Following about 25 – 30 admissions to psychiatric wards and eating disorder units, I have been out of hospital for a whole year. I recently went to give a talk at an EDU, and was introduced as ‘A recovered person’. I thought to myself, wow. Really? Here I am: recovery!
My illness began nearly 19 years ago, after I fell off a horse and had a very serious brain injury. My mind’s consequent injury, in its reaction to the TBI, led to an ‘expression’ of misery and pain, through numerous diagnosed (and misdiagnosed) illnesses: anorexia, self-harm, suicide attempts, psychosis, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eventually ‘organic hallucinosis’. I could go on.
Finally, I learnt how to get well, how to be well. This is something I have to commit to each and every day. A day at a time, I lay foundations, and I begin to build my very own, brand new life. Being creative has been my most potent, powerful, effective medicine. I developed what I called ‘colour painting’. When I was in hospital, I’d paint all day, every day. I went through phases: with long agonising periods when I would paint dark, scratched, disturbed expressions of sheer torment, stark black on tired paper. Black was my fatal accomplice.
Then, one day, I decided that there are still some things that I want to do in this world. I said to myself: I don’t want to feel this pain. I miss cuddles with my dearest darling dog, Foxy; I miss riding the horses; I miss liquorice tea; I miss gallivanting across country and doing competitions; I miss lots of things. I have ambitions; I want a future. I wanted colour.
That very moment, I opened the ‘Artists’ Carry Box’ I had (optimistically!) brought to the ward with me, and searched for some new pigments, other than the black (which had, in fact, run out through overuse). I had a full ‘assorted pack’ of twelve Brusho Crystal Colours. These magic little pots contain brilliant, intense, transparent granules of pigments for painting.
I take out yellow. Bang. The hue opens my eyes; it lightens my view. I know what to do. I slop some water on a page of thick, textured paper, and sprinkle on a few crystals. They expand, instantly emanating and stretching into rivers of brilliant yellow. This colour is plural: in the middle of the paper, the heart opens out in an intense, dense orange; as it disperses across the page, it became a rich cadmium, then a lemon yellow. In sum, the piece offers me a vivid vision of sunshine.
This I take. I breathe in, as my eyes dance across the colours cascading in front of me. I breathe out, and let go of their antithesis (the darkness). Such meditation continues for some time. Soon enough the paint dries and I prop it up on my chest of drawers. Quickly, I do another, and another.
After a couple of days in this routine, my room in the ward has become furnished, and flourishes, with radiant bright colours. Now, I see in yellow, red, blue, green, purple. The black is at the back, still there, but out of view. This is my aim: to keep the colours at the front. I can’t get rid of the darkness (it bears scars, of deeply rotten trauma, on my body), but I can see, and feel, in light now. This facility, this change, is fundamental to my recovery and for the new life I am leading.
Colour painting can’t solve everything. But it can make me feel better, so I can facilitate my own change. I am more stable now than ever before. I like to think of my recovery as a bench I can sit on, which will support me when I need to sit down and rest—in the midst of life’s continual tests. This is not an easy, pain-free journey; recovery is an ongoing process. When I was at the lowest point of my life, about ten years ago, I said to myself ‘It can’t get any worse.’ It was that bad. However, I realised that this was a positive statement. If it can’t get any worse, that means it can only get better. Then, I managed to turn my pain around, and think about how on earth I could make my life better. For this I needed help. It took many years, and many further hospital admissions, but finally here I am, as, quote: ‘A recovered person’.