When people ask me what my profession is I answer "I'm an artist". When people ask what my art is about, I say that it tells stories.
Then when people ask what the stories are about I stumble. This is because my latest paintings are about my time in mental hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2002.
I was sectioned for eight consecutive years. I escaped from locked wards 30 times and there were moments when I believed I would not live beyond the age of 30. I have been out of hospital for six years, and I have gone back to university and got a 2:1 degree in art. I have had several exhibitions. I've got my own flat and I'm living independently.
I should be happy, my life is getting better but to be honest the scars of being shut up in hospital have not healed.
It is very difficult to explain what it is like to have a psychosis and to be locked up in a mental hospital, run away, almost drown and spend long days in an isolation cell. These 10 paintings are my way of distancing myself from those events.
They were not painful to draw because I could look at them from a different angle. I survived mental hospital, gruelling though it was, and have come out the other side. At the time, I did not think this would happen. The message to others suffering the same way is to be resilient hold on, just hold on, and understand that this will end one day.
I'm afraid many of my friends and fellow patients did not believe this and took their own lives, may they rest in peace.
The first painting in the series depicts me hiding in a tree by the train tracks with police looking for me with flashlights. I was studying for a fine art degree at the University of Brighton. I made many friends and had a good social life. But I wanted more: I wanted to stray from the beaten track, I wanted to find something although I didn't quite know what that something would be. I started believing in magic and in a way I found it
I discarded my shoes, going for long walks, gave up drinking and smoking weed. My fellow students thought that I had turned into an oddball, telling me that I'd end up being pumped full of drugs in hospital.
As it turned out they were right but several things happened before then, things that changed the course of my life. These paintings are an attempt to relate what happened to me, and to put them on canvas.
The painting "On the run" shows the first of my adventures. I had taken the decision to flee the city. I walked and walked until I came to an embankment by the railway tracks covered with brambles, I made the decision to jump over a fence and, as I did, the brambles tightened around me. Then a train went past and I felt frightened that I'd get caught. I bolted and hid under the roots of a tree.
The roots moved, touching my fingers and then went all around me. I began to hear a voice in my mind, a voice of someone much older and wiser than myself the voice of the tree. It was a silent voice, not audible to the ears, though I could still hear it. In the distance, I could see people looking for me under the night stars with flashlights. There was a dog barking. But I was not afraid because I felt in the care of the tree.
As the night went on, I talked to the tree about many things it seemed to know about me: where I had gone, who my friends were and who loved me. It told me that I could do things that I could never dream of doing, that I could rap, that life was a game and many other things. I talked and talked until it got late and no more trains went by.
I stumbled back to the city. I kept this a secret for a long time afterwards, not wanting to betray the tree. Some would say that this was the tipping point, my descent into madness I won't have a bit of it.
For the next couple of weeks I continued my wanderings around Brighton. I felt as though a new world had opened up for me and there was more to life than I had expected. I relished the thought of further magical encounters like that of the speaking tree. While the rest of the students at college were busy working or dating each other, I changed.
I became a vegan, abstained from alcohol and marijuana, and became very solitary. I felt there was more to life than the pursuit of money.
Early one morning I walked a long way to the east of Brighton beach, past the houses until it was just me and the coast.
The cliffs were manmade out of giant breeze blocks, each one the size of a large haystack. I wondered what was behind the wall, I had the feeling I had been there before, when I was very little and my mother and I had taken a trip to Sussex.
My imagination took flight and I believed that there were prisoners behind the wall, thousands of them, sitting in cells, desperate to get out. I sang to them as I walked, believing that one day I would set them free.
As I did this, I realised that this time I really was escaping Brighton and fleeing the city. My plan was to walk to Canterbury, where I was brought up. I could hear planes in the distance and my heart started beating. I thought something was coming to get me.
I saw a station sign saying "Newhaven" and I discarded my debit card because I was paranoid that I'd be tracked by it. I walked until I came to an estuary. I felt the shrill wind at my back telling me to get in the water. I hesitated and then, clothes and all, swam to the other side, but I was frozen by the cold. I got back in the water and felt close to death.
I could see brambles everywhere. Then I saw a boat, and a man held out his hand. After that I remember nothing, just blackness until I woke up in hospital much later. My painting shows me in the water, being saved by the fisherman with the houses of Newhaven in the background.
At the hospital I was visited by a psychiatrist who said I was a risk to myself and sent me to the Priory Clinic in Hove.
The psychiatrist there diagnosed me with schizophrenia and gave me the option of taking medication or getting sectioned. I decided to take the medication. I came back to Canterbury. I felt I had failed. I continued going for long walks, but the calling was no longer there. The new world I had just discovered the talking tree, the adrenaline, the magic had all disappeared with the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Everything that had happened, all these new experiences, were now, apparently just a fairy tale in my mind. According to the doctor, my family, and my friends this new spiritual awakening was not an awakening, just a delusion. I decided to go back to Brighton University. But in the back of my mind I didn't want to get a degree, I wanted to follow the magic as far as it would take me.
Then it all started to happen again. One blue morning I walked past an abandoned building and jumped over a barbed wire fence and sat under a bramble bush. Once again, I could hear a voice in my mind talking to me, the voice of the brambles. "Brighton is a complicated place" the bush said. "And we are its Gods". Then at that moment an old woman came and sat down next to me. At first, she didn't see me, then she gave a shriek. I think she thought I was dead, because when I jumped out of the bush she was nowhere to be seen.
She must have run off in a hurry. I panicked, I felt exposed so I ran down the road and jumped down into a motorway bridge. This is the inspiration for my third painting "Homeless People Under a Bridge". I sat there for a minute arranging some stones, then a woman called out to me. She said I could spend the night under the bridge with them.
Then a couple of other homeless people arrived. They talked while I sat away in a corner. We lit a fire and they talked amongst themselves, sitting on abandoned pieces of furniture.
They drank and smoked weed. But I was distanced from them, I felt inhibited, and I didn't know how to begin to tell my story. I soon outstayed my welcome and one of them, came at me with a brick and I ran away, stayed the night out and walked back to my flat in the morning. These paintings are about a sense of freedom and beauty I felt as if the world had opened up to me, and that there was more to life than I had expected. Even if I had known what was to come as a result of my wanderings, I wouldn't wish things to have happened differently.