This week I've been finding solace in paint.
Bright colors, dark colors, muddy colors. Acrylic, watercolor, gouache. It doesn't matter, really. I'm using them all, sometimes together, for no other reason than to create. It feels really good in a grief-riddled time to not be bound to words, and instead use color, texture, shape and symbol to express any and all that needs expression.
This blog post is an invitation for you to do the same. It is encouragement to nourish and self-soothe because so many of us desperately need it. It could also be a dare, if you prefer (wink, wink).
At this point you might be thinking: I need this! ... but I'm not really an artist.
I hear this a lot from clients and it begs a bigger discussion about who in our culture gets to be an artist, but for the purpose of this blog, I'll say this: You don't have to think of yourself as an artist.
Creativity, I believe, is a birthright. As is, healing. And so it seems to me that the two would naturally flow together. If you're interested in starting an arts practice, but are not sure how to begin I've compiled a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Start Small - Many people find themselves overwhelmed by large sheets of paper or canvas. No problem. I often recommend starting with a 5x7 visual journal platform so that there is no pressure to share your work - it's just for you. You can also take a look online at the many sizes of paper and canvas available. Choose what feels comfortable.
2. Start with a Squiggle - Yes, just a squiggle. I've intentionally left out any kind of art prompts from this blog because I think we can benefit so much from letting creativity emerge. That said, if you are feeling stuck, you can always start by doodling and seeing where it leads. Curiosity is the name of the game here.
3. Trust your Intuition - If you are using materials that don't feel quite right, go ahead and explore another medium. Perhaps paint feels too messy or pencil feels too rigid? Maybe collage takes the pressure off of creating a pretty picture, but you can still express in a way that feels good? Lean in and trust.
Lastly, remember that using art for expression and healing is about the process, not necessarily creating a pretty picture to hang on the wall - though that often happens anyway.
I'll add that in the near decade I've been an expressive arts therapist, my relationship with mediums has shifted over time. Sometimes I do feel called to use words for expression, particularly if I'm feeling the need to nail down a thought or an idea. At other times I'm called to curate playlists to capture a mood or shift a mood. While the focus of this post is visual art, the invitation above is actually to explore, to create and to express in all the ways. There are no limits.
If you're interested in learning more about expressive arts therapy, please feel free to reach out. You can also check out some of my own art process on Instagram @bay_area_feminst_therapist. I'd love to see yours!
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,
We're a little more than half way through this (fill in your own adjective) year, and one thing is certainly clear: 2020 is making us work.
The truth is, what we're experiencing is more than just a stressful time. It's actually a collective trauma.
Wait, did she say trauma? Yep, I did.
While people often associate trauma with experiences like abuse or assault, war or a natural disaster, trauma can actually be caused by any disturbing event or events that make a person feel unsafe, out of control or helpless.
A pandemic fits that criteria, yes? As does more common (and insidious) experiences like racial violence and discrimination, poverty, misogyny, abuse of government power, homophobia, body-size discrimination and so on.
Symptoms of trauma are often overlooked or mistaken for anxiety because they've become so common in our culture. But unchecked trauma can leave our nervous system in fight-flight-freeze mode, which can have long-term effects on our minds, metaphorical hearts, and physical bodies.
Here are some common reactions to living with or through trauma:
- Feeling like you always have to watch your back
- Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Spacing out or feeling like you're outside of your body
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling like you're on an emotional rollercoaster
- All or nothing thinking
As a therapist who specializes in supporting self-identified women and girls through trauma (as well as anxiety and stress), I want to pause to emphasize this: Having symptoms like the ones noted above are - for lack of a better term - a normal response to living through scary and unsafe events.
That said, these defenses also keep us from living our fullest lives. Some examples: Numbing to pain, also numbs us to joy. Riding an emotional roller coaster often impairs relationships. Constantly watching our backs, keeps us from being present and looking toward the future.
You get the picture. And yet, it follows that it doesn't have to be this way.
I truly believe that even in times of chaos, deep healing and growth are possible. Post-traumatic growth is real, just as is the wound it stems from.
Often the first step in the healing process is connecting with a therapist you feel comfortable with. This act alone can help re-create a feeling of emotional safety that had been initially highjacked.
If you're interested in accessing support or learning more about how I help clients move through trauma to a place of ease and increased resiliency, please contact me. At risk of repeating myself, you do not need to go it alone.
Till next time, wishing you health & ease,