Chato B. Stewart: Humor As A Gift To Deal With Mental Illness

Chato Stewart has been afflicted with major depression and bi-polar disorder.  I have used his cartoons on the blog as I believe humor can be a tool in combatting mental illness.  Chato graciously agreed to write something for the blog and I pray you might come away with a few insights and a smile on your face.  Allan

Hi, my name is Chato and I live with a mental illness and I can evict him!  I’m what you might call a mental health humorist .  I’ve been married to the same woman for 18 years and we have 4 rug rats and a dog.  I love my wife and kids dearly and like every good parent we have our moments.  Here is a cartoon I did that reflected a moment of my life with my kids…

To some people when they hear the words “Mental Health” or “Mental Illness” some times they just want to run! When diagnosed, we might have felt why would God do such a thing to people?  Well, it’s not God but rather our own inherited Adamic sin… Yes, it goes back to Adam and Eve!  We are imperfect and with that imperfection comes all sorts of aliments, diseases and eventual death.

It is estimated that more than 330 million people worldwide suffer from serious depression.  What do you think the number would be if you add the host of other disorders that many of us live with today?  In the billions, no doubt.

How can a man or woman maintain their faith in the wake of mental illness?  Is there something new? Well, look back in time for a moment.  Did you know even many of  God’s faithful prophets dealt with symptoms that can only be described as depressive and anxious and even suicidal??!!

So for me, I find comfort in reading the Bible to help maintain my battle of mental recovery.  I read this the other day and found that it helped reinforce my faith.

Support From the Christian Congregation

The Bible admonishes all Christians to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and to “be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) How can you do this? First, it is important to understand the distinction between mental and spiritual illness. For example, the Bible writer James indicated that prayer can make the spiritually indisposed one well. (James 5:14, 15)  Nevertheless, Jesus acknowledged that those who are physically ailing need a physician. (Matthew 9:12) Of course, it is always right and helpful to pray to Jehovah about any concern, including our health. (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6, 7) But the Bible does not state that increased spiritual activity in and of itself will cure present medical problems.

Discerning Christians, therefore, avoid implying that depressed people are responsible for their own suffering. Such remarks would be no more helpful than those offered by Job’s false comforters. (Job 8:1-6) The fact is that in many cases depression will not improve unless it is treated medically. This is especially so when a person is severely depressed, perhaps even suicidal. In such cases, professional attention is essential..

While it has taken me a long time to rebuild my own faith, I am happy to be assured from the Bible that I’m not alone and it can be done.

Do you remember reading the scripture about faith?  Went something like, “Faith without works is dead.”  Well, this goes the same with living with a mental illness.  If we don’t take action toward our own recovery, then we might be a statistic.

See, sadly we who live with mood disorders and psychiatric disabilities and co-occurring disorders have 20% higher suicide rate!  In order to avoid falling into that number, we need to want to get better.  We need to stop being the victim and become the advocate for our own health.  How? It all starts with one little word… HOPE!

Once we can find hope again, then we are on our road to recovery…  I like to think of the movie “What About Bob” when I talk to people about recovery.  If you have seen the movie, you’ll understand the “baby steps” idea, but really that is something we have to do… Take Baby Steps!  If you have not seen the movie, it’s worth the rental.

See, I love to laugh; I love to make others laugh too.  I have always tried to “find the funny” while dealing with adversity in my life.  It can be hard and on many occasions I just couldn’t.  Still the power behind a laugh or in humor can be enormous and healthy as well.

It took me till I went to the bottom of the proverbial bucket of life in order to find a way to use humor as not only a coping skill for me but a way to help others.

I went through a familiar process many of us go through with being diagnosed with a mental illness.  Medication side affects and the occasional psychotic breaks and the trips to the local Crisis Stabilization Unit.   I could go on and on about all the bad stuff that happened but that’s not important.  What is important is that struggling with mental illness allowed me to tap into some limited artistic abilities with my sense of mental health humor to be about helping myself in my recovery and make thousands laugh as they live with their lot in life.

While on vacation in the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) in March 2008, I started to journal, but it came out like a comic book… I just drew cartoons about my stay  and did cartoons for the kids in the Juvenile ward.  The kids loved them so much.  It made them laugh and gave them something to color.  When my vacation was over, I had a thought. Wow, I knew humor can really help heal, but I never thought of it when it comes to the seriousness of mental health. Thinking about it more, I wondered why we don’t see cartoons about mental health from our perspective? You know, the more I thought about it, I could not find many cartoons how we, as consumers see events and things might be funny or humorous in a cartoon. I searched the web and only found a few but mostly they were about the therapist, or psychiatrist or a joke with someone on a couch…

So, I thought some more, and I will quote the kids’ Animated film, Robots, “See a need, fill a need.” I could help fill the need by drawing cartoons about a subject that many people would want to avoid talking about… Mental Health! Maybe with the cartoons, I can help a few consumers by putting a smile on their faces using humor to heal.  So, after making sure this idea was not some grandiosity symptom of my Bipolar Disorder I set about making and drawing the cartoons.

