Tēnā koutou, e hoa mā! What a whirlwind the first half of 2019 has been. In my last blog post, I talked about holding a lot of hope for this year. It's been a difficult journey, but I eventually graduated from Segar House, and have started the next chapter of my therapeutic journey. Part of the transition included an eight week long Art Therapy group run through Hearts & Minds (formerly Raeburn House).
So, what is Art Therapy? Here's a short description from the Hearts & Minds flyer:
"Art Therapy is a form of expressive therapy that allows the individual to explore their thoughts and feelings through the creative process. In its essence, Art Therapy lends itself beautifully to uncovering emotional conflict, slowing down a ‘busy mind’, and calming anxious thoughts without the use of spoken words. The Art Therapy approach is also not reliant on you being artistic or having to produce a masterpiece – it is simply the process of creating that has been proven to increase mental wellbeing."
While Segar House also has their own Art Therapy group, I found that one hard to grasp as it was non-directed; we were given free rein to create what we wanted in the context of our emotions. The anxiety of a blank page would almost always consume me, and so I wasn't part of that group for long. Hearts & Minds' Art Therapy group was directed, which meant each week we were given some kind of prompt or exercise to further explore our subconscious, something I personally found a lot easier to work with.
While there are so many things I could update everyone on, I particularly wanted to write about my experience in this group because it sits so closely to something I'm passionate about.
cw // long post
Week 1: Mandala
For the first week we started off with something simple. Now, a mandala isn't the first thing I think of when I think of things that are 'simple', but the purpose of this exercise was to make it into something that resonated with us. We were asked to think about what brought us to the group, what we were feeling, what was happening in our lives, what we were thinking... our mandala could be anything we wanted it to be! Which was intimidating, actually. I remember sitting there staring at a blank circle for a good several minutes, afraid to pick up the oil pastels (a medium I never use - double intimidation!)
Eventually I began to play around with the colours and sensations of the pastels (right of the image); what did they feel like as they moved across the paper? What responses did the colours I chose evoke in me? What marks could I make and how could they represent my experiences and emotions? Yes, these were the questions I was asking myself.
What came out at the end was very much a visual representation of what I had been experiencing at that time. I was going through some emotions relating to saying goodbye to someone, which manifested in the pink of rose quartz, the blue of the ocean, some space between those bright, happy memories and the dark, spiky presence of abandonment and attachment. The colours soften around the edges, signifying the acceptance of this goodbye and these emotions.
(Writing like this about these pieces is giving me major art school vibes...) Next!
Week 2: ~Entering the Subconscious~
In our second session we ~entered our subconscious, oooh~ which sounds more daunting than it was. This exercise contained several stages. We started by picking one coloured pastel (those darn pastels). I chose a lovely orange. We were then asked to fill the page with lines and marks; starting for a few seconds, then stopping, then moving on to making other marks. This continued until the page was full.
In the second part we had to find symbols and images among the lines we'd drawn, and write down the words for those symbols. Mine were, flames, flowers, wind, dog, snakes and ladders, balloons, arm, and controller. Once we had gathered these words, we then had to write a sentence/story/poem using these words. This was the most exciting bit for me, I think. Poetry has recently become my 'thing'. This was my poem:
The final stage was to turn this piece of writing into something visual. I think mine speaks for itself.
If you're someone who likes to know the meaning behind things, then this was what I gathered from my poem and artwork during this session: I had been going through a huge transition. From leaving Segar House, to having to say goodbye to my therapist, to entering into a new kind of therapy with someone new... it was a lot, to say the least. A few weeks prior, I had dawned on the realisation that I hadn't made it through two years of intensive therapy to throw it all away with something like giving into self-harm urges (This is no longer a game), and that I was so much better than that. I had worked hard and I became better than that. Stronger than that. So, as I write this, I'm proud to say that I am almost three months self-harm free; the longest I've managed in a couple of years (My arm is proof / I am the controller).
I walked through the flames of my emotions; not without a few burns and scars to remind me, but it taught me that even the little things like milestones, and even managing to get up out of bed when your whole world feels like it's been turned upside down, are worth celebrating.
If I think about what my ~subconscious~ was trying to tell me, it might have been this:
"you'll be OK, e hoa. You'll be OK."
Week 3: Comics
Comics! Oh boy, oh boy! Usually this would excite me, but the last two weeks had seen me only just begin to let go of the strict control I'd been holding over myself in terms of my art. Comics, to me, had always been about planning and control, not about playfulness and spontaneity (something that's important in art therapy).
Since comics usually have a sequence, I thought over my mental health journey from the last couple of years. Before Segar House, I remember there just being darkness. As I progressed through the programme, this darkness manifested into what I named 'Dread', a physical/visual representation of the emotions that plagued me. Towards the end of the programme though, I began to learn that this wasn't a monster at all, but really my inner child crying out for help.
Rewind to a poem I wrote earlier in the year... "the story doesn't end with me vanquishing the monster / instead, I figure out that the monster was me all along". So interesting how everything comes full circle!
It's all a bit psychoanalytic, but the final panel shows the next part of my journey; the sign representing the different paths I could take, and possibly the question in my mind of,
"where to now?"
Fun Facts: the panel goes off the side of the page because my journey is continuous and not yet over! The colours in each panel are also continuous (the yellows/reds in particular) because that touch of flame and chaos will always be present with me, no matter how much progress I make. It will shape me, and hopefully become less overwhelming, but will always be an important part of my experience and recovery.
Week 4: Painting Emotions
Getting into acrylics was by far my favourite week. It was also the first week that I was able to fully let go of whatever was in my head, and just let my body take over to create something. During this week we were asked to paint our emotions. Once again, at the beginning, the intimidation of the blank page seemed almost too much, as well as the neat little blobs of paint I had sitting next to me. I didn't have an end goal in mind, but I went with that. Eventually I picked up a brush, mixed some paint, and let my hand do the rest of the work.
