Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Survivors Speak: Art As A Positive Channel

Tina is a survivor who knows how to cope. Unable to work - and then forced by economic reasons to leave her friends, family and doctors to relocate to a more affordable city - she is not only exploring art as therapy but building a business out of it!

Survivors never cease to amaze me. In the midst of our PTSD issues each of us continues to find the most amazing reserve of resiliency.

1. What, if any, relation did you have to folk art, craft work or cake design before using it as a therapeutic method?

I had no desire to do any art or craft before using it as a therapeutic method. Therapy, I thought, was not for me. I had a very negative view of therapy. I believed my life was always going to be bad and that suffering with PTSD was to be a permanent condition.

2. What first inspired you to explore your trauma/PTSD experience in art form?

I was unable to work and found myself having to relocate to a different city to find affordable accommodation. I did not know anyone in the new city and all my support networks including health care providers were in my original home town.

Anger set in and I deliberately did not leave the house or associate with anyone in the new city. I shut myself off from everyone and was determined not to accept being forced to change my location and being so far from all my family and friends. As a result, my doctor thought it would be a good idea if I could find something to get me out of the house as well as an interest that would redirect my thoughts and anger.

3. In what way do you feel using artistic expression has furthered your healing?

Firstly, in learning folk art I was able to channel my thoughts to something new and exciting. I was able to concentrate on something that didn’t involve too much energy. It was terribly difficult to focus on anything other than peripheral things, so artistic endeavours seemed to be ideal.

Secondly, art allowed me to start to feel positive about myself. Instead of focusing on the things I couldn’t do (for example, work, reading, concentrating, etc.), I was able to do little things like painting coasters, place mats, boxes, tins, small paintings.

An added bonus was that I was able to do cheap presents for people on such a limited income (whether they liked my artistic endeavours is another story!). I started to form relationships in the new city and finally was able to come to terms with the relocation. I was then able to leave my home on a more regular basis, doing something pleasant, instead of all the horrible things that we, suffering PTSD, are used to doing, eg. like going to psych appointments, doctor’s appointments, and social services meetings. It was a relief to do something pleasant and non-taxing and positive.

Soon I was living a semi-normal life. Eventually I entertained the idea of cake decorating and was buoyed by my experiences in the realm of folk art. I have since started to try and earn a living from this enterprise. Cake art, although not an expressive art, is time consuming, artistic in nature and challenging. I enjoy seeing the end result and the happy faces on those celebrating their special day, whether it be a birthday, anniversary or wedding. I would never have thought that I would be calling myself artistic in a past life, but now it seems so normal.

4. What's the single most important benefit you've discovered from expressing your trauma this way?

My artistic endeavours have enabled me to recognise that I am more than the sum of my trauma.

5. What have you learned about healing by filtering it through art?

I treat art as a distraction that enables me to redirect my thoughts to something more positive. Whilst a distraction, art has also enabled me to see a different person, one I didn't know was there. Perhaps a person who can heal and get better, rather than the one that constantly feels healing is a struggle and not worth fighting for.

6. Do you have a single piece of work that you feel best embodies what you were trying to express? What elevates this piece above the others?

No piece embodies what I am trying to express. My art is simply decorative, enabling me to experience positive feelings of accomplishment and pride. I am not expressing myself to anyone else except me and therein lies the freedom.

7. What tip would you give someone who is interested in exploring the idea of addressing his/her own traumatic experience through any of your methods?

Do not underestimate art's healing properties. Art is subjective and not meant to put you into a pigeonhole. It is a medium that allows you - without judgement or condemnation - the freedom to explore a side of you that you may never have entertained. It is kind and forgiving and gentle; just what you need in a world that is shaken to its core by PTSD.

'Survivors Speak' is a weekly feature written by or interviewing a survivor and PTSD experiencer about some positive aspect of healing. If you would like to participate in the series (anonymously if you prefer), please email me thoughts, ideas, and topic suggestions: parasitesof.themind @ yahoo.com.

(Photo: cupcaketastic)

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