Recovering with Creativity:

Updated: Jan 20

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."

- Thomas Merton


"...but for me, making art is a mindful and therapeutic practice through which I explore, express, process and understand my feelings and experiences of the world."

How art Helps me Stay Sane:

I used to think that art therapy was a cliché. After seeing the same old storylines of mentally ill characters admitted to hospital and forced to draw their feelings, I thought it was just a stereotype. And because the phrase “try art” is usually surrounded by ineffective advice such as “take up running, it will cure your anxiety” or “cheer up, you’ve got nothing to be depressed about”, I simply didn’t believe it would work. One day, however, while in hospital I was just bored enough to set a cynical foot in the Art Room – and after just one hour I was hooked. Today I’ll happily hold my hands up and say I was wrong: while neither art, nor yoga, nor positive thinking, is going to cure mental health problems, art has become integral to my recovery.

I don’t necessarily approach my creativity as Art Therapy, but for me making art is a mindful and therapeutic practice through which I explore, express, process and understand my feelings and experiences of the world. Instead of internally struggling with emotions or challenging situations, I can pour them out on paper, go deeper, and ease them through allowing myself to work through them in a healthy way. I’ve tried many different mediums and techniques and found that different styles help with different things – while it takes on different forms and functions, the constant to my recovery and daily management of my illness is art.

One of the first truly therapeutic techniques I came across was abstract, acrylic-based work to express complex feelings. It’s bold, it’s colourful, and you can create an expressive and interesting piece just by going with the flow of your emotions and flinging paint on the paper or canvas. I’ve found the choice of colour palette can reflect my mood (for example, anger prompts a fiery red/orange-based piece, whilst intense sadness leads to blues and purples) while the brushstrokes – or finger painting, or pouring – helps to display and use up the excess energy that pent-up emotions bring.

Essentially, it’s a release. It’s a way of putting the feeling or frustration down on paper which is simultaneously cathartic and productive. I’ve experimented with using different styles and mediums in similar frames of mind and found other paints such as gouache to be equally useful (but watercolour was too soft). Abstract mark-making in other mediums such as pastels, markers or pens also has a similar release to it, but when dealing with strong, mixed, overpowering emotions I’ve not found it useful to attempt realism.

As well as an expressive process, making art can also be incredibly grounding. I deal with a large amount of anxiety on a daily basis, along with periods of obsessive, compulsive, or impulsive intrusive thoughts, and it can be very easy to become detached from my current situation. Again, whilst in these frames of mind I don’t find realistic drawing to be useful - my focus is simply not there. Holding my mind away from these thoughts, however, is the headspace in which I create some of my most detailed repetitive patterns and line drawings.

This sort of simple, repetitive art doesn’t require the deep concentration of a realistic drawing and therefore allows me to get into the detail without worrying about creating something recognisable or realistic. The continued strokes of the pen become an absorbing, calming process which draws attention away from unwanted or overwhelming thought to bring myself back to the here and now – much like deep breathing but with enough motion that sitting still isn’t too difficult. I find a similar effect comes with colouring (and is probably what prompted the ‘adult colouring book’ craze of recent years), but instead of using a book I prefer to draw out and then colour my own pieces.

Similarly, when I am focused enough to create something realistic I find the process of losing myself in a complex piece incredibly mindful because it requires my full focus. I particularly enjoy botanicals, but mostly I just love to choose a subject and get lost in capturing it (whether I think the end result is any good or not). This ties me to the present time and space, and has a soothing effect when I am anxious. While colouring/repeating patterns can be passive, active concentration upon a detailed design can tie me to the present time and space while soothing my anxiety.

Nearly all of my art tends to incorporate writing, as much of my journaling and creating is at the same time a sort of diary in which to explore and express my internal world. Lettering and calligraphy can be very mindful activities which create beautiful, inspiring pieces - or make an ugly thought a bit prettier. Involving words in art can also help express your preoccupations and develop thoughts – whether a lyric stuck in your head, a favourite quote, a single word or concept, or a piece of your own writing, it can be cathartic and exploratory.

All of these have found homes in my journal. Words add context to a piece, but they can also be the basis for it. I have also found that the best way to move on from a thought or idea I am stuck on is to develop it in writing, and if a thought needs to be expressed but I don’t necessarily want to revisit it or reread it then I can write it out in my journal and either obscure parts of it or cover it all – it’s therapeutic, and safer than burning it.

Obviously, I’m not an art therapist and I know these styles of art – or even art in general – won’t necessarily work the same for everyone. But stepping back to the more general concept of using creativity in the recovery from and management of mental health problems, the simple fact is that by taking the time to sit down and make art I am taking a positive action which leaves me with something to show for it. I am creating instead of destroying. When I feel disheartened, depressed, anxious about what I am doing with my life or my day, I have journals and paintings to look through and prove I have achieved something.

I can see my recovery, my life, and my growth expressed in sketchbooks (currently 20+, constantly increasing in number). And even if it is just to colour a background, I have something to get out of bed for which I love doing. Finally, when difficulty arises in my life and my mental illnesses become more difficult to manage I have a healthy way to express and explore that – and I do not have to be alone with it. My journal, my paints, my pens, and my ideas are always there for me. Art is always here. And since I have been sharing my art and my recovery on instagram (@journalbebe) I am even less alone as there are plenty of people finding healthy expression in their art – even making a living as artists! –and sharing it to inspire and be inspired, as I do.

