Monthly Archives: October 2015

Art therapy as a processing tool

I’ve long been a proponent of art as therapy, but I had not yet experienced such a drastic shift in symptoms as I did Wednesday evening.

I had been struggling with flashbacks since last Thursday’s doctor’s appointment. It was made worse by the incident that came up Sunday evening. The image and feelings just kept repeating and intensifying unless I was bombarding myself with sensory input.

I told Dr. C as much when I went in for that extra session Wednesday evening. When she asked if I wanted to talk about it, all I could do was nod. She then suggested doing some art around it. I nodded harder to that. I figured it was easier than speaking at the moment.

We moved to the floor and got to work. She had me represent the “memory” as best I could (right side), and had me add the emotions to it also (left side). She then asked me what I wanted to change about the image to help make it feel safer. Did I want to add something between the image of the memory and the emotion? Was there something protective I could incorporate into it to help it feel better?

I admit I was quite stumped.

She started listing off suggestions, then dug through her bag of supplies for more ideas. She pulled out some felt, and offered that up. originally we were thinking of using it as a blanket or towel around the kid, but the color I happened to pick out (red, unusual for me b/c there was also blue there & I normally gravitate to blue) was already cut into a heart shape. As she realized it was a heart, she mentioned that it would be perfect. We re-adjusted the concept of a blanket/towel to using the heart instead. She cut it down to fit on the page, then we set about trying to figure out how to attach it – glue doesn’t work too well on felt. Dr. C happened to have a needle and thread, so she suggested sewing it on.

We ended up with this:


Yesterday, when describing the piece in group, I said that the heart was covering up the unpleasant image. Dr. C commented that it was an interesting choice of words, since it was meant as a protective measure more than a way to hide it from view… We didn’t delve further into it, but I’m sure there will be a conversation around it during Monday’s session. Either way (hiding from awareness or protecting from it), doing that project helped lessen the flashbacks. They are relatively minor intrusions in my day now, and it’s not nearly as disturbing as it had been all week.

I’ve known expression through art can help change the impact of the trauma for a while. I have even used the technique of changing an expressive piece to help change the experience of whatever it was expressing, but it’s never been such an immediate and noticeable change. It’s always just crept up on me. I would realize the change a few hours or days later. This time, doing it in session with Dr C, it was a huge difference just in the hour and a half we spent on the piece. I went in to her office feeling raw, triggered, and spent, but left feeling lighter and able to smile. It felt a lot like the change in symptoms after an EMDR session. I think part of the relief came from sharing not only the incident, but also the experience of changing it. As I mentioned before, I have tried changing the art to change the thoughts around what it expresses, but it felt more “healing” to be doing it with the help of a safe person.

If you are having a rough time with things, this might be a good technique to try. It’s helpful to have a therapist around to make the overwhelming parts feel a bit less overwhelming, but it can be accomplished solo also. I will try to look up the link to the study I remember reading about this technique. I think I saved the link (or article) somewhere. I just have to find it again. I’ll add it here when I do.

UPDATE: found that article & how to link to it. It’s a free-access article through Taylor & Francis. “Check, Change What You Need To Change and/or Keep What You Want”: An Art Therapy Neurobiological-Based Trauma Protocol. They actually have a bunch of free-access articles that you can read without having to purchase anything. It’s a great resource.

“It sounds like a little kid thought process”

We talked in therapy today about how the distraction and delay is morphing the urge to self-harm into a drive to accomplish the hurt in some way. It feels like there’s no balance without the hurt. If I don’t do it to myself, I need someone else to do it for me.

Dr C asked if there was an urgency to the feeling, something along the lines of “let’s hurry up and get this over with”… then it hit me: it’s anxiety over what is “supposed” to happen next based on all the signals and triggers. Dr C suggested that it was a “little kid” way of gaining control over the uncertainty of when the unpleasant event would occur (she used the word “abuse” but I hesitate to call it that… not that it wouldn’t fit the label, but I can’t call it that at this time). Hurting myself would give me control over when the hurt happened. It would also set in motion the unpleasant consequences I know would follow (and of which I dread the arrival). It would end the anxiety… I guess looking at it like that, it makes sense. I’ve struggled for years with trying to understand the drive for being hurt after being triggered. She summed it up in a few sentences.

I wish I could have said that this revelation helped alleviate the desire to cut, but it’s still there. I’m still feeling the need for the hurt. I know I’m safe in the moment. I know this last week brought up a lot of old stuff. I’ve been running the grounding mantras through my head since the triggers first started, but my body is not listening. The sensations aren’t letting up. The stuff that was triggered last night keeps playing out in my body. No amount of reasoning is helping that…

We talked a bit about the distance from the newer memories that has grown cavernous since the move. I was telling Dr C that every time I got to a place of accepting that those memories were fake, they would pop up in a flash then hide away again. She suggested that it sounded as if I had processed them and filed them away again. I’m not sure they feel “processed” so much as they feel disconnected. I don’t remember them at all, even when I read what I wrote about them (those just seem like stories). There’s no emotion around it unless it comes up in flashback form. I’m totally seperated from it. Dr C still calls it “processed”, though we did throw around the idea that I’ve simply dissociated it again.

