Grabbing a pencil, crayons or paint can be the best prescription for battling adversity and maintaining mental health. Like many other families, our family is rife with mental health challenges. They have presented in the forms of anxiety, depression, addiction, ADHD, breakdowns and work-life imbalance stress. Repeatedly, I have seen family members engage in creative projects as tools to harness negative feelings and calm the soul. Creativity has shifted perspectives facilitating balance, healing and optimistic action. I have witnessed how making art has provided wonderful therapy. In this post, I will share some of my family experiences by briefly looking at some of the causes of our pain and trauma and how we used art to help us heal.
My father was a master in using art as a healing tool while he battled the mental and physical challenges of battling kidney cancer. My father was first diagnosed at 70, five years after retiring. At 72 he was told he’d have 80% chance of not making it to the end of the year and 80% of 80% every year after. Hence, the probability he would depart in short order. At this point, my father went into overdrive managing his illness like a business. In addition, he spent much of his free time playing with painting, sketching and carving. He took lessons with various mediums and most importantly practiced. He said he struggled with original ideas but was a copycat and really enjoyed doing his own spin on The Group of Seven. He even used pastels to show his pain. Yes, he tried to imagine his cancer pain and depicted it in several more abstract pieces. My father defied all odds and lived 8 years after his palliative diagnosis. Did his artistic endeavours help him stay alive? I believe they did.
Both our sons superficially played with art during their early teens, but it was quickly replaced with music and sports. However, our one son in his twenties began using colouring to relax and distract his mind from work. He has chosen colouring books that include positive mantras also those with mandalas. He has since shared that several young adults he knows engage in the same practice.
Over the years, I have bugged Mark, my worrying husband, to engage in art. We have attended art classes and paint workshops plus we have drawn each other pictures for birthdays and Christmas. Upon retirement, we produced a short film on Mark’s art journey. Since retiring, Mark has not only played with paint but has used his digital stick figure drawing to illustrate my story Mini Mighty Merry Molly. Presently, he is creating stick figure sketches for another story, Surrendering in Silence. He reflects that when drawing he relaxes and any stress or anxiety dissolves.
Over the years, I have supported friends and family through mental health crises and addiction issues. As a bystander, one feels helpless. Consequently, one needs to constantly remember: “It is not your journey but the other person’s”. It requires detaching with love. How can this be done when anxiety and ruminating worry eat away at one’s psyche? Distract oneself with art or creative projects. I use my writing and art therapy to keep myself mentally healthy. It has worked for me!
My hope is that our family’s various healing ‘art therapy’ experiences might inspire you to grab a pencil, crayon or paintbrush and sketch, colour or paint your way to a state of positive and healing mental health.
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