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Creating Art in the Clinic

Firstly I think it’s probably a good idea to start with something like ‘Hi my name is Amy-Sarah. I live with bipolar and last month something triggered a massive depressive episode that meant I was in a mental health facility for nearly a month…` More on that in another post, it can’t be all doom and gloom!

I want to talk about one of the many good experiences I had in the clinic. That was to get back to basics and draw again.

For the first few days, I had only a borrowed pencil and biro…paper was the back of my patient notes. A few days later a friend visited me, bringing with her sketchbooks, 2B pencils, a sharpener and a putty rubber amongst other things. I had just changed wards, so I was thankfully allowed to keep the sharpener.

(This is the point where I must say: This friend, who like the friends and family who supported me, I will be eternally grateful to and for, at the worst times in our lives, we see the true nature of people. I will forever count my self blessed for the love and compassion shown to me (except for the a*******s that also showed their true colours)).

As the meds took effect, I was officially back in wanting to live modus. I decided to use my time between therapies to draw and work towards my university assignment, which was near due. The interesting part of this assignment is that months before I had chosen to work on the theme of "loss of identity" and here I was, now in the place of inspiration.

In my graphite drawing, I always overwork tone and the time spent with nothing much else to do, greatly improved my use of contrast.

Like many creatives, I store and collect too many art supplies. I constantly experiment and never really master anything. Getting back to a point where my limited supplies meant having to rely on tone became what I consider a great benefit to me. When it came to detailed smudging, I have to give credit to the care staff on the ward who provided the answer with medical swabs.

(which indecently, I used to finish "until we meet again" which is the pastel picture that I started before my episode…now, that seems somewhat fitting).

At the clinic, I would sit for hours drawing. I found it calming. What I loved about this time was when my ward colleges would come and sit with me chatting, watching and drawing themselves. I enjoyed seeing what they would create…some with bright colours, some happy, some sad...What they drew was fascinating, but it didn't compare to the atmosphere created by their presence. Although we were in a clinic, the atmosphere was that of a rec. room in a college or workplace, it was relaxed (unless we were trying to sharpen the in-house colouring pencils…they really are that bad!).

Soon people started receiving packages with their own art supplies and as we sat drawing, sometimes in silence, I couldn’t help but stare in awe at the concentration and progress - even now writing this, it makes me smile as I learned and laughed too. So thank you:

The lady who taught me how to draw brilliance

The Man who had a gorgeous use of colour and abstract create such expressive pictures

The Lady who drew her house and, on one occasion, the best (literal) pile of POO to sum up her day

…Honestly, I can go on for a long time…I do talk a lot!…

The colouring sheets brought to life with vibrant colours

The lady who taught herself to draw butterflies so she could draw fairy wings

The lady that humbled me with the drawing of her dog, I hope you finished it

…I truly hope you all know just how amazing you are!

One saying passed around was "finish every drawing and don’t give up, take what you like to the next one and leave what you don’t like". Somehow this seems to ambiguously fit, not just with drawings, but life.

Now back in the REAL world, trying to find my way, I often drift back to these happy memories and hope all the wonderful people I met never give up ( and in one case never stops dancing), as they are all truly amazing, inspirational people.

So how to conclude?

I had to lose myself to find my path and those that helped me most were finding their way too. Some of those I am still journeying with.

While we still hide our mental health problems in silence, we not only break ourselves, we teach our children to do the same. I do not want to think of anybody suffering in silence for the sake of an archaic stigma - it’s time for a change!

Best wishes


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