One of Us: Meri Ivy Read hopes her art helps get people talking about mental health
Meri Ivy Read was 15 when she made her first suicide attempt. After swallowing a bottle of 400 Benadryl tablets, she called a friend. “I was basically telling him goodbye,” she remembered.
He recognized what was happening and alerted her parents who took her to Wolfson children’s hospital, where she spent five days on life support.
“It’s a miracle I survived,” said Read, now an 18-year-old student studying cosmetology at the Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, while also taking a psychology class from Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Open Campus/Deerwood Center.
Her goal is to become a nurse.
Read was 12 when she started having issues with mental health, experiencing anxiety, depression and occasional manic episodes. By 14, she was using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
“It was like being on a roller coaster,” she said. “One moment I was on top of the world. The next moment, I would feel empty inside and the slightest thing would send me into a downward spiral of self-hatred and self-pity.”
Read made her second suicide attempt at 16, swallowing a bottle of muscle relaxers. Again she was hospitalized, first at Wolfson and then at La Amistad Behavioral Health Services, a long-term care facility near Orlando. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on medication.
“It has really helped me stay stable,” she said.
She now sees a therapist monthly and a psychiatrist every three months. She also has become involved with I Still Matter, a support group for women and teens struggling with mental-health issues. Art therapy is part of the program.
One of her paintings became part of the “Inside Out” exhibit, which features 40 12-inch-by-12-inch canvasses depicting the artists’ views of mental illness. The exhibit made its debut during the One Spark festival in the spring of 2015. Read was there to talk about her painting, which depicts a bouquet of flowers with a line in the background representing a roller coaster.
“I was terrified,” she said of the One Spark experience. “But I thought it was awesome.”
Since then, “Inside Out” has been exhibited at Church of the Redeemer, FSCJ and the Jacksonville Main Library. It has spent the month of August on display at Baptist Health’s four adult hospitals, with Read’s painting hanging at the downtown campus.
“I hope it makes people more comfortable talking about mental health,” Read said. “I hope it encourages people to get the help they need.”
As for her own recovery, she still has mood swings, just not the violent mood swings that tormented her before bipolar illness was diagnosed and treatment begun.
“Recovery is not a destination,” Read said. “It’s a road. You are in recovery forever.”
Charlie.Patton@jacksonville.com; (904) 359-4413