OUR MIND; A WEAPON.
My father often talked about wanting to end his life. He felt trapped on Earth, in his body, but mostly in his mind— our most powerful tool and weapon. My relationship with him had always been a tough pill to swallow, but I was determined to understand his ruthless battle with bipolar disorder. I took on the challenge of studying my father and his condition, by photographing his daily endeavors.
The intimacy in which the photographs occurred, speak to my father’s generosity in sharing his life with a public audience. He, who suffered greatly from emotional instability, has gifted us the opportunity to peek into the emotions that one may face when living with and confronting a mental illness. During our journey, my father learned about, and introduced me to Project Semicolon; a “non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.” We joined the movement, and I held his hand as he got his first tattoo, a semicolon on his left arm. I have no doubt that, even on the darkest days, my father fought relentlessly for his life. However, the ending to his story was traumatic and unexpected.
Post-Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico became paralyzed for months. The government failed in its ability to help its people, and chaos dragged on for much longer than it should have. During this time, calls were dramatically on the rise at Linea PAS, Puerto Rico’s only suicide prevention hotline. This brought much attention to the island’s severe mental health crisis, which is significantly overlooked. During this same time, I noticed a major downfall in my father’s behavior due to the inaccessibility of doctors and medication, which he heavily relied on to survive.
When I was first informed that my father was in the hospital due to burn wounds, I wondered if his injuries had been self-inflicted. I later found out that they had been caused in an unfortunate and catastrophic accident. I am certain that his erratic behavior at the time was due to not getting medical treatment. While transporting a propane gas tank in his car, my father lit a cigarette, and an undetected gas leak caused the cabin to catch fire. Witnesses say they saw him jump out of the window crying out for help, but at that point, 64% of his body had already suffered 3rd degree burns. I knew my father wasn’t going to make it. I viewed his death as a form of freedom for him. I firmly believe that through his passing, he was able to obtain the peace and tranquility that he had long been searching for on Earth. My father died on November 1stof 2017.
In coming to terms with the idea that during this time and space my father and I could not peacefully coexist, I found myself with the responsibility of sorting through his belongings and collecting the pieces of him that remained on Earth. Rummaging through the clutter was overwhelming at times, but I found it therapeutic to photograph each item, as found—as he left them. Photographing and documenting the aftermath has helped me be able to look at everything in a more objective way. Objectification often carries a negative connotation, but I see it as a way of breaking down the story so that it is easier to digest. Using photography as a universal language to transform my pain into art is the only way that I can find meaning in such a traumatic event.