I am Inspired by Stephen Hawkings a Man with a Severe Disability Who Achieved a Lot/ My Severe Mental Illness/ Frontier Psychiatrist

Essay by Luke Foster

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

 Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawkings was an amazing scientist who achieved a lot in his life despite having a severe disability.

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA(8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Between 1979 and 2009, he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, widely viewed as one of the most prestigious academic posts in the world.


A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes is a book on theoretical cosmology by the physicist Stephen Hawking. It was first published in 1988. Hawking wrote the book for readers who had no prior knowledge of physics.

In A Brief History of Time, Hawking writes in non-technical terms about the structure, origin, development and eventual fate of the Universe, which is the object of study of astronomy and modern physics. He talks about basic concepts like space and time, basic building blocks that make up the Universe (such as quarks) and the fundamental forces that govern it (such as gravity). He writes about cosmological phenomena such as the Big Bang and black holes. He discusses two major theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, that modern scientists use to describe the Universe. Finally, he talks about the search for a unifying theory that describes everything in the Universe in a coherent manner.

The book became a bestseller and sold more than 25 million copies.

“Stephen Hawking developed motor neurone disease when he was in his early 20s. Most patients with the condition die within five years, and according to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, average life expectancy after diagnosis is 14 months.”

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I have had a severe mental illness since studying at art school during my undergrad course in sculpture at College of Fine Arts in Sydney aged 22. I was having manic highs and bouts, of depression so went to the university psychologist and said I think I am bipolar and she didn’t believe me at first but she had me checked anyway so she sent me to see shrink and after being bumped around a few therapists I ended up with a shrink who I would have for almost two decades doctor David Luis. He was fantastic and often I showed him my art and he joked that he was like Sigmund Freud analysing his artist patients through their art.

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.”

 Sigmund Freud

Due to being dysfunctional I had to drop out a few times at COFA in the Bachelor Degree to recover and then also during my masters at COFA to and I suffered a lot sometimes screaming and shouting and smashing things.

Last night I watched the movie Brain on Fire about a young woman with a severe brain impairment and I finally realised that ninety percent of the mistakes I made in my life while in Australia and travelling mainly when I wasn’t taking my meds and at other times when I was mixing my meds with drinking alcohol.

““Brain on fire actually refers to a disease that’s named anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis,” explains Victor Zach, MD, a neurologist, vascular neurology specialist and an independent member of the HonorHealth Medical Staff.”

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However: prior to my first hospital admission my bipolar increased in severity to schizoaffective disorder and then later to full blown schizophrenia.

“Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that is marked by a mix of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, and mood disorder symptoms, such as depression, mania and a milder form of mania called hypomania.”

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The symptoms are severely tormenting voices that make you lash out at demons that aren’t there and go days without sleep when it’s at its worst.

Consequently, at age 29 or 30 I can’t remember I had my first of six mental hospital admissions at Taree hospital, Many hospital, Rozelle hospital, Westmead hospital and twice at Tweed Hospital.

The last hospital admission was a few years ago but I started getting quite unwell while I was on an art making backpacking holiday in Brooklyn New York and got progressively worse over six months until I was not taking my meds properly and just woke up in hospital not knowing how I got there after being admitted in a catatonic state.

The only good thing about this hospital visit is that I recovered quickly and the food was good and I asked for paper and a pen and I did cathartic drawing therapy every day and gave them away to the staff and other patients and kept a few.

To be realistic I shall probably be admitted to hospital again one day even though I take my meds every day, do two hours beach walking every day, work on art and writing every day and eat really well and don’t smoke or take drugs and don’t have too much coffee and most importantly have the moral support of a shrink and psych nurses, David Murphy my psychologist and Yannick Soyez and Ava Freeland my support workers.

Even though I have suffered more than ten times than the character in Brain on Fire I have also done a lot in my life up until now aged 51. I have published a book titled Mothers Love in Austin Macauley in London, had around 8 solo art shows and over thirty group exhibitions and a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters at COFA and a Teaching Degree at Sydney University and Southern Cross University. I have also made over 15 international trips and taught English in South Korea several times. I have done 6 art residencies in Australia and one in Brooklyn New York earlier this year. I have also had many casual day jobs from teaching Koreans English in Korea and Australia, working at the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, ground maintenance and working in a op shop both as supported work environments for people with a disability. But most importantly I have a group of kind friends who I keep in phone contact with weekly and they metaphorically nurse me and take me to hospital when I am severely unwell mentally.

In conclusion having a mental illness makes life’s journey very difficult at times but it can also open up a window in your soul of compassion for others who suffer deeply as you have been there many times.

Me at a Big Ci art residency last October and photo by Yuri Bolotin.