Janice Williams is well known on the Sunshine Coast as an artist, photographer and writer. She is also a savvy recycler of the best thrift store items and an enthusiastic supporter of other artists. Her cartoon style drawings reveal a wry humour and an astute look at the human condition.
Her latest book, Mental Case 101: Trussed Issues, is a difficult read. Williams, who is also known by her artist’s name of Junco Jan, published it online in 2015. It gives a detailed account of her life from a dysfunctional childhood, through depression, eating disorder, addiction, abusive marriage, confinement in the psychiatric ward and living alone in poverty. It’s not pretty – but it’s more than simply a wail of anguish. The real crux of the book is the abuse she encountered by those in the supposedly helping professions of psychiatry and art therapy. With 40 years in the system, Williams has earned her right to criticize and to disclose the full story.
It is told in a non-linear fashion with a lively narrative that often uses wit and wordplay. Consider the title for example: the issues are about trust, but the similar word, trussed, means binding the arms close to the body, making the person a prisoner.
“I wrote this book to show I survived the experience,” she said, “and because I always write.” Each of her artworks – and over the years she has produced about 5,000 of them – has some commentary attached. To understand the story, the reader must examine the illustrations that comprise at least half of the book. Much of its artwork was created during one of her most soul destroying experiences working with an art therapist, known as Y in the book, who crossed a line in counsellor/client boundaries. The therapist became increasingly involved with Williams’ life over the years, flattered her, called her a genius and brilliant, and asked that she give up her family and friends to become part of Y’s family. Y even gifted Williams with a house in Sechelt that Williams improved. Later the therapist took the house back, leaving the artist shattered by the experience and searching for new accommodation that she could afford.
“It destroyed my self-confidence,” she recalls.
Williams deplores the lack of regulation of counsellors in the province. “Anybody in BC can call themselves a counsellor with no background, no credentials,” she said.
Those who go for therapy are at risk. “They’re really vulnerable,” she pointed out, “and if they have a bad therapy experience, they will do self-destructive behaviour.” Since publication, Williams has had positive feedback from ethical professionals who are trained in counselling. One referred to the book as required reading for students of psychiatry, psychology, social work, psychiatric nursing, art and music therapy.
Williams was petrified about publishing the book – anxious as to how readers would handle it. It took over two years to write and research the facts that give the book its credibility. When her sister died – a person lost between the cracks in the system – a heartbroken Williams went into hiding for a year until someone told her about their own childhood struggles, and she realized that her record of events could help others.
“Once I wrote it, I felt finished,” she said. However, it also finished her stream of art. She couldn’t get back to her former insightful illustrations and missed them greatly. When her mother bought her a camera, it broke through a depression, and with a sharp artist’s eye she began taking pictures of people and scenes on the Coast. Currently a show of her photos is up at the Gibsons Public Library and it features portraits of such diverse personalities as MLA Nicholas Simons and the late Helen Alp, along with some delightful images such as a seagull on her skylight.
She will also lead a Brave Mike session at the library on Feb. 3 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to read for five minutes from their own works or from a censored work as a preview to Freedom to Read week, Feb. 21 to 27.
Williams’ book is available online at www.mentalcase101.com or by CD for $20 from the artist.