The problem is, as great a therapy art is, when you’ve reached such a level of disconnect with your creativity it’s incredibly difficult to take that first step to use art as therapy. Especially if you’re doing it alone, then it becomes as good as impossible. It’s not simply a case of knowing that doing this activity will help you feel better so you do it – if only it was that easy! No, this is much more complex.
When you’ve placed a certain expectation or pressure upon yourself (in my case it was that I would get out my materials and pick up where I left off 10 years earlier) that fuels fear. If not addressed quickly, this fear increases, and continues to grow with or without your conscious input.
Once this fear takes hold, every day of not taking action makes it harder to even think about taking that first step. Days turn into weeks, months, years…. When I packed my art materials away I had no idea it would be 10 years before I unpacked them. I’d never intended it to be that long but with every year that passed the connection with my art got weaker, my confidence diminished and my fear increased. And as my confidence went and fear took over, I fell deeper and deeper into this hole I’d created for myself with an impossible climb to get out of it.
It got to the stage where the pain of not creating was actually less than the pain of not trying – so my art materials remained firmly packed away and I eventually accepted creativity as something I’d had and didn’t have any longer and got on with my life.
That changed though when someone who was new in my life saw some photos of my old paintings. Their first reaction was “you have to start painting again!”. I was a little taken aback, surprised at how passionately it was said, how much resistance I felt to it…. but there was a flicker of longing there too, “oh yes, that would be nice”, before I shut that voice back down.
Although I dismissed the idea of painting again, something deep in me held on to that comment, kept it safe, protected, hidden where I wouldn’t find it and stamp on it! Because about a year later, I was in my clinic with a couple of hours break between patients. I was pretty much at the lowest point in my depression and had spent much of the time in tears. I was on the phone to the person who had made that comment (he was now my partner) and he asked me what I thought would help me move forward from this place.
I’m not sure where it came from, but the first words out of my mouth were “I want to start painting again”. Then I sobbed. I’m in my clinic room, next patient due in less than 30 minutes and I’m full-on snot-bubble sobbing because I’ve just declared I want to start painting again.
But it wasn’t like the tears of a few moments earlier – it was elation. In that moment I felt so much relief, joy, excitement, fear…. so many emotions from one simple statement. It had come out of my mouth without my even realising it was there and it took me by complete surprise – but oh, what a wonderful surprise! All those years that I’d kept it away, tucked in the darkest recesses of my being so that it couldn’t torment me with my broken dreams. And now, without my even realising it was near, it had burst forth with a declaration that couldn’t possibly be unheard.
My partner was 100% supportive of my request and his reaction was “well about bloody time!”.
That was the point at which I started to allow the idea headspace. I didn’t start immediately, it was some time until I actually felt I could get my materials out, but it had opened me up to the notion that perhaps I could do it again, and this time I would have someone with me who supported me in my decision.
And from that came a year of gently taking those first steps, learning how to manage my own expectations (so difficult!) and getting back on my creative journey.
So yes, I totally agree that art IS therapy and is a very valid tool – but if you aren’t in that place where you can actually go and pick up the brushes, or take out your sketch book, or open your textile box, then it isn’t going to be helpful. If you’ve allowed yourself (intentionally or not) to become so disconnected from it and fear of failure and disappointment prevent you from even considering being creative again, then it actually becomes the source of the problem rather than therapy.
If you like what I do, please support me!
© Natalie Day 2019