I was browsing the web for artists, books, images to feature in this essay when a notice popped up in my inbox that Richard McLean was now following me on Twitter. As is my habit, I popped over to Twitter to look at Richard’s profile. His profile revealed that he is a visual artist as well as a writer. I immediately followed him back and clicked on his website to look at his work, and I liked what I saw.
I wrote Richard a message and told him I would like to feature his artwork and his book, Recovered, Not Cured: A Journey Through Schizophrenia in an essay. He was gracious and open to the idea.
I purchased and read the book, Recovered, Not Cured: A Journey Through Schizophrenia. As someone who has schizophrenia, and who has read many books about the illness, I thought this book was one of the best I have read in describing the often slow progress from “normal life” into full-blown psychosis. Richard’s description of hearing voices and what they say to him, his paranoia about being recorded, and the messages and meanings he finds in the most common events (like messages sent to him through license plate numbers) were so accurate. The book brought up so many uncomfortable memories for me surrounding my illness that I frequently had to take a break and turn my focus to something else. I have asked people I know to read the book for a better understanding of what it is like to live with schizophrenia.
The book is unique in that it contains Richard’s memories, e-mails, and posts from people who either struggle with schizophrenia or have a family member who does, and it has many sketches that Richard explains regarding his illness (delusions, hallucinations, etc.)
After reading the book, I contacted Richard again and asked him if I could send him some questions. He agreed. What follows is our communication through writing. Richard can tell you about his artwork and life in his words.
Me: Do you mind if I bring up the fact that you have schizophrenia?
Richard: I do not mind you mentioning I suffer from schizophrenia, a lot of other people mention me in the context of ‘being schizophrenic’ — I am not — I am a holistic being who happens to suffer from a chemical imbalance.
Me: Besides your first book, how has schizophrenia influenced your writing, and/or your artwork?
Richard: Schizophrenia has been my muse and a lifetime enemy. I would not wish it upon anyone. Recovered, Not Cured: A Journey Through Schizophrenia was the first book I wrote, and it was very cathartic for me. The art catalogue, Ego & Soul, is a collection of images spanning fifteen years that reflects both well times and unwell times.
Me: On your website there is information about you working toward a Ph.D. What are you studying?
Richard: My Ph.D is in the College of Education at Victoria University, Melbourne. In it, I am working with young people of 15 or 16 to talk to them about their ethical concerns of artificial intelligence, super-intelligence, and trans-humanism. I am writing a factual novel about technology and the world up until the present day, and then the narratives recorded with my focus group will inform a positive, negative, and indifferent outcome for humanity. So the novel is part autoethnographic and utilizes fiction as research to investigate the future through young people’s eyes.
Me: Do you think having schizophrenia has hindered your success in any way?
Richard: It depends on how you define success. If success is weighed by helping your fellow man and creating with your passions your whole life, then I am extremely fortunate. If it means having stable housing and being periodically unwell over your entire life, then it has affected be extremely adversely. I have been near homeless quite a few times and lived in sub-standard accommodation a lot of times. Luckily I have had friends and family to assist on my journey.
Me: Has schizophrenia contributed to your success?
Richard: If it were not for that muse I would not have been a published author before the age of thirty. Also, even though it has been hugely debilitating, utilizing a kind of spiritual alchemy, my illness has taught me so much. I would not be the open-minded and placid person today had it not been for such a powerful disruption many times.
Me: Is there something you would like people to know about your work?
Richard: I would like people to be demystified about what schizophrenia is. I would like people not to use old analogies of the word ‘schizophrenia’ such as to describe the weather. I would like the world to know I am grateful for sharing my story many times. I would like them to know recovery is possible and likely the older you get. I would like people affected by schizophrenia not to give up, and to know that often with the right medication and most importantly, holistic treatment, things do improve, and you can live a happy life of meaning.
Me: Would you say writing or drawing is your preference?
Richard: My preference for writing and drawing changes over the years depending what time it is and what space I was inhabiting. Sometimes I had no place to draw because of unsuitable housing. It’s a little-known fact too that I have sung and played guitar in bands for many years, something I wish I had not have given up because it brought me much joy and was also cathartic. In the space and time, I am in now, writing is my muse, but in a different way the writing is about someone else, I have removed myself from the first person in a conscious way.
Me: Has anyone influenced your writing or artwork? If so, who?
Richard: Ego and Soul was made on the premise that I wanted to create a visual narrative like Saul Steinberg, from the New Yorker magazine. I find his illustration both naïve and incredibly politically insightful. (I named my Golden Retriever after him — my dog has survived nine house moves and four relationships — he is my best friend!)
Me: Has anyone with a mental illness influenced your work?
Richard: My exposure to the many people I have come into contact with came after I wrote my autobiography, so when I wrote it I was well, illustrating for a major newspaper, The Age, here in Melbourne, and I did not know that many people with a mental illness. Sadly I battled it alone for many years. Hence, not many people with a mental illness influenced that book, although now that has changed significantly.
Me: Do you have a piece of artwork or a book that you are the proudest of, or that you think represents you the best?
Richard: Recovered, Not Cured… is the best book I could have written at the time. I feel like I could write another ten books on my experiences since then. I am proud that that book has helped many people, and I still receive thank you emails from around the world. That makes me happy.
Ego & Soul, is a book in which there is an exhaustive amount of work. That represents me over a fifteen year period of light and dark. I am proud of that book, but also proud of where I journeyed to next in Back to Basics: 50 Recent Drawings. It proves that there can be a different journey and visual language. My children’s book, Grogan the Monster in… What Do You Love? (You can watch a portion of this illustrated book here). I am proud of this book because 25% of royalties go to the Royal Children’s Hospital’s mental health unit for young people here in Melbourne. It is a light-hearted, colourful and happy book and I was in touch with my inner child. It allows me not to function in the role of advocate or person affected with schizophrenia but importantly moves me into the realm of children’s book writer and illustrator who can help a cause I am passionate about. I can say I have distanced myself from the public speaking and advocacy. I did for many years. I prefer to distance myself from repeating the un-wellness story especially doing my Ph.D.
Me: Is there anything you want people to know about your life or your work?
Richard: I am very grateful I have had the chance to live my passions and like my work to be appreciated. I share because I think it’s a great thing to express myself to a wide audience and encourage other people to do the same. Everyone has a story! I am grateful and thank you for being interested in my ongoing story.