“I moved to Brisbane yesterday. I’m an artist in American Traditional. I’m considered a flash painter.”

What’s a flash painter?

“Where you paint several designs over each other on one piece of paper. I use water colours.”

“I’m living with my aunty. I was working at a tattoo shop, doing an apprenticeship, but that didn’t work out. I want to be a tattoo artist.”

What’s your fascination with tattoo artistry?

“Since I was a kid I had an interest in tattoos and drawing on people. I always drew on everyone when I was a kid. Even in school. The other kids really liked it. It made me feel great. It made me feel like who I wanted to be instead of just being isolated in school.”

Are you an introvert?

“Yes. Artists. We’re all misfit introverts.”

Isn’t “misfit” being a bit hard on us?

“It’s hard to say I’m not a misfit. I really am. I’ve always not belonged. I’d rather be who I want to be then pretend to be someone I’m not. I’d rather be an outcast and do my own thing. I might still feel only but it’s better than being lonely with people.”

You mentioned you’ve been through a lot of shit.

“It’s a slow process in my head. I go through phases where I’m headstrong, then I’m vulnerable and weak. I’m really life smart. But then I ask myself where does that get me? And I think, well, I can pass it along to my friends. Even that gives me a sense of belonging because I’m helping. Even if it’s just doing a little thing like buying a coffee for someone, it’s helping. I love those brief moments of connecting with someone you don’t know.”

A lot of the people I’ve talked with who have been through the most trauma are also the most open, the most generous.

“Trauma makes you vulnerable so you become more open. I have a friend with bipolar and I help her a lot and that gives me a balance.”

In what way?

“I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anorexia.”

You look like you’ve got everything under control.

“At this point I have things under control. It’s a constant process. A really long process. I was diagnosed five years ago with anorexia and was hospitalized for a month. Now I pace myself, day by day. It’s like any mental illness.”

How do people react when they find out you have anorexia and PTSD?

“It’s like any mental illness. Some people are intimidated and don’t want to acknowledge it, others are more open and want to know more about it. I was asked to do a conference for university kids. It was organized through a mental health hospital. It was a really strange feeling because they wanted to hear my insights. They were all taking notes about what I said and the things I’d learned. It was a weird feeling of being listened to and feeling important. I think a lot of people with mental illness don’t get listened to and that continues the cycle and makes you feel more isolated.”

“It’s weird, I feel like it’s becoming more normal to have a mental illness. More people I meet and know have some sort of illness.”

We talked more about why this could be. Is society becoming more fragmented or are we open to discuss things more freely or a combination of the two?

What would you say to others who may be at some of those dark points you’ve experienced?

“Mental illness is a long process. When you’re mentally ill you forget that. You’re so caught up in your own head. You never really heal. It’s a constant process of just being OK. I think OK is under-rated.”

Yes, I agree. All this talk about pursuing happiness is unrealistic. We can’t be happy all the time, it denies us the depth of human emotions. 

“You appreciate being happy or just all right if you’ve been sad. What is happiness? It’s just being OK.”

Do you know what triggered your PTSD?

“I was abused as a child. I was eight. I’ve been in counselling since I was eight. I remember the abuse, but I don’t remember telling my mum. She says I told her when she was helping me in the bath. When I told my parents they didn’t believe me.”

And now?

“My mum sort of believes me now. She tries to support me when I really feel stressed. With PTSD it’s like reliving the situation you were in. I need to curl up and cry for a bit.”

“It was someone I trusted. He’s still around. Sexual abuse is still just swept under the rug because it’s easier for people to deal with it that way.”

After all you’ve been through, I see an open, generous, compassionate young woman.

“I could never be bitter. It wouldn’t be good for me.”

What’s your way forward?

“I can’t see my way forward. It’s just to cope. It’s easier to focus on just coping, my art, my friends.”

I met and was inspired by Steff at Bean. as part of the Anywhere Festival, 6 May 2016. The feature image is one of her sketches that she emailed me after we talked.