This month’s Featured Artist was actually nominated by an art therapist that has worked with her. We’re honored to present such a unique artist and interview. We encourage you to not only view Harli’s beautiful artwork, but also her/their intriguing interview!
Harli’s Art Gallery
Interview with Harli Tree
1. Can you give the readers a bio about who you are, where you’re from, what you do, etc?
Our name is Harli Tree – that’s the name of our system – we have dissociative identity disorder. The other alters/parts call me the Big One (because I’m the oldest and the host). We live in a very small village in a rural part of East Anglia, England. We (the 8 of us) live there with my teenage son. I have a degree in Human Resources and have worked as a professional in the Charity sector for the past ten years. We started Art Therapy and Photography in March this year, with no previous training in both fields. We all attend verbal therapy and art therapy every week for our disorder. Art and photography are now an important part of our everyday life.
2a. How do you describe your multiple personalities to the average person?
I can recall the day I described our multiple personalities to my son who is a very mature, supportive and intelligent young man. This is what I said to him and he understood it straight away and then began explaining it to me….. sometimes a child has verbal/physical or sexual things happen to them (abuse) and the child can’t feel the pain because it’s too much to bear: so the child escapes (dissociates) and another child/identity in that person is created (these identities are called alters). This can happen every time there is trauma, so new alters emerge and then they are still there when the person gets older. Sometimes triggered by certain words, smell or noises, they come out at different times and take control of the person. The alters have distinct identities and are of different ages, so they speak and act differently, like different things and can feel differently about a same event; they carry different memories and hold different traumas and most believe the trauma is still happening to them.
2b. Who are they? And what are they like?
Little Nic, Little one, Little Sarah are under 10; Charlotte, Chloe, and Big Sara are in their Teens, the One behind the door is in her twenties, and the Big One is in her forties. Here is a description of some…
Charlotte is the one I (big one) communicate with. She is also the main alter and can communicate with all the other alters including me; she knows everything about all of us and is our protector (she says this is her job). She tells people she is not a boy and she is very humorous and cheeky.
Little Nic is 4 years old, she can not speak, but sometimes screams inside and this is very distressing. It happens when we go to the bathroom sometimes- it’s a trigger for her. If she draws she uses her left hand (all the others including me are right handed); she always draws in red and always the same picture that re-enacts the trauma she is holding..
Chloe has lots of bad dreams and hits her head, which gives me (big one) a really bad headache. She thinks she is disgusting and dirty because of what happened to her in the past and she has to have around 4/5 showers a day…. Certain smells trigger Chloe and then she starts thumping her head with her fists and needing a shower.
Big Sara is 19 years old, she says she is a free spirit. Twice a year she looses babies and it’s very hard for us all because she needs to lay down on the bed and she gets very upset. She sometimes decides to have a drink to ease the pain.
3a. What are some of the daily struggles you face due to dissociative identity disorder?
Sometimes I can remember the beginning of the day, then I look at my watch and it’s 4pm, so I realize a whole day has gone by; then I find out that someone’s been painting (because I see a new picture), or playing with toys (because there are toys on the floor), or I find myself in the corner of the room and my eyes are sore and red because someone has been crying, or I am in the shower and my skin tingles from one of them scrubbing my body so hard to get us clean…
I find myself in places without knowing how I got there because one of the older ones has driven the car – I have found toys and realized they have been to the toy shop and bought them. Sometimes I can hear Charlotte – it’s like I’m stuck at the end of a tunnel and can’t reach the top, and am not in control…it’s such a weird feeling. Everyone wants a piece of me, and I get really exhausted and tired. I also find I get lots of headaches because of the switching and because I feel tense all the time not knowing what and when anything is going to happen; I am totally shattered – sleep is a big problem! Sometimes I can’t remember going to sleep and I feel pretty sure I have not slept. On occasions I know I have not because I notice a new painting, or I wake up in a sweat and my head hurts, and I then find out Chloe has had a bad dream (she has quite a few).and she bangs her head when she gets upset.
3b. Can you describe 1-2 especially challenging moments that you’ve faced and how you overcame them?
With my work I attend lots of meetings which can be boring for the others and they do not like the discussion subjects sometimes. I get really anxious about this because I’m worried they will come out and people will not be understanding and empathetic. To get through the meeting, Charlotte takes them all to the beach inside to play and have fun while I’m concentrating in the meeting… It can get really difficult and pressured sometimes if it’s a long meeting though…..and then I just step out of the meeting for a few minutes and that seems to help a bit.
4. Describe yourself in 5 words.
This is a really difficult question as we are all different, but these words represent us all, creative, self expressive, honest, complex, trustworthy
5. If 3 of your best friends were hanging out with you, what’s one thing they’d all jokingly make fun of you for?
“Are you sure you are allowed out this late?” they’d say and I would reply: “If I’m not home by 12, I will turn into a pumpkin.
6. What are you passionate about?
I, the big one, am passionate about my son and really want to support him to achieve his goals in life. The alters are passionate about art and photography, and about finding ways to be creative and express their thoughts and feelings.
7. Is art, or the process of creating art, therapeutic for you in any way? If so, could you provide a recent example?
We attend weekly art therapy sessions, which are very important for each of us as they allow us to express our thoughts, experiences and feelings and to process them safely. It’s also a way of communicating with each other. I get lots of headaches and painting helps to relax everyone and has reduced them. Some of the younger alters find it hard to talk, so painting helps them to express their individual stories and can be cathartic for them. It enables the alters to start working through the processing of traumas, by creating a distance between them and the traumatic memory. As art therapy has progressed, some of the alters have started to paint together – this is a big achievement for us; as the alters are starting to communicate with each other and to work together, they are not so alone any more.
8. How has art influenced your perception of life?
Art and photography has become a big part of our lives, it has improved the communication between us and has given us a deeper understanding of all our emotions and memories.
9. What are some other things or people that inspire/motivate you?
The big one is inspired by People that are true to themselves. Charlotte and the younger alters are motivated by positive praise. The big one and the older alters are motivated by a challenge that is hard to reach and being told you won’t achieve that….
10. Do you believe creativity is an innate quality? Please explain.
We do believe creativity is an innate quality because we ourselves have had no training/qualifications in art or photography. All we produce comes from an inner expression that gets externalized, and the use of different brush strokes and techniques comes all from within.
11. What are some wise words or advice you would like to offer people reading this?
Based on some of our experiences in life we want to offer readers some wise words – Treat people the way you want to be treated…. Your best is always good enough…Be who you want to be in life…
12. You have been selected to go on an all expenses paid vacation with 3 people you’ve never met (dead or alive). Who is going on vacation with you and where?
We would go on vacation with three people less fortunate than the average person either through health or poverty…. We would go to Havana, Cuba and Listen to some happy Salsa music and go dancing.
SPEED ROUND – Quick questions with quick answers. Ready, go!
What is your favorite food?
All of us like noodles, salmon and vegetables with chili sauce. The alters like a big hot chocolate/milk shake to soothe them when things get uncomfortable for them.
If you could be one animal, which one would you be?
Dove, so we can fly far away
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To make people be good/nice to one another
Where on the world wide web can we learn more about you?