Comics sind ja nicht jedermanns/jederfraus Sache, das Medium wird oft als „kindisch“ angesehen und für viele endet die Zeit des Lesens von gezeichneten Geschichten nachdem irgendwann in der frühen Pubertät die Micky Maus-Hefte eingemottet wurden. Wer (wie ich) die Gelegenheit verpasst hat, sich von der Faszination für Graphic Novels anstecken zu lassen landet schlussendlich vielleicht als Leserin oder Leser bei einem regelmäßigen erscheinenden Webcomic, von denen es eine schiere Unzahl gibt, Auswahlhilfen gäbe es zum Beispiel bei BuzzfeedPaste und Webcomics

Ich selbst lese eigentlich nur drei Webcomics regelmäßig und zwar The OatmealZen Pencils (die beide meist recht kurze, in sich abgeschlossene Geschichten erzählen) und Asylum Squad (das schon fast in die Kategorie Graphic Novel fällt und eine längere Geschichte erzählt) und für welches an dieser Stelle eine Leseempfehlung an alle Ergotherapeutinnen und Ergotherapeuten, die im Fachbereich Psychiatrie tätig sind, ausgesprochen werden soll, weil es einen tiefen Blick in das Erleben von Klientinnen und Klienten in psychiatrischen Abteilungen ermöglicht und auch bestimmte Facetten der Personal-Klient-Interaktion, die vor allem auf Akutstationen immer wieder auftreten, sehr gut abbildet. (Alle Artikelbilder mit freundlicher Genehmigung von Saraƒin via Asylum Squad)

Das Setting von Asylum Squad

Asylum Squad erzählt die Geschichte der (fiktionalen) Charaktere Liz Madder, Henry Chan, Cath Schneider und Sarah Loveheart, die alle mit psychischen Auffälligkeiten gesegnet sind – die Palette reicht hierbei von Gesprächen mit einem gestaltwandelnden Pferdekopfdämon über den Glauben der einzig wahre jüdische Messias zu sein und mit Prominenten weltweit in telepathischem Kontakt zu stehen bis hin zu einem verflossenen Liebhaber, der in verkleinerter Form in einem Weihnachtskaktus lebt – sich in der (ebenfalls fiktiven) psychiatrischen Klinik St. Dymphna’s kennen lernen, Erfahrungen austauschen und Gemeinsamkeiten (und Verschiedenheiten) entdecken. All zu viel soll an dieser Stelle von der Geschichte nicht verraten sein, außer vielleicht dass sich die vier für die Pilotstudie einer neuen Therapieform bei Schizophrenie bewerben, oft mit dem Personal aneinandergeraten und feststellen müssen dass die Situation nicht unbedingt einfacher wird, wenn dann mal Freunde auf Besuch kommen.

Die Künstlerin hinter Asylum Squad

Gezeichnet wird Asylum Squad von Saraƒin, die in Toronto/Kanada lebt, studiert und arbeitet. Saraƒin wurde eigenen Angaben zufolge nach einer Psychose für ein Jahr im stationären psychiatrischen Setting behandelt und wurde schlussendlich mit der Diagnose Schizoaffektive Störung entlassen. Sie ist seit vielen Jahren in der Mad Pride-Bewegung in Toronto aktiv, die sich unter anderem für eine Psychiatriereform einsetzt. Die ersten 44 Strips von Asylum Squad entstanden während ihres stationären Aufenthalts und dienten ihr in dieser Zeit sowohl als sinnvolle und relevante Betätigung als auch als Bewältigungsinstrument ihres Zustandes. Asylum Squad ist seit 1. Dezember 2011 online, bisher wurden mehr als 168 einseitige Strips in schwarz-weiss veröffentlicht die eine packende Geschichte erzählen und tiefe Einblicke in psychotische Zustände ermöglichen.

Screenshot von Asylum Squad Strip One

Interview mit Saraƒin

Saraƒin war so freundlich sich im August 2013 für ein Interview per E-Mail zur Verfügung zu stellen, welches die Intention hatte den Menschen hinter dem Comic „greifbarer“ zu machen – ich freue mich, euch spannende Antworten auf (hoffentlich) spannende Fragen präsentieren zu können…

handlungs:plan: Hi Saraƒin and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers – let me start with the obvious one: what is the story behind the alias you’re using as a comic artist?

