For most of her life, Jaguar Jonze’s Deena Lynch closely guarded the gates to her inner world of unspeakable pain; a place where the wounds from a childhood marked by physical, emotional and sexual abuse remained as raw and real as the day they were inflicted.
While she could not name this pain, she could sing about it, although only obliquely at first, and channel it on stage. Creative expression felt healing and cathartic. Next, she could draw it, then write about it, until finally she could say those four horrific letters aloud as she stood before a crowded room: PTSD.
Lynch, aside from being an incendiary musician, is a talented visual artist who, under the Spectator Jonze moniker, colourfully depicts the realities of mental illness, through surreal portraits of subjects that she interviews. She explains how creating her fiftieth SJ piece, a self-portrait, triggered a flurry of healing.
“That was my first little baby step into talking about [my PTSD], I guess. At the time, when I drew it, in the picture, it’s still quite hidden but then when I was able to take the time to post it [on social media], I’d already progressed passed that and was able to talk about it in the caption.”
“That was all that I could manage at the time, and then a few months later, I was able to write an article about it. So I would say that little portrait opened a door to a room that I had never opened before publicly and from there it just swung right open and was able to write a caption about it and then an article and then a year on, I could publicly speak about it in front of 400 people.”
By exposing her dark past to the light, by releasing the toxic shame and secrecy that had chained her for two decades, Lynch began the process of healing. One of the most confronting stages in healing from childhood trauma, though, is revisiting past abuse and identifying how this has shaped your perceptions of self, your cognitive maps, your beliefs about what you deserve, what is right and wrong.
Lynch explains how this year, this stage of healing was forced upon her in the most horrific way when she was sexually assaulted by two men.
“I didn’t know why it felt bad or why it felt wrong or why I felt guilty or shameful.”– Deena Lynch
“I didn’t know what my boundaries were or what my rights were and I came to realise that this wasn’t my first sexual assault abuse or harassment or rape or whatever it is, I have been through it plenty of times before but it was that event that made me aware of all the times in my past because my reality was so skewed by abuse.”
“I honestly didn’t know it was wrong until I talked to a healthy person. I’d be like ‘this happened tonight, I don’t know why I’m feeling like shit, I might be just a bit of a drama queen or something’ and someone just goes point blank ‘Deena, that’s sexual assault, that’s rape, that’s abuse’ and I went ‘oh no, surely not’ because my perception was so skewed.”
While the human survival response is traditionally phrased as “fight or flight”, Lynch survived her childhood through the third, less discussed strategy; by freezing.
“When I freeze, I just take it and I numb myself and I don’t do anything about it and I do it because it was the best survival mechanism up until this point, and I think the turning point this year has been realising ‘Deena, you’re an adult now and you’re in a completely different situation and you are actually allowed to change your pattern and survival mechanism because it’s not the best survival mechanism anymore.’”
Jaguar Jonze’s newest single, “Beijing Baby”, is Deena fighting back, like Rocky in the 12th round.
“I think I held myself back with shame and listening to people who didn’t believe in me and that’s an easy persuasion but I think once I hit rock bottom, you really need to do what you need to do for you to survive and function, and for me what I need to do is creativity and expression and all those noises that were in my everyday just got tuned out and I just needed to do what I needed to do for myself.”
The song, and its accompanying film clip of cinematic splendour, is not only a call to arms, but also a call for self-awareness, for us to look inside and examine the scripts that we have learned during our upbringing, and how our instinctual responses and perceptions may not only be wrong, but may also be harming us and others.
“Beijing Baby” is just the first flaming single after Lynch’s rebirth from the ashes; what comes next could burn the whole world down.
Jaguar Jonze play Big Sound on 3 and 5 September.