Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dentin Garrett of Dented Feels Is Helping To Champion Mental…

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Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dentin Garrett of Dented Feels Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

I don’t know if I have any sort of strategy for my well-being. My wife would be a better person to answer that; she’s focused her entire career on proactive well-being. I run more on intuition and gut feeling, rather than some understood step-by-step process.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dentin Garrett, founder of the Dented Feels NFT movement.

Dentin is the founder and artist of the NFT project, “Dented Feels,” an emotionally intelligent generative art collection that combines various motifs and surreal symbolism of emotional struggle and mental health. When creating Dented Feels, Dentin had to publicly fight to release his art into the world after being kicked from a prior project, having his artwork stolen, and nearly being bullied out of the NFT space. The triumphant release of his project brought together a community of people around the artwork and story; a community that now champions the Dented Feel’s mantra ‘Dented Not Broken’.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the suburbs east of Seattle, Washington. I spent my time the way any kid does — going over to friends’ houses, playing video games, and watching TV. As a kid, I had a stutter and an overactive imagination, so I often struggled to express myself verbally. I was constantly frustrated at myself for getting stuck on words or being unable to find the words to say what I was feeling, or describe what I was seeing in my mind. So, I took to drawing at a very young age. A drawing speaks for itself. It quickly became my outlet.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

I make art in the very niche market of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). I founded the art project, “Dented Feels,” a generative art collection that combines motifs of emotions and surrealism into profile-picture-style characters.

Dented Feels aims to juxtapose emotions with identity crises, capturing a piece of the human struggle through visual metaphors. It is a vehicle to say visually what can be hard to express verbally.

One of my main goals of Dented feels is to bring people together around shared personal experiences. Within real art is the energy of the artist that created it, their pain, happiness, and a piece of their soul. This gives art its ability to transcend experience from one person to the next.

When you really connect with a piece of art, it has a way of evoking in you the same emotional and mental states of the artist when they created it. When I make art, I make it with the belief that what’s going on in my mind and what’s going on in yours is more or less the same thing. Everyone’s experiences are deeply personal, but when broken down and abstracted into their core elements, these experiences become more or less universal. So, I figure if I break down my internal struggles, my flaws, my hopes, my fears, my confusion, and my dreams into fragments and basic symbols — the result is a pile of puzzle pieces, each with their own meaning, that can be reconfigured to an art collection of rich combinations of these meanings.

The result is a collection of art pieces, where each piece has a unique juxtaposition of these same universal symbols — all of which display a different complex emotional and mental state, making it highly probable that any one person can relate to any one piece, or to the collection as a whole.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

To be honest, it just happened organically. Since I was a kid, I’ve been making art for the love of doing it, using it as a therapeutic outlet to understand my own manic emotions and inner meanings. Creating an NFT collection was never the plan as a kid. Three months prior to releasing my collection, I didn’t even know what an NFT was.

Digital illustrators have never really had their own industry to carve their own independent creative path. When the opportunity to be the artist on an NFT project was presented to me, I dove all in because it seemed like an innovative platform to release art.

Regarding how the subject matter of the art revolves around metal health, I went through one hell of an emotional rollercoaster to get this art into the world that happened within the span of about a month and a half.

From stumbling upon the opportunity of a lifetime and hitting a homerun on the art, to having my dream crystallizing in my hands, I, unfortunately, watched that same dream crushed and stolen. I was forced to rebuild it out of the broken pieces, putting everything on the line by standing up for myself publicly, speaking out in front of thousands of supportive strangers about mental health and standing up against the bullies who attempted to take credit and steal my art, finally releasing my art into the world and essentially changing my life forever.

If I hadn’t used the art I was making as an outlet to express what I was going through, I would’ve imploded from the internal pressure and mental weight of the journey.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly, etc., we all battle with our mental health and it’s critical that we find our outlets and routines that keep it in check. For me, that outlet happens to be drawing, every day, all the time. It’s nice to know that my art is now part of some people’s routines and outlets for their own mental health — full circle.

This is where Dented Feels’ main mantras was born — “Dented, Not Broken,” which is a call to action, to get up when life knocks you down. It is a call of solidarity in that we are all enduring the same universal struggle on our journey, and yet we persist. This universal struggle gives us something to connect over and share with one another. Opening up and connecting is one of the best ways to endure the day-to-day struggles we all face in different capacities.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I think this question digs into the core issue that our society gets wrong when speaking about the idea of chasing our dreams, because it separates me as someone that has manifested my dreams from someone else who has not.

In my opinion, that’s the wrong way to look at pursuing your dreams, because it risks hanging the success of your dreams on whether you do or do not reach some desired destination or outcome.

