Painting My Way To Sanity

I remember at eighteen years old, my godmother gave me a cheap watercolor kit containing eight watercolor pencils and twelve pans of paint. One dip of the brush into those chalky pans and I was hooked. It would be years later until I understood the purpose of those pencils. That’s the beauty of creativity, it’s a never-ending journey.

When I was nineteen, I went off to an artsy liberal arts college high up in the mountains to study wildlife. It was there for the first time I connected with like-minded artsy thinkers. We would sit for hours painting, drawing, and discussing color theory. Watching the color swirl off my brush and onto the paper, I found stillness in my mind.

At the end of every semester, I’d pilfer the dorm trash cans for art supplies. It was mandatory to take an art credit. Some of the more privileged students would buy a bunch of supplies, only to throw them away without hardly using them. My collection grew. As I grew depressed my senior year, I dabbled with oil pastels. The new medium helped keep me passionate about life instead of falling completely into depression.

Practicing jellyfish and brush strokes. It’s not perfect but I had so much fun painting them! Art and photo by author.

The further down the art rabbit hole I went, the more I found myself turning to them for comfort. At the end of my first manic episode, I moved in with a guy who would later become my boyfriend, who mocked the arts. He said that coloring and painting is what little girls did. My mind vulnerable and confused at the time believed him. I never unpacked my paints.

For two years, they sat forgotten buried in my closet. On rare occasions, when my boyfriend was at work, I would pull them out and secretly create. Looking back, I realize how unhealthy this was. In March of 2020, as the pandemic came to my town, shutting everything down, it awoke something dormant inside of my soul.

Without a job, restaurants, the dog park, or well anything to go to, I found myself pulling out the boxes of paint, brushes, pencils, sketchbooks, and markers. Much to the chagrin of my boyfriend, I set up shop smack in the middle of the living room on the coffee table. In my defense in the 800 square foot apartment there really was nowhere else to set up. Or maybe subconsciously, I finally decided to make a stand and defend my hobby for the first time.

This is one I did in quarantine. I was practicing color gradients on some fish I drew. Again it wasn’t how good it looked but how much fun I had! Art and photo by author.

As the pandemic took away my routine, my structure, I clung to any shred in my life left to stay mentally stable. The longer the pandemic ravaged, the more the chemicals in my brain begin to wreak havoc. My relationship, like many people’s, took a hit. As it fell apart, I fought hypomanic and retreated into my paints.

My hypomania went on a spending spree (I hate that symptom) and used unemployment money for some new supplies. I justified it as self-care purchases. My sketchbook was filling to the brim with all the new techniques I had been practicing from YouTube tutorials. I finally figured out those pesky watercolor pencils. Truly, I owed my sanity to my art supplies. They were my life raft, and I think if I hadn’t had the paints to keep me grounded, I would have gone manic. In the course of the two months I quarantined at home, I filled an entire sketchbook.

An article posted in 2019, how arts can help, by the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. declares this on arts:

“It can help to boost confidence and make us feel more engaged and resilient. Besides these benefits, art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.”

Mental HeaLth Foundation U.K.

I recommend reading the entire article because it speaks volumes about the arts and how critical they are to our mental well being. It is truly saddening because I know here in the American school system, the arts are usually one of the first programs cut during budget cuts. Instead the arts should be celebrated.

I remember a few years ago, I got my mother hooked on coloring books and colored pencils. My mother who is an accountant, has discovered that when she colors during tax season she has noticed less stress. I say this to encourage anyone who wants to be more creative but isn’t sure where to start, this is a really simple way to be more artsy. Doubts? Check out 3 Reasons Adult Coloring Can Actually Relax Your Brain by Cleveland Health Clinic.

Another quarantine one. My sister wanted a sunflower, this was the first flower I ever drew and painted. Art and photo by author.

My boyfriend and I split halfway through the year. By the end of 2020, we had reconciled our differences. I found it interesting one of the points he brought up was that I need to have a space in the house dedicated to my art. He made the connection that when I was creating I was able to sit still longer, verses constantly pacing the house. He also realized that the art made me content.

This is probably why my therapist is constantly asking after I’ve told him I’m stressed or feeling wound up, have you done art lately? It is one of the healthy coping tools in my toolbox right next to remembering to eat and staying active. That’s how crucial my therapist views staying creative.

The best part about arts is that creativity comes in so many unique forms: cooking, baking, building, paint, clay, sewing, quilting, photography, writing, gardening, landscaping, etc. Even now during the pandemic many talented and creative masks are making an appearance. Creativity will always be a beacon of light, even during dark times.

What’s your favorite way of being creative?

Be creative and keep your brain healthy. Image from Unsplash by jesse orrico

Extra Reading:

The Healing Power of Art by Harvard Health Publishing

How Art Therapy is Used to Help People Heal by Verywell Mind

Understanding the Relationship Between Art & the Brain by Solara Mental Health

Published by wanderingbipolarbear

Addicted to watercolors, advocating for mental health, animal rights, and living in the mountains.

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