Friday, 3 August 2018

Art Therapy and my mental health.

You have probably noticed that the blog has been quiet of late. There's two big reasons. Firstly over the Summer I crew Empire, a LARP run by Profound Decisions. I had played previously but this year I joined the crew team in GOD (Game Operations Desk) and I am so glad I made that decision. Due to my ME I struggled to get as much out of the game as I wanted as a player. Crewing is perfect. I actively enjoy helping other players and then time I get in character is stress free. However Crewing is very hard work and I end up utterly exhausted afterwards. It takes me about a week to be any sort of functional post game and three weeks or so to get back to my "normal" level of functionality which of course still has ME. When games are only six weeks apart and I have other things going on in between, that makes the summer a difficult time and far less productive that I would like. Obviously my ability to blog takes a hit.
The other iss ue has been my mental health and that's really what this blog post is about. I have suffered with mental health issues for the majority of my life. I first showed signs of depression and anxiety when I was about eight years old. I'm 33 now. At times in my life it has been terrible all consuming and even a dangerous illness. A lot of the time it is managed well.
I find it a little odd to talk about at times. I am very open about having mental health issues and always willing to talk about my experience and observations. At the same time I am a vey private and guarded person who doesn't share personal details. What this means is that I will often talk about my dealings with mental health is very general and abstract terms, and quite freely when I am doing well. However I very rarely talk to anybody at all about what I am experiencing directly, when I am experiencing it. I am very good at hiding it from people, not talking about it, glossing over and diverting conversations. An extraordinarily tiny number of people know what goes on inside my head, and an even smaller number know what's happening in real time. Now this isn't super healthy and I am getting better at opening up a little.
I have been working with a therapist over the past 9 months or so who has been tremendously helpful. I have also started doing DBT group work which is also proving helpful in learning how to manage particular events with my mental health.
Now, unsurprisingly I don't want to go into the ins and outs of exactly what is going on in my head, the triggers or causes. It's very personal and incredibly difficult for me to talk about. Part of my issues are caused by my hormones. I have a progestogen deficiency which causes something known as Pr-Menstrual Dysphoria. What this does is cause severe mental health issues including depression, mood swings and anxiety four about two weeks of every month linked to my hormonal cycle.  It is mostly controlled by using things like the progestogen implant but it doesn't cancel out the effects completely.
Additionally, even without that I would probably have depression and other mental health issues caused simply by the way my brain produced chemicals as well as due to events which happened in my past. I can't get away from them.
So I am working with a Dr to find the right dosage of progestogen to take (I will need tablets in addition to the implant) to manage the PMD and the therapist to understand and manage what goes on in my head.
It's actually pretty hard work and exhausting in itself. When it is going on at a time when I am physically exhausted due to events and my ME it can become even tougher.

So on to art therapy. I am not formally doing art therapy, but I do enjoy art and my therapist has come to udnersand that while I struggle immensely to talk about some of my issues I am able to paint and draw things to help explainw hat is going on. So I am encouraged to do so. It helps me and my therapist better understand the situation. Before moving on I want to just make a distinction about art therapy.
Sometimes people think that art therapy is things like colouring books, drawing or doodling as a soothing activity that forms a part of self care allowing people to feel calmer, more connected or centred. This isn't strictly art therapy, but is art as therapy and is subtly different. It's still very valuable but not quite the same. Art therapy on the other hand specifically uses artistic methods as a tool in helping patients to understand explore and communicate their thoughts and feelings. It can simultaneously be a therapeutic process but the focus is on using the art as a way of understanding or managing the mental health issues. Art Therapy is usually directed by a therapist and carried out with heir guidance with some sort of discussion about the art during or after the process of creating. The inclusion of a therapist is important as there are occasions when it can be a difficult or painful process to go through as the artist patient starts to encounter difficult or traumatic feelings.

For this reason what I have been doing sits somewhere on the fence between art therapy and art as therapy. It is specifically me trying to express and visualise some of the experiences I have with my mental health. They help me to understand them better and allow me to discuss and demonstrate to my therapist. However I am free to create them outside of therapy sessions and art itself is a soothing and therapeutic activity for me.

So the paintings themselves. I am sharing them with you because I would love to be more open about my experiences but I physically can not find the words to do so. My own brain won't let me tell you. But I can show you. I can let you see and hope you understand. More than that you might relate to some of the paintings and recognise what is going on. I have already shown these paintings individually on Instagram and have had a few people say that yes, they connect with that imagery.

Painting these has been a benefit to me. They will continue to be a benefit as we dissect them in therapy and as I look back on them and am able to take control of my brain by being able to visualise neatly what is happening.
I am still going to be a little cagey in describing each one. I hope the paintings speak for themselves.
If you do recognise or connect with any of them  then please feel free to leave a comment or if you would like you can email me.

Mental health 1 - Anxiety. fountain pen drawing with watercolours.
[image description: photograph of a large painting. There is a black ink sketch of a brain centre bottom and filling the rest of the sheet directed toward the brain are bold paint stroked of indigo paint. There are blotches of magenta paint interspersed. There are rough horizontal lines drawn randomly over the paint. Some of the paint overlaps the brain.]

Close up of Anxiety showing blue paint over laying the sketch of the brain, splotches of magenta and bold ink lines.
Mental Health 2 - Intrusive thoughts.
[image description: rough pen and ink sketch of a face with eyes screwed shut. The face is surrounded by messy pools of blue watercolour with streaks of dark lavender and yellow ochre. The paint overlaps the edges of the sketch. The paint has a patina or pattern of small white splotches.]

Close up of Intrusive Thoughts showing texture in blue paint caused by sprinkling salt onto wet paint

Close up of Intrusive Thoughts showing strong lines of yellow ochre over the softer patches of blue.
Mental Health 2 Anxiety Attacks
[pen and ink sketch of a naked human body in a fetal position with their hands over their head. The figure is surrounded by jagged grey clouds which sharp lines reaching out toward the figure. Closer to the figure is a soft red hue with tendrils overlapping the figure drawing.]

Close up of Anxiety Attacks showing the tangle of grey and red lines overlapping the figure

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