On Facebook groups for those suffering with mental ill health, such as anxiety or depression, I hear the same thing over and over again. “I have just been diagnosed with (*%*%*%*%*) and I don’t know what to do. I want to kill myself, every day. I can’t cope with XYZ”.
I have repeatedly offered comfort and friendship in reply to posts such as this. It really is a terrible shock receiving a diagnosis for the first time. I have been there.
Apart from comfort and friendship, what else is there to say? I had a close friend and also a family member say at this juncture, “Have you tried getting a job?”
Why therapeutic activities are the answer
The person in such a FB post is suffering so badly they wish to end their life. The basic, repetitive motions of moving a felt tip pen on paper could help them soothe and even forget the busyness in their minds for valuable moments of escape from XYZ, and save that life. Indeed, our lives are filled with way too much of what we can’t cope with.
Therapeutic activities work because they relax and comfort the mind. In one study of adult colouring cited here, colouring in a simple pattern or mandala was shown to be more effective than facing a blank page in making adults less anxious.
Colouring in, over time, works as more than just a temporary escape. You can’t be anxious and relaxed at the same time. This is a road that leads to much more. That kind of soothing motion on paper, like listening to music in a relaxing fashion, can and does gently lead the sufferer to consider other positive therapeutic activities such as going for a walk, following a basic schedule, calling a supportive friend, cooking without hating it, or other basic self-help and self-care. Over time, therapeutic activities become more elaborate, lead to hobbies, lead to learning, and yes, if the sufferer has done everything else right, they do eventually lead (back) into wellness, happiness, and a safe and auspicious return to work.
Why the welfare state is another answer
The person is suffering a mental illness, and further work would only exacerbate that mental illness. Asking them to work, right now, is like asking a person in a wheelchair to get up and walk. Sorry!
The welfare state we have here in the UK acts as a safety net. It temporarily takes the person out of XYZ without costing them their ability to buy food or live under a roof, by which I mean, it saves their life. How can a working person possibly afford to start dedicating themselves to therapeutic activities? Do you think I have regained my ability to think beyond constant psychosis, anxiety, depression and suicide by continuing to work? No my friends, I have regained my ability to think because I was given the ability to take time off work to begin therapeutic activities, not to mention talking therapy too. XYZ was too much to cope with, period (full stop!).
Thank you welfare state.
My recent progress with therapeutic activities
My diagnosis knocked me for six, I can tell you. Why was it scary receiving a diagnosis? It had a scary & offensive-sounding word in it. LOL!
My first two activities, indeed, two whole years before I received any diagnosis, were adult colouring in, and listening to music. These two activities obviously cost next to nothing and I would urge you to bear them in mind when faced with anxiety and depression. They were also the ONLY things I was at all capable of. I was so far gone.
These led to therapeutic gardening. I had always rejected nature and gardening as being “not for me”. That ended when I lost my job and was recently discharged from hospital for psychosis and delusions (I know, right? Be careful: long-term anxiety and lack of sleep can and do lead to psychosis and delusions.)
Being unemployed and drinking coffee, chatting, colouring in, and listening to music… it got me through the moment, but it was not strong enough medicine for me to get my life back on track. I started therapeutic gardening at an amazing project in Edinburgh. If you are local I’d be delighted to tell you more about that, feel free to email me from the contact page.
Other therapeutic activities that I have gradually built into my schedule as I have got better include: gradually (and with support from others) learning to cook, knitting, playing a second-hand guitar and flute, taking pictures on my daily walk, keeping a positives diary (only positives can be recorded – yeouch!), writing (anything!) in this blog, meditating, some yoga.
Why am I getting excited & happy now?
A lot of people “fall into” their jobs, their lives, their careers. After four long years with work taken out of the equation for me, and more recently, following a schedule of activities decided by me, and with oodles of support, emotional and otherwise, from family & friends, a year of therapeutic gardening, 14 months of talking therapy, and a stay at a super-helpful Therapeutic Community here in Scotland, I have (last week) “fallen into” one hour per day of the kind of work I’ve done before, teaching English as a foreign language online. I am doing this with a friend I like to think of as my Peruvian guinea pig, so again, it’s within a supportive environment. A massive step forward for me. Bear in mind that before Christmas 2019, I still couldn’t read a book, I was so anxious. There are many things I still can’t do, and that I wouldn’t spell out here. I still am incapable of full time work. But I am making real progress and it’s all thanks to the combination of therapeutic activities and the welfare state that kept me afloat.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Week from More than Colouring to all my readers and greetings from Scotland and the UK.
What are your experiences with therapeutic activities? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.