That was over a year and half ago and my website, blog and cartoon-a-thon sites has had over 175,000 unique visits to view my catalog of over 200 cartoons.  With 60,000 coming to see some of the cartoons above that I drew for the May 2009 Cartoon-A-Thon. This was the second year for the cartoon-a-thon for Mental Health Awareness Month and I can’t wait till next year.

The cartoons are not for everybody, but each one I’ve drawn has helped me personally. Art therapy has kept me balanced and focused on being well.  This by itself makes the cartoons  successful.

The idea has never changed.  It’s simple and it works! Yes, using humor as a positive coping skill for mental illness is a great tool to have. I know the cartoons wont change the world, but maybe I can change the way some of us live with mental illness and to be able to find humor in it. Mental Illness is serious but does not mean the way we deal with it has to be.  So it is my goal to help a few of my peers to be able laugh and find humor, even if it’s one cartoon at a time.

Chato B.  Stewart
Mental Health Advocate – Cartoonist – and a few other  things!
http://www.mentalhealthhumor.com
Friend me on Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/chato.b.stewart

—–END

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9 Responses

  1. Now, that is cool! (not to mention a great follow-up to your previous post!)

    So, now I want to know what he thought of the Psycho Donut shop?

  2. Owen, he responded to that article and I’ll reprint it here. Come to think of it this is a perfect follow up!

    “Chato Here from http://WWW.MentalHealthHumor.com It might surprise you to know that i’m 98% against the “Psycho Donuts”… As a business man I understand their idea to have a concept donuts shop… The subject matter and the way they presented is what all the problem is about.

    I’ve avoided talked much about this place for the share reason I did not want to give them any more free press… I even have held a cartoon I did about until the convection sugar dust settles.

    With all the hub-bub about the donuts people forget that the shop was built to resemble a padded room with a nurses serving the sweets. And you can get your photo take in a straitjacket with on of the staff…. This to me is 100% more offensive then the donuts and the name…

    Then again I know I would not want to bite into anything that makes fun of me…

    Any way that is my 2cents”

  3. I love What About Bob? “I’m sailing!” :)

    I also love to see God putting Romans 8:28 into practice. He never turns a bad thing into good, but He does bring good OUT OF a bad situation. And that encourages all of us and brings Him glory.

    Thanks for using your gift of a sense of humor to help all of us remember to not take ourselves too seriously. Humor definitely can help get us through some tough days.

    I talk a lot about my friend with MS who’s in a wheelchair. Hers is, of course, a physical disease rather than a mental one, but her sense of humor is an inspiration to people who find themselves in any difficult situation. I remember once she was talking about her husband looking for her in a crowd and she joked that the description of her that he could give was, “she’s about this tall (holding her hand up about 4 feet off the ground) and she has wheels on the side.” We just laughed and laughed. She does that all the time, and for the most part, doesn’t let her painful MS get her down and she holds onto her faith in Jesus and the fact that He has a purpose in allowing it. Good lessons for anyone.

    Dorci

  4. Dorci, I watched that movie last night! A sense of humor can be a powerful thing in the life of anyone. For those whose despair is heavy I pray the cloud will lift so that they are able to smile and then to laugh. I wonder how much Jesus laughed?

  5. I know, I’ve wondered that about Jesus, too. I liked the scene in The Passion of the Christ, early in the movie when he’s being silly with his mom. So sweet. But ya gotta know that 13 guys hanging out together, day and night, for 3 years, they had to have laughed together a lot.

    You know, I believe I’ve heard that laughing actually creates endorphins in your body like exercise does. Interesting.

  6. My doc says laughter, exercise, and prayer create endorphins in the body. Having dealt with double depression, I find I simply must have a bit of each every day! “What About Bob” is one of our family favorites!

  7. Julie, Those are great tips for everybody but especially important when struggling with mental illness. A fiend of mine has a company built around the benefits of endorphins. He speaks to young people and uses endorphins as an alternative to drug and alcohol use. Thanks for dropping by!

  8. Quick update – I just won the DBSA Facing Us video Contest once the video is posted I’ll send you the link.

    Here is the link with the winners listed.
    http://www.facinguscontest.org

    Thx

  9. Chato, Congratulations on all of your hard work. Merry Christmas!!

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