My latest article for Rethink Mental Illness about how art therapy healed me when in hospital. I hope you like reading:
Rose is the blogger behind Be Your Own Light blog, which provides great articles about living with mental illness, from both herself and guest bloggers. Below Rose talks about art therapy and the impact it had on her whilst she was in hospital.
I am 28, and with diagnosed bipolar and anxiety disorders, I have tried many forms of psychotherapy and creative therapies in my life. These have included various talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, meditation, therapies for anxiety disorders and more. However, today I would like to discuss a therapy that was key to my recovery from bipolar psychosis in hospital, on the ward and on the after care day unit – Art.
It sounds simple right?
In 2014, I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act with a manic bipolar episode, including psychosis. I was very unwell and needed medical treatment to stop the psychosis and racing thoughts/actions. In all, I was in an all-womens psychiatric unit for 3 months. While 3 months doesn’t sound like a long period of time, it felt like it. Every day was spent on a ward where I was away from friends and family and had to get used to new routines, new nurses and doctors, and new patients being admitted – at times the ward was a very chaotic place. I was also in chaos in my own mind due to my mania and psychosis – at times I couldn’t sit still.
Gradually over time, as the medication prescribed by my psychiatrist kicked in, I was able to be a bit calmer and join in with the activities on the ward. One of these was art therapy. My favourite thing to do, in particular, was to sit by myself colouring and rip out images from magazines brought to me – to make them into collages. These were then backed on sugar paper to decorate the clinical hospital walls of my room. When I realised I would be there for months, I set about making my room as homely as possible. I made collages with celebrities I admired, on themes and calming pictures on my wall. The ward had colouring sheets and I would often colour in pictures and I found sometimes it helped with the boredom and would calm me down.
I sat in on a group art therapy session on this ward, which I did find challenging, due to the fact that the therapist was analysing our pictures in front of other people. I felt more comfortable taking myself off and creating pictures and collages in my room or with my friend on the ward, than having that level of analysis at that point.
Indeed, when I was well enough to leave that hospital ward, I spent a further 3 months on an acute day treatment unit – a hospital day unit with group therapies and classes. When there I would often take myself off into a quiet room to colour with colouring pencils. I found colouring so soothing.
It was during this point when I had come home (from the trauma of all I had been through), that my anxiety levels rose. At one stage, the only thing that would focus me at home and would bring my anxiety level down was colouring in pictures or patterns, so I bought colouring books to do it in. The world seemed frightening but I was able to reduce it down to the page and picture I was colouring in – a sort of form of mindfulness art therapy.
I have found that creating positive art or the act of colouring in a serene (non triggering) picture, has been pivotal in my recovery. In combination with a new mood stabiliser and courses of talking therapies, I have found that art has healed and soothed me at times when I have felt overwhelmed, anxious and unable to cope. I am now fully well and looking towards my future – but I will always be grateful to those therapists who left out colouring pictures for me to do, who lent me card, glue and glitter and said – “if you want to do it, create.” That creation helped me heal.