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Using Art as a Tool for Processing

Last week was a tough one for me. I was dealing with multiple issues that necessitated going into a cave of my own making for a bit. For three days straight, I thought, sketched, erased, sculpted, sat, painted and processed. There were (and, to be honest, still are) many things fighting to become clear in my mind, whether a course of action, a decision to be made, a conversation to be had and outcomes to ponder. Every thought it seemed touched on something else and set off another flurry. I was fighting with my thoughts so much that I didn't even have the words to speak to it all...

...But I did have a paintbrush. And clay. And the need to create with my own two hands. For me, it was an opportunity to explore all that I couldn't adequately express. At the end of it I had a few completed projects, including the piece here titled "Persevere". Its a layered mixed media piece with text and imagery, foil, paper and paint. I explored my way through the conversation with the canvas, some layers so buried they don't even show in the end. There is one section of the canvas that I worked over so many times I thought for sure the canvas would give way, going back and forth with this thought or that, but every brush stroke or layer of paper gives more depth to the final piece than I could ever have planned. Did I come out with all the answers clear as can be? Not entirely. But did I manage to come out of my cave? Yep, and with a little more peace for myself and the world around me.

It's just been announced that schools around here will close for six weeks. There are so many people, both kids and adults, trying to understand the ramifications of this pandemic. News about the coronavirus is unavoidable, causing uncertainty, anxiety, stress and confusion. These times can be especially frightening for kids, as they witness the adults around them who previously knew so much and kept them safe facing sudden uncertainty. One of my kids came to me the other night, well past bedtime, with concerns about global warming and the current pandemic keeping restful sleep out of reach. This little one tends toward anxiety and also thankfully to art, so we talked a bit about how sometimes when you don't have the words, you can use art to explore what is going on both inside yourself and the world around you.

The uncertainty of things right now all over the world can be anxiety-inducing even in the typically most calm and rational person. On top of all that we hear in the news is everything that we have going on in our own personal, daily lives, whether kids, marriage, work, school, friendships, loss, changes or challenges. It can be overwhelming! When that happens, here's what I do, and perhaps it might help you, too:

1) Take a big, deep, slow breath. Inhale for a count of five, hold for two, exhale for seven. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

2) Take small steps, one step at a time. Maybe I can't make all the decisions about the next six weeks right now, but I can make the decision about dinner tonight. Tomorrow, when I've had time for things to settle a little more, I can think about what I'll need to get through next week. Just keep going. (Repeat step one as needed.)

3) ASK FOR HELP. It is not weakness to ask for assistance. We all need it. We're all here on this planet together and if there's one thing to really admire about the human race, it's how we rally together when things get tough. You are not alone. (Sometimes asking for help can take a bit of bravery. I worked up the courage to talk about one of the situations I was going through with some friends and was amazed at how much better I felt. Suddenly there were people who knew about it even though they weren't involved, but they were more than willing to stand by my side, to lift me up - and even to show they were still there days later with a thoughtful gesture. You likely have more people than you know ready to walk by your side.)

4) Take time to take care of yourself. This doesn't just mean making sure to pay your own bills, but find something (doesn't have to be big) that fills your soul just a little. Maybe it's as simple as a few moments with paper and pen to let go of the thoughts in your mind, no concern for what it ought to be at the end. You may find that while you were busy lost in making marks, some clarity or peace arrived through the back door of your mind.

Along with teaching art, I have a little background in Art Therapy, though I opted not to complete the Master's program for personal reasons. I am most definitely NOT a certified therapist and encourage you to reach out to someone who is if you are experiencing difficulties or have anxieties about these or any other issues where therapy may be beneficial. I truly believe that counseling is a fantastic resource for everyone and something that no one should ever be ashamed of. I also believe in the power of art as process of exploration, healing and communication. I am happy to talk with anyone who is struggling and/or who don't know where to begin.

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