I'd love to be able to tell you what was going on in my head at the time; the correlations between the colours and emotions, the way I chose to make the marks on the paper... I think all of those things came afterwards, though. The individual colours themselves don't really represent emotional states, but rather the work as a whole represents how confusing the interplay of 'light' and 'dark' was for me at the time.
On the one hand, I was trying to hold all the positive memories and experiences I'd had with my wonderful therapist over the past two years, but on the other hand I was still facing unimaginable grief and sadness. You'll notice the continuation of the reds and yellows, as well as the light pinks (rose quartz) and blues (ocean). This painting is very much a culmination of everything - and I mean everything - going on in my head at the time. But creating this piece was the first time I had experienced some 'mental quiet', which was nice.
This is definitely my favourite piece I made over the 8 week course.
Week 5: Clay (Letting Go)
That's it. That's the artwork.
Just kidding. Clay is definitely not my chosen medium, despite growing up with the likes of playdough, and mum's homemade version with flour, water, food colouring, and salt (so we wouldn't eat it!) I was never good at it as a child, and as I sat there staring at this small ball of clay, I felt the same inferiority I felt all those years ago...
I think that's why this week's exercise was planned the way it was. We each had three balls of clay; the first one we weren't allowed to get attached to (haha), because this one we were going to put all of our current emotions into. We were allowed to squish it, flatten it on the table, get aggressive and throw it at the floor or wall. The first ball was all about release! I was hesitant to get up and throw it, but I had a lot of negative emotions (mostly anger) that I needed to get rid of. It was satisfying, to say the least! Once we had put everything into this ball of clay, we cast it back into the bag it came from; 'letting go' of what we were carrying.
The second ball of clay was to be shaped into something we wanted to let go, while the third was to be shaped into something we wanted more of. The thing we wanted to let go was intended to be discarded somehow, whether it was released it into the ocean, put into the garden, or destroyed; literally letting it go and returning our representation back to the Earth.
I sat with mine for a long time. See, I knew what I needed to let go, but how could I represent that in some kind of sculpture? I went through a few failed ideas before I settled on something that I had done all the way back in my first week - the rose quartz and the ocean. Specifically, I was thinking of an illustration I gave my therapist featuring both, and this was the relationship that I needed to let go. It seemed only fitting, really.
The clay versions weren't as good as the illustration, but even so, the fact that they existed was difficult for me. I refused to take them home that week; I could barely look at them. I still find it difficult, but my plan for them now is to release them back to the Earth, letting them settle with Taupō-nui-a-Tia (Lake Taupō), a place that I feel very spiritually connected to.
Finally, what did I want more of? The last formidable ball of clay sat before me with only 20 minutes of the group left. The only image that came to mind was that of smooth stones sat atop one another. One of the therapists at Segar House had gifted this image to me when I graduated, and was one I picked up during a mindfulness practice once. So, that's what I made.
Week 6: What Brought Us Here?
In the sixth week, we were asked to think about what brought us to this group. What was it that we needed? What were we looking for? What was this group intended to do for us? And finally, what things make us feel the answers to these questions? With these questions in mind, we had to create a 'design' or an emblem that embodied symbols of these things.
If that's confusing, here's one of my examples: one of the things I needed was comfort. My symbol (thing that made me feel comfort) for that was a blue blanket, or just the colour blue. Some other things I needed were things like, to soothe my inner child, love, compassion, strength, an outlet, and to let go. Each of these had a correlating symbol; something that helped me feel those things.
Honestly, I wasn't feeling it during this week. I was one week out from having to say goodbye to my therapist and face our final session. There was one point during the group where I had to leave the room because everything was overwhelming. I couldn't think about anything other than that final session, so to try and come up with a design/emblem seemed near impossible. All I needed was a break, really. I took some time to gather myself, had a lovely conversation with the art therapist who came to see if I was doing OK, and then I was able to come back to it. In the end, I decided to attribute colours to each symbol and use those instead; something that seemed to be a theme from all of my previous pieces.
What came out of it eventually was this patchwork of colour surrounded by space. Sometimes it resembles an amethyst geode with a core of colour. The final work isn't very literal, but then again it didn't need to be. Nothing done in art therapy needs to be anything other than what you make it. So as difficult as this week and this artwork was, I was pleased with how it came out, because I realised that I had everything I needed at my disposal to give me what I was looking for.
Week 7: Group Artwork
So it's Week 7, the second to last week of the Hearts & Minds Art Therapy group, and I finally figured out that you can mix the water colour tabs (as you can see above, I made a mess of them). As we walked in the door though, we were met with several large sheets of paper taped together. I knew what this meant immediately and I was instantly terrified: group work.
The aim of this exercise was all about challenging boundaries, and becoming aware of what happens when they are. It was also about relating to others; up until this group, we'd been working mostly to ourselves with sharing time at the end. What would it be like if we challenged each other's boundaries on paper? What would happen if we entered their space? What would happen if we made conversation?!
For the most part, everyone pretty much stayed within their space. It wasn't until the end that the work started to expand and come together as a whole. I started flicking paint across to the other side, so someone on the other side started doing the same, and the art therapist said, "look what you've started!" By that time a few of us were laughing and a lot more comfortable crossing into each other's territories. At one point I noticed that as I was splashing paint, I'd gotten a drop (literally a drop) on the person's paper next to me, and my anxiety skyrocketed. I let it go, though. Because that was the point, right? I was even able to talk about that at the end, and found that other people had similar experiences.
What we also noticed was that each individual brought a lot of what they'd been working on the past several weeks into this work, including themes, colours, and imagery. I'd never done anything like this before, but I thought it was a beautiful way to relate and connect to others in the group.
Week 8: Reflection
Before I started this group, I thought 8 weeks wasn't that long. But you know what? I got really emotional about leaving when it came to it. This group became a place where I could share my pain about saying goodbye and letting go, often with sighs and nods of understanding (someone else in the group had just said goodbye to their therapist too). It became a place where I felt welcomed and supported by people from all walks of life. It became a place where I found some strength when I doubted I would find any ever again. Not only that, but it pushed my artistic limits, and showed me how I could utilise art for therapeutic benefits. I paint at home now, and it's the only time I get a bit of peace from those pesky intrusive thoughts.
