Tag Archives: Healing

Mental Health and Art Therapy #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 15 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. I will resume writing about personality disorders soon, but today, I don’t have the energy to do my research. Instead, I will write about art therapy, which is a form of therapy that can be particularly helpful to people with mental health issues.

Art therapy is a creative method whereby art mediums are used in the therapeutic process. It obviously originated at the crossroads of art and psychotherapy. Sometimes art therapy is focused on the creative process itself. For example, today while in art therapy, I made polymer clay beads. Sometimes, art therapy focuses on analyzing the interaction between therapist and client while engaging in creative arts.

Many people use art therpay to express feelings they can’t express in words. For example, trauma survivors, especially children, may use art to express their feelings about their life and the trauma they endured. An example of this was mentioned to my high school class when we got an educational session on giftedness. (My school was a grammar school, where about 30% of pupils were gifted.) A gifted boy, when drawing the human face, always drew an angry face. Another example perhaps comes from myself. In high school, I often drew blue-eyed figures in cages. This was an expression of how I felt trapped by my blindness.

Art can also serve a symbolic step in the healing process. For example, sometime in 2014, I created a baby self out of clay. I put it in a box lined with soft textures to express that she was safe now.

Art therapy can also serve the purpose of having the client explore new creative media. In this way, it can be used to encourage people with anxiety or sensory issues to try out new things. For instance, I sometimes get to try new materials to explore the boundaries of my sensory and emotional tolerance.

The creative process can also be used to have patients step out of their comfort zones. For example, my art therapist and I have used a drawing exercise by which I’d draw a random pattern (I don’t have enough vision to draw anything meaningful anymore). My therapist would first stay at a safe distance with her felt tip, but would try to gradually move into my drawing space.

Lastly, art therapy can simply be a form of leisure or recreational therapy. The polymer clay bead making didn’t have much of a purpose, other than perhaps having me try to handle the feel of polymer clay. Then again, I came up with the idea of doing this. It is more just a way to learn new techniques to use in my free time.

To My Baby Self

I have been thinking a lot about my life in the context of premature birth. It may be because I’m currently reading For the Love of Babies by Sue Hall, a neonatologist writing about her experiences treating preemies and other sick babies.

Today I also came across a writing prompt for PTSD survivors, to write to yourself before any trauma occurred. Since my trauma started right with my NICU experience, and I’m over most PTSD symptoms now, I will instead write to my baby self reassuring her that things’ll be okay in the end.

Little baby, born too soon
You feel so insecure
But let me tell you, you’ll be fine
Of that I am sure

You are too young to realize
That you are here to stay
In this world that may be harsh
You will be okay

Times are hard on you, you feel
So often in pain
If you could tell me, would you say
That your life is in vain?

I will tell you, it is not
Your life is worth the fight
I am your older self and feel
That you and I came out alright

Some people may think of you
That you should not survive
But guess what, you did exactly that
And I am here and thrive

You will have many hardships ahead
But please persist and cope
I will wait here to remind you
Not to give up hope

Pain Doesn’t Have to Be Visible to Be Real

“I always hated when my scars started to fade, because as long as I could still see them, I knew why I was hurting.” – Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

I am a self-injurer. Have been since childhood. Part of the reason has always been to feel something other than emptiness, loneliness, or emotional pain. However, part of the reason has also always been to make my pain be visible. Not even necessarily to others, but to myself.

It feels kind of odd to admit this. After all, wanting to express pain is seen as overreacting, attention-seeking. We are taught to hide and numb out our pain.

I once read a Dutch book on psychosis which started out by eplaining that today’s psychiatry is aimed at ignoring people’s inner experiences, or altering them with drugs. According to the author, we live in a kind of brave new world, where everything is aimed at individual and social stability. Take some soma, baby! And I can relate, having resided in a psychiatric institution for almosot seven years. When I feel stressed, the first response from the nurses is usually to ask if I need a tranquilizer. In fact, when I resided on the locked ward, I’d call oxazepam my “shut up pill”, because nurses would tell me to take it whenever something irritated me.

Please note that psychiatric drugs have some place in treatment of severe mental illness. I take various medications for anxiety, irritability and emotional instability. Sometimes though, I’ve wanted to quit my medicaiton because it numbs me out.

Psychiatric drugs aside, many people are taught that to feel pain is to be weak, and to express it is to be even weaker. Most survivors of trauma feel guilt for the pain they experience, because, you know, others have it worse, it wasn’t that bad after all, you name it. I am still working on admitting that what I suffered was real, and the pain I feel is real as well. Just today, I saw another quote. Something along the lines of: “Your struggles are valid even if others are struggling more.”

