Cj Swaby interviews artist Jaime Medina Jimenez on homelessness, health and the power of art.
Cj: When did you discover your talent for art?
Jaime: For as long as I can remember I have really loved drawing. I wanted to go to art school when I was 18 but due to family circumstances I felt I had to do something more vocational and went to study mechanical engineering instead. My heart wasn’t in it and I ended up leaving after 4 years before my degree finished.
Cj: What does art and painting do for you?
Jaime: It’s really a way to understand myself and it helps me deal with thoughts and feelings that I find I can’t or don’t want to express in words. I had continued to draw but didn’t actually take up painting until I’d returned from a difficult trip to Chile and having to process issues that not being with my daughter created.
Cj: What made you decide to get involved in health and fitness?
Jaime: Whilst I was studying mechanical engineering I started to swim for my University. I became really focused and passionate about it and took it very seriously. It introduced me to a different group of people and I started going to some of their classes at Uni. It finally convinced me that my heart really wasn’t in engineering and I took up Physical Education and Sports Science instead.
Cj: I understand when you came to the UK you only had enough money for your course and slept on the streets. Tell me about that experience?
Jaime: I tried to view it as an adventure and had a strong sense that it wasn’t going to be forever, I guess many people who end up on the streets may feel like that. I didn’t realise it was going to be so hard or so cold though. It was just before Christmas and it was absolutely freezing. I spent hours just traveling around on the night buses to try and keep warm. I don’t remember being scared or feeling lonely. It was just a case of having to get through it, there really wasn’t time to feel sorry for myself.
Cj: Do you think that experience helped you later on?
Jaime: I think it has made me a more compassionate less judgmental person. It gave me an insight into how easy it is for lives to change. I try hard not to judge people because of their circumstances and I don’t put much value on material goods. When I reflect on that time I think that despite everything I must have hidden reserves. Most importantly it taught me that there is a great deal of kindness out there.
CJ: I understand that you experienced several episodes of depression in your life. Tell me about that and how did you over come them?
Jaime: I have suffered from Panic Attacks and depression since childhood. I rejected it when I was younger and I think that made it harder to deal with. There is so much stigma surrounding mental health problems but I try to be fairly open about it. For me they tend to worsen following stressing periods of time in my life and issues that are out of my control. I am not sure I have overcome them; I just try to deal with each day as it comes. There are good and bad days all the time. I do take medication and find that taking quiet time to reflect at some point during the day help me. Having external distractions is a coping method and although it may sound silly everyday I try and find something beautiful about life. So many people pass their moods onto others, you know they’re in a bad mood because they were cut up by a driver and they then pass this onto the next person, who then then passes it on. I deal with the same issues as others but try really hard not to take those moods out on others.
CJ: How has painting and fitness helped you?
Jaime: As I mentioned having an external focus rather than internalising all my thoughts work well for me. Both exercise and fitness demand sustained focus. This allows me to shut out all those external factors that influence my mood.
Cj: Do you think there is an opportunity for art and fitness to help improve peoples mental health? \ Why do you think it isn’t that widely used?
Jaime: Absolutely. I think exercise is gaining recognition in this area. The challenge is getting people with long term mental health problems to participate in them. Group activities may work but even people not dealing with mental health issues find it difficult to motivate themselves in this area. I think it’s about working with the individual; there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. Art is a recognised therapeutic tool in mental health therapy, giving individuals the chance to express themselves and what they are going through. I believe it is used in many inpatient treatment centres but these are very costly and the focus is on treating the acute incident and getting people back to the community. The infrastructure needs to improve to help people access groups, transport, lunch etc etc.
Cj: Tell me about your latest exhibition. What inspired this?
Jaime: My latest exhibition was inspired by how we absorb the messages society and the media give us without even being aware we are doing it. It was partly inspired by my friendship with a homeless guy and his wife and listening to his story.
Cj: What message do you want to convey with your art?
Jaime: I guess it depends on each piece of work. With this one I’d just like people to take time to reflect on how society views the individual how they fit into the landscape.
Cj: What are your influences?
Jaime: Gerhard Richter, Turner and Roberto Matta.
Cj: With all that you have experienced in life, what would you say to someone who struggles with depression?
Jaime: Don’t try and deal with it in isolation. Do try and seek help, whether that is medication, counselling or whatever works for you. Don’t feel ashamed.
Cj: What about struggling with their health?
Jaime: Similar to mental health really, go and see the right people, don’t ignore it things get worse. As I said I ignored it for years and ended up getting help only in a crisis. Try and avoid that happening.
Cj: And what about advice for the artist?
Jamie: Go for it. It is a wonderful experience putting your feelings and ideas on a canvas and getting feedback is amazing… good and bad feedback.
CJ: Any closing thoughts?
Jaime: Be positive. Don’t give up on your dreams. One size doesn’t fit all and it will take time to find the right answer for you.
See Jaime’s work here
Cj M Swaby is a Coach Writer and Speaker. He specialises in Personal Growth, Fitness, Health, Humour and Change. www.innertruthcoaching.co.uk
Photo: Provided by the author