Recently, my aunt and I were talking on the phone. She’s a hospice worker and spends her life helping others prepare for their death. She told me the story of a patient who was nearing the end of his life, yet filled with anger and frustration toward his situation.
Social workers and therapists would encourage conversation, but he was closed off and unresponsive to traditional talk therapy. However, a shift occurred once an art therapist began visiting him regularly.
His emotions toward life, which were impossible to sort out in a way that made sense, began to come out through his artwork. As he progressed toward his death, he began to tell his story through one special painting that his family could remember him by.
He simply did not have the vocabulary or the comfort level to talk openly about his feelings, but art allowed him a way to set himself free and find genuine peace in the end.
After hearing this story, I had the realization that coming to terms with death isn’t much different than coming to terms with life.
This man, although inevitably heading toward death at an old age, was stuck in his negative emotions with no outlet to release them.
This is similar to someone trying to live, but sees suicide as the only option to escape the pain.
Mental illness cannot always be treated in an intellectual fashion or “cured” through a simple set of A, B and C’s. Art was the necessary medium here.
And as complex and emotional beings, it only makes sense that our treatments would be that way too. The mysterious realm where art and music lives can help release the heavy weight of depression that makes us not want to live.
After all, artistic endeavors engage a separate portion of the brain- an area that could hold your key to healing. Mental illness is complex and multi-faceted, and certainly cannot always be explained in logical terminology.
The hardest part about depression, it seems, is that there is no one “cure-all”.
And honestly, art and music therapy could be a daunting option at first. Creativity in this sense doesn’t always come easy to some people. I am one of those people.
I didn’t even realize it could be an outlet and way toward coping with depression, until it was.
As a perfectionist, I’ve had a hard time expressing myself creatively. I criticize the outcome and quickly judge what comes out onto paper. Art was my worst enemy for the longest time.
But I’ve learned that the release that comes with artistic expression, or even listening to the self-expression of another, can fill that painful void. Self-expression gives us something to work toward and it’s a beautiful discipline. Learning to take pain and turn it into art or music is a magical thing.
When I hear a song I love, or the strum of a guitar, I can begin to feel the burden of pain fade away. The music seems to pick up my wounds and send them off into the invisible, unknown place where music disappears to.
Music can act as the lubricant to create conversations and to heal the pain buried deep within us.
For some- the ways to our hearts is through one medium, and for another it could be entirely different. And what ultimately will heal us and transcend us from our pain, is what is truest to us, and just us.
And that’s the hardest part of all- who has the energy to search for their own personal cure when even getting out of bed feels like a knife to the heart?
But what if it could be as simple as sitting outside and listening to the singing of the birds,
the hum of a friend’s acoustic guitar?
There are a thousand different ways to find life again, and I encourage anyone struggling to surrender to the creative place that exists inside everyone.
Sing, write, dance, paint, sculpt. Whatever. Anything.
Play the pain away.
Hans Christian Anderson said, “where words fail, music speaks” and I believe that to be true.
When all else in the world seems overwhelming, know the one place that is safe in the world is within that creative place inside of you. Once you can release judgment, you can be free.
[Background photo credit: Kira Reed, @kira.designs]