Jaene F. Castrillon is a multi-disciplinary artist who explores her relationship to the world through various spiritual teachings and the wisdom of the land. As a mixed race (Indigenous Colombian/Hong Kong Chinese) queer woman of color living with disabilities, her work combines art and activism with spirituality to open a dialogue on ideas of wellness and illness. Jaene’s believes in sharing the brilliance and heart-break of living a life less ordinary.
As most of you know I’ve struggled with mental illness and addictions for my whole adult life. I am currently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, Anxiety, Depression with a history of eating disorders, self harm and survived 11 suicide attempts and attempted murder. From a childhood that was rife with severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I grew up to being a youth in care, in and out of psych wards and barely escaping being institutionalized for life at a long term care facility. Because of this I developed an addiction to self harm, became very ill from having an eating disorder since childhood, and became street involved leading to survival based sex work all before I turned 20.
During this time I continually worked as an advocate, believing in the power of lived experiences and the importance of self representation in the media and in policy making. This lead me to positions such as being a Peer Researcher at Shout Clinic and Peer Sexual Health Educator with SOS/LOFT, while still being street involved myself. Eventually I secured a position with Save the Children Canada and the Save the Children Alliance, solidifying my professional expertise in issues of Exploitation and Abuse, representing Canada on the international level. My proudest moment was Co-chairing a round-table on sexual exploitation with Senator Pearson for Canada’s National Plans of Action.
Fast forward to my current life working with the youth at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto’s ENAGB youth program as a holistic outreach worker and a budding art career. I continue to invest myself in the 1st Nations teachings and ceremonies that have been integral to my recovery and wellness, and even find these teachings becoming a large part of my process as an artist. All that I do is informed by my experiences as a person who has been marginalized and thriving despite the challenges I face. My hope is to continue to help open people’s minds and continue working with institutions to understand the importance of peer support and making sure people with lived experience are respected as experts in their own lives.
I have accomplished most of these things without formal education and a whole lot of tenacity. As a frontline worker, artist, activist and author, all that I have come to be, has been largely self guided while navigating extreme marginalization and poverty. I continue to struggle, of course, being mentally ill with 10 chronic physical illnesses that render me physically disabled, but I live a full and good life…. I believe fervently in the work I do, I do it because I want the youth who are struggling to know that they can get better and live an amazing life despite the shit life throws at us. I believe in sharing the brillance and the heart-break of living a life less ordinary, by doing so with honesty and passion, I hope to change the narrative on mental illness from negativity to one of resilence.