February 9, 2018 – Managing Depression Through Art
By sharing Beverly’s story, my goal is to encourage others to take pen or brush in hand and allow themselves to step forward into the light of creativity as an alternative to sinking back into the dark, abyss of depression. It is the experience and growth that is important, not the quality of the resulting artwork. Beverly has poured her feelings onto paper without restraint or judgement. As a result of using art as an outlet for her feelings, her episodes are less frequent and shorter in duration. And … she has grown remarkably as an artist! When I asked her permission to share her story she was overjoyed, hoping that others may benefit from her experience.
Here is Beverly’s story in her own words:
Organic Art – A Process for Growth
Months before I joined Daily Sketchers, I was suicidal to the point where I called my therapist and the Crisis team. Hours of talking helped me realize that the suicidal feeling was temporary, but at the cost of time that my therapist, the police officer, and the crisis counselor could have spent in more productive ways.
Last week I felt the same, but the routine of regularly posting my art on Daily Sketchers provided discipline, commitment, and (I knew by that time) a way of processing my feelings. Though I did not really want to post that day, I knew that art would help calm me. The resulting painting, The Dark Goddess, was not aesthetically pleasing nor technically perfect, but it pleased me because it gave me a focal point for meditation. I used the piece to explore my feelings and to determine how I could productively work with and express them.
I look forward to posting in the Daily Sketchers, because it gives me a way of taking my emotional temperature. I generally include a sketch or painting of a woman. I begin with either the eyes or a posture which call to me. I let my imagination take over, and the result is usually a surprise to me. Then I look at it – give it a name. Many times, I am delighted because the resulting image is strong, powerful, and happy. How better a way to start the day!
When an image like The Dark Goddess appears, I realize it is time to step back, retreat within, ask what the image is saying to me, and determine how to address the problem. On days when I’ve dealt with a difficult emotion through art, I’ve had people comment on a change in my behavior – that I’m standing up for myself, for example. I take this as a sign of progress, as I’ve ‘failed’ assertiveness training twice!
A practice like the Daily Sketchers is helpful to artists, because of the many wonderful opportunities it presents for the person who wants to grow as an artist. But it is essential for a person who is committed to growing as a person, because it presents a framework for the exploration of emotions, a process for working through these feelings, and a catalyst for lasting growth.
I call this process organic art because it reminds me of gardening – it requires quality soil (frame of mind,) feeding and weeding (reflection/meditation) and a disciplined effort (tending the ‘garden’ daily.) With kindness and good care, the resulting yield is plentiful and healthy!
Beverly also shared with me her initial step toward self-healing through art:
It is the bleakest of times, it is the dawning of a renaissance. Chauvinism is out, feminism is in. With a button we can send a tweet, a bomb, an expression of love or congratulations, or a donation to our favorite charity. Never before in history have we been on the edge of such magnificent transformation or total destruction. The arts are blooming with new talent, mainly because of the shrinking of the planet.
I feel the Dickensian dichotomy every day; for forty years I have been living with bipolar disorder and PTSD. I used to dread each morning: would that be the day that the dark goddess would come calling? Then, in my mid-sixties, I was introduced to the magic medication that is art.
I started with collage, but I couldn’t always express my feelings. Next, I tried colored pencils, pastels, India ink and various types of pens, and finally watercolors. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, its own personality.
I use art as a therapy, diagnostic tool, and memory enhancer. Therapy, because when I am struggling, I pick the tool which seems most appropriate and experiment until the feeling melts and softens, like butter melting in a warm pan. Diagnostic tool, because after the emotion has been memorialized on paper, I ask myself what I was trying to express, then capture that in a title. Memory enhancer, because when I have ‘lost time,’ artwork can remind me of the underlying situation which infused my mood, thus enabling me to work with that situation.
This is the age of beauty, growth, and new opportunities. We, the glorious people, have the opportunity and mandate to change the direction in which this world is heading. Let’s join hands, artists. Let’s collaborate with our fellows in the humanities and scientists to bring this planet into a season of reason and rebirth. Let us rise and say, #ArtToo!
Thank you, Beverly, for giving me permission to share your journey with the world!