“Excelsior: it means, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take all this negativity, and I’m going to use it as fuel; I’m going to find a silver lining, that’s what I’m going to do.” ~ “Silver Linings Playbook”
It’s no secret that anxiety and depression are things I struggle with heavily.
Thanks, PTSD and PMDD.
I’ve always been a creative spirit; writing and drawing helped me cope in my youth without having a second thought about it, until now. When I really started going through it, I returned to my natural vices and found that I transformed my unpleasant feelings into beautiful works of art, sped up time, and gave myself a few smiles along the way.
Here are a few ways that I’ve used creative outlets to cope with my feelings:
I processed a lot while painting. For the most part, I would choose to paint only things that I was attracted to in a positive way. I think that helped me to keep my thoughts elevated. I have a great amount of Buddhas on canvas in my home. He represents the peace and joy that I wish to feel. Flowers, happy women, and my daughters are also among my many works of art.
To me, these things represent stillness, magic, and inspiration. On my occasional bad day, I would paint the eyes of a tiger or a wolf. With every stroke, I connected to my fierceness and let it take form without harming a soul. In particular, one painting of mine carries a deep emotional attachment; it’s a lotus flower floating in a dark sea.
By the time I was finished, hours later, I realized I had processed an entire category of sexual abuse without dwelling. The conversations that I had stored in my mind carried themselves through me and my paintbrush. I felt like I had unpacked my baggage and given it a new home, outside of me. I processed, and I released.
Do you doodle on envelopes, or is that just me? Sometimes, therapeutic drawing is as simple as doodles or quick sketches of something in front of me. And sometimes, it’s an image of what feelings would look like metaphorically.
The most helpful benefit of drawing through anxiety, to me, is drawing something in front of me. When the news arrived that COVID-19 had reached America, I drew my living room. It was totally not to scale, and my chair looked like it was in my front door, but it brought me back to where I was and not the catastrophic places my anxiety was telling me to go. That was extremely helpful!
So now, when I’m feeling anxious, I’ll draw my cat, my window, my hand holding the sketchbook, anything that brings me back to where I am in the physical world.
3. Coloring Books
You’ve heard of those adult coloring books, right? With the detailed mandalas inside of foxes, inspirational quotes, and “f*ck you’s” in pretty calligraphy? I’ve treated myself to a nice stack of coloring books that my kids aren’t allowed to touch. I play affirmations from YouTube and let the stress just melt away.
In the zone, washing my mind with the soothing affirmations of Louise Hay, I would settle my bouncing knee and focus on the moment I created for myself. This is still one of my favorite ways to get through those nagging, generally anxious moments at home.
My hippie heart was craving some tie-dye, badly. So being the creative I am, I decided not to overspend on tie-dyed goods and learn how to make them myself. This started as an “Oh, this should be fun!” And then it turned into the reason I got out of bed in the morning.
Being a stay-at-home mom with chronic anxiety and bouts of depression, I often didn’t feel like I had much to look forward to when I opened my eyes. But I noticed that when I was tie-dying, I couldn’t wait to get out of bed and see how my creation turned out. I would dye my items in the evening and let them sit overnight, so when I woke up, they were ready to be rinsed and dried.
I would get up with this one thing on my mind, and I was often met with pride in myself. I would find myself impressed that I could test my patience waiting for the dye to set in, put faith in my ability not to make it ugly (accept and learn, when I did), and end up happy myself by making such professional looking tie-dyes. This helped my self-esteem tremendously, which helped break up my anxious thought patterns.
5. Dream Catchers
I was scrolling Instagram one night and came across a beautiful blonde holding up a life-size dream catcher. “I want that!” I exclaimed. Go to her bio, check her prices, and holy shiza—I could not buy a $200 dreamcatcher! I thought, “If you can’t buy it, make it.” Pinterest to the rescue. A few hundred dollars and a year later, I had over 50 dreamcatchers on my walls.
Then I had dreamcatchers everywhere—my living room, every bedroom, the landing at the top of my stairs, my car! I was struggling with some pretty persistent insomnia at the time, and I found that if I kept my hands busy—wrapping hoops, making webs, and adding details—my anxiety had something to do. A place to go. This kept me busy while my mind raced instead of staring at the clock.
My counselor at the time was coming to my house for our appointments. Slightly embarrassed by the growing shock on her face, I said, “Yeah, there’s a lot of anxiety on those walls.” What she said in response will forever stick in my mind. She said that without being anxious, I wouldn’t have created all of these unique pieces.
Never once, before, had I thought that experiencing anxiety as often as I do could have brought anything positive to my life. Especially not anything beautiful because it has beaten me down and taken so much from me. That moment was profound. It gave me a silver lining.
I signed myself up as a vendor for art fairs in the following years. This pushed me to face my agoraphobia, and I landed with a smile on my face. The compliments that I received when someone would buy a piece of my he(art) soothed my soul. (And I made the money I’d spent on supplies back—bonus!)
I still turn to some of these activities when I need help coping from time to time. And I always look back on them as something that saved me from myself. I hope you find, within yourself, the ability to turn your anxiety into something beautiful.