Having an anxiety disorder is tough and I struggle with it daily. Add to that the boredom and loneliness that come from not working for over a year and spending 50+ hours a week alone while your wonderful boyfriend is at work and it’s a challenge to find ways to occupy yourself. Daytime TV became pretty soul destroying after approximately 2 weeks of watching advert upon advert about constipation, thrush and plus-size clothing companies. This is where being creative comes in.
Being creative allows you to express yourself, to make something from scratch, to prettify something and make it beautiful. I’ve been creative all my life and while I can’t draw or paint, I do make lovely greetings cards, crocheted items and embroidery. Many people struggle to come up with new and novel ideas of things to make, particularly without prompting, and adding a mental illness into the mix can certainly create further challenges in this process. Mentally ill people are often some of the most creative and artistic but some of us really struggle to focus our ideas and work out what to create and how. This can then induce more stress and leave you feeling unmotivated and lost.
Adult colouring books provide a solution to this and have taken the world by storm in recent weeks. Articles are being written about them in almost every national newspaper and the bestselling books have a lengthy wait for stock to replenish at all major retailers. Luckily, I was ahead of the game and when I was originally signed off sick for 2 weeks last year I went straight online and ordered the prettiest books I could find, splashed out on some snazzy fineliners and away I went. It’s been an absolute Godsend and remains one of the few things that keeps my anxiety somewhat under control.
I never grew out of colouring and have periodically returned to it during long periods of illness and whilst completing my degree when I needed a quick creative fix. I always used to have to use children’s books because adult ones didn’t really exist or just consisted of geometric patterns which were lovely but a little tedious given the lack of choice. When I was an inpatient in The Priory in 2008 we participated in Art Therapy and were often given colouring pages of mandalas or garden scenes which were wonderfully relaxing to add colour to. As a nursing assistant and activity co-ordinator in an NHS psychiatric unit, I regularly used colouring with my patients to promote calmness and use as a distraction technique when they were experiencing difficult feelings. One of my patients brought in an adult colouring book called “The Creative Colouring Book for Grown-Ups” which was unlike any colouring book I’d seen before and I went ahead and bought a copy and so my adult colouring journey truly began.
Colouring, and creativity in general, are beneficial to all people, but particularly those of us with mental illnesses. It gives us a focus, something to achieve and succeed at, a distraction, a goal. We don’t have to decide what to draw or paint and can just relax into adding colour to a beautiful image. Many colouring books have written hints and tips to give you ideas of what to add. Some come with coloured backgrounds or parts of the picture already coloured which makes choosing your colour scheme so much easier (something I love as I get very anxious about decision-making). One of the best parts about colouring is that you can’t go wrong. You can use realistic colour schemes, rainbows, monochrome, you can colour inside the lines, outside the lines, over the lines and even add your own. You can colour however you like using one medium or many and the sense of achievement you get when you’ve finished a page gives a huge boost to your self-esteem. I would thoroughly recommend getting into adult colouring if you haven’t already. I’d love to see photos of your completed pictures and I hope to write more about it soon. Always remember to Keep Calm and Colour In!