To me, having a dream means that you’ve found something in your life that adds enough meaning and value that it’s worth striving for; it’s worth living for. Once you’ve found that, you’ve already made it. You can forget about reaching the destination, because that’s not actually what you want. Having the dream is the thing you want. Having something to chase every day that gives your life a little more value, that gives each day a little more purpose — that’s what you want. Chasing a dream is the dream.

If Dented Feels were to implode tomorrow, my dream would not go along with it. As long as I’m breathing, I will pursue my dream of creating art that possesses transcendent meaning, with the hope that it may help someone through their life’s struggle, as other people’s art has helped me through mine.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The origin story of the project certainly caught a lot of people’s attention in the NFT space. I was working on a prior project, pouring my heart and soul into my artwork with the intention of releasing it under that banner.

After a business dispute resulted in my immediate expulsion from the project, I was left broken, comforted by my wife and young daughter, staring at the shattered fragments of my broken dreams. To add insult to injury, that prior project carried on by directly copying my artwork, using the character I had created — a character that I had created to represent my struggles, my soul, and myself. It was a violation hard to put into words.

Yet, miraculously, I found the encouragement to stand up and fight for my art. I received a flood of support from people who saw what happened and encouraged me to not let these people bully me out of the NFT space. Without a second thought, I got back to work on making my art. I responded to someone that had reached out with a particularly encouraging message, and they offered to provide me with the support and resources to launch my own project.

With their guidance and support, I released a public statement claiming my art and sharing my story, while simultaneously announcing my newest project, Dented Feels, that same day. By this time, my prior project had amassed a substantial amount of hype and was cultivating a very large community of supporters. So, when I released that statement, there was no telling what the outcome would be.

I was putting my neck way out there, reliant upon the faith that people would read my words and empathize with my struggle. I fully accepted the reasonable outcome that my neck would be severed and I would never make art in the space again. However, the exact opposite occurred. People connected with my story and an overwhelming wave of support flooded the NFT space. I ended up speaking in front of thousands of people sharing my story, which allowed for people to also stand up and share their own stories about how they’ve gone through similar experiences. They shared their belief about how my story could represent a paradigm shift for digital artists in the future — a future where digital artists have the autonomy and empowerment to carve their own creative paths.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Stories like mine don’t happen in isolation. The story of Dented Feels wouldn’t be what it is without the people in the Web3 space today. When I considered myself down and out, dozens and dozens of people reached out encouraging me to keep going and offering to help me put my art out.

NFTs are a new space for artists. This wasn’t something that I could just turn around and release on my own. If it wasn’t for all that early support, there’s no way I would’ve rebounded as quickly as I did. This includes the people on my team today. If they hadn’t reached out when they did and offered their advice and guidance, this could’ve gone in a totally different direction. If those same people hadn’t rallied around me in support of my art and provided the necessary resources to give me a shot, none of this would’ve unfolded the way it has. It’s honestly crazy to think back on it right now because none of it was planned, it was all just a domino effect caused by gut feelings and leaps of faith.

It’s what makes the project so significant. It’s a 100% organic creation of circumstance. As an artist, it means everything to have a project so pure and honest, to have created this project in the way that we did, for the reasons we did, to bring together a community like we have.

And yet, to me the most interesting thing isn’t my story, it’s all the stories I’ve heard from other people — strangers — who have been inspired by the art and my story and shared with me how much Dented Feels and the mantra “Dented, not broken” has spoken to them. The fact that my story and the art I created from it can be a symbol for people to open up about their struggles with mental health, and to come together over such a positive and life-affirming purpose really goes to show the power that art has to bring people together. And it’s definitely motivating to keep making more art.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention my family. My wife and daughter have been on this journey with me from the jump. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to have them alongside me throughout this ride. Without them in my life, there’s absolutely zero chance that I would’ve navigated this journey in the way that I have. Plus, it’s pretty cool to have my daughter constantly giving me ideas for new art, telling me to make floating island bodies, firework dreams, etc. We’re a very close family unit and my journey becomes their journey just as much as their journey becomes mine.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

It’s way different admitting you have something wrong with your mind than with your body. Anyone can ask for help when they have a broken leg. People don’t want to admit something’s not right with their mind. The mind is you. Our mind is where we understand our sense of identity and consciousness exists. Admitting we have a mental illness is like admitting our mind is broken, or worse, it’s like admitting there might be something wrong with your core sense of self. It’s a complicated issue.