Saraƒin: Saraƒin was an old nickname I was given at a job where I built props for theatre. It is a cross between my first and last names.

handlungs:plan: Your biography on MentalHelp.net states that you started Asylum Squad during a longer admission on a psychiatric ward while recovering from psychosis, how did you spend your days in the hospital before you started drawing the comic and was there a single event that led you to starting it?

Saraƒin: Before I began the comic, I was trying to find ways to express myself creatively, as there was little to no recreational therapy on that ward, other than a television, ping pong, a piano, the radio, and a computer that was later whisked away from us. I started posting the strips online on a blog once I got passes to go off the grounds. I was trying to reinvent an earlier edition of the comic by changing the writing while leaving the art as it was before, but it was not working, so I decided to start these strips, as an exercise, and it went from there. I called them Asylum Squad Side Story because it was a „side project“ to the one I would inevitably abandon. Kind of an awkward name, but it stuck anyway. Also, the characters stories run alongside each other, so it works in that respect.

handlungs:plan: You were diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, can you tell us something about the symptoms you were experiencing that led to your admission and why you prefer not to use this diagnostic label for yourself? How would you personally describe your condition?

Saraƒin: I was experiencing voices and visions, and bodily sensations, along with kinetic movements and channeling. My paranoid thoughts, based on fear, led to an incident that brought me to the hospital. I don’t believe that I have schizoaffective disorder, because my condition has been anything but degenerate – in fact, I am clearer in thought, happier, more in touch with myself, and more productive than ever before, and so I see this as a form of psychospiritual growth that has been misinterpreted. For a while, I believed I was possessed, but now I suspect I have a phenomenon known as kundalini transformation, which is a yogic experience that is a metamorphosis of the mind, which can sometimes be accompanied by psychotic-like symptoms, if there are mental blocks. I do take a medication to quieten the visions and voices, however, it puzzles me that my diagnosis would include mood disorder components, when I was neither manic nor depressed through this whole experience. But they had to call it something, and that was the closest description in the DSMI guess!

handlungs:plan: Which day-to-day-circumstances were the most strenuous ones during your admission and, in terms of institutional offers, what have you considered helpful for your recovery?

Saraƒin: The most strenuous experiences were because of the oppressive nature of the ward, which was simultaneously harsh and infantilizing, and an insult to human dignity and respect. Some nurses didn’t seem to understand that we were not stupid. The doctors weren’t much help either, and would swan in, dispense basic common sense guidance, reinforce labels and drug regimens, and then disappear. It was a holding facility more than it was a care facility. Often I spent many hours in locked seclusion just for crying too much. :/ As far as institutional offerings go, I didn’t take anything the doctors told me seriously about my condition because I find the label schizoaffective disorder stigmatizing and counterproductive to recovery/development, except now I admit that medication has helped me through this, and I plan on staying on it for the time being. I don’t expect to be on it forever, though, because I keep strengthening in all areas of my being. So yeah, the hospital didn’t really offer anything helpful for my recovery/development, other than an interesting challenge to overcome = not going crazier! xD

handlungs:plan: As how essential do you perceive the time you spent in the hospital to your recovery from your present point of view?

Saraƒin: The one thing I can say is that the hospital taught me patience, how to withstand mind crushing boredom, and how to tame anger. This is not due to any therapy I received (because there was none), it was due to my pursuit of inner peace in a turbulent and oppressive situation. It taught me to see beauty in bleak scenarios, to laugh misery in the face. I read a lot of self help and inner wisdom books, I strolled the grounds, watched the birds, prayed and meditated in the garden. I knew that I could not escape the asylum, but I could improve my outlook on life, and in a sense that was a form of escape.

handlungs:plan: Have you participated at Occupational Therapy-sessions during your stay and, if yes, did you have any benefits from Occupational Therapy for your recovery?

Saraƒin: No. 🙂

handlungs:plan: Is there any (general) advice from your experiences you would like to give to people admitted to a psychiatric institution, especially (since I work at one) on closed wards?

Saraƒin: Make sure you have friends and family on your side, if you are so fortunate, because staff, I’ve noted (not all, but some) sometimes don’t really listen to their patients, or come down hard in ridiculous ways. Recently a doctor wanted me on a community treatment order (forced medication outpatient) because a drug I was prescribed was preventing me from sleeping, so I skipped taking it a couple of nights out of desperation. It was only when my family was outraged at this suggestion in a meeting that the doctor backed down. I have dealt with these attitudes far too often in psychiatry from the very people who are supposed to be treating me, and it’s important not to get too angry, because it will be used against you. Try to find inner peace, don’t let assholes get to you, find humor in suffering, and remember that life gets better if you stay positive. Do research on the drugs prescribed to you… seek out empowerment councils or groups who support psychiatric survivors to find the best treatment options out there. And have faith that you can recover!

handlungs:plan: The main characters in Asylum Squad are very colorful – are they rather based on people you met during your stay in the hospital or fictional?

