art / Arthritis / Crafting characters / depression / Fibromyalgia / mental health

Drawing Me Out: How DisArts Tells My Story

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:

Digital drawing of  the Fibromyalgia supervillain
Fibromyalgia has purple skin (a nod to the official ribbon colour) and there are flames shooting out from all the pressure points where I feel neuropathy. Her chest reveals the sternum pain of costochondritis. Her hair is like blue flame.
ID: Digital drawing of the Anxiety supervillain
Anxiety is dressed in Alert Status Red. She’s telling me to stop. She gives me a burning sensation in my diaphragm. Her boots are like concrete, so I can’t move. Her hair is grey because she’s been with me a long time.
Digital drawing of the Sensory Overload supervillain
Sensory Overload is dressed in looser clothing. The sparks emanating from her is what makes me feel like I can’t think because of noise, light, and touch. She makes me want to flee or not risk engagement for fear of being overwhelmed.
Digital drawing of the Lethargy supervillain
Lethargy looks so harmless, almost not even alive. Yet, she’s an extremely powerful supervillain. She makes sure all my spoons are gone, or she deceives me into thinking I have no spoons when I might still have some. Things feel cloudy and monochrome when she’s attacking me.

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.

Digital drawing of Situational Depression  supervillain
Situational Depression is the deep blues (skin) and purples (hair and uniform) of sorrow. She has spiky things along her sides and on her arm and legs because she hurts. She wields a net to try to snare me. Writing on her uniform tells me “Do not try,” and “Do nothing,” and “why bother”? She rides along dark clouds.

So, while there’s colour with situational depression (according to how I experience it), major depression is devoid of any.

Digital drawing of the Depression supervillain
Major Depression smirks at me in all her grey glory. she carries the Staff of Hopelessness and keeps zapping me with it. She tempts me to stay in bed and sleep and tempts me to give up. She lies to me by saying nobody cares. She brings a host of storm clouds to hide the sun from me. (What a nasty cow.)

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.

You can find Cait on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her website.

4 thoughts on “Drawing Me Out: How DisArts Tells My Story

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