Another common misconception is that physical pain is somehow more real than emotional pain. There is a huge stigma associated with mental illness, more so than with physical illness (I’m not saying there’s no stigma associated with physical illness). People all too often think that we can “just get over it” when we’re experiencing emotional turmoil, whereas if there’s something physically or at least visibly wrong with us, it’s real. I am not immune to this, and in my case, this idea perpetuates symptoms such as disordered eating and self-injury.

If you want to get over emotional pain, the first step is admitting it is there and that it is real whether it is associated with visible scars or not. You should not have to convert emotional pain into physical wounds to be taken seriously. Expressing pain in a healthy manner should be allowed, encouraged even, and should be enough to deserve support.

Linking up with Inspire Me Monday and Motivation Monday.

First Step in Healing the Inner Baby

When I still had the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, my inner children came out relatively often to people I know. This is not common with DID I’m told, and was probably one reason for people not to believe me. I now have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and, while the inner children are still there, I keep them in hiding. I tend to believe that only the adult me is allowed to be out in the body.

This belief, however, is counterproductive to healing. When we want to heal, we need to acknowledge all parts of ourselves. We also need to validate our experiences. I strongly disagree with the idea, which is how my therapist used to word her inner child theory, that only the abandoned inner child should be allowed to come out because the rest are there to mask her. I consider my angry innenr child as important, and I for one don’t have a critical parent insider – all insiders are part of me.

Trust is the first step in healing your inner child(ren). They need to know that you will be there for them. In this step, I achieved something important in art therapy last Thursday. One of my inner children is the “mini baby”, a preemie in an incubator. She isn’t really active in the outside world, but I sense her. For clarity’s sake, while some people with DID have baby alters who hold traumatic memories, I don’t believe the mini baby is like this; she seems to be more a symbol for my early experiences.

Anyway, in art therapy, I created a baby out of clay and made a crib for her out of a cardboard box with fabric and fake fur bedding. Like I said, the inner baby isn’t a typical alter, so the symbolism was enough. It was more of a gesture to myself and my actual inner child alters to let them know I can be trusted and they will be cared for.

The second step is validation. I’m not sure I really need to validate the inner baby, since like I said she’s not a real alter. I mean, some people with DID give their inner babies pacifiers. I won’t do this. What I do feel that I need to acknowledge, is the fact that I was wounded from the beginning on. I don’t mean this to pass judgment on my family or the hospital staff. I was probably well cared for and had more interaction with my parents than many preemies from earlier generations or whose parents lived farther from the hospital. What I want to say is that, as much as families and hospitals try to prevent this, a NICU stay can entail a form of attachment loss and can, depending on the baby’s temperament, be traumatic. For now, the symbolism of the ceramic baby in the crib helped all of me.

Moving Beyond Blame in Abuse

A few days ago, Soaring Survivor wrote an interesting post on forgiving yourself in the process of healing from domestic violence. Forgiving yourself, she says, is harder than forgiving the abuser.

I always find myself thinking that my situation is almost unique, in that I myself was aggressive and my family responded with aggression to my behavior. Then I found out, I don’t remember where, that in most situations of intimate partner violence, there is not simply one person who is the perpetrator and the other who is the victim. Rather, there tend to be some form of abuse on both sides. I am not saying that this is the case for Soaring Survivor, as I don’t know her situation. What I mean to say is that my situation, involving sort of provoked aggression, is not as unique as I used to think.

This makes forgiving myself extra hard. I have forgiven my family, I think, but too often this comes down to trivializing what happened. I know that my parents weren’t sadists, and I often say this to justify their actions. They did what they thought was their best.

Then a few weeks ago I read a response in a women’s magazine from a person with borderline personality disorder to two parents who had complained about their children’s BPD being attributed to abuse. The borderline patient said that even very ordinary parents make mistakes, and this can set off BPD in vulnerable people. Does this mean they’re pitiful victims? No.

What I realize as I write this, is that maybe the hardest part of forgiving both yourself and the people who hurt you in your life, is shifting the focus away from the question of blame. Ordinary partners and parents (and children) act out violently, and accepting this is hard but necessary for both survivors/victims and the general public. Abuse happens, and the idea that only sadists perpetrate it, gets a whole lot of survivors/victims unnecessarily stuck in self-blame. Forgiveness may involve accepting what happened without letting it hold you back from living a fulfilling life. I’m still struggling with this.