Saraƒin: They are loosely based on friends of mine from high school, but have grown to be radically different from the real people, overtime. Sarah is based on me at my worst during this course of events, but I changed her story a bit as well. All the characters are aspects of me, too.

handlungs:plan: Asylum Squad is – in my opinion – a real joy to read, especially for people familiar with psychiatric institutions (employee or client, doesn’t matter) – is the storyline developing gradually or is there any „big plan“ in the background you’re following – or in other words: do you already know how Asylum Squad ends?

Saraƒin: I have a loose set of ideas for the direction I am taking, I am still fine tuning later chapters of the story. Often it takes many rewrites to get things the way I want them to be, and I receive guidance in how to correct flaws in the story, using automatic handwriting and vocal channeling. I am actually still learning who my characters are, because I am still learning who I am. (Taking some writing classes really helped, as well.)

handlungs:plan: How long does it usually take you to draw one strip, if the idea for the events is already existing?

Saraƒin: A page can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to complete, from start to finish, if I’m on a roll creatively. I have the script planned out, and simply visualize how the story would be told if it was an animated film, and I capture the film on paper. This is an example of how having visions has been a blessing in my life, and not an illness, because it helps me to produce finer storytelling with my visuals.

handlungs:plan: What tools do you use for your work, real-world-, hardware- and software-wise?

Saraƒin: I am pretty old school, because I work on a budget. The old strips I did in the hospital were done on 8.5 x 11 cardstock sketchpad paper, and the new ones are done on much larger paper (manga board by Canson). I use Staedtler pens, any ol‘ pencil I can find for sketching, and white plastic erasers for cleaning up. I used to use Letraset for toning, but it got pricey and harder and harder to find, so now I tone using Photoshop CS2 (like I said – old school!).

handlungs:plan: You are an active member of the Mad Pride movement – what is this movement all about and how would you characterize the situation of people considered mentally-ill in Canada at the current time, especially with the focus on stigma through psychiatric diagnoses?

Saraƒin: Mad Pride is an activist/arts/culture movement/annual festival that is ongoing, but also has yearly celebrations. It is a form of self-empowerment for those who have been psychiatrized and told they’re mentally ill. Some of us do identify with our diagnoses, some, like I, do not. You will hear me say I have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, but I will never say I have it. Some people in the Mad Pride movement are anti-psychiatry… I don’t go that far, because the meds have cooled things down for me, and I doubt it could hold a job and have an art career, right now, without their aid, so I can’t say I completely agree with that movement’s philosophy, but I admire their spirit.

I think Canaduh [sic!] is a very pharma-laden country, that focuses too much on mental health awareness campaigns that may lead people who are not mentally ill to believe that they in fact are (and therefore turn to pharmaceuticals for „help“), when I don’t think we give enough credit to individual empowerment. Mad Pride is about self empowerment, loving ourselves for who we are, and pointing out the problems with the mental health system… as far as I’ve seen, awareness campaigns tend to glorify psychiatry and gloss over important systematic issues, and that’s why I’m not really on board with mental health awareness, though I do think most people in those campaigns are well meaning, of course.

handlungs:plan: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and for the thought and depth you put into answering all the nosy questions!

Fazit

Alles sehr spannend würde ich sagen, mich hat vor allem der Standpunkt von Saraƒin zur Thematik „Psychiatrische Diagnosen“ sehr interessiert und ihre Meinung stellt einen interessanten Aspekt des Copings mit Symptomen psychiatrischer Erkrankungen dar. Abschließend spreche ich an dieser Stelle nochmals eine wirklich ausdrückliche Leseempfehlung für Asylum Squad aus und empfehle geneigten Leserinnen und Lesern auch immer die Kommentare von Saraƒin ganz am Ende der jeweiligen Seite zu lesen – oft sehr unterhaltsam. Übrigens: es ist geplant Asylum Squad auch als Buch zu veröffentlichen, das wird zwar sicher nicht in allernächster Zeit passieren aber freuen kann man sich ja schon mal drauf.

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