Looking back over my work, the one thing that stood out to me was the amount of colour. I honestly thought it would be all black and grey; doom and gloom. But it wasn't. Two years ago - before Segar House - maybe it would have been. But my world is no longer in black and white. I can see the soft pinks and the ocean blues, the fiery reds and mellow yellows. There is so much colour in my life, and my work through this course is a visual representation of that.
Despite having to face some of the most difficult emotions I've had to date, I could still see the colour. I learned that letting someone go didn't have to be filled with darkness. But what I value most of all is that I was finally able to tell myself that I would be OK, because these works came from something deep within me; something that I wasn't conscious of until it was right there on paper. Deep down I knew that I would be OK, after saying goodbye and moving forward and starting a new chapter. I will be OK.
Who knew a bit of pastel had that much power, eh?
So, that's it! If you're interested in doing this Art Therapy group (or any other group that Hearts & Minds offers) you can find term 3 start dates and group information here. Be sure to search locally as well, as there are bound to be so many art therapy groups on offer.
Now, I'm not an expert. My experience is my own. But feel free to leave any comments or questions and I will do my absolute best to answer them!
Special thank you to the group facilitator and art therapist, Sally Legg, for being so present, kind, and encouraging. (And especially for telling me that I'd make a great art therapist one day, it meant the world).
That's all for now, here's hoping it won't be another half a year until my next blog update!
Tēnā koutou, e hoa mā! As 2018 quietly transitions into 2019, there's no time like the present to reflect on the year that has been, while looking forward to the year that awaits us. One popular way to do this is Instagram's '2018 Best Nine', but if you're anything like me and really can't be bothered downloading a whole app for that, sometimes it's just best to do a little bit of self-reflection. So, I've decided to make my very own 'best nine' to look back on what has been a massive year for me; mentally, physically, spiritually... 2018 was huge!
To reflect on my year, I'd like to share my 'best nine' moments with you. It might get a bit long and heavy, but overall I really do feel like I'm entering 2019 on a positive note!
So without delay, here is my 2018 Best Nine.
CW // long post
My highlights of 2018, all neatly put together in a photo collage.
1. Moving into a new flat
In April, Jordy (my partner) and I moved into a new flat. It’s amazing how we take things like ‘being able to open windows’ and ‘actually allowed to exist’ for granted in living situations. Our last living situation was OK, but it caused Jordy and I quite a lot of anxiety. We weren't allowed to open any windows because the pets were indoor pets. We weren't really able to use any 'communal' space, so we were confined to our room pretty much all the time. Looking back, the situation made me a lot more anxious than I realised. So moving to Te Atatū South, and out of Glen Innes where I had been living my whole life, was a very exciting and stressful time.
I remember waking up after the first night, walking out onto the deck with the sunrise, and just feeling like I was able to breathe again. And after getting in a new flatmate later in the year, this is now a place that feels safe; that feels like home. The energy in the house is light, our flatmates are both lovely and supportive, and overall it's a place that I just feel so lucky to be in. Not to mention we live with two cats as well, which is always nice! Honestly, making this move was the beginning of a lot more good things to come this year, and I'm excited to do more flat bonding activities in the new year!
2. Surviving while my therapist was on leave
This one sounds a little bit dramatic, but I think this was a real turning point for me in terms of not only my mental health rehabilitation, but also my creative practice, AND developing a clearer sense of self and my spirituality. It wasn't until much, much later that I realised just how much of an impact my therapist's absence had on me (in a positive way!) It allowed me to recognise feelings of emotional attachment, as well as facing into the idea of graduating the Intensive Day Programme and having to say goodbye. The absence opened me up to grief that I had never experienced before; something I still find hard to put into words even months later.
It was this profound sadness that helped push my art in a new direction. Not only that, but it was this grief of missing my therapist so much that sparked another creative avenue: poetry. My first poem was written about this experience, and I haven't stopped writing since.
I think it was also this point in time where I really started to understand myself a bit better; in terms of how I relate to other people and how my past influences the different relationships in my life. The four weeks my therapist was away was spent doing a lot of self-reflection, and one of the things I was reflecting on was my spirituality. This in particular was sparked when my flatmate gave me rose quartz because I was struggling, and the very next day my therapist gave me a little rose quartz stone to hold on to while he was away. Rose quartz is a stone that represents the heart, and unconditional love, and I remember my therapist saying something along the lines of, "it says something about your energy." I wore that rose quartz around my neck every day until he got back.
I think back to that time a lot, actually. It really was a life-changing experience (forgive the drama, there just aren't words to do it justice, really).
3. 100 Illustrations in 100 Days
For the 100 Days Project this year I decided to do one A5 illustration a day. I'd always felt like my illustration skills were lacking somewhat, so getting into a routine of doing something illustrative every day was a really rewarding experience. The most rewarding thing about it though was how people interacted with my work. I set up a whole new Instagram account just to track my progress for this project, and it's now turned into my main art account.
I've also recently started to trial putting my illustrations on apparel, which is a strange and wonderful feeling! I'm aiming to have a shop set up on my website in the new year (a 'resolution' if you want to call it that). I haven't done any illustration recently, but it's definitely something I want to continue exploring, especially after completing all 100 illustrations!
4. Had Laparoscopic Sterilisation Surgery
August 29th, 2018. I had underestimated just how important this surgery would be for me. I had always known that I never wanted children, and so two years ago I went to my GP to ask what my options were (but basically asking for sterilisation). She referred me to a gynaecologist, who flat out told me that she would never perform a sterilisation surgery on someone my age (I was 22 at the time), so she ended up referring me to someone higher up. Long story short, I agreed to have an IUD (Mirena) put in, and if after five years I still wanted the sterilisation, they would do it.