Perhaps, it’s easier to just pretend like everything’s fine than it is to open up and be vulnerable. Answering this question reminds me of this widely recognizable meme — “This is fine.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the meme, imagine a cartoon dog sitting at a table drinking coffee. A raging fire surrounds the dog as the room around the dog has gone up in flames. The dog is sitting there with a pained smile and saying to itself, “This is fine.”

Now, imagine you are the dog, the house is your mind, and the fire raging around you is the mental illness. Not talking about mental illness would be like the dog sitting and pretending everything is fine. Talking about the fire inside your mind would start you on the path of exploring possible solutions before it engulfs you completely.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

First let me say, I am focused on keeping my own mental state together, so take my opinions on what other people, society, or the government should be doing better about mental illness, with a grain of salt.

Having said that, I like seeing individuals take more leaps of faith to open up and be vulnerable with each other. Being vulnerable risks further struggle, but it also opens the door for support and connection. And if we all make that leap together, we will all be there to support each other.

A lot of what dealing with mental illness looks like is just having the right person to talk to at the right time on the right day so you can get through to the next day. From my personal experience, there’s something about having someone open up to you, being willfully vulnerable — that demands empathy and bonds people. You have to open up to others to connect with them and it’s much easier to get through hard times when you have someone to connect with from time to time.

We as a society need to lead with compassion and support and not value each other based on achievements. I think one tangible way to do this would be in the form of more pooling of resources. I live in America where we have some of the worst mental health rates.

We also created all major social media platforms, and are prescribed the largest number of drugs per capita. The mental illness problem here is large. Mental illness is not something that is fixed overnight. It’s something that has to be improved over generations. I think we need to focus on small-scale initiatives like community projects, youth centers, after school programs, initiatives in schools, etc.

Start young.

Normalize the discussion about mental health and wellness from a very early age. Build a support structure for the youth that mitigates many of the problems that cause mental illness in the onset. Society needs to focus on making sure the next generation of people is being brought up better than the generations before.

While I do not feel knowledgeable enough about large-scale government and policy to cast my opinion on what ought to be done at that level, it would certainly be nice to see a paradigm shift in the direction of providing more resources to society at large around the area of mental health.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

I don’t know if I have any sort of strategy for my well-being. My wife would be a better person to answer that; she’s focused her entire career on proactive well-being. I run more on intuition and gut feeling, rather than some understood step-by-step process.

The only strategy I have is in the way I choose what I do with my time. I spent a long time meditating on what I want to do with my limited time on this earth. I pursue intrinsic values, like love and art, where the pursuit of the thing brings purpose into my life, and that purpose helps to negate the sense of hopelessness I would feel otherwise. I’m fortunate to have found drawing as an outlet for myself. I also think having surrounded myself with things that have intrinsic value to me was the best way to fill my life with purpose.

As for steps 2 through 5, I guess I’m still working on figuring that out.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Music. Philosophy. Comedy. If visual arts are my creative outlet, these three mediums are my creative inlet.

I like music for its power of emotion.

I like philosophy for its bedrock understanding.

I like comedy as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.

I listen to music, video essays on philosophy, comedy specials (often while drawing) as a way to keep myself out of my mind and put me into the mind of someone else, to explore a way of thinking about life though their lens. It helps to reset my perspective on things and bring me back to a place where I can see clearly, like cleaning the windshield of my mind so I can see the road ahead and not be distracted by the smudges and dead bugs on the glass (that was a random metaphor, but I feel like it gets the point across).

This is the power that art has had on me. It helps me endure my struggles with mental illness. It inspires me to be more open, honest and vulnerable. If I can create art that inspires someone else in the way that other people’s art inspires me, then I’m spending my time doing what I’m here to do.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell them the same thing I have to tell myself every day — “Try not to be too hard on yourself.”

The universe around you is massive and everything’s already in motion, and has been in motion for billions of years. Realistically, there’s only so much you can expect from yourself to be able to accomplish in a day, or in a lifetime. I would encourage everyone to avoid thinking about waking up tomorrow and making a dramatic positive impact.

Instead, focus on taking this journey one step at a time.

Focus your effort into making sure that your next step is in a positive direction. If you do that every step, then at least you can be confident that your life is headed somewhere worth going. Where the journey takes you is mostly out of your control anyway.

At the end of the day, as long you’re getting out of bed in the morning and making a honest, genuine effort in your life, then you’re doing alright in my book.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Dented Feels on Instagram and Twitter — @DentedFeelsNFT.

You can follow me on Twitter (@dentinmyhead) and my newly created Instagram (@dentedfeels).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dentin Garrett of Dented Feels Is Helping To Champion Mental… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.