One day somebody sent me this electronic flyer....
It sounded interesting.
It caught my attention.
I enjoy artsy kind of stuff, I enjoy being creative and holding a finished product that looks beautiful, despite how I feel on the inside. The fact that I can create something apart from the darkness that sometimes lingers within and above and all around me, is truly amazing! Although, it doesn't always feel amazing because when I don't see much good in me, it is hard for me to see anything I create as good, but then a few days later I look back and my husband often hears me say, 'hey this sketch isn't so bad.' I am definitely my own worst critic.
I over think. Should I go? What if I don't know what to do? Usually when I create something, I get my idea from somewhere else. What if I can't do what they are doing in this art group? What if I totally miss the idea? What if I get really nervous? What if...all the fear and anxiety and doubt flooded my thoughts. So I decided to go check out the website. I read about who they are and what they do and how to get involved. I read blog posts they shared and I left the website feeling a little more at ease than when I entered. I thought to myself if this group is any kind of reflection of this website, and this website made me feel more at ease, then maybe I should give it a try.
"I Still Matter supports mental and emotional health through art and creative expression."
This seemed to be like something I really needed to check out. I sent an email to the email address on the website with a lot of questions and was pleasantly surprised by a prompt, personal reply. I was nervous about going to the group and my worries became less as the founder offered to connect with me sometime before group for coffee and even offered to sit with me during the group if that would help me to not feel as nervous. Her reaching out to me, during a moment when I didn't feel like there was much good in me, really meant a lot. I made up my mind. I was going. I would like to say all the nervous energy just drained away and the doubts disappeared and I felt confident going forward but this one little fact remained --- this was way out of my comfort zone. How does that saying go? "Recovery is scary but so is remaining exactly the same."
As the day approached I felt a mix of anticipation and curiosity and doubt and anxiety and sadness and fear and I kept thinking, what am I doing? Some little voice in my head kept telling me it wasn't the place for me, I wouldn't fit in, would they understand, would they get it, would they think I was standoffish if I didn't have much to say, would they think I was rude, maybe I just shouldn't go.....all those thoughts....are so draining.
The clock ticked on and I found myself going through the motions of getting ready but still not entirely sure I could do this.
Once I got there, I went in and took a seat. I was greeted and welcomed to the group. They seemed genuinely happy that I was there. I felt included. I listened as they talked during our art project, and realized some of the things they were saying were the way I always think. Could it be? Could I have found a place where I don't feel so alone? Could I have found a place where I feel like I belong?
The art project was "Breakdowns and Breakthroughs." We were reminded, "with every break down there is some kind of breakthrough." I must say I am somebody who LOVES when simple things take on deeper meanings. The activity involved water color paints, salt, tissue paper, white crayons, rubbing alcohol, and paper. We were each given a sheet of paper and instructed to make 8 squares. We were told that water colors are not an easy medium to work with, much like life. In the first square we were told to pick a color and fill it in with paint and then we were given salt and told to sprinkle the salt on that square and let it sit...that represents our daily routine. In the next square we covered with a color of paint and then took a piece of tissue paper and kind of made patterns in that square as we sort of blotted the square of paint....that represents our emotional struggles. In the next square we once again chose a color and painted the square, this time we took a q tip and dipped it in rubbing alcohol and touched the square we had painted...this represented interpersonal relationships. The next square we used a white crayon to make lines and shapes and then colored over it with the paint....this represented the invisible connections. The next box we kind of made splatter marks with one color and allowed that to dry and then put another color over the top of it....this represented the layers of our self, our mental health and what we choose to show others. The next square was splatter style painting....this represented our daily thoughts and frustrations. The final two squares were covered in paint and then with a dry brush with a little bit of water we made water drops....because when it rains it pours! Each box represented some kind of breakdown and related it to some aspect of our daily lives. As my paint brush filled with each of the different colors and spread out across the page, I felt my doubts and fears and anxious thoughts disperse as well. I could take a deep breathe. My finished squares looked like this:
And then she said, "now lets rip it up." I sat there staring at the page, thinking well I kind of like what all this represents and I don't really know how I could tear it and still keep it in order and remember what it all meant....for me just having to tear that paper felt like a major breakdown, literally and figuratively. I couldn't wrap my head around it nor did I want to physically break this paper down. I was once again reminded that with every break down there is some kind of breakthrough. Ok, if I have to tear it I guess I can try to stay on the lines and not 'ruin' any one square. So typical for how I am, even when I feel like I am breaking down in life, I still want it to be my way, under my control. So with 8 squares we were then given shape cutters and told to pick a star or a heart or a diamond or a circle and cut shapes out of our squares. With the shapes we made cards and inside the card we were told to write some kind of positive affirmation and then put it up at home where we would see it every day. Or we were told how nice it would be to mail somebody a card. Yes, I said mail! When was the last time you received something other than junk mail when you walked out to the mailbox? I have yet to find a positive affirmation to put inside it. I chose to stick with hearts and stars, and now that I am writing this blog I think my positive affirmation for inside the card is going to be, "I Still Matter." This is what my card looked like:
Here is another view, with different lighting!
What a powerful, visual representation of how the breakdowns of life, while they are not fun to live through, they aren't for nothing. As confusing as the process of a breakdown can be, there can also be beauty found in who it helps us become. I would have never thought that my torn up pieces of paper could create a card that is so bright and happy and pretty...much like I can't imagine how the shards of my broken spirit could ever produce light or that any good could come from my mental collapse. This project offered me hope during a time when that very feeling, feels like it is fading away.
If you are living with a mental illness or have friends or loved ones who are, then I would definitely suggest marking August 16th on your calendar, and checking out this community art group.