“What time is there and what are you thinking?”
Jovanny Varela Ferreyra posts this message on his Snapchat account with backgrounds that leave you with a lingering sense of wanderlust. They are mostly scenes from train rides, beautiful sunsets, calming oceans, and deep set valleys. This is followed by numerous snaps, with the time and location filter, again with a variety of backgrounds. It is the content of these snaps, however, that have made all the difference.
The Artidote today is a million people strong online community that Ferreyra, who was also a co-founder of the immensely popular online magazine called Berlin ArtParastites, founded after noticing a pattern of faux positivity on social media. He realized that social media posts had become a documentation of triumphs and successes. They were a social certification of appearing to have it all together. Social media was representing increasingly two-dimensional people, for people seemed to have no faults or vices. Everything was perfect, and funny, and happy. There was nowhere people could struggle and support and heal.
With this idea in mind, Ferreyra founded the Artidote in 2015, with the mission statement: “a space to story-tell, empathise, bond and heal through art.” The idea of art of a medium of expression and healing comes a lot from Ferreyra’s own life- his family from Mexico has a background rich in mysticism and storytelling, and he did his Bachelors in painting from University of Chicago.
It was in 2016, with over one million followers on Facebook, he launched SnapThoughts, on Snapchat, which is perhaps the most popularly effective social media channel. The day he started the channel, he received more than a hundred snaps of a variety of thoughts. But what changed the entire game was a snap he received which said- “I stopped taking my meds so that I could step up and overdose- tomorrow is the day.” Suddenly, it was not about thoughts that he was dealing with, it was a life. With a fatal deadline, Ferreyra only did what he could do- he posted it on his Snapchat story. Soon, hundreds of people starting sending in their support, love and wishes. He received a message later saying that she didn’t go through with it, and was thankful for all the love that she got here.
The Artidote provides to people a community that is free of judgement. It gives them the promise that being vulnerable will not deem them weak. Ferreyra receives over a thousand snaps everyday now, many of them dealing with depression; substance, sexual, and physical abuse; self-harm and suicidal tendencies. It has people who are in a toxic relationship, people who are lonely, and people who are scared. Artidote gives them an assurance that they are never alone, that someone somewhere is going through the exact same thing, that they are not the only one struggling. It reminds them that they are a lot stronger than their problems. The anonymity that Artidote offers lets them be who they are- it lets them bare their soul. While art or a quote may not cure a mental illness, the Artidote is a support group that can make all the difference between breaking and persevering. That is why perhaps, the community has the motto- Mental health over every thing.
For every dispiriting snap there is, there is also a happy, positive stream of thoughts. Some snaps are funny; some are inspirational; while some are personal stories. While many people send in their love for those struggling, many also send in stories of having beaten their problems and emerge victorious. This is how the community works. It is a struggle where people fall down, and other people help them get back up. It takes time. It hurts and pains, but it also fades. There is comfort in knowing that, even though we are all mostly strangers to each other, we are in this together.