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5 ways art has improved my mental health

October 10th was World Mental Health day. And it's the first year I knew about this day. I think this is new. Which goes to show how much the world is waking up and paying attention to this. I am grateful for it of course. Because, ever since I first felt 'depressed', probably when I was about 12/13 years old, going through puberty, I knew deep down that this was a thing that hasn't been cracked yet. I remember looking around in my life for answers to this underlying wave of sadness & emptiness I was experiencing. I looked for it in the novels I was reading, tv shows I was watching, discussions I would overhear my parents had. But I didn't really get any answers any solutions. No advice, tips or ideas on what the hell I was feeling and how to deal with it. I wrote poems and songs to try to convey my feelings. They helped. Journalling was a big big help. But in general, life went on. I grew up and with enough distractions and activities in my life, I repressed these dark feelings and just set them aside.

The thing is, I had nothing concrete to even blame my depression on. I had a stable loving family. There was no neglect or abuse. My father got cancer and died when I was 14. But it wasn't that. Perhaps it was a little. But now when I have a better understanding of the modern world we live in, and how our lives and lifestyle is nothing like the times 99% of humans have lived before. With our artificial light, divorced from nature, lost belonging to tribe and culture, spirituality, the loss of elders, and that sense of connectedness. We are grappling with trying to exist in this fractured world of modern life. It's no wonder we are missing some key elements that make us feel whole.

But I won't go down that rabbit hole of my feelings of feeling like an orphaned child in this global world here. It's something I've been exploring on my own for years now. And I'm finally feeling I'm finding some answers. I had to search them myself. And maybe one day I'll share a bit more. Here, we are talking about how Art has improved my mental health. Let's count the ways.

  1. The flow / trance state I slip into when painting. Josh Shrei, creator of this podcast I am loving right now - The Emerald, speaks of how human beings have always seeked being in a trance state and how this state is very very important to our wellbeing. It's what we humans have always sought after in every tradition and tribes all over the world. And we find it through music, through going into nature, through dance and singing, through sports, through drugs, through piercings, through chanting. And for me, it's so easy to find it through painting. Especially watercolour for me. I wrote a blog post specifically about losing myself in this state of trance /flow when painting. Go check it out!

  2. It's like answering a question with an open ended answer. When I face a blank page, it's wild. It's so wild because there is no limit except the size of your paper and the colours you have I suppose. But otherwise, the answer is as varied and different and loud or soft as you want it to be. It's open-ended and no one piece is ever the same. Just like everything in nature. No tree, no flower, no snowflake is ever the same. And that is what makes nature so wondrous and beautiful. And for the longest time, I was only an observer of nature. But now, in art, I get to create this sort of unique, one of a kind, open ended product. And this is because, I am nature. So it's like a resonance, a feedback, a reflection of myself. If that makes sense. And this, has a super huge feeling of empowerment and agency. I can create anything I want.

  3. Sense of pride and ownership. When I create a painting that is beautiful, tangible and visually pleasing enough that whenever I gaze upon it, it makes me smile... that sense of knowing I did this. That feeling of accomplishment - how can it not improve my mental health? Unlike being a housewife where the housework is never seen or done, and the food you prepare is lovely but consumed immediately and forgotten, creating art which is kind of permanent can make me feel incredibly proud, accomplished and worthy. It's great.

  4. Painting flowers, landscapes for me, painting nature, is a like a devotional practice of nature worship. The time I spend looking at my reference, whether it be a photo or the actual LIVE object, (the live experience of painting always feel more whole), observing every line, every curve, every shape, every hue is a form of being present with the subject. This observational presence is proven in mindfulness studies to be what brings our mind to the most calm state. And for me it's even a bit more, because observing a flower in detail, is like paying close attention to the intricate wildness, beauty, complexity & simplicity of nature. It blows me away every single time. Nothing is more perfect, yet imperfect than nature. And this whole painting flowers thing has given me that. Painting is my prayer to nature.

  5. Discovering and mastering what it is that makes a great painting great. And then working it out, like a puzzle. The wonderful learning of balance, composition, layering and depth. It's a challenge, it's a game. It's a mystery to be solved. It links back to how our eyes work, how our brains perceive something that's pleasing to look at and what's not. And then... why? It's so fascinating and I am loving this dance.

These are just some of the realisations I've come across about how art has improved my mental health. And I haven't even touched upon the social aspect of it. The connection it has brought me to other artists and lovers of art. That's probably for another blog entry. But for now, I'm really happy I've found art. It's improved my mental health heaps. And has added a beautiful layer to my life, almost like placing a great piece of the puzzle of life for me.

Can you think of another way how art has improved your mental health? Let me know in the comments. :)

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