Phoenixes of the mind:
In 'Awakenings,' creativity rises from illness
OCTOBER 18, 2000

Fresh from his early morning interview on the BBC, Glen Ellyn resident Robert Lundin sits in a downtown Chicago eatery discussing his DuPage County arts group's first literary project, The Awakenings Review.

What makes this literary magazine unique?  The 140-page The Awakenings Review contains poetry, essays, short stories and art by contributors across the country who have disabilities ranging from schizophrenia to depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The magazine is a joint publishing effort between The Awakenings Project, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at the University of Chicago, along with a grant from the Enterprise Foundation.

"I'm not patting myself on the back, but people tell me that this magazine stands up to literary magazines across the country," says Lundin.  "The quality, it's not just a mental illness literary magazine, it's a good literary magazine."

Lundin, 44, lives with a schizoaffective disorder and founded the Awakenings Project with several friends in 1996.  The following year, the Awakenings Art Show was born.

The Awakenings Review is dedicated to Trish Evers, a former Wheaton resident whose pastels and watercolor work is featured in The Awakenings Art Show.  Evers died in June of uterine cancer.  One of her drawings is featured on the cover of The Awakenings Review.

"I wanted some sort of showcase to see if there is a link between creativity and mental illness," Lundin explains.  His goal was that through the arts, people with mental illness would become more active in advocacy and would overcome issues of pain, isolation and distance from the community.

Lundin's initiative, along with the energy and leadership of Evers and Naperville resident Irene O'Neill has taken The Awakenings Art Show from its initial visual presentation into several regional and statewide events throughout the year.

"Bob contacted me about four years ago.  He knew that I co-owned an art gallery in Naperville and said he needed someone with professional experience in putting on shows," says O'Neill, who also serves as co-director of The Awakenings Project.

"We were only going to do one show and it's taken off ever since."  Lundin describes O'Neill as a "super-organizer" for Awakenings, which she manages while simultaneously running an art gallery, serving on two boards of directors of NPOs, holding down a full-time job and dealing with being manic-depressive (I've always leaned more toward mania.  I was voted most energetic in high school," says O'Neill with a wry chuckle).

Lundin, like many of the writers in The Awakenings Review, has found writing to be therapeutic.  "People with mental illness have an affinity for writing," he says.

For 10 years, the disease wreaked havoc on his life.  It wasn't until 1991 that he was able to find a mix of medications that effectively dealt with his illness and allowed him to work again.  Now Lundin is a book editor at the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at the University of Chicago.

He is currently working on a book with the center's director tentatively titled, "Don't Call Me Nuts: Coping with the Stigma of Mental Illness."

According to the dictionary, the work "awakening" is defined as a "sudden awareness or excitement."  For Robert Lundin and the Awakenings arts group, "awareness" and "excitement" are two attributes they hope is the end result of The Awakenings Review.

"I'd like to see the people we work with awaken to their potential; awaken to their place in the community," Lundin says.  At the same time," he adds, "I'd like to see the general public awaken to the fact that people with mental illness are just like everybody else.  They have capacity and problems, potential and creativity.


Copyright (c) 2000, Liberty Star Press