Commentary: Mellow's life and work inspired recovery 

Jennifer-Chancellor-84scweb.jpg

I’ve lost too many friends to addiction and mental illness. Not a single one of them was a quitter; they fought for every day they had. They each also were happiest when they helped other people feel happy and whole. They were parents, stepparents, family members, lifelong friends, longtime colleagues, artists and mentors.

Local artist Spencer Mellow’s recent death was a watershed moment, though. In the few years that I knew him via social media, he influenced me and fundamentally changed me. Everyone who met him was changed, and for good reason.

He openly challenged authority, he covered himself in tattoos and he jumped into everything with fierceness and determination. On the outside, he was fearless and hilarious.

I watched as he created his first ink-and-watercolor pieces. They were incredible, visceral and bold. I’ve been surrounded by art my entire life; I have a creative family, and many of my friends are artists. But, somehow, it was Spencer who first inspired me to start collecting it. Today, I have more art than I can keep, show or hoard, and I share it with everyone. Thank you, Spencer.

Spencer also showed me that there is no shame in talking about our own mental health or addiction recovery work. He debunked the double standard of some groups that dictate that our individual recoveries — and the programs and people that help us — shouldn’t be discussed publicly, yet also tell us, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

He talked to everyone who would listen. In the recovery community, this was a revolutionary act.

He also blogged about youth in recovery. He founded Time to Fight art studio, in part, to celebrate “the pain that leads to happiness.” He recently moved to Minnesota to study art therapy for children.

To know him at all was to accept him completely as he was: just as imperfect and wonderful as everyone else. Spencer believed in humanity and life.

At his March 31 funeral service, I didn’t wipe away a single tear. Don’t get me wrong; I cried. But with each tear, I prayed for friends gone before Spencer and friends I know I will lose after him. I prayed for myself, too.

I prayed that more people like Spencer — like all of us — will fight to commend, support and educate others about people with diseases like addiction and mental illness.

I’m not the praying type. I believe that actions mean more than words. Indeed, Spencer fought for every day he had, and he fought for others. He shared his struggles and victories openly and, apparently, without regret.

Thanks to Spencer, I, too, feel a responsibility to talk about these things and encourage others to speak about them and find the support they deserve and need. There’s no shame; only reality.

At his funeral, Spencer’s family asked that, in lieu of flowers, people please consider donating to Mission Academy (Teen Recovery Solutions, teenrecoverysolutions.org), A Chance to Change (achancetochange.org) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Oklahoma Chapter (namioklahoma.org).

It’s time to fight.

“The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel: In the clearing stands a boxer, And a fighter by his trade And he carries the reminders Of ev’ry glove that laid him down Or cut him till he cried out In his anger and his shame, “I am leaving, I am leaving” But the fighter still remains.

Jennifer Chancellor is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette.

Print headline: Thank you, Spencer Mellow

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