I didn’t get to voice my desire to pick up the therapy pace, but she offered an additional session this week without my asking. I don’t really have the gas money, but I took her up on it. I really need to launch myself past all this. The more depressed I get, the more I fear falling apart again. I don’t want that to keep being my future. It’s scary and hopeless. I want something better.

Mandatory distraction can be good

Thursday’s appointment with my doctor was super triggering. Not only did it bring up the distant past, but it brought up the events of 5 years ago.

I had hoped to have individual therapy after the appointment, but Dr C had asked if I was ok moving group to the later time (since I would have missed group for the doctor’s appointment). I agreed to making that individual slot group instead. I regretted it almost immediately, but I had already agreed, so I wasn’t going to reneg…

I’m glad I at least had group. Between group and the triggering appointment, I had asked Dr C if she had additional individual time that day. She didn’t, but suggested I try to talk in group. I wasn’t at all sure I would know how to make what I needed to process group-appropriate, but Dr C managed to lead me there. It helped being able to be a bit more open, though I felt bad for being so self-absorbed during group…

Anyway, today was more distraction: a former college roommate is visiting from another part of the country. We’ve been hanging out quite a bit. It’s nice to have someone around during the day. She gets the depression piece intimately. We don’t talk too much about it, but it’s nice to have someone other than L with whom I can be honest.  She’s also an awesome motivator to get moving. We ended up walking just over 5 miles today with the dogs. I have not done anything like that since several weeks (if not months) before the move. It was good to get out, even if it reminded me exactly how out-of-shape I am…

Tomorrow will be another forced distraction: I will be working a 9-hour day. They generally wear me out. Being at work, interacting with customers all day, also forces me to be out of my head whenever they are there. Then when I finally get home, I don’t want to do much of anything other than veg on the couch… I hope that will all accumulate to be enough to keep me stable.

Speaking of stability, I’m contemplating asking Dr C what she thinks of trying to increase session frequency in an effort to jump-start progress. I’m so tired of feeling so stuck. I will figure the financial piece out somehow…

I’m tired of being so triggered by so much. I’m tired of not being fully in my relationship. I’m just tired… all week I’ve been battling increased self harm urges. I’m tired of that also. I’m tired of struggling with one coping skill or another. I just want to be fixed already.

I mentioned to my friend today that I never pictured myself living to this age. I always thought I’d die by 24. To still be kicking at 36 is almost beyond my comprehension. I need to get my shit together and get back to living a someht productive life. I’m tired of being a failure because I can’t get out of my own way long enough to succeed at something.

So tomorrow is work. Sunday is spent with the wife. And Monday we’ll work on an accelerated plan for therapy. Maybe some day that will lead to being able to being settled and stable.

there’s so much wrong with our prison systems…

…but maybe this could help?

Brining nature to solitary confinement

After all, every demon has it’s reasons. I’m a big proponent of looking at the stresses faced by anyone prior to their committing a crime (well, any behavior really). I want to look at their lives and their environments to see if I can figure out what went wrong (so much of the time, it’s more than the average person would know how to handle. It makes sense that they might choose the path they did). Providing further psychological torture really just makes things worse, not better. I’m glad someone is taking the initiative to try this out. I hope they keep it up.

I know for myself, getting out into nature is a huge relief. It’s one of the reasons I like to surround myself with it even at home (one bedroom wall is all vivariums and reptile enclosures). I want to bring myself as close to nature as I can get…

Today in therapy…

Today in therapy, we covered the origins of my worthlessness, and the concept of feeling like an asshole simply for stating my preferences/needs/desires.

Dr C was still trying to wrap her head around the concept of me feeling intrinsically worthless compared to others at the point we had to wrap up. I just couldn’t explain my reasoning to her in a way she understood (read: agreed)…

Despite our conversation about not being an asshole for having preferences, I still wasn’t able to tell her that I wanted to keep my individual appointment as is when she asked if I’d be ok with making group at that time (since I would potentially be missing group this week due to a doctor’s appointment). It’s shaping up to be an emotionally rough week so I’d really like to have that added individual time, but I agreed to group at that time anyway… maybe I will ask her tomorrow if she has more time this week… I want a chance to process the things that are being brought up by both the domestic violence fundraiser and the doctor’s appointment… I had hoped to talk about more of it today, but time ran out trying to cover what we did open up…

A wonderful afternoon

The wife and I spent the afternoon with the kids. We carved large pumpkins, painted smaller ones, watched Hocus Pocus, and had a grand time enjoying the activities and each other’s company.

