Art Therapy Helps Manage Depressive Symptoms

In my youth, life had its typical ups and downs. I was the average student with the youthful energy and a happy spirit. My parents supported my siblings and me to be involved in sports, church, and social groups. I went to great schools and had many opportunities in life that have helped shape me into the person I am today. But, nothing prepares a person for a lifelong struggle with depression.

As a child, I was not able to understand my feelings or articulate one single event that led to my depression. I internalized my feelings and saw them as evidence of personal failures. I had a very hyper, nervous energy that people still remember me by today. I knew my grandmother suffered from severe depression, but I knew I was not the same as her.

Hiding My Depression Gave Me Strength in Ways I Never Knew

My humor, since my earliest memories, has been my safeguard and my strength. It is also the strength I hide behind.  I use humor as a shield, so others do not see the real me.  I smile all day long so no one can see I am hurting. When I disguise my depression and the whirlwind of internal conflicting thoughts, I look stronger than I am to the outside world.  With an ability to manipulate the world, I turned my greatest struggle, depression, into my greatest strength.

I Protect Others to Hide My Depression Symptoms

I became the bully of the bullies and some of my longest friendships were established by my ability to protect others from cruel peers. It is also what prompted me to become a Special Education Teacher. I saw each of my students for their abilities and worked hard to help them become the most well-rounded individuals.  They reaped more self-worth, pride in themselves and believed they could be valuable members of our society. But from grade school through today I have been my own personal cheerleader and therapist. I counted my blessings and tried to never take for granted my accomplishments and opportunities. How then can I be depressed? I cannot blame anyone or any single event.

Art Therapy Helps to Heal Me

In high school, at the height of my youthful rebellion, my parents sent me far away to boarding school. It was like a public display of failure to all my friends and family. Problems in my private life flooded over into my public life, and it was for all to see. I was prepubescent and under a microscope for all to scrutinize. My self-doubt was polarized, and my insecurities magnified. However, being far away allowed me to blossom and grow.

I discovered art in boarding school. My art teacher gave me the key to the studio, so I could work in the Dark Room at any hour or sculpt, draw, paint, etc. It was there that I learned to I still use the apron she gave to me all those years ago. Over time I learned to deal with life in more constructive ways than self-mutilating and self-doubt. I put the sharp objects down and picked up a paintbrush. My external scars from cutting began to heal and a more confident and prouder Kamille emerged. It was through art that I learned to express my emotions in a healthy, safe way, and was now a young lady ready to brave college.

Friends Accept Me for Me and My Depression

In college, I loved learning and the opportunities to live independently as an adult. The depression and anxiety were at an all-time high. I did not address the depression or anxiety and went headstrong into each day smiling and making humor the focus rather than focusing on my internal fears and worries. I would cry before most social events – I always cried it out. I would go quickly to the restroom, cry silently, wipe away the tears and splash cold water on my face. No one had to know what I was doing. But it worked for me.   And it was here that I learned how incredible my friends were. My best friends at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN would force me to do things they knew were good for me – the things I feared.  I am truly braver now because of them. They helped to show me that my depression cannot determine what my life ought to be. I can Push Myself to Accomplish Great Things. I have carried that with me always and for days to come.

I’m Not Ashamed to Ask for Help

We can never expect others to “fix” us. We must take the first step, which is accepting that we have depression and talk with someone about our options. Depression makes one minimize themselves to the bark of a tree, dry and flaking off, but we must remember that we are the whole tree, beautiful and ever growing with leaves and blossoms. The bark is but one piece of a whole and it is still a part of the trees strength and character. So, don’t minimize yourself. Allow yourself the chance to see who you are in all your glory.

Today, I can take pride in my ability to recognize when I need help. I have learned to trust my doctors and my friends and family.  Sometimes it is therapy or medication, sometimes both. It is something that when I talk about it more openly, I get the best feedback and understanding from other people. I now know that depression is not a monster in the closet, or a stigma, because my depression has made me “Kamille”.

As a fulltime working adult, now fulltime mom and part-time artist, these fears and worries that stem from my anxiety and depression, are still my constant companion. My life is no easier or harder than the next person, but the depression and anxiety make it an additional daily struggle.

  • I’m inconsistent with emotional relationships. When life gets too hard for me I put my tail between my legs and run as fast away from the problem as possible, destroying my relationships with others in the process.
  • I begin and end most days with unexplainable worries, fears, anxieties over controllable and uncontrollable things, self-doubt, self-loathing, and an ever-growing list of “what is wrong with me” and all things in my life.
  • Some days I wake up and feel paralyzed. No matter how clean my home is I see all the things that need to be fixed and mended. I am never physically good enough. No matter how many compliments I receive I see only the negative attributes and try to find ways to fix them…over and over and over again. I overvalue others’ opinions of me and what they think is best for me. This will only hurt me.

Creativity Expresses the Hidden Parts I Can’t Discuss

The daily medication helps with highs and lows. It helps me to get out of bed every morning and to clean without feeling overwhelmed. It helps me not to cry throughout the day and when I get a crazy thought I can usually talk it out with myself and calm myself down. Medication is only one piece of the puzzle to healing. It’s what I do with my free time that helps to encourage me to keep fighting this uphill battle.

Getting outside helps to distract me from depressive thoughts. I love to take walks in the rain, almost as though each raindrop washes away a part of my sadness, a rain bath to renew me. I love to sing and dance and that gets my endorphin production going. And I paint every emotion- good, bad or ugly. I am at peace in my studio. It is my special place where I can be proud of myself and happy with no onlookers to judge me or mirrors to look into. The only reflection is the art I produce.  Art is the best reflection of myself that I can show to others. Art shows that no matter if I am depressed or not I am still able to create something that makes another person happy and making others happy makes me stronger every smile at a time.

Kamille is an artist and full-time mother and wife who is suffering from depression. By sharing her story, she hopes all will feel a bit more comfortable in sharing the emotions and thoughts that are sometimes too difficult to share.