Overcoming anxiety through art

Overcoming anxiety through art

Ever since I can remember, I was scared. I was afraid of being alone, fearful of being in crowds, scared of life. I was six years old when I received the diagnoses of generalised anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia. I tried to hide my anxiety for years because I was so embarrassed and thought I was different from everyone else. Eventually, it was so severe I could no longer hide it. I was in year 8 when I would have a panic attack daily just thinking about having a shower. I know right... a shower? Normal daily activity for most people but a year of my life, I could not have a shower without running out of the bathroom in a total state of panic, convinced that I was dying—That's just one of the many debilitating phobias I have had during my life. I also had months when I could not catch the bus to school, I couldn't sit in Maths class without running out crying, and I couldn't drive on busy roads. Anxiety had affected every aspect of my life, and for years it was all I had ever known. I thought my whole identity was inextricably linked to my anxiety - 'I'm anxious' was my mantra. A memory of a panic attack accompanied every happy memory I had. Every holiday I went on would involve me either crying on the plane or hyperventilating on foreign beach at the thought of a tsunami happening. Every school assembly you could see me running through the middle of everyone trying to find a way out of the crowded hall, every music festival or concert I would be running out of the mosh pit with my friends chasing after me. If you have heard the term 'fight or flight' - you guessed it mine was always flight, my legs would be running out the door before I even realised what was going on

I was always a creative child, I would collect cardboard boxes to create little houses out of, and I loved to draw, but as I got older, I lost my passion for art. A few years ago, I was working in a call centre and feeling overwhelmed with the stress from the job. I was buying groceries one night after work and on the shelf saw a 'mindful mandala colouring book'. I bought the book, and this was when I regained that love of creating. I was obsessed with colouring in mandalas and began stocking up on textas, pencils and books. I ended up with over 25 colouring books, and I was in such awe of the details in each mandala. After a few months of colouring these books, I decided to try and draw a mandala, which turned out horrible! I was no good at drawing, but I loved it, so I kept going. The repetition of these circular figures was so relaxing and calming. I started getting the hang of it after a while, gaining inspiration from all my colouring books and then eventually the mandalas weren't turning out too bad. I would draw on and off for a few years, but I didn't really pursue this passion until about two years ago.

This was when my life changed for the better. I was a 21-year-old girl that loved partying, got drunk every weekend and did not look after my mental health at all. I could feel my anxiety getting worse every day, but I continued pushing it away and pretending I was fine. During this time, I was working in an office in the city on the 29th floor of the building. For about six months, I could not get in the elevator alone without having a panic attack. I would wait 10 minutes or more outside the lift for someone else to get in with me. I even had times when I would have a panic attack so severe that I had to go home for a day or more, just because I was scared of being up so high in the building and catching the lift alone.

After a weekend of drinking alcohol, I had a total meltdown, was bedridden for weeks and had to start my life over. I moved back in with my dad, I had a break from my job for five months, and I spent everyday researching, listening to podcasts and reading books on how to overcome anxiety. Up until this point in my life, I had seen multiple psychologists, practised CBT, been on medication since I was 16 and had always taken the traditional approach to beat anxiety. Now I began trying out new ways to overcome it. I began seeing a hypnotherapist, eating healthy, cutting out alcohol and sugar, meditating, doing yoga, going to women's circles, getting out in nature every day, deactivating social media, saying mantras, practising gratitude, and I can honestly say it changed my life. Of course, the one thing that I started focusing all my energy on was my art which is when I realised how therapeutic art and creating mandalas was for me. Drawing mandalas is a form of meditation and keeps me grounded and mindful.

Now I draw daily and have turned my passion into a business too. If I am feeling anxious, I will pick up a pen and draw without thinking. I am so involved in the process that nothing else matters at that time. My whole mind is focused on drawing and creating. Drawing a mandala can take a few hours to complete and for some people could probably get a bit boring. But I am so in love with creating and seeing each part come together slowly to form a beautiful finished product. My mandalas are never flawless, but when they are in a big picture, any imperfections seem to get lost in the design.

I am not perfect and still have days where I can't get out of bed, or I will have a random panic attack for no apparent reason, but I now realise that anxiety is something I will have to work hard at my whole life. It is a part of me, and that is ok - I completely accept it now and can understand when I am feeling a bit down that it will go away and I know what I need to do to get through this tough part. I am now studying art therapy, so I can help others overcome their mental health challenges through creating. I encourage anyone to pick up a pen, a paintbrush, some pencils, a sewing machine, a knitting needle, a wooden spoon, a makeup brush or anything that you feel the desire to do. Everyone expresses creativity differently - whether its through art, music, baking, fashion design or even redecorating your house. If there is something you enjoy doing, but you aren't the best at yet- keep going because if you love something, you will get better!