SHE was young, beautiful, a real crackerjack at sport and as miserable as hell.
For more than a decade Olivia Robinson battled anxiety, depression and anorexia and more than once tried to take her own life. At her lowest ebb, she was hospitalised for two years, which was like prison because the athletically gifted young woman wasn’t allowed outside for fear she’d run away and harm herself.
“I would just sit in the window and cry, because it’s about the freedom and feeling the elements,” says the Fremantle resident.
An art teacher convinced Robinson to fill a journal each week, as she’d always been a keen and talented artist as a youngster, and she began taking some solace from the little nature amongst the sterile walls of the hospital.
“It sounds a bit strange, but in hospital one of the plants gave me a sense of joy … it didn’t fight against me, it didn’t judge me, it wasn’t angry with me.”
Eventually Robinson was discharged from hospital, but rather than deal with her inner demons she kept trying to outrun them through endless travel. Eventually she realised that trick wasn’t working and something drew her to Western Australia just over four years ago.
“I do struggle with winters, and I know people talk about the grey skies in England, but I really do love the sunshine, so that was a big draw coming here.”
Knowing nobody gave her a chance to break completely from her old life and Robinson started to immerse herself in art, finding herself able to voice feelings she found hard expressing through words — she’d battled dyslexia throughout her life.
What came next was life changing. The joy of living returned and with a renewed love from the natural world around her.
“Being able to express the joy that I feel from the freedom of the ocean enabled me to de-stress and look at the world from a different perspective.
“It was as though I had reignited my soul to the world again.”
Settling into Perth, she found new friends at the Wembley Lacrosse Club and she now represents WA at the national level. She’s also found work as a physio and remedial masseur, and while her real love remains her painting, visa restrictions means she can’t go full time.
But she’s finished enough canvases to put together her first exhibition, which she wants to help raise awareness about mental health issues and how art therapy can help. She says it’s not for everyone, but having organised classes for young women struggling with anorexia back in the UK, she says it gets great feedback.
She’s also donating 10 per cent of the profits to Headspace, which provides mental health services for young people.
The exhibition’s at Little Creatures and runs throughout July.
by STEVE GRANT