Nostalgia after the exhibition ends

Today was the last day, and the countdown to the end was fast and bittersweet.

As I sit in the train, on the way home after 10 hours of volunteering for the last day, I looked back at the past 2 months even though my exhaustion was clouding my thoughts.

Who knew that the ideals and goals we had for the mental health awareness community art exhibition could become a reality? I’m very heartened by the whole project, and am so grateful for each and every individual I’ve met along the way. Be it volunteers or mental health patients, they’ve left indelible memories in my mind. Thank you so much.

It all started out with a mountain of fears and doubts. Will they love doing the art form we’ve chosen for them? Will they be upset by some of our questions? These doubts swirled around in our heads for the longest time but eventually we were forced to move on and put our most compassionate selves out there. It was time to facilitate the sessions, and it was time to see what many Singaporeans have been fearing.

I will have to say that because of the amount of fear we had in facilitating the sessions, we were very worried about whether we could handle the group. However, these fears just melted away after the first session because we realised one thing: they were just like us.

Sure, they might not be very responsive or show a range of emotions, but they definitely have their own struggles, interests, and hopes as well. They’re living like how all of us do. We might not know what they’re suffering from (it was confidential), but we do know that they’re living and chasing after happiness every single day like the rest of us. On some days it’s harder than the rest. But they are definitely living their lives out.

I personally feel like I’ve learnt from them a lot more than they’ve learnt from me, as cheesy as this sounds. Sure, we might’ve taught them art, but what I’ve learnt about myself through these sessions were invaluable. I’ve discovered that there’s a side of myself that is very self-conscious whenever I’m faced with someone who doesn’t respond enthusiastically or in a nice way. It was honestly tough for me during the first session. The fears were holding me back in so many ways that I couldn’t communicate with them at all. I was tongue-tied, and it was because I kept wondering if I’ll step on a sensitive topic or if I’ll say something offensive. Right after the first session, I felt extremely drained and defeated.

Unwilling to give up, I went home and thought about it. I then realised that I had to step out of my comfort zone and really open up myself to them, regardless of whether they responded or not. This self-consciousness stemmed from a place of insecurity and self-absorption, and hence i decided that I wanted to expand my energy outwards and communicate with them rather than let these fears hold me back. I didn’t want to wallow within my inner world where things are uncertain. Hence, this became my motivation for the following weeks. Focus on them. It worked!

Time passed by quickly; week after week we were taking big steps. From the proposal to buying materials to the artwork sessions, the day of the exhibition drew nearer and nearer. Soon after the sessions with the patients ended, it was time to prepare for the exhibition and showcase their artworks to the world!

Although the visitor count was at a snail’s pace during the beginning of the exhibition, I slowly started to look forward to every shift I had. The funny talks with the other volunteers were all little precious moments not to be missed. Not to forget, the setting up days were extremely fun as well. We had some hiccups here and there but eventually our lantern exhibit turned out beautiful and divine.

I couldn’t stay for the tear-down during the last day, but I don’t think I could’ve taken it if I were there. So much effort went into everything, and it was all gone within a mere span of a few hours! There was a small thunk in my chest as I felt my heart sink at videos of it being torn down. But I guess impermanence will always be a part of our lives.

I’m looking forward to next year’s exhibition, and I hope that Singapore will continue being brave and talking about things that need to be talked about. Mental illness might be invisible, but it is a very real suffering that permeates societies.

Thank you for the past 2 months, I loved it.

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