In many ways, mental health and artistic expression go hand-in-hand. When you purchase a beautiful macramé to hang in the living room, there could be an equally astounding story of strength behind it.
We recently shared a few of these inspirational mental health success stories on our blog. Here is part two of the series, featuring four more stories from brave artisans who use art therapy to manage mental health struggles.
Lydia Wright – Claefer Designs
I suffer from a fairly severe case of fibromyalgia, which is chronic pain and fatigue amongst other symptoms. I’ve had it since I was a teenager, but it got a lot worse over time, and I had to stop working about 5 years ago (I’d been working in a supply teacher role before then).
A severe and non-curable condition obviously didn’t affect my mental health too well either. While I’d always been prone to depression and anxiety, this all made my mental health much worse. I was spending a lot of time bedbound and thoroughly bored – there’s only so much Netflix until you run out of good content.
I discovered cross stitch a couple of years ago and it changed everything for me. Not only could I feel creative again without pressure (much like with painting by numbers, you know it’ll look good in the end), but it took my mind into a much more focused space where there wasn’t any room for pain or depression/anxiety.
Because you’re concentrating on the stitching and counting squares on the pattern, it gives you a break from the constant stress of mental/physical health issues, like being able to put down a heavy bag for a bit before you have to pick it back up again. Having a break from it for a bit makes it much easier to cope with afterwards. At least for me. Because it gives you that breathing room and a little distance to stop you from being overwhelmed.
Having a hobby that I can do from bed has been life-changing. So much so that I started designing my own patterns on my laptop, and that’s actually been a gateway back into working from home – something I never would have thought was possible given my health. I prefer to design cute and snarky designs so that when you look at them once they’re stitched you can’t help but smile or laugh. It’s brought so much joy into a very dark time in my life, and I’ve spoken to many others with similar experiences.
Caitlin Hallé Illustration & Design
Throughout my education since primary school, I was considered to have learning difficulties, though I have never been told if it was dyslexia or just slow learning. In primary and secondary I was put in a learning support system where I would take time out of class each week to partake in a learning difficulties program.
I have first-hand experience of what lack of self-esteem and low confidence that teens and young children go through, as do most adults. However, I had a rather difficult childhood as well. There are many experiences of my childhood which were quite dark, especially in my teenage years.
I have also grown up with (not yet formally diagnosed) OCD. I used to experience contamination OCD symptoms as a child, and the symptoms have gotten worse ever since.
I turned 24 this year.
Two years ago I sought medical help and went for an assessment. I was told by the professional at the assessment and many times by my GP, that they can confidently say it is mild to moderate OCD that I’m experiencing, but I would need to go for another assessment for a formal diagnosis.
I got scared and took myself off the waiting list. I feared it being on my medical record would impact on future jobs and I got incredibly anxious and took it upon myself to ‘sort it out myself’, meaning, deal with my debilitating symptoms myself, hoping that I would grow out of them.
As a creative person, I naturally find comfort in creating art and being mindful in doing so, and it is incredibly beneficial. Art therapy is a holistic practice, and mindfulness is an integral part of treatment. For anyone who decides to take it upon themselves to practise mindfulness while creating at home will see the benefits.
As well as currently trying to create a freelance business for myself as a portrait artist and eventually a graphic designer as well, I work in a small tea shop called Tea Traders in Carmarthen, Wales. The owners used to work with young adults with learning disabilities in a college in North Wales and wanted to bring that aspect of their experience to their current business. With that, I work alongside other adults of a similar age to myself who have special needs such as autism, dyspraxia, and memory difficulties.
Kayleigh Carlton – Knotted and Tasseled
I have anxiety and depression. Since lockdown my mental health has been in a really bad place. I had to start taking medication again. There’s so much time in lockdown to reflect and my mind wanders a lot!
So, I decided to try macrame to keep me busy in my spare time. I started making plant hangers and now moved onto doing wall tapestries – but I’m obsessed and love it. It’s really nice actually being able to focus all my energy on something creative.
My anxiety and depression has improved a lot! I’m keeping busy, distracting my thoughts whilst also being creative and planning my next designs. I really recommend it for anyone else suffering from their mental health issues to try doing something creative!
I’ve only just started but I’m hoping this takes off and I can make a business out of it. I haven’t been this enthusiastic about a project in a long time!
Hillary Brown – Depressed Diva Jewellery
How many people do you know with a mental illness? No? Well, now you do, Me! I’ve been diagnosed with Schizophrenia for more than half of my life.
It took me decades to realize I didn’t do well working in group settings. I was desperate to find something creative that I could do working with my hands, on my own, and when I could function. I tried to be like everyone and had a variety of jobs, some lasting days, others weeks, and occasionally longer.
I was in my early 30’s when by grace and patience, I stumbled into making jewellery. At first, I wasn’t very good. I had no natural ability, but I continued because I felt empowered. As my skill improved I eventually created great pieces that others actually wanted to buy! What a boost to my self-esteem!
Ever since, I’ve been doing fairs, pop-up events, online selling, and home parties. I’m now in my 40’s. Jewellery making has made it possible for me to stay plugged in and to finish what I started. I have proven to myself, that I do, in fact, have more opportunities to jump in, and put myself and my jewellery out there into the world.
Schizophrenia will always be a part of me, but I no longer allow it to define who I am, or who I can be. What started as a whim, a hobby, to keep my hands busy, has empowered me to do more, be more, and give back more.
So that’s my jewellery journey.
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Artisanry Co. is a community of like-minded artisans who have created a supportive network of small and independent makers in the UK. Mental health struggles are a reality for many makers, but they do not need to experience them alone.
Find out more about how to join Artisanry Co. and experience a supportive community that discusses the business side of the creative process. We’ve also begun our countdown to the launch of our online shop which will be giving makers a safe space to sell their products. Stay tuned!