Finding meaning in the darkness

three red flowers painting

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on the health benefits of art. For this week’s post I thought that I would share my own story and how art has helped me.

Throughout my life I have lived with mental illness. When I was in my late 20’s I became very ill and I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression.

As a child I often felt sad and anxious.

As a child, I didn’t have the capability of processing what I was experiencing, and I certainly couldn’t explain it.  Adults would often say that I had an “Old soul” because I was so serious all the time. Kids found me strange and different, and I thought that about myself which made making and keeping friends near-impossible. So much of my time was spent alone and I would read, journal, or draw.

Putting crayon to paper was a great escape from the heaviness of my inner and outer world.

Art was my favorite subject in school. Other subjects required concentration and focus that I was incapable of producing. Art worked cooperatively with my thoughts rather than forcing me to fight against my busy, preoccupied mind.

journal spread - silence
She must be kept silent.

As a young adult I battled depression and anxiety

I left high school at 17 with only half the credits required to graduate. I moved in with my boyfriend (now my husband) and started working full time in food service. This is when I stopped making art.

To sum up the next decade, I continued to work, moving up from food service into retail and then the call center environment as a customer service agent for a financial institution.  I returned to school and completed my high school. I attended night classes in office administration and even took a Women’s Studies course at the university just to prove to myself that I could.

My mental illness would flare up from time to time. I would have bouts of anxiety or experience panic attacks. My depression would prevent me from getting out of bed for a few days. These bouts were solved with a trip to the hospital for crisis intervention which would result on being put on a medication and I would be on my way. I always bounced back quickly and just got on with my life.  It was easy enough to bury my mental illness and keep pushing myself forward. I did that for years until I was in my late 20’s when finally, it all came to a head.

art journal spread - existance
I consumed all space without limit and took no space at all.

Finally it all come undone

At that point in my life, everything unravelled. I found myself unable to work, I bounced in and out of the hospital for years, and I lost all sense of purpose.

Fortunately for me, I have a psychiatrist who monitors my medication and who sees me on a regular basis. With the help of finding the right medications and intensive therapy, I am recovering.

Part of my therapy included making art to express my feelings. I made collages in group therapy that represented myself and my feelings. Making art clicked with me right away as a way of expression, and all the joy that I had experienced while creating as a child came back instantly.

I started participating in an art show put on by the “London Regional Mental Health Society”. It is an art show that showcases the work of artists in London living with mental illness.  One year, Margaret Trudeau was given a tour of the show, and she bought my collage. (Ms. Trudeau was married to former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and her son Justin is now or current Prime Minister.)

During another year, I was asked to speak at the opening reception of the show. I want to share a bit of my speech because I feel it best sums up how art has helped me in my healing.

To become well again I have had to learn to let go.  I need to be still and pay attention to my voice within.  I also need to express my emotions and open myself up to others.  I can do this freely and safely through my art.

Arthur Koestler said that “True creativity often begins where language ends.”

My first works expressed my feelings which expression transcended beyond words.  Dramatic and bold coloured forms composed to represent what I was feeling with precision.

Although the subjects of my work have changed over the years the peace that I find during the creative process remains the same.  It is when I am creating my art that I find peace within.  When I’m working on my art my mind is set free to explore different ideas and my imagination can soar.

I have participated in the “Framing of the Phoenix” for three years now.  This exhibit is a source of hope and inspiration.  Each of us that have chosen to show our work in this exhibit, have chosen to share a part of ourselves.  I believe that the struggles that each of us face, are partially identifiable to everyone as part of the human experience.  -2008

This seems like a good place to stop for now.  I will continue to share about my experiences in upcoming posts because it is what shapes my passion for art and especially for art journaling.

How has art helped you? What motivates you to create your art? Please leave a comment and help keep the conversation going.

Have a great week!


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