If you’ve ever encountered me through video or in real life, the word most associated with my personality is “bubbly.” I love engaging with people and get energized by them. Making people laugh drives my joy.
If you’re following me on Twitter, I’m also quite open about how I manage mental illness, such as agoraphobia and now, depression. Just to set minds at ease, I am getting therapy on a regular basis.
This year in particular, I’ve really “come out” to my therapist about being autistic. I asked for our sessions to be a safe space for me to be autistic because I knew I wouldn’t progress if I felt I needed to mask or was not validated for my neurodiversity. But all was accepted and even embraced, so woohoo!
In recent months, I purchased an iPad Pro with an Apple pencil because I’ve been recovering from frozen shoulder that caused nerve issues in my right arm. I needed another way to be creative or else I knew my mental health would tank, and I would plunge into the depths. One nice side benefit of the tablet and pencil is that they work for me as assistive tech, and drawing, my passion since I was a child, came back into my life. (Because of arthritis and fibromyalgia, my fingers stopped finging to be able to draw for many years.)
Anyway, in one therapy session, I spoke about—pandemic aside—why I have difficulty leaving my house. My therapist asked me to break that down as my homework, perhaps imagine the elements as characters in a story. Right away, I thought, I can draw this!
My narrative was that I am the superhero in my life, but I’m constantly attacked by supervillains:
The upside of creating these characters (aside from the fact my therapist loved them) was simply that I was creating. I wrote a story in my mind and executed it through art. In a year of creative drought, this was a big achievement for me. And the art is on my fridge as a communication tool between my husband and me. It’s also a tool where I can pause and think, Okay, which of you is stopping me from going outside? It actually works. In fantasy fiction, there’s a trope about naming something. If you can name it, you can have power over it. I feel this way about my art pieces in this case. I can name them, look right at them, and deal with them.
While I don’t think of DisArts as merely art therapy, but rather regard it as telling a story, it can produce narratives that can be quite cathartic and therapeutic.
Last session, I confessed to being in a situational depression. I said for me it was different from a major depressive episode (I had been through that before). When my therapist was trying to discern what it felt like for me, I said, “Well, situational depression has a different colour.” I just blurted that out. And my therapist beamed and asked me to draw it.
What was fascinating to me was how I had just finished saying that my situational depression robbed me of the desire to be creative. But the moment I was tasked to draw it, boom, my mind fired up, and I drew two characters that very night.
So, while there’s colour with situational depression (according to how I experience it), major depression is devoid of any.
I’m currently trying to work my way out of situational depression, and it’s quite a bizarre thing, but every time I look at Major Depression’s smirking face, I feel doubly determined not to let her get even close to me.
Have you ever used creativity to help you identify what was going on with mental illness? I’m finding drawing has become a weapon in my arsenal of coping mechanisms that I never expected. It’s a nice go-to when I can’t write with words.
My wish is that we all kick our supervillains to the curb, so we can live our best lives.
But no capes.
They can get caught in mobility devices.
Cait Gordon is a Canadian autistic and disabled author of speculative fiction that celebrates the reality of diversity. Her short story, The Hilltop Gathering (We Shall Be Monsters, ed. Derek Newman-Stille), features a disabled protagonist and was discussed at a symposium about Frankenstein at Carleton University. Cait also joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit Nothing Without Us, which was taught at a disability studies course at Trent University and earned a Prix Aurora Award nomination. When not arranging words, Cait advocates for disability representation and is the founder of the Spoonie Authors Network. She lives in Ottawa with her husband, Bruce.