Recovering with creativity: how art helps me stay sane

I used to think that art therapy was a cliché. After seeing the same old storylines of mentally ill characters admitted to hospital and forced to draw their feelings, I thought it was just a stereotype. And because the phrase “try art” is usually surrounded by ineffective advice such as “take up running, it will cure your anxiety” or “cheer up, you’ve got nothing to be depressed about”, I simply didn’t believe it would work. One day, however, while in hospital I was just bored enough to set a cynical foot in the Art Room – and after just one hour I was hooked. Today I’ll happily hold my hands up and say I was wrong: while neither art, nor yoga, nor positive thinking, is going to cure mental health problems, art has become integral to my recovery.

I don’t necessarily approach my creativity as Art Therapy, but for me making art is a mindful and therapeutic practice through which I explore, express, process and understand my feelings and experiences of the world. Instead of internally struggling with emotions or challenging situations, I can pour them out on paper, go deeper, and ease them through allowing myself to work through them in a healthy way. I’ve tried many different mediums and techniques and found that different styles help with different things – while it takes on different forms and functions, the constant to my recovery and daily management of my illness is art.

One of the first truly therapeutic techniques I came across was abstract, acrylic-based work to express complex feelings. It’s bold, it’s colourful, and you can create an expressive and interesting piece just by going with the flow of your emotions and flinging paint on the paper or canvas. I’ve found the choice of colour palette can reflect my mood (for example, anger prompts a fiery red/orange-based piece, whilst intense sadness leads to blues and purples) while the brushstrokes – or finger painting, or pouring – helps to display and use up the excess energy that pent-up emotions bring.

Essentially, it’s a release. It’s a way of putting the feeling or frustration down on paper which is simultaneously cathartic and productive. I’ve experimented with using different styles and mediums in similar frames of mind and found other paints such as gouache to be equally useful (but watercolour was too soft). Abstract mark-making in other mediums such as pastels, markers or pens also has a similar release to it, but when dealing with strong, mixed, overpowering emotions I’ve not found it useful to attempt realism.

As well as an expressive process, making art can also be incredibly grounding. I deal with a large amount of anxiety on a daily basis, along with periods of obsessive, compulsive, or impulsive intrusive thoughts, and it can be very easy to become detached from my current situation. Again, whilst in these frames of mind I don’t find realistic drawing to be useful - my focus is simply not there. Holding my mind away from these thoughts, however, is the headspace in which I create some of my most detailed repetitive patterns and line drawings.

This sort of simple, repetitive art doesn’t require the deep concentration of a realistic drawing and therefore allows me to get into the detail without worrying about creating something recognisable or realistic. The continued strokes of the pen become an absorbing, calming process which draws attention away from unwanted or overwhelming thought to bring myself back to the here and now – much like deep breathing but with enough motion that sitting still isn’t too difficult. I find a similar effect comes with colouring (and is probably what prompted the ‘adult colouring book’ craze of recent years), but instead of using a book I prefer to draw out and then colour my own pieces.

Similarly, when I am focused enough to create something realistic I find the process of losing myself in a complex piece incredibly mindful because it requires my full focus. I particularly enjoy botanicals, but mostly I just love to choose a subject and get lost in capturing it (whether I think the end result is any good or not). This ties me to the present time and space, and has a soothing effect when I am anxious. While colouring/repeating patterns can be passive, active concentration upon a detailed design can tie me to the present time and space while soothing my anxiety.

Nearly all of my art tends to incorporate writing, as much of my journaling and creating is at the same time a sort of diary in which to explore and express my internal world. Lettering and calligraphy can be very mindful activities which create beautiful, inspiring pieces - or make an ugly thought a bit prettier. Involving words in art can also help express your preoccupations and develop thoughts – whether a lyric stuck in your head, a favourite quote, a single word or concept, or a piece of your own writing, it can be cathartic and exploratory.

All of these have found homes in my journal. Words add context to a piece, but they can also be the basis for it. I have also found that the best way to move on from a thought or idea I am stuck on is to develop it in writing, and if a thought needs to be expressed but I don’t necessarily want to revisit it or reread it then I can write it out in my journal and either obscure parts of it or cover it all – it’s therapeutic, and safer than burning it.

Obviously, I’m not an art therapist and I know these styles of art – or even art in general – won’t necessarily work the same for everyone. But stepping back to the more general concept of using creativity in the recovery from and management of mental health problems, the simple fact is that by taking the time to sit down and make art I am taking a positive action which leaves me with something to show for it. I am creating instead of destroying. When I feel disheartened, depressed, anxious about what I am doing with my life or my day, I have journals and paintings to look through and prove I have achieved something.

I can see my recovery, my life, and my growth expressed in sketchbooks (currently 20+, constantly increasing in number). And even if it is just to colour a background, I have something to get out of bed for which I love doing. Finally, when difficulty arises in my life and my mental illnesses become more difficult to manage I have a healthy way to express and explore that – and I do not have to be alone with it. My journal, my paints, my pens, and my ideas are always there for me. Art is always here. And since I have been sharing my art and my recovery on instagram (@journalbebe) I am even less alone as there are plenty of people finding healthy expression in their art – even making a living as artists! –and sharing it to inspire and be inspired, as I do.


Written by Tara from @Journalbebe on instagram -

Learn more about Tara and discover her artwork here: https://www.instagram.com/journalbebe/?hl=en

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