On Tuesday, the gallery welcomed Colleen Wells, local and author of a recently released memoir titled, “Dinner with Doppelgangers — a True Story of Madness and Recovery.”
The piece follows Wells’ journey through life with bipolar disorder. During the talk, she read passages from her book, which features diary-like entries from Wells during ages 18 to 38 or 39, concluding with her graduation from her MFA program.
The project, Wells said, is an opportunity to reach out to families and people who have been or are currently affected by bipolar disorder.
“It started out as kind of a healing thing for myself, and it kind of started out as poetry,” Wells said. “I realized that, although I do write poetry, it wasn’t that. It’s more like a series of short essays or vignettes that tell a unified story. Some of the pieces are more poetic than others.”
This book is not Wells’ first experience with publishing. She said she self-published a children’s book and has had work printed in Adoptive Families Magazine, ORION, NUVO and “Chicken Soup for the Adoptive Soul.”
The Venue, Wells said, felt like the right forum to present this work for a variety of reasons. She cited positive past experiences of her own, experiences that inspired her to ask the Colmans if they would be willing to let her speak.
“This is a very comfortable place,” Wells said. “I’ve come to a few events here before. It’s warm and inviting. I’m really excited to kind of launch my first public appearance in Bloomington here. I like the fact that they help local artists or businesspeople or authors through what they do.”
Wells, who has lived on and off in Bloomington since her college years, said she first came to Bloomington when she attended IU for her undergraduate degree starting in 1989.
She spoke during the talk about how she changed majors a few times, from elementary education to psychology to English, in which she eventually received a bachelor’s degree. Aside from academics, Wells worked for student media and, for a short while, drove a bus for Disabled Students Services.
“I drive for the wheelchair-bound chancellor Herman B Wells and an artist who is also a paraplegic and a blind professor who makes me count the steps from his door to where I parked,” Wells read from a chapter of her book. “One, two, three, four, five, six. This job makes me realize I could have it worse.”
Another passage Wells read dealt with a negative experience with a fellow student. This student, who Wells refers to by pseudonym in the book, tried to get out of an apartment lease by staging a break-in at the house.
When speaking with police, this student hinted at Wells as a possible suspect because of her history of mental illness. Wells said this demonstrates the type of stereotypes she wants to dispel through her work.
“One of the things I hope to do with my book is break through stigma, somehow make a dent, because not all folks with mental illness break in homes,” Wells said.
Many of the passages Wells shared during her talk came from her university days, which she said were ?especially challenging. She stressed the need for students suffering from depression or bipolar disorder to seek help.
“It’s important, especially in a college publication, to say that I certainly struggled through the college years,” Wells said. “I had some great support at the Counseling and Psychological Services Center. I think it’s important to be brave enough to tell when you’re struggling and get help because it’s out there.”
Wells said an important part of her book is the focus on wellness and that not all of the stories deal with manic episodes.
“Something that I want to stress is that I’ve been fortunate to have long periods of wellness in between hospitalizations, that a person with mental illness with good self care and support can live a productive life,” Wells said.