Fast forward 18 months; the Mirena didn't agree with me at all. It affected my moods severely, to the point where I was dangerously suicidal for months. I was in near constant pain, and had been bleeding for almost half the time I had it in. Almost two years after my initial appointment, and I finally got the answer I'd been wanting. I wrote a whole poem about this. About how this wasn't just a two year wait, it had been almost seventeen years in the making. About how the surgery made me feel like my body was my own. Not only did I get the sterilisation done, but I also had the Mirena removed. It was like a light switch had gone off in my brain; I went from 5/5 suicidal urges to 0/5 literally overnight.
Four months on, and I still have no regrets about my decision. I had most definitely underestimated just how important having this surgery was for me though. It was the first step of many to reclaiming and loving my body.
5. I passed my restricted driving test
If you had of told me a year ago that I would be driving on my own before the year was up, I wouldn't have believed you. I'd had my learners since I was about 18 years old, and it was basically serving as a form of I.D. because I'd never really made any moves to obtain my restricted licence. I used public transport a lot, bussing to and from Segar House almost every day. This was fine, but I knew that getting my licence would be easier for me in the long run. I also knew it would give me a lot more independence and confidence.
I'll be honest, it took me three tries to finally get my restricted. I've only been driving for about three months, but my confidence levels have risen so much just by having this small amount of independence and freedom.
6. Experimenting with my appearance
Speaking of confidence, I think one of the major indicators of my progress this year is my outward physical appearance, and how I'm choosing to present myself to the world. This year I felt that the term 'non-binary' felt right for me, and so simple things like cutting my hair short and changing the way I dressed made me feel more like me. These aren't things synonymous with being non-binary, they're just things that made me feel more like myself.
I found myself experimenting with different clothes, new colours, new styles... things I never would have imagined myself wearing a year ago. I remember when I first started Segar House, all I wore was hoodies and leggings. Now, my favourite thing is plaid. Plaid pants, plaid dresses... you name it! I've tried to develop a style for myself, and the best thing about it is that I'm having fun while doing so. My wardrobe is a lot more colourful now than it was this time a year ago, and it's only going to get brighter!
Changing clothes and putting on a bit of make-up may seem like superficial things, but it's so much more than that. It's the conscious decision I'm making to take pride in how I present myself. It really is as simple as look good = feel good.
7. Writing poetry
I really have my therapist to thank for this one. I wrote my first poem to process my intense emotions about him being on leave, because there was no other way I could express these emotions other than art. I haven't stopped writing since. Writing has always been a way for me to process my emotions, whether it be through Twitter, or blogs, or Instagram. But I had never delved into poetry because I thought I wouldn't be good at it. When I started writing poetry, I wasn't so much concerned with whether or not it would be good, I just wanted to get my emotions out. And it's proven to be a helpful tool in processing my emotions.
More recently, my writing has become a lot more deliberate. At first, poetry was just a way to get my emotions out of my head, and so the writing was very raw. I was finding that sometimes writing would keep me in the emotion, and so it was suggested that perhaps I should try writing mindfully. By writing mindfully, I'm more aware of my emotions, and the more aware I am of them the better I can work with them.
I share some of my poetry over on a Tumblr blog, and some of it I bring to therapy, but mostly poetry has become something that I do for myself. There's something magical about how emotions come to life perfectly through words and verbal imagery. Who knows, maybe I'll try publishing some of my work at some point? For now though, I'm just grateful that I've discovered this new avenue for processing and sharing my emotional states.
8. Asking for help
Another major indicator of my progress this year is finally getting to a point where I was able to ask for help (and accept it) during times of distress. One of my goals was to notice when things would start to 'build up', so I could intercept them with skills before I reached crisis point. It took a lot of trial and error, but just last month I was able to notice that things were getting a bit too much, and I was able to ask for Respite. This is MASSIVE for me; often feeling as though I'm a burden, or that I 'should be coping', I'd avoid asking for help. I'd take the 'old road' and give in to self-destructive habits. But this time I was able to use skills enough to bring my distress down, and when my distress was lowered, I was able to ask the appropriate mental health professionals for some time in a Respite facility.
Not only was asking for help huge, but the fact I spent two days (and one night) in Respite when for the past three years I have adamantly refused Respite was also really big progress. I'd always been worried that spending a night away from Jordy would make me worse. At most, I found it a little bit hard to sleep, but being in Respite gave me the space to really think and process what was going on for me. I was finding it hard to find things to celebrate, but I'm reminding myself that progress isn't linear. Sometimes progress means making decisions for yourself that you would have never considered before, and that's what I did.
9. Finding and holding on to faith
I suppose this is something that has always been with me. I've always been pretty sure about what I believe in; The Universe, Karma, that kind of thing... I started thinking a bit more seriously about it all when my flatmate and therapist both gave me rose quartz within a day of each other. Since then, I've opened myself up a lot to the different energies around me, as well as trying to be grounded within myself.
As I said, this is something that has always been with me. I was raised in a home of superstition and witchcraft. But it hasn't been until recently that I've actually started to take it a bit more seriously. In a way, it seems like the final piece of the puzzle for me to get my life back on track; some sense of believing in something bigger than myself.
Some other things that have happened this year that I'm super proud of: burning my 'final letters', setting a date for graduation at Segar House (21st March), working through conflicts with my therapist and staying in contact with Segar, starting freelance work, participating in both zinefests, holding on to joy despite sadness, finding time to return to things I used to enjoy, practicing regular self-care... I could go on.
Overall, I've found so much to celebrate this year. There were some dark times, but there was also a lot of light too. "There is a crack in every thing / that's how the light gets in."
Some hopes I have for 2019? I hope there's more light. I hope there's more love. I hope to continue on the trajectory that I'm on at the moment; that I'm able to overcome difficulty with skill and integrity. I hope for more laughter. I hope for more quality time with the people I care about. I hope there's more colour, and art, and poetry. I hope the dark night of my soul will pass, and that the Sun will rise on a new day. January 1st, 2019.
Aroha nui. Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou.