As much as I wanted to bawl my eyes out before we got there, getting lost in the moment with the family helped me move out of that frame of mind.

I’m once again anxious about the upcoming fundraiser on Tuesday (for domestic violence awareness), but there was some escape during the day today. I also settled on calling the piece “finished” (mostly because I turn it in tomorrow). I just need some paint to finish drying, and to figure out a frame, and it’s good to go…

I’m glad today was planned with the kids, and I’m glad I was able to immerse myself in the moment to fully enjoy it. We all need that total immersion in something outside ourselves from time to time ❤

make rules for yourself (a link)

I saw this about grief, but it can also be true for depression, especially the part about platitudes (and simple things you used to enjoy) being grating…

Also important: the part about remembering to eat. I lose my appetite when really depressed (comes after the stage of eating every comfort food I can get my hands on).

more quotes

“No matter how awful you think it is, I promise you, you are not alone.” – Criminal Minds, Derek Morgan

“There are things we don’t want to happen, but have to accept, things we don’t want to know, but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.” – Criminal Minds, JJ

“Yes, there are monsters and it’s okay to be afraid of them. It’s not okay to let them win and it’s not okay to be one.” – Criminal Minds, Derek Morgan

“There’s no winning. There’s just…living, moving forward. And, if you keep doing that, you’ll be all right.” – Criminal Minds, Rossi

“Family’s more than just DNA. It’s about people who care and take care of each other.” – NCIS, Gibbs

“I’ve seen bad turn good plenty of times. You just can’t lose faith.” – NCIS, Gibbs


I’m so cranky. Flow is totally messing with everything. I don’t want to be anywhere. I don’t want to do anything. I want to eat everything, but nothing is satisfying…

Being up here, I’m pulling back from communicating. I don’t want to go to therapy anymore. I’m just done.

Another minor art dump

I didn’t really do much art for the past several days, until today. I worked on (stared at) 3 pieces this afternoon. It was nice to have my creativity back, even if it was severely stunted.

I started by working more on the piece I was asked to do for domestic violence awareness. For the past 2 or 3 weeks, it sat as a sketch with a plain black background. I had an idea of what was to come next, but I didn’t move to work on it.  Today I caved and colored in the sketch with marker. It’s not great, but it works ok for what it is. I still have a lot of practice to get in when it comes to art with markers… Anyway, I think it’s mostly finished. I will look at it again tomorrow before I put on the sealant spray as the final step. I thought about framing it, but I just don’t have the cash flow to make that happen right now.


I changed a few minor things since this picture; I removed the triangles from around the word “crash” and I took out the upside-down exclamation mark because it looked too much like the letter “i”. I would like to attempt to blend the bottom of her torso and the bg a bit better, but I’m not quite sure I can accomplish it the way I’m picturing. Anyway, like I said, it’s mostly done. I just have to contact the dv clinic and find out when and where to drop it off.

The two other pages I worked on were backgrounds that had been sitting idle for a while. They are far from finished, but they served the purpose of giving me another thing to multitask with while watching Netflix with L (I’m noticing more and more that I need the constant distraction again).



The face done in pen came about from the shapes I saw in the marbled background. It kinda reminds me of the Indonesian warrior masks, or the Japanese warrior faces from kabuki theater. I think I will go back and add more lines with a better pen before I call it finished (I’m still struggling to find a replacement for my favorite black scarlet lime pen. Nothing I’ve tried works as reliably or effectively on multimedia surfaces)…

Yesterday in therapy we talked about stressors that add to my depression. She pointed out something that should have been glaringly obvious to me, but something that I just hadn’t put together yet: I’m lonely. It’s difficult when everyone has wonky work schedules. Even at my work, I don’t really get to interact much with peers. Most of the time, I do customer service by myself. I chat a bit with the customers and in passing with the other associates, but for the most part, it’s just me by myself the whole shift. When I do finally get to spend more time with a few people, I inevitably end up doing or saying something horribly awkward :/ (I also still have a lot of trouble believing anyone would want to hang out with me of their own free will. Even visiting my brother and his wife this weekend, I didn’t feel like I belonged. It felt like everyone else had a right to be there, but I was just wasting oxygen and space. My rational mind knows that it is not true, but I still felt very awkward and out-of-place)…

Talking about all that was good though. Having L randomly needing to switch her schedule to be home most of today also helped. It’ll just be weird on Thursday when she has to work all day…

Oh, the latest self portrait I did was last Wednesday… it’s more stylized and emotive, but I like how the whole piece worked out: