Art & An Open Conversation About Mental Health
It was around 11 pm and I felt restless as usual. Having dealt with bouts of insomnia most of my life, this is pretty normal. I was listening to music and felt the itch to work on something. I grabbed some Newsprint paper left over from college, I hadn't even opened the package. While gathering my materials, a line from the song I was listening to jumped out to me - "Hangin' by a Thread" from a Nothing But Thieves song 'Hanging'.
It kept repeating itself over and over in my head almost obsessively. I began by writing my thoughts across the paper sideways thinking it could make an interesting backdrop for who knows what. I then grabbed my vine charcoal and began sketching and outstretching set of hands over the handwritten background. I didn't think much of it while working on it, just kept plugging away chasing this feeling I kept getting hit with from this repeating lyrics. I cut some string I dug up from the bottom of a drawer and decided it would make a lovely addition to this piece. I've seen some incredible yarn artists over the years who incorporate beautiful, intricate and abstract additions to their pieces with delicately placed pieces of yarn so perhaps I was drawing from that subconscious inspiration.
Having struggled with mental illness most of my life, feeling low was no new sensation to me. I was married, had a steady job, friends, a house, my health, a good family... I felt guilty for how depressed I had become. Anytime I starting going downhill, I generally plagued myself with guilt telling myself how so many people have it so much worse than me, which ultimately made me feel worse. I was suicidal for years since having endured psychological and sexual trauma as a teenager for several years. I would usually take to alcohol and prescriptions to drown the thoughts.
I eventually sought psychological help when I was around 18 years old which was when I was committed to a mental hospital for a brief time. Having been 5150'd, I no longer trusted health care professionals. I felt betrayed by my doctor. I trusted her and was honest with her. This was the first time I told a professional about my visual and auditory hallucinations and how I would randomly "switch" off and not remember periods of time. It took literal years for a therapist to finally diagnose me with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder - often a PTSD response) which I had never heard of before. However, before being properly diagnosed, my doctor sent me to be locked in a room alongside some crazy person who defecated herself while screaming and writing on the walls. The windows were boarded up so we couldn't see sunlight and we were only allowed outside for about an hour a day. No person can heal in this environment. Looking back I can see how a medical professional would be fearful of someone expressing their trauma and telling them that you're seeing people who aren't there. Regardless, the horribleness of the environment of that mental facility will forever be burned into my memory. That experience sparked my dream of opening up a treatment center of my own. One with a beautiful garden, sanctuary animals for assisted therapy treatments, home cooked meals and yoga... but that'll be a proposal for another post.
I felt like a monster for years. I felt incredibly alone even though I was always surrounded by people, some who really did love me. I pushed away everyone I could knowing I'd eventually just hurt them because I was such a mess and I didn't know why. I felt like I always let people down. I felt like a burden. Sometimes I still do. I eventually gathered the courage, feeling like rock bottom, I decided to seek help again. It had been almost a decade since I last talked to a therapist. I began my journey with BetterHelp in October 2019. It's a wonderful platform that pairs you with a licensed counselor who you can message anytime you need, chat via phone or Facetime.
I spent years looking for the right doctor, researching, meeting and never finding the right fit. With this platform, I was able to fill out a lengthy questionnaire about what's most important to me in a therapist and I was paired with a fantastic therapist who works with me, truly listens and cares. I couldn't have been matched with a better therapist! Everyday I'm thankful for how much she has helped me. We speak weekly, sometimes more frequently. Another reason I love this platform is because I've never had Medical coverage that has covered Mental Health. Each in office appointment cost between $105 - $180 which I could only afford once a month. I needed, and still need, more frequent treatment than once a month. BetterHelp allows me unlimited messaging, journaling that I can keep private or share with my therapist and weekly 1 hour phone chats for the same price as one in office visit with a traditional therapist. She listens to my needs and always has amazing resources to help me through my journey. Though teletherapy doesn't work for everyone, it has been amazing for me and has truly changed my life.
If you are someone who is struggling with mental illness, know you are not alone! Though it can be incredibly difficult to reach out for help, I encourage you to find the things that spark joy in your life and schedule regular time for those activities. Even if it's just a walk outside to smell the flowers when you're feeling blue, little new habits help tremendously in recovery. Also, do not fear seeking help! You will be astonished at the response from people when you genuinely ask for help. Asking for help isn't a weakness so get that out of your head! Exercise also became a pivotal point in my healing. I found the endorphins released from exercise did more for me than medication and through maintaining a healthy diet, consistent (5-6 days a week) exercise, journaling, therapy, sleep, painting and meditation, I am now off of my antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication as of January 2020. I encourage you to paint, draw and create things. Even if you think it's going to be a disaster. Put on your favorite album or movie and just start drawing lines and shapes. Creativity is healing and just know there is hope. There is a light. There is recovery. You are not alone.
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