If you've been following my work, you may have heard me talk about the 100 Days Project for quite some time now. For those of you that don't know what the 100 Days Project is, it's an annually-run creativity project that anyone can take part in! The project was started in 2011, and I've been taking part for the last three or four years. The rules of the project are simple: pick something creative to do for 100 days in a row, and record your daily efforts.
Last year, I undertook the bold task of creating a whole zine a day for 100 days straight. It was probably the most difficult creative challenge I've faced, but I was determined to have a full set of 100 zines by the end of the project, which I did! They were all displayed at the 100 Days Exhibition, which was such a rewarding experience.
Day 2 of the exhibition and people were STILL reading my zines. It made me so happy.
This year I've decided to do something a bit simpler - 100 illustrations in 100 days. I arrived at this idea because earlier in the year my therapist had me emailing him a drawing a day to let him know that I'd completed my daily journals. When I eventually stopped emailing him, the illustrations stopped as well, and I found that I really missed creating something everyday. So, naturally, I decided to pick it up again! And I'm really glad I did.
Three weeks in and I already love the collection of illustrations I have!
After a few years of doing the 100 Days Project, I've learned that it's good to set some restrictions. It certainly makes the process easier and a lot more interesting! Each of my illustrations are done on A5 card; starting with a rough pencil sketch, and then refined with fineliner pens.
My inspiration comes from everyday things, like how I'm feeling or what music I'm listening to. At the moment my therapist is on leave for four weeks, so a lot of my illustrations reflect my sadness around that. In a way, I'm using this years' project as a form of art therapy; I'm really trying to push my personal boundaries with the kind of art I'm creating. I want it to be raw. I want it to be honest. I want people to feel something when they see my artwork, because ultimately these illustrations are a piece of me. I always try to be open and honest about my struggles with mental illness, so it seems only fitting that my art reflects that as well.
There's some vulnerability in creating art that speaks true to the darkest parts of me, but it's also incredibly freeing. There's something really satisfying about seeing my emotions on paper; they're tangible, not just something inside of me. Of course there are days where I feel like I've missed the mark a little bit, that something I've created doesn't quite express what I wanted it to, and that's OK! I try to remind myself that it's part of the 100 day journey, and that I have so many more days to go; more opportunities to explore and create and have fun with it. Because at the end of the day, it's all about having fun!
It's only been three weeks, but these are some of my favourite so far:
You can also follow my progress on my project page and instagram, where I will continue to upload my illustrations every day.
I always love hearing what people think about the things I create, as well as answering any questions you might have, so feel free to leave a comment and let me know!
The other week I reached a major milestone in my mental health rehabilitation - I had my six month review, and applied to spend another six months in the Intensive Day Programme, which was approved! This gave me a great opportunity to reflect on the last six to eight months, as well as allowing me to plan what things I need to work on. In this blog post I'll try my best to summarise my reflections, my review, and my hopes for the next six months of my treatment.
TW: mentions of suicidality & self-harm // CW: long post
If you had of asked me two months ago how you thought I was doing, I would have replied positively. Up until a week ago, I'd felt like I'd taken several painful steps backward. I'd struggled to feel my progress on the hardest days, and thought that perhaps I was beyond help. Since the end of 2016 I knew that Segar House was my final chance at rehabilitation, and six months into the programme, I thought I was failing.
To put things into perspective, I'd written this in a previous blog post on February 4th 2018:
"...what I'm learning has made such a difference. I'm no poster child for mental health, but a year ago if you had of told me that one day I'd be able to face difficult emotions head on and not fly into a rage or hurt myself, I wouldn't have believed you. It's only been six months, but already I'm able to use DBT skills in difficult situations, practice regular self-care, and find creative ways to track my progress."
Then, on February 5th 2018, I attended the funeral of my Grand Uncle. It's from this day that I can trace my most recent suicidality and self-harm urges. It had been over a year since I'd engaged in any self-harm behaviour, and I fell off the wagon. It had been months since I'd seriously considered ending my life, and here I was lying in bed for hours making plans and writing final letters. My therapist wouldn't let me leave the building on two separate occasions because he feared for my safety - one of those times he ended up calling the Crisis Team and the Police. I went from being hopeful and positive about my rehabilitation, to wanting to give up completely; back and forth relentlessly, almost daily, for two whole months.
And now I'm here.
Despite being in the middle of a rough patch, preparing for my half-yearly review at Segar House allowed me to reflect on the fact that I actually have made progress, I just need to be reminded every so often. What I'd written two months ago was one of those reminders, and another reminder was the review itself.
Anxiously waiting for my review time in the group room.
I'd been mentally preparing for this review for weeks. My anxiety on the day was through the roof, but I was still able to tell myself that perhaps I was unnecessarily making a big deal out of something that wasn't likely to be all that bad. We all know that our anxious minds often have a tendency to not listen to that voice of reason, though! My individual therapist had reassured me the week before that in their eyes I was on the right track, but deep down I still felt as though I was failing. Who was I failing? Segar House? Myself? My family? I still don't have the answer.
As well as mental preparation, I'd also done some physical preparation for this review as well. I'd started keeping detailed notes on my moods, as well as the regular diary cards we have to fill out. This meant that I had specific dates for each of my 'meltdowns', specific dates for when my low moods occurred, specific dates for when I'd written my suicide notes (as well as specific dates for when I'd given those over to my therapist). I took all of this information and basically rewrote my entire Segar House Care Plan. I also wrote a full page letter requesting another six months of treatment, even including a comic from The Sad Ghost Club.
Looking back on all this effort I put into preparing for my review, I feel like perhaps I'd gone a little bit overboard. I'd let my anxious mind take over, and in some way I thought that all this preparation would compensate for the fact that maybe - just maybe - I was failing Segar House.
Long story short: I wasn't.
