Van Gogh, Mental Health & You

Let me tell you about my personal favorite painter of all time; Vincent Van Gogh. The first time I laid my eyes on “The Starry Night” (it was a duplicate, not a real one unfortunately, sighs!), I knew immediately, right then and at that time, I knew I fell in love with it. I didn’t know falling in love and having feelings that’s indefinite to be adequately described— with a painting is possible. But it is, I fell in love with art and I never stopped loving art ever since.

As time goes by, my love for the painting developed into curiosity. There was once a saying, “curiosity killed the cat”, but as-luck-would-have-it, this time, curiosity actually helped the cat. My curiosity then led me to look through Van Gogh’s story and life, and I found out many personal and heartfelt stories from Van Gogh’s story. This is when I realized Van Gogh’s story will help me, and I decided I have to learn from Van Gogh’s mistakes and get motivated by his story.

Van Gogh’s works are seen as masterpiece by art professionals and displayed in the most prestigious museums and galleries around the world. Ironically, Van Gogh always found his art as ‘failure’. He once wrote to his brother, “I feel – a failure. That’s it as far as I’m concerned — I feel that this is the destiny that I accept, that will never change”. He too frequently criticized himself and his paintings. He’d never think in million years, that his works would be the most well-known paintings.

I then dove deep down into his personal life, outside the art and everything, I discovered that Van Gogh was suffering from severe depression, anxiety and other mental issues. He lived in a beautiful province, filled with coffee, bread and absinthe, but somehow, that still made him feel sick, unhappy and strange — he was known to have sipped on turpentine and eaten paint. He felt lonely most of the time, too. I’m sure many times you find yourself miserable, feeling unhappy, feeling like something is lost. Despite you have everything to be blessed for, you just feel lost, no matter what.

His illness got worse and in 1889, he got admitted into an asylum as a voluntary patient in France. Although his illness made him feel unable to paint, he never stopped. He painted and painted, despite his mental condition. Then came “The Starry Night”, the most beloved and well-known painting of all time. “The morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked like its in glory”. He painted the infamous art from his room in the asylum by the window. He shed all his emotions and pain into his art — he retold his tormented life into a beautiful art— which made him even more excellent, as it says about art, the personal, the better. Van Gogh would often doubt himself and believed “The Starry Night” as his number one failure. Oh Vincent, if only you knew. Due to his insecurities and self-doubts, Van Gogh only sold 1 out of his thousands of paintings all his life. This happens often in one’s life, please do remind yourself on how many times do you doubt yourself. Your works, your assignments, your choices? How many times are you your own biggest critic? Have you ever appreciated your own self ?

Not only art was his forté, he was amazing in writing too. He then started writing letters and poems. To him, they were just some scribbles, — but to the world, they are excellent works of literature and worth millions. This may apply to you too, you may find your works as failure, you may hate yourself, your body, your works — but there is someone out there who sees how amazing you are, values your works, and deep down wishes they were you. You may never know because you’re too busy hating yourself and being the biggest critic of your own works. Please, appreciate and treat yourself right. Who’s going to take care of yourself if it’s not you?

Back to his personal life, Van Gogh surrounded himself with small circle of friends. He befriended another great artist, Paul Gauguin. Nonetheless, the duo argued constantly. After their huge disagreement, Gauguin walked out and Van Gogh followed him with a razor in hand; and no, he was nowhere to hurt his friend. Instead, he cut his own ear. People see this reaction and call the artist ‘crazy’. But I don’t. In some kind of twisted ways, I do understand Van Gogh. If you find yourself in a disappointing, pressured, sad, stressful situation, it’s common to hurt yourself as a natural and quick reaction. Binge-eating, cutting, etc. — these mental health issues are found during stressful situations, it might not be as extreme as Van Gogh’s ear chop, but people do hurt themselves impulsively in this situation. I’m of course not justifying any of this harmful act, please reach out to someone if this occurs — but I do understand why Van Gogh reacted in that way.

Then why am I telling you about a deceased painter’s life and issues? Personally, I think his story might help someone who is fighting in their own battle like Van Gogh, just like how his story helped me fighting my battles. The more you pour yourself into Van Gogh’s works and story, the more you will find yourself getting back up after the storm, it’ll somehow make you feel encouraged and motivated. Let’s think about it, you can relate to Van Gogh in many ways, as I stated up there. You may have your own battles, struggles, issues. Someone will eventually find 101 ways to bring you down. You constantly doubt yourself and your works, not a single moment appreciating the hard work you’ve gone through and how far you’ve come.

Well, maybe, just maybe, if you hang on in there just a little bit, you might end up better than Van Gogh. A year after “The Starry Night”, he took his own life and never witnessed how influential he’d become in the many decades to come. He passed away thinking he was a failure. If you hang on just a moment, perhaps you’ll get to see your works being recognized, witness how successful you’ll become, find yourself finally being appreciated and treated with gentle, or finally find the true friend you always seek for. Maybe, you’ll have a room full of your works in a well-known museum just like Van Gogh did. Well maybe, if you continue to believe in yourself despite the hardships, you’ll get through it eventually and become a great person of your own. Please — please, hang on just a little bit. You will get through it.

Edited by Michelle Nishidera

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