A change is as good as a rest, or so I am told anyway. This week has seen me picking up a paintbrush for the first time in almost twenty years, which has come as something of a shock to those who know me as I have never been known for any kind of artistic prowess, in fact quite the reverse. My high school attempts at still life and other art projects regularly reduced my teacher to despair with one notable exception, Spring The Tree Frog, he was my signature and the only attempt at art my teacher ever said was good.
My visual perceptual problems are such that I have very little concept of depth and perspective. I also struggle with different shades of some colours and this is further complicated by my impaired motor skills so all in all art, like ballet, was never something I could see myself doing.
My return to the creative arena happened quite by chance. I had my regular checkup at the hospital, the weather was cold and wet and the taxi I had organised to take me home was late. I had got as far as sticking my two front wheels out of the door of the building and I was overwhelmed by arctic winds and the smell of nicotine, I made good my retreat into a warm waiting area in order to ring the taxi again. Whilst idly thumbing through the self-help leaflets I picked one up about ‘Echo’, an organisation that provides mutual support for those who experience self-harm.
For some months now I have been experiencing depression and anxiety, this has triggered an old habit of skin picking. At times of stress I pull the skin of my hands and fingers. You may think of this as a trivial affliction akin to nail biting, disgusting possibly, but definitely not life-threatening. However, I have now picked at the skin so much it has caused a thickening of tissue which means that bending some of my joints is problematic. This makes managing a catheter interesting and wheelchair pushing tricky.
The leaflet prompted me to go to Echo to see what they were all about. I discovered that they have a timetable of activities which include an art group, that meets each Friday morning at the Dudson Centre in Hanley. The group was free to access so I thought, “What the hell!”.
Being me, I went off to do a bit of research before I went along and discovered that there is quite a history of using art as a therapy for those with mental distress. The most famous case is perhaps that of Richard Dadd who was held in Broadmoor after he murdered his father in 1843, here he was encouraged to continue painting as a form of therapy, it is now suspected that he suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia.
Thus reassured I went along to my first art session. The session was run by an art tutor who was great at supporting me, lots of people were painting owls so I thought I’d join in, it’s also the only shape I can draw so it worked out well. By the end of the session I was well and truly bitten by the creative bug and have now started producing some pieces as gifts for friends and family. It is lovely to have an activity that I can do, to create something when my head is feeling like cotton wool and rational thought is tough to do. If I cannot think clearly I can still end the day having achieved something, which is a great feeling as I still feel like me and not a complete waste of time. It is also something that I can now do at home, so if I cannot get to a group I can still have that sense of achievement, something I now know is important for my good mental health.