My review was so much more positive than I had ever anticipated. I was actually speechless for most of it, because I just couldn't comprehend the amount of positivity these five amazing therapists were throwing my way. It wasn't a full 20 minutes of them just complimenting me (although at the time it certainly felt that way), but it was 20 minutes of them encouraging me and reassuring me to keep heading in the direction I'm going. They praised my "out of the box thinking" and the creativity I bring to the programme, as well as the insights I have into myself. My favourite comment of the review goes to my individual therapist, though:
"I enjoy working with you. I enjoy being affected by you..."
*cue me just melting into a puddle on the floor*
Moving forward from my review, I know that I have a lot to work on. In terms of individual therapy, I want to continue to tackle my tendency to avoid emotions, my self-loathing and negative self-talk, and perhaps really delve into how my traumatic childhood has impacted me. In groups, I know that sharing my thoughts is not only beneficial for myself, but also seems to be beneficial for others as well, so I want to build up my participation in group a bit more. I'm hoping that working on avoiding my emotions will help me in group situations when I dissociate.
Overall, I feel like I'm in the right place at Segar House, and I'm committed to at least another six months in the Intensive Day Programme. And, with the guidance of the Segar House therapists...
The therapists really loved that I included this comic. via The Sad Ghost Club
Here's to another six months of treatment, and working on myself!
Any comments or questions about this post, Segar House, or the programme? Feel free to leave them below, I'd be happy to answer them!
Mental health journeys are tough. Whether you go it alone, or with loved ones by your side, the road to recovery is a hard one. One important thing that's always been with me throughout my own journey has been music. Music has a way of putting words to emotions and experiences that I never could, and so for this blog post I'll be sharing some of the songs and artists that have most helped me identify with my mental illnesses.
Maybe you will recognise some of these songs and identify with them yourself, or perhaps some other songs will come to mind. Feel free to let me know what music has helped you on your own mental health journey; I'd love to know!
TW - themes of suicide, self-harm, depression etc. // CW - long post
1. Halsey - Control
"I'm bigger than my body / I'm colder than this home / I'm meaner than my demons / I'm bigger than these bones / and all the kids cried out 'please stop you're scaring me' / I can't help this awful energy / God damn right you should be scared of me / who is in control?"
"I paced around for hours on empty / I jumped at the slightest of sounds / and I couldn't stand the person inside me / I turned all the mirrors around"
"I've gotten familiar with villains that live in my head / they beg me to write them so I'll never die when I'm dead"
2. Linkin Park - Heavy (ft. Kiiara)
"I don't like my mind right now / stacking up problems that are so unnecessary / wish that I could slow things down / I wanna let go but there's comfort in the panic"
"I'm holding on / why is everything so heavy? / holding on to so much more than I can carry / I've been dragging around what's bringing me down / if I just let go I'd be set free"
"you say that I'm paranoid / but I'm pretty sure the world is out to get me / It's not like I made the choice / to let my mind stay so fucking messy"
3. Paramore - Hard Times
"all that I want / is to wake up fine / tell me that I'm alright / and I ain't gonna die / all that I want / is a hole in the ground / you can tell me when it's alright / for me to come out"
"hard times / gonna make you wonder why you even try / (hard times) gonna take you down and laugh when you cry / (these lives) and I still don't know how I even survive"
"walking around / with my little rain cloud / hanging over my head / and it ain't coming down / where do I go? / gimme some sort of sign / you hit me with lightening! / maybe I'll come alive"
4. My Chemical Romance - The Light Behind Your Eyes
"be strong and hold my hand / time it comes for us, you'll understand / we'll say goodbye, today / and we're sorry how it ends this way / if you promise not to cry / then I'll tell you just what I would say"
"sometimes we must grow stronger / and you can't be stronger in the dark / when I'm here no longer / you must be stronger and / if I could be with you, tonight / I would sing you to sleep / never let them take / the light behind your eyes / I failed and lost this fight / never fade in the dark / just remember / you will always burn as bright"
5. Thirty Seconds to Mars - Alibi
"no warning sign, no alibi / we faded faster than the speed of light / took our chance, crashed and burned / no we'll never ever learn / I fell apart, but got back up again"
"we both could see crystal clear / that the inevitable end was near / made our choice, a trial by fire / to battle is the only way we feel alive"
6. Johnny Cash - Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails)
"I hurt myself today / to see if I still feel / I focus on the pain / the only thing that's real / the needle tears a hole / the old familiar sting / try to kill it all away / but I remember everything"
"what have I become / my sweetest friend / everyone I know goes away / in the end / and you could have it all / my empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt"
"full of broken thoughts / that I cannot repair / beneath the stains of time / the feelings disappear"
7. Eminem - Going Through Changes
"why do I act like I'm all high and mighty / when inside I'm dying / I am finally realising I need help / can't do it myself / too weak / two weeks I've been having ups and downs / going through peaks and valleys / dilly-dallying around with the idea of ending this shit right here"
"sleeping pills will make me feel alright / and if I'm still awake in the middle of the night / I'll just take a couple more / yeah, you're motherfuckin' right"
"wake up in the hospital / full of tubes / but somehow I'm pulling through / swear when I come back I'mma be bulletproof"
8. Avril Lavigne - Nobody's Home
"she wants to go home / but nobody's home / that's where she lies / broken inside / with no place to go / no place to go / to dry her eyes / broken inside"
"what's wrong, what's wrong now? / too many, too many problems / don't know where she belongs"
"her feelings she hides / her dreams she can't find / she's losing her mind / she's falling behind / she can't find her place / she's losing her faith / she's falling from grace / she's all over the place"
9. The Neighbourhood - R.I.P. 2 My Youth
"might be a sinner, and I might be a saint / I'd like to be proud, but somehow I'm ashamed / sweet little baby in a world full of pain / I gotta be honest, I don't know if I could take it"
"close my eyes and then cross my arms / put me in the dirt, let me dream with the stars"
"I was naïve and hopeful and lost / now I'm aware and trapped in my thoughts"
10. Shawn Mendes - In My Blood
"laying on the bathroom floor, feeling nothing / I'm overwhelmed and insecure, give me something / I could take to ease my mind slowly / just have a drink and you'll feel better / just take her home and you'll feel better / keep telling me that it gets better / does it ever?"
