Virtue Showcase: Notes.Pictures

Art and mental health ice baths

**Originally posted to VIRTUE WORLDWIDE**

My name is Alex and I make art out of scraps of paper.

I do it to let my brain heal.

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PART ONE: “HAVE YOU TRIED JUST BEING HAPPY?”

I quit my last job because they told me to ‘smile more’. That was two years ago.

Many years before that, when I was around 10, a friend from school slept over. In the morning, we were reading the Sunday comics and eating some embarrassing, organic version of frosted mini wheats. My friend looked up at me and asked if I was ok.

Ya, why?
You’re not laughing.
I dunno. I don’t really laugh out loud that much.

Some comics were funny, but they never made me laugh. It wasn’t until years later that I learned my neutral was lower than it was supposed to be.

It takes a lot more to make me smile because my brain isn’t so good at making the happy chemicals.

Two years ago is also when I started making collages. I remember sitting on a conference call and idly cutting an image.

I immediately lost track of time.

After the call ended, I grabbed a magazine and dove in. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I got lost. I didn’t check my phone for hours and when I looked up it was suddenly dark.

I felt… relaxed?

I always knew my brain wasn’t so good at handing out oxytocin. I recently learned why.

According to my doctors, I have mild depression and generalized anxiety. They are like mental back aches that I live with, constantly. Sometimes they flare up, sometimes they play nice. But cutting up magazines made me feel like I had taken Advil for the first time in my life.

PART TWO: TAKE CARE OF WHAT YOU USE MOST

“why would he ever tell the world that?

Because there is a stigma. And there shouldn’t be. I make a living by thinking. More than likely, so do you. And even if you don’t, I’m willing to bet you spend a lot of time doing it.

We have to take care of our brains.

Professional athletes take extreme care of their bodies. Surgeons go to lengths to take care of their hands. In ad land, our job is to think creatively. We have to take care of our brains.

We all put our brains through hell daily…

The Account team has to play the bad cop to both sides of the aisle.

Planners regularly have to adjust meticulously thought-out strategies to painfully nonsensical decisions.

The Creative team is asked to birth 100 idea babies a day– and you’re told you did a ‘good job’ if one of them is alive a month later. Even luckier still, if it’s not disfigured beyond recognition.

I’m not sure how everyone in production doesn’t have ulcers.

All of us often work longer than what’s legally allowed in most developed countries.

And it’s worth it. I genuinely enjoy this industry even when it sucks. But we have to take care of ourselves.

PART 3: MENTAL HEALTH ICE BATHS

Everybody’s solution is different. But you have to find it. A way to unplug. Focus your energy on something else. Our brains don’t heal by turning our body off. The spa is great but it doesn’t turn off the chatterbox upstairs.

Brains heal when we turn that chatterbox off. Or at least shut it up for a while.

Meditation is great — but it’s also one of the most difficult methods to achieve silence. It’s far easier to find something requiring enough involvement to drown everything else out.

For me, it’s cutting up magazines.

I started making collage art 2 years ago. I was coming home after being told to ‘smile” all day while creating solutions to problems that couldn’t be solved. I needed something enveloping, yet menial, to swaddle my brain.

At the time, we had just commissioned a bunch of collage artists for a client. Unlike most mediums, I was drawn to the idea of collage since you didn’t start with something to say. You started with a magazine and hoped different parts would look ok next to each other. There was no reason to it. It was simply about what was evoked when the right set of ingredients were put together.

And I fell in love with the process.

Hunched over a magazine with an x-acto knife, the noise of the world dims. The inner dialogue stops. And the oxytocin pipeline dilates just enough. What I make isn’t a portrait of what I feel, but what I feel is an ingredient in what I make, and I get to transfer it from my skull to the paper. I get to stop carrying the weight of the day around with me and I walk into the office much lighter the next day. Like an athlete waking up without the joint pain they’ve endured for years.

So with this, I want to encourage you —with everything I have —to find a way to unwind.

If you spend all day working out your brain, please find your version of an ice bath. You don’t need to have a mental health diagnosis, or have trouble smiling. You don’t even have to be stressed out. But you do have to take care of your brain the best you can…

Meditate. Go somewhere with trees. Color in coloring books. Play sports. Read fiction. Bake.

Do something that allows you to get lost.

Find a process you can fall in love with. Something that is all consuming, where you can submerge your brain and let it disconnect. And if, while in your process, you find hours feel like minutes, you’re on the right track.

PART FOUR: SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

I don’t care a ton for promoting myself. But I do care about opening a discussion surrounding mental health and how to take care of your brain. So here are some places you can see more about how I’ve taken care of mine:

You can see select things I’ve made, dating back for the past 2 years, on Instagram: @notes.pictures

You can see an unedited display of everything I’ve made in 2018 on tumblr

You can read an interview I did recently with Amsterdam art publication Beyond Photography here.

You can email me about buying anything you see: alex.morris@vice.com

Now go find some ice.