The art of recovery
In April we put the call out for more stories to share as part of our #SmashingStigma Campaign. Throughout May we will be sharing blogs about 'Recovery', some from the studio and some from new found friends who have been inspired to tell their story and support our campaign. This guest blog and artwork is from Artist Lor Bird.
I decided to contribute to Designs in Mind because I am passionate about stigma being reduced and I want to help others to not feel shame. Although I don’t explicitly paint about my illness I do recognise the powerful impact art has on me and the role it’s played in my life. Finally I want to share a little bit of my story, which I hope will encourage other people to be creative and believe in their skills.
Before I get started I would like to say that recovery for me isn’t about going backwards and trying to be the same person I was before the illness.
Instead I’ve come to accept that I am fundamentally changed (sometimes it feels like being broken); I will always have anxiety and depression on the threshold of my consciousness and I need medication to buoy me up in an ocean of feeling, to give me a skin that insulates from feeling too much.
I’ve discovered instead that recovery lies not in forcing myself to be ‘well’ but accepting what I am and where I am in my life, not running away from moods but being present to what is happening in my life.
I know that when I paint I am present. The internal dialogue ceases, the feeling of pain is dulled and I feel an enthusiasm, a reason for being alive and a way of noticing the beauty around me. I also find that bright colours boost my mood, so I often use vibrant colours in my work and I think this gives my work a sense of joy and perhaps spirit.
I’ve enjoyed painting as far back as I can remember and I’ve always had a vivid imagination. But at the age of 16 I struggled with mood swings, including suicidal thoughts and I self-harmed to alleviate mental pain. This decreased once I went to University (I think it helped to be away from my family) and my first job was working in a mental health unit as I wanted to train in art therapy. This didn’t happen, for reasons I won’t explain here, but I continued to enjoy painting and doing other creative activities such as sewing and pottery.
My mental health hit crisis point in 2001 when I had post natal depression with my second child. This was the bleakest time of my life and the only respite was an arts and craft group run at a local sure start centre. I remember the joy of being in a creative environment with some lovely people, where for 2 hours my pain just vanished as I could be carefree and creative.
I tried a whole range of strategies to overcome my illness, including talking treatments and medication, and gradually my symptoms improved.
Training in Reiki was particularly useful (it’s one of the few holistic therapies that you can practice on yourself) and through Reiki I learned to go with my moods rather than fight them. In 2006 I met my wonderful husband (painting brought us together) and he supported me in being an artist, which I did for 4 years. I also volunteered at a disabled art group and an educational charity to reduce my isolation and it also made me feel really good!
The charity I volunteered at offered me a job and it felt like a real achievement to be back in employment. It wasn’t always easy to manage my moods but I channelled my creativity into supporting others and used painting as a means of unwinding from work. Eventually my job changed and I was asked to deliver enterprise guidance. Whilst doing this role I felt that I should start my own business too, selling my paintings, so that I could have a better insight into business processes and thereby improve my skills. I was also inspired by the courage of the people I supported and felt that if they could do it, why not me!
But as ever things change: I was made redundant last month and with my husband’s encouragement I have decided to focus on my art business as a full time job. This hasn’t been an easy decision to take; it has created a lot of anxiety about money and my confidence / ability to go it alone. I think one of my biggest fears is of failure and not being able to enjoy my creativity as I need to have a commercial focus. However I know that this is an amazing opportunity and with good planning, passion and tenacity I can make it work:.
You can find out more about Lor Bird here...
On February the 11th 2018 we launched a crowdfunding campaign. We want to start a conversation about mental health that is powerful. No more treading on eggshells. We are not invisible, We do not want to be hidden away. Our work in the studio and shop is #SmashingStigma every day, and now we are going to be a little noisier.
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As part of the campaign we are also looking for more blogs about mental health stigma, so please get in touch if you have a story to share.