"help me, it's like the walls are caving in / sometimes I feel like giving up / no medicine is strong enough / someone help me / I'm crawling in my skin / sometimes I feel like giving up / but I just can't / it isn't in my blood / it isn't in my blood"
"looking through my phone again, feeling anxious / afraid to be alone again, I hate this"
11. Mike Shinoda - Crossing a Line
"I don't know how to warn you / for what I'm gonna say / 'cause you're holding so tight to / what I'm taking away / I got demons inside me / so I'm faced with a choice / either try to ignore them / or I give them a voice"
"and it's keeping me up at night / worried it's not alright / holding back things you don't know / and it's keeping me up at night / worried it's not alright / you're not gonna like where this goes"
"and they'll tell you I don't care anymore / and I hope you'll know that's a lie / 'cause I've found what I have been waiting for / but to get there means crossing a line / so I'm crossing a line"
12. Halsey - Devil in Me
"I won't take anyone down if I crawl tonight / but I still let everyone down when I change in size / and I went tumbling down tryna reach your high / but I scream too loud when I speak my mind"
"I don't wanna wake it up / the devil in me // gotta wake up / come back to life"
13. Paramore - Fake Happy
"I been doing a good job of making 'em think / I'm quite alright / but I hope I don't blink / you see it's easy when I'm stomping on a beat / but no one sees me when I crawl back underneath"
"oh please, don't ask me how I've been / don't make me play pretend / oh no, oh what's the use? / oh please, I bet everybody here is fake happy too"
"I know I said that I was doing good and that I'm happy now / I should've know that when things are good that's when I get knocked down"
14. Kansas - Carry on my Wayward Son
"carry on my wayward son / there'll be peace when you are done / lay your weary head to rest / don't you cry no more"
"once I rose above the noise and confusion / just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion / I was soaring ever higher / but I flew too high"
"on a stormy sea of moving emotion / tossed about, I'm like a ship on the ocean / I set a course for winds of fortune / but I hear the voices say..."
15. Linkin Park - One More Light
"should've stayed / were there signs I ignored? / can I help you / not to hurt anymore? / we saw brilliance / when the world was asleep / there are things that we can have / but can't keep"
"if they say / who cares when one more light goes out? / in a sky of a million stars / it flickers, flickers / who cares when someone's time runs out? / if a moment is all we are / we're quicker, quicker / who cares if one more light goes out? / well, I do"
16. Kesha - This is Me
"I am not a stranger to the dark / 'hide away,' they say / ''cause we don't want your broken parts' / I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars / 'run away,' they say / 'no one will love you as you are'"
"but I won't let them break me down to dust / I know that there's a place for us / for we are glorious"
"when the sharpest words wanna cut me down / I'm gonna send a flood, I'm gonna drown them out / I am brave / I am bruised / I am who I'm meant to be / this is me"
17. The Neighbourhood - Afraid
"keep on dreaming / don't stop giving / fight those demons / sell your soul, not your whole self / if they see you when you're sleeping / make them leave it / and I can't even see if it's all there anymore so"
"you're too mean / I don't like you / fuck you anyway / you make me wanna scream at the top of my lungs / it hurts but I won't fight you / you suck anyway / you make me wanna die"
"being me can only mean / feeling scared to breathe / if you leave me then I'll be afraid of everything / that makes me anxious / gives me patience / calms me down / let me face this / let me sleep / and when I wake up / let me breathe"
18. K.flay - Little Bit Crazy (Made by Monkeys Remix)
"did you ever think that just maybe / we're supposed to be a little bit crazy / can it be? / we're really this mentally diseased?"
"as I stare at an ink blot / thinking why I think the thoughts I think / paying 20 g's a year straight to my shrink / to analyse me on a couch / and while he's zoning out / I'm tuning in to my inner child / so that explains why I get wild / on the weekend drinking no tomorrow / sleep around to ease my sorrow / and it all relates to what happened in second grade"
"I am told there is a name for what is wrong inside my brain / and that fact alone makes me feel like I'm hardly that insane"
19. Mike Shinoda - Over Again
"we rehearsed it for a month / I'm not worried about the set / I get tackled by the grief at times that I would least expect / I know what I should be doing when I'm singing but instead / we'll be playing through a song and I'd remember in my head"
"how do you feel? / how you doing? / how'd the show go? / am I insane to say the truth is that I don't know? / my body aches head's spinning this is all wrong / I almost lost it in the middle of a couple songs"
20. Halsey - Angel on Fire
"and I'm faded away / you know, I used to be on fire / I'm standing in the ashes of who I used to be / and I'm faded away / you know, I used to be on fire"
"'cause I'd laugh and drink and talk about things / and fall in love in my back yard / now it's my own anxiety / that makes the conversation hard / and nobody seems to ask about me anymore / and nobody ever cares about anything thing I think / and nobody seems to recognise me in the crowd / in the background screaming, 'everybody look at me'"
Do you have any songs that helped you relate to mental illness? Let me know in the comments!
Listen to all of these songs and more on Spotify:
Tēnā koutou, and welcome to my first blog post of 2018! January has already come and gone, and I spent that month nervously wondering what I'd possibly write a blog about. 2017 was such a whirlwind of a year; I moved out of home and moved in with my partner, we got our first 'adult' car, went to Semi-Permanent, started intensive therapy, made 100 zines in 100 days, did a cool print project with Neck of the Woods, did some more work creating illustrations for The Wireless...
Any one of these things would be great to focus on for a first blog post. But what I want to write about is what I've really been doing (and working super hard on) for these past 6-12 months: therapy. So just a quick *trigger warning* as I may mention some stuff I've been dealing with (don't worry, nothing too heavy though!)
