Two Lessons in One

  • Creativity can help in healing depression. I didn’t know it then but i have since learned that creativity is proven to help, by a number of psychotherapists and mental health professionals. I have personally experienced the difference that creativity can make to the brain of a depressed person. I wonder, does the creative activity feed an area of the brain that has been starved my depression?
  • Building self-esteem through doing things that you enjoy (and that you are presumably good at) was hugely effective for me.

I needed to find a way to return to work. Which meant that, in addition to getting better mentally, I had to find a way to shore up my self-confidence, which was at an all time low – depression and anxiety can do that to a person. And in order to improve my self-confidence, I needed to strengthen my self-esteem because it had taken a severe beating as a result of an emotional breakdown in 2002.

I was starting from zero here, because my self-image was flatlined. I felt that I was good at nothing much, and that my brain was incapable of most independent endeavours. The job stress had quite burned me down.

My therapist’s ‘prescription’ was to start building my self-esteeem by doing things I enjoyed and noting the effect of the activity on my overall mood (‘mood’ is what they call a person’s mental and emotional state when in a depressive condition – I learned to gauge my mood minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day. It is what dictates how your day is going and how you feel about yourself in general – it’s terribly important.) And when using CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) you also monitor your every thought because they have a direct effect on the mood. It’s a whole new world, really – microscopic introspection.

In my situation, I was lucky to benefit doubly from the prescription because those things that I enjoyed doing happened to involve creativity. I have always liked making things with my hands and receive great satisfaction from the creative process itself, perhaps more than the thing produced. In the early years, most everything I made had a functional application, whether bowls, plates and mugs out of clay that I shaped, glazed and fired in my own kiln, or any number of garnments imaginable including cozy-warm winter coats and hats, a buckskin fringed jacket, felted hats and mitts, or a fir-trimed, hooded anorak shell to wear as a top layer for snowshoeing, in self-made, leather mukluks.

Creativity Heals

It was indeed a blessing of my healing journey when I allowed myself to create for creativity’s sake – no more, no less. I felt a tremendous release (from my own expectations that I could only create with a specific product in mind) and a wonderful sense of freedom. I gave myself permission to play. Colour is what I love above all else so I explored the incredible assortment of colour-making products available these days, like fabric paints, watercolour pencils and pastels, cotton and wool dyes, self-made stencils, batik resist techniques, embroidery threads in a crazy array of colours, both fine and thick, blending natural and dyed wool, cotton, flax, and silk fibres to create every colour imaginable, and spinning that into variegated yarns for knitting and weaving. The potential for self-expression was opened wide for me – limited only by the imagination. It was joyful, and I named my sewing room my JoyRoom.

I took the prescription seriously because it was all I had. And it began showing results by raising the temperature of my mood; the more I engaged in creativity, the better I felt. I scheduled creative playtime every day whether i felt like it or not. Often, once I started a creative activity my mood improved enough that I ended up enjoying the process. Other times i was relieved to quit after the obligatory 30 minutes. The deal was that I would NOT get down on myslef as long as I participated for the minimum alloted time.

I practiced being gentle with myself because my default depressive state had done enough damage by deprecating my person. Negativity was simply not allowed. I could not afford it.

This was a wonderful learning and healing experience, designed especially to fit me. I encourage others to give creativity a try, choosing whatever activity seems most suited to your personality and interests. Try something new, and be child-like in your exploration. Give yourself permission.

Building Self-Esteem

If it’s self-esteem you are wanting to build, start by doing more of those things that people say you are good at. For me it was creativity, but for you it might be your excellent organizational skills, or musical interest perhaps that you haven’t touched in years, or photography, or writing, or journaling with exhuberance, or cooking exotic meals, or making hand creams and lip balms. It really doesn’t matter what you choose, what matters is that you repeatedly do something you are good at.

But don’t stop there. You must make note of any feedback you receive (about anything, not only your chosen activity) in your Hi-Five book/journal. It’s super important that you document your successes, even if they are tiny at the start as they are likely to be. The point is that those wee small successes are leading you toward a healthier self-esteem. And that can change your life.

I would love to hear about your progress. The very best to you 🙂

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