Easing Anxiety & Fear With Art Therapy

September 28, 2012

At the end of 2011, when my watchwords (creativity, honesty & soulful purpose) for 2012 appeared, I had no idea just how much they’d become companions for my journey through Cancerville.

Even though Fall has officially begun, I want to talk about how I spent my summer, and how creativity has shown up as part of my journey to wellness.

Most of the other people I’ve met in Cancerville have a challenging time with the notion of giving grace in the face of this difficult diagnosis; referring to cancer as a beast which conjures up ideas of noble fights and merciless warriors focused on destruction of the enemy. Destruction, enemies, fighting… do not feel or sound like Love to me, but fear.

Fear is a companion we meet on any journey in life and it isn’t going anywhere. I’ve learned, fearlessness isn’t about a state or condition where no fear exists. That’s called grace. Part of healing, for me, has been about understanding and accepting with grace, my diagnosis and the fear about it. A state of grace allows me to accept and see the gifts that come with this journey.

The wisest of warriors understand fearlessness is really about how we show up in the face of our adversity. How present we remain when fear gets up in our face. Remaining present is a condition we cultivate from within, and is not based on certain external conditions being met or the absence of them.

This summer, I completed six rounds of chemotherapy. Every two weeks for 12 weeks, I went in, got hooked up and sat and watched as Adriamycin & Cytoxin (AC for short in Cancerville) was pushed into my veins. One of the reasons I believe I was able to handle chemotherapy with mild to very little side affects was because of what I told myself about what was happening to me. I told my story about it, and refused to listen to or chime in with others who wanted to compare long lists of complaints. I couldn’t focus on those things if I expected to heal with the help of chemotherapy.

What I did do though, when fear arrived (because it did and continues to visit regularly whispering to me stories about poison, toxicity and long-term side affects) was a lot of art.

What do you think about when you create art? Do you remember art class in school? It was one of my favorite times because I knew I could relax. Turn my brain off; at least a portion of it. And since fear is so good at serving up endless scenarios as possibilities for my future, encouraging me to size up exactly what I’m up against, art has been the perfect therapy to bring me back to the present moment and help me focus and stay there.

One of my favorite art projects this summer has been transferring Instagram photos to wood (specifics about how to do it yourself can be found in this post). Transferring Instagram photos to wood requires time, which is what I got a lot of these days. Rolling wet paper—that’s been glued down onto one inch thick 6 x 6 inch pieces of wood—into little balls takes a lot of patience. And when I’m working with it, I can’t really think about anything else. Not cancer, not chemo, not my upcoming bi-lateral mastectomy. Just whether or not I’m being gentle enough with the soaked paper so I don’t remove the ink that’s been transferred to the wood.

I also purchased a coloring book made specifically for women that encourages creative expression and giving you a voice to all the parts of the healing journey. Called She Dances Between the Worlds, this 90-page journal provides illustrations by artist Shiloh Sophia McCloud as well as blank pages that will support pencils, watercolor, markers or acrylic paint. The artist also includes her own inspirational thoughts about being a creative woman like “Yes, it is her we are after here — yes, the outrageous one within you!!!” and quotes from other brave, creative feminine voices.

Yes, it is her we are after here — yes, the outrageous one within you!!! ~ Shiloh Sophia McCloud

At a recent breast cancer support group meeting where Art Therapy was the evening’s topic, we were encouraged to write a word down and use any kind of medium provided in the class to expand and express ourselves. I started to write the word “whole,” then chickened out for a second and with only the “w” drawn thought about changing it to “well.” Since surgery was on my mind, I decided to honor myself and my fear about the transformation my physical body will undergo next month. I recognize that I’m in the process of discovering greater wholeness. Even though surgery looms, for the first time in my life I’m really listening to my inner teacher, trusting her voice and what she wants me to acknowledge and understand.

And very soon, I plan on doing something with the plaster bust I created during Keep-A-Breast’s Treasured Chest event.

All summer long, I’ve focused on creativity, as a way to help myself heal and to keep my mind focused on affirming life & it’s pleasures; slowing down my endless mind chatter that is filled with anxiousness, worry & fear.

Art therapy is teaching me how to remain present with uncertainty. I’m practicing trusting myself and this journey through Cancerville, believing there are no mistakes & I can’t do any part of this wrong. Which is the same advice every good art teacher gives to her students.

When was the last time you picked up coloring pencils or magic markers? Or sat and colored with your children? It’s a wonderful way to come back to the moment and practice being gentle with your self when the tides of fear rise up and feel overwhelming.

Facing breast cancer or other chronic illness and looking for some relief from the anxiety it brings? If you’re interested in shifting some of your own personal stories about health & wellness, this optimystical way I see things—is my gift, my superpower—that I’d love to share with you. If you feel you’d benefit by it, visit my coaching page for more info.

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“For anyone wishing to stretch and expand their soul, live fearless, become more deliberate and own their autonomy, I urge you to engage Mynde. She is a rare treasure.”~ Steve Goodyear (coaching)