In early 2017 I began the contracting phase of entering the Intensive Day Programme at Segar House. At this point I had been seeing a therapist every week for a couple of years or so, done a couple of groups, and had been medicated for depression for a bit longer than that. I was still experiencing intense anger, intense lows, and self-destructive behaviour. So when my then-therapist suggested the Intensive Day Programme, my heart leapt with hope. I knew there was a pretty long waiting period, and one of the conditions to even get in was that I had to be self-harm and suicide attempt free for at least a month. So in December 2016, I made the decision to stop. I knew this programme was it for me. I was going to give it all or nothing.
Fast forward to today: I've been in the programme for about six months now, steadily doing various groups four days a week. These groups range from learning DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) skills, to 'mentalising' and mindfulness, as well as seeing a therapist weekly. It's not 'work' in the traditional sense, but it is exhausting; having to sit and talk through your emotions four days a week. But what I'm learning has made such a difference. I'm no poster child for mental health, but a year ago if you had of told me that one day I'd be able to face difficult emotions head on and not fly into a rage or hurt myself, I wouldn't have believed you. It's only been six months, but already I'm able to use DBT skills in difficult situations, practice regular self-care, and find creative ways to track my progress.
By December last year, I'd made some pretty amazing breakthroughs with my individual therapist. I'd realised that perhaps I had lost the will to live. I wasn't eating, wasn't able to get up out of bed on the weekends, and wasn't even able to shower regularly. Basically, all the things that show I'm engaging in life, I wasn't doing. With that revelation, my therapist brought up that perhaps I didn't feel worthy enough to live, and that really struck a chord. He said, "all you have to say to yourself is 'I am enough'." So, naturally, I turned it into something creative and set up an instagram account to track my daily self-care through mundane photography. I also track the food I eat via bullet journal, and once I've finished filling in all my diary cards and tracking sheets, I email my therapist a little doodle to say that I've done it. Every small achievement counts.
I always try to be very transparent with my mental health struggles and rehabilitation, but I think one of the hardest things for me is when people ask me, "so, what are you doing now?" I would love to tell them the truth, but there's still a lot of stigma out there. "Still freelancing," is one of my answers. "Just working on my craft stuff, nothing too exciting," is another. I always tell other people that seeking help isn't anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it's probably one of the hardest things you could ever do. If only it was easier to take my own advice!
So, that's what I've been doing for the past year or so. It was really hard making the decision to give up looking for full-time work in favour of doing full-time therapy, but if I'm honest, I think two years of constant rejection from jobs in my field was a huge contributing factor to my downward spiral. That being said, I've been fortunate enough to work on a few cool projects during my rehabilitation so far. And who knows, maybe some more will come up this year!
So we're almost at the half-way point for the 100 Days Project, so I thought I'd take this time to share some of my favourite pieces of work that I've done in the past few weeks.
Day 7 - The passing of Gene Wilder. I'd had this song stuck in my head the whole day, and since I kept seeing news stories about his death, I felt compelled to add my own small tribute.
Day 9 & Day 11 - It was safe to say that after I finished watching Stranger Things, I became a little obsessed, especially with El. *throws waffles into the woods* FOR ELEVEN.
Day 14 - Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! If you haven't seen The Runaways, watch it. This is also an amazing song to just 'lose it' to.
Day 15 - Some words of wisdom from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Also one of the first days I got back into using my wacom tablet. We are all made of star dust <3
Day 16 - I wish I was good at taking my own advice, but I don't think anyone is really! I always need to remember that any and all progress is good progress.
Day 18 - I created this with dead flax that had collected on my boyfriend's father's deck, while my brother was busy painting my boyfriend's car bumper. It was a gorgeous day, and I remember looking at the flax thinking, "I can make something with that." This was the outcome!
Day 24 - The only person who didn't like this was my father. He still thinks it's bad to swear on social media, but I guess that's parents for you! The irony is the ugly word itself and how it's adorned with pretty flowers. That was my aim, anyway.
Day 31, Day 34, & Day 37 - In one way or another, these three somehow relate with each other. One of my most favourite days was the day I got my semicolon tattoo, and joined Project Semicolon. This week consisted of a lot of self-care and reminders. I also started working more on my zine DemonDays, which is a collection of comics depicting the conversations that happen between myself and that demon called Depression.
Day 42 - I was getting emotional over not having donuts for a while. Small things...
A reminder that you can follow my project fully on my Instagram, and also on my 100 Days Project page. I will also be creating a separate page on my website for the full collection. Almost 50 days down! I'm so happy with my progress, because the last time I did this project, I only managed up to Day 19. I have the best support around me, and I'm really proud of some of the work I've managed to produce, even in the darkest of times! Onwards and upwards!
So I recently joined BriefBox™ and managed to make my first submission. Never did I think I'd get a glowing remark from one of the sites' co-founders, or get featured, but I managed both!
BriefBox™ is an expanding database full of practice briefs for designers, and is a great way to get some design practice in and boost your portfolio! If you haven't already, I really urge you to check it out and have a play around. There are so many amazing briefs awaiting your creative talent!
This was my first submission; a visual identity for a painter and decorator. I've already updated my portfolio with it, but you can check out the original post here.
For those that don't know, I'm participating in this years' 100 Days Project! This project is a simple creativity project that requires one thing to be done, everyday, for 100 days.
Today marks Day 7 on the calendar! Here are my updates from the past week, and you can follow my ongoing progress right here. I also upload my progress on Instagram and Twitter :)
If you're also taking part in this project, don't hesitate to send me a message so I can follow your 100 Days journey as well!
It's been a long time coming, but I finally got around to opening up my Etsy store! There are only a couple of listings right now, but there are so many things that I want to create and share with you all, so hopefully my store expands a lot over the next year or so!
The first item I put up for sale were my Chunky Tassel Marbled Bookmarks. I have so many of them just sitting there waiting to be bought, so head over to my store! I'll be making things constantly until I manage to find myself a full-time graphic design job (it's been a year and a half already *sad face*) so keep an eye out! I'll be updating what goes into my shop here too, so you'll never miss out on new things!
Welcome to my blog! This is where I post recent things I've been up to, mental health updates, and other cool things! Thanks for stopping by!