I’ve begun to realise in recent years just how many people use art as therapy. When I have work on public display I regularly meet people studying a painting with the greatest of care, the signs are all there and I quickly recognise a fellow artist. Often enough people tell me that they began to paint after retiring or whilst recovering from illness; it was always an interest, they say, but there was never time before. Sadly, it so often takes major life events to put us in touch with the things which most improve the quality of our lives.
I can speak with some experience here as this was exactly what happened to me. I can never remember a time as a child when I didn’t draw and paint, if no paints were available then mud and crushed flowers or stones scratched on concrete worked a treat. Later, the best birthday presents were art materials and art college naturally followed. So how does it happen then that so many people just like me end up in lives that simply make no room for creative pursuits?
For most people, the need to earn a practical wage takes over. Houses, children and family life soon follow and the time passes until retirement arrives, or after years of coping but not feeling quite well, illness is diagnosed. In my case I got so good at living my off balance, uncreative life that it took a dramatic illness, later diagnosed as M.E. / Chronic Fatigue to realise that all was not well. To cut a long story short I came out of hospital on my fortieth birthday to return to a life that I was too weak to live and a future which was unrecognisable.
I began painting again about 2 or 3 years later after attending therapy sessions at our local hospital. These were run by a lady called Sue Pemberton who with Catherine Berry later published the book “Fighting Fatigue – a practical guide to managing the symptoms of CFS/ME”. Sue was part of the Leeds and West Yorkshire CFS/ME Service and gave me the most truly important piece of advice of all the many thousands of words I read and heard in my attempts to get back to the life I used to know.
The words which made such a difference were simple ones based on her observations of many years of working with CFS/ME patients. I was told that sufferers only started to get better when they began to enjoy life. It sounds too simple, no magic pill, no complicated routine, just start to introduce elements into life that are enjoyable and gradually energy will follow. Of course it helps if you can improve quality of life in many other ways and I would highly recommend reading her really excellent and practical book for guidance, but for me this was key to a new type of life. Now, aged 48, I’ve achieved the artistic life I so wanted as a 20 year old student and yes, gradually, energy did follow. I would say that I am now usually about 60% of my old self, sometimes better. If you have experienced severe CFS/ME you will know that this is not a bad place to be.
Painting as therapy. So why am I writing this at the start of 2014? Well, in part to encourage anyone with seriously impaired health who might just be trying to find the energy to pick up a paintbrush or pencil. To you I would say you might need to start very small but that’s ok, enjoyment may very well follow and with it new energy and zest for life. Whether you hope for a hobby or a future career it all starts on the first day and hopefully goes on getting better and better.
And the second reason? Well, last year, for lots of perfectly good reasons, I ignored every bit of practical advice I have just shared, and guess what ….. I got ill again and it’s miserable. So my New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to start enjoying life again, to let go of the deadlines a little, to be less results driven, to chose at least some subjects just for experimentation, and, in short, to remember that painting is for pleasure. Both mine and yours.
By Stephanie Hatley – Yorkshire Artist