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Mental Health

The Mechanics of Mental Health and Art Therapy

Back in 2016, my therapist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I was going through a rough patch, that’s for sure. I was depressed. I contemplated killing myself. I practiced self-harm. Not often, but the scars still exist. For some reason, however, I didn’t want to believe that was it—that I was suffering from a condition and not merely the impact of circumstance and environment. I visited her two more times before asking myself, ‘’Do I really need this person? No, really. Do I need someone telling me that an issue exists and that medicine is the most effective option to get out?’’ I knew what the answer was. It was right there in front of me. I was intent on getting better, and maybe during that first visit, all I wanted was to let my feelings out to a certified stranger, once, and be done with it and move on.

And so, I eventually turned to writing. I was always a storyteller. Whether I was actually participating in the craft or not, when I was little, I had the habit of creating things (cities, contraptions, etc.) out of ordinary objects. These items might have served a singular purpose to some, but to me, and like many other creatives, I assume, a green twist tie from the grocers could be conjured into a stick figure; a plastic bag, when blown up with air, could become the world’s best volleyball; a lone stack of cardboard had the potential to be organized and cut into a shelter for my stuffed animals—which by the way, often had first and last names. That was fun. But of course, the years grow on and these habits either shed off like dead skin or manage to birth into their own metamorphosis, a more mature activity, so they say.

I was and still continue doing freelance work. However, the in-between period of working and not working may prompt a sense a hesitation, depending on who you ask, but especially to those who are new to the idea of working from home. What do I do now? Do I take a quick break? Should I run errands? For me, this moment was fortunately short-lasted, as I often took this time as an opportunity to write. Not a copywriter assignment or wellness article for the start-up I was once working for, but pure poetry. It relieved me. It provoked me. It was like a breath of fresh air. It made me think. Sometimes, it made me grieve.

When I first approached the craft, I was fighting writer’s block with my first novel. I turned to poetry for creative relief and (unintentionally) fell in love with it. I liked the rhythms and grooves of Angelou. I longed for the jazz-like confessions of Hughes. I bathed in Plath’s imagery. In a sense, I also discovered that in writing my own poetry I was unraveling more of myself and those around me. That surprised me. Not the fact that I just revealed my troubles with self-harm, or my interpretation of hot topics like racial profiling through the use of colors and uncanny metaphors, but the realization that I now could pinpoint where the pain was coming from. Maybe, at that moment, I didn’t know how to relive it. But the act of bleeding directly onto the paper, and recognizing the entirety of what stood before me was poetry, was like allowing the imaginary cinder block on top of my head, balancing with mercy, drop dead like a leaf. As time went on, I was finally able to approach questions like ‘’Who am I?’’ or ‘’How can I contribute to society?’’ with confidence.

Now, at that point and even today, I still come across mental tribulation. During these moments, my lenses become fogged. Sometimes it feels like oxygen is a choice and not a necessity. Other times, I honestly do not understand my purpose of being here even if the answers are around me.

. . . But if there’s one thing my therapist did rub off on me, it was the idea of acknowledging these thoughts and confronting them. This, I must note, being different from the act of analyzing a situation and simply pointing out the main ideas. I would write down how I felt, not in a blunt way, but with a means of being abstract. For example, if your anxiety were a person, what would you say to them? I turned that answer into poetry, and by the end of it all, I felt like I ran a mile. Once again, I found myself creating something. This was the turning point: not only was I exercising my own eyes and brain, but there were people out there in the writing community who actually felt my work—just as I felt every groove of their commas and semicolons.

I was brave enough to share my jottings. I remember being fearful of family members asking questions. But as of today, I couldn’t be happier to say that I’m glad I did it anyway. Even more surprising, my work has been published by five different magazines, including an anthology.

There are moments of clarity. There are occasions of doubt, confusion. However, my journey has been progressive. That’s why I’d like to offer the following advice to my fellow creatives, entrepreneurs and those who are battling inner conflict:

  • Mental wellness is all about perspective. There are subcategories to this. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the words ‘’I wish’’ or ‘’I just hope’’ from friends (and even myself). The height of your horizon is not determined by your current doings or wrongdoings. It’s determined by how much horizon you actually see.
  • Taking prescription pills is OK—until you have to rely on them to function. This comes from my own experiences and coffee table conversation. For me, at least, my life didn’t change until I decided to challenge my mindset, not the world around me. I should also note that it wasn’t until a few months later when I also realized my therapist was terrible. No, I most certainly did not have bipolar disorder—and that this was an offense to those who actually deal with the condition. The issue was letting previous trauma dictate my perception of the future. Notice the keyword here? Perception. A pill may be able to offer a person temporary relief, but ingesting food for thought and applying it lasts much longer, if not a lifetime.
  • If are seeking therapy, be aware there are good and bad therapists. Just as you would go about picking a new style of shoe, not every therapist will click. In my case, I think the reasoning behind this was obvious. But some other red flags to consider, as stated by Talk Space, is if your therapist ‘’judges you, encourages you to blame everyone for your issues, rushes a diagnosis or insists on medication before actual consoling.’’
  • Channel your inner artist to release stress and confront mental health. For me, that was poetry. But why art therapy? As stated by RTOR, ‘’creating art will give you a chance to slow down and explore any issues you may be having. Art therapy improves the mental health of people who are dealing with addictions, anxiety, attention disorders, grief and loss, dementia, depression, eating disorders, physical illness, PTSD, trauma, relationship issues and much more.’’

Another plus? You never know where your creations will take you.

Like this post? View similar content here: Bringing Out The Creative Genius In You

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by M. G. Hughes

M. G. Hughes is a published poet and novelist. Born and raised in San Diego, she first discovered her passion for storytelling at a young age—a time when her grandmother, an accomplished educator, would encourage her to write in composition books.

What inspires her most? Aside from the cultural and political factors that impact society, nature would also make this list. As she once described . . .

”Nature is my power source and pen, my ink and battery. I think there’s a point when we inch back to the trees and dirt and insects in search of familiarity. What are these colors? Where can I find relief? Does a thorn intend to hurt or do we hurt ourselves? It’s all colorful and frankly, to me, that’s also the blood and vessel of writing. If your soil lacks nutrients, your metaphors will fly but seldom take off. If your soul lacks a heart, mankind’s words are anything but a story. At that point you’re just a sack of noise and letters.”

As of now (2019) M. G. Hughes is continuing to work on getting her first poetry collection published.


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