I used to go to the doctors all the time, for anything, I think at that point I was looking for someone to recognise that I wasn’t feeling great. It came to a point, I was sitting in the toilets at work, crying, and I didn’t know why. So I went to the doctor’s and she asked what was wrong and I just sat there crying. I couldn’t say it at first, I just said that I don’t think I can do it anymore, and that I was struggling, not even what I was struggling with, I just didn’t even know. She asked a bit of back ground, if it was just work or whatever else, the doctor spent a long time, almost 1/2 hour, and she gave me a small dose of medication and asked me to come back. Later she upped the dose and got me counselling and support and she was really great.
At the time, I couldn’t even talk to my partner. I couldn’t talk about what I was going through, I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I find it easier now talking about things, and I think it just takes practice. But it came a point in our relationship where I knew my mood was affecting us, and I needed to get him to have some understanding; he’s never really had anything to get him down. He has a really good family background, so it was really hard for him to understand where I was coming from.
When I went to those 20 counselling sessions I talked about art, and my counsellor noticed how passionate I was about it, that I had ‘almost woken up’. I did art at college but the pressure from tutors really knocked my confidence, and I didn’t think I ever wanted to do it again. My counsellor told me to go home and just paint, go with the feeling, no theme, just do it. One piece was so angry, and the other was a dark night sky. I talked the paintings through with my counsellor who then referred me to Arty-Folks. I knew I was still too ill and that 20 sessions with her weren’t going to be enough to make a dent.
I remember on my way to Arty-Folks feeling petrified. It had taken me 2 months to prepare for it and still I got lost on the way. I remember walking in and feeling like a deer in the headlights. I ignored everyone, I didn’t speak. I remember how I used to be in the group, and looking back I can’t believe I used to be so antisocial! I remember thinking that I didn’t need friends, when really that’s all I needed – some friends and some support. The things that had happened in my life made me closed off because I didn’t want to get hurt anymore. I remember this as a very long phase but it actually took only 4 weeks for me to relax. I think the painting inspired by Aboriginal artwork is the first truthful piece that I did.
There are certain projects that do stick out because they were hard – admitting to yourself that you’re feeling like that, almost as though you’re ashamed of yourself for feeling that way, for feeling so sorry for yourself or down about yourself. In society it’s not accepted to feel sorry for yourself, people just tell you to get over it. You feel bottom of the food chain and you don’t feel important, feel over whelmed and powerless. it’s not socially acceptable to feel like that. I felt downtrodden and people just made me feel worse. Even now I tell very few people what happened to me because they look at you differently and treat you like you’re weaker. These projects were hard but they were helpful to understand myself better and to discover more about yourself. For example, the mask project made me realise just how painful things had been for me. One side talks about the things hurt me, and the other side is talking hope, that I can look to the future and change things, be a different person to the one I thought I had to be.
Coming to Arty-Folks has helped me grow as a person. I think it’s really helpful getting other people’s perspective on things, and hearing other people are going through similar problems is comforting as well. Sometimes people challenged me as well to see things differently, to see it through their eyes. It’s not always been easy, people have said things to me and at first it felt horrible. But then I’ve mulled it over and come to my own conclusion, realised there’s some truth in it and it’s not nice but I have to change it and do something about it. I remember at one point feeling very angry. Everyone was telling me to change but I wasn’t quite ready. It felt like to change I would have to give up hope that my mum would sort herself out and I just couldn’t accept that. Eventually I decided to distance myself from all of that and a weight fell of my shoulders which was noticeable to other people. I have much more clarity on it now. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt but I can accept it how it is. I can focus on my own life. I don’t let it upset me, and I don’t engage with her trying to fight with me. I feel like moving on now, I have a lot more to offer.
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I have enjoyed other classes but at Arty-Folks the level of understanding is different. You can be yourself, and open, there’s no fallout, or judgement, it makes you feel normal. You can have an off day and you can let it out and people won’t stay angry. I know that I would never have gotten where I am now as fast or as easily as I would have without the people at Arty-Folks. It wasn’t easy but it would have been a lot harder if I didn’t have this group. It’s been my best medicine.
My creativity was put in a box by many people, and I had to make things and draw things in a very rigid way. When I was first given a piece of paper at Arty-Folks and told to just paint I was so scared of making something and not having it look like anything, without having a set way of doing things. Reclaiming my creativity has given me freedom more than anything. It has given me the freedom to say I don’t have to do it that way, I can do it my way, and it’s okay, it’s more than okay, it’s good, and I like it, and that’s it, and no one else can take that away from me.
It’s good doing artwork that makes me reflect on myself, it makes me realise what I was thinking without being aware of it. But it was there all along and now I can see it right in front of me. It’s like holding a mirror up to yourself, in a way that’s not always comfortable, but it means that you have to deal with it. But it’s not easy either; there comes a point when it’s so tough you’re tearing your hair out, but you have to bear with it and get over that hill to discover something new about yourself, discover how to deal with it, how to change, or at least understand that you have to do something about it. It helps you to move on, and to say ‘okay this is how I feel’. It’s out and now I can deal with it.
I am not sure how openly I will talk about depression and anxiety. I would need to know someone well before I do mention it because I don’t want to be looked at as a wounded animal, as weak. I do feel strong enough to deal with the judgement from some people, but not necessarily have everyone know about it, I’m not going to wear it on my sleeve. I would be more open about saying I didn’t have the best family life because that’s nearly normal and most people can relate to that whereas they may not be able to relate to depression and anxiety. I still remember my lowest point and it’s unbelievable to me now that I used to feel like that.
I have been through a tough time and I feel more resilient through my life experience. I have a different perspective on life that makes me more mature than many my age. I have met so many people from different backgrounds here and it’s made me more aware of how mental ill health affects us. I can now be more empathic, understand when people are having a tough time because I have been through it myself. I think my partner does understand me now and we can talk about it. I’ve grown through it with him, and he’s got a better understanding of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. I think we’re stronger as a couple because he was part of the journey. I remember thinking at one point in our relationship that I would have to break up with him because I’m a terrible person and he can’t put up with me. I still do have bad days, but that’s when I know I need to pull back a little and use the tools I’ve learnt.
In the last 6 months a few people described me as a bubbly person which really surprised me, I would have never imagined something like that, that other people could see me like that. I can remember 2 years ago feeling like I wish I didn’t exist, wanting to disappear, and now I’m so excited for everything and I want to do things, I’ve got a place in this world. I am now moving on to my dream job but the prospect of not having this group is scary, Of course it’s scary to move on but I know I want to. I want to continue growing and exploring. I do hope that I can come every now and again, and touch base to offload, and I would love to volunteer when Arty-Folks starts an evening group for people in employment.