was really, really shy. And I remember, when they dropped me off in Head Start, I was, you know, just like clinging to this wall. And I saw this poster of Thor, and I remember looking at it and thinking, I want to do that. I can do that.

    One of my main influences, which a lot of people actually see in my work, which I love, is Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist who worked in fresco. And he is a big influence of mine because of his social justice murals.

    While I was in the hospital, I found out about Fountain House. It's a social club for people with mental illness. And I thought, wow, the very thing, you know? Because with mental illness and also with addiction and alcoholism, what we tend to do is isolate.

    At Fountain House, we can be supportive of each other, and there are no judgments. And if you're feeling symptomatic, you're still a functioning member of Fountain House, and everybody cares about you and you're valid.

    Self-portraits are hard, because I sometimes see things about myself that are kind of difficult to see. I tend to downplay myself a lot. A lot of times, my friends in recovery will tell me I'm a good person that is a source of goodness and is valid.

    My name is Miguel Colon, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on learning to see myself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So uplifting.

    And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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