Something I have become aware of in the past few years is that it seems everyone, but especially those who have a mental illness, have something that engages them, something that fulfills them. For me it has been photography, which can be rewarding for everyone, but often people’s passions start earlier in their lives than mine did. I didn’t start getting serious about photography until I was around thirty and better and more reliable digital cameras came out. I had tried taking pictures, I had even taken two photography courses, one in school and another in cadets, and it always just frustrated me. I would load the film wrong, I would take pictures and not have the extra money to have them developed or I would wait too long to have them developed. Now, photography to me is an amazing hobby because I don’t need film, I just need a camera memory card and I can load the pictures onto my computer and fool around with the light and colours and even the composition.
I ran into something very interesting the other day, I was in a class and I found it hard to keep my attention on what was being talked about. There were also breaks and blank spaces in the day that I felt a little bit resentful about because I had nothing to do. Then I noticed the person beside me had taken a sheet of an adult colouring book out and had started the long process of colouring in pieces of it with a ball point pen. I took a sheet for myself and started to do the same thing and it was almost like magic. I was fully engaged in colouring, but I was still able to hear and understand everything being said in the class. I have never really seen myself as much of an artistic person, at least not in the case of drawing things with my hand, but there was a time years ago when my dad, who was a sign writer, asked me to come and help him get some patterns of signs that he needed to recreate. At the time, I often fought with my dad and I hate to say it but had a low opinion of him. I felt the things he did for a living to be something beneath me, but still part of me wanted to do things with my dad, we had a glimmer of the special father-son relationship we used to have when I was much smaller. Anyhow, what he needed me to do was to take a ladder, climb up to where “no entry” signs had been posted and using special thin paper, trace out the whole sign. I wish I could describe it better, but really when I did this, I thought it was pure magic. At that age, I mostly did two things, I delivered pizza and I was a student. But now, I was an active part of something, and I was actually creating something useful. As I carefully sketched out the outlines of the sign, I had such a feeling of personal accomplishment. It was a time in my life I will never forget.
Not all that long after that, I was having severe mental health difficulties and ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I was very young to be there, I had just turned 18, and there was another person there my age who seemed to be something of an odd fit to the situation as well. One afternoon, when there was absolutely nothing to do but watch television, something I mostly hate doing, this young person and I sat down and he showed me how to sketch a tiger or a lion. As the task took over all my concentration and effort, he said to me, “See, now it’s like we’re not in a mental hospital anymore.” and it really wasn’t. Over the years I have tried to engage myself with similar things, but I still kind of feel that drawing, painting, visual art is not my best choice, though as I said it can get a person through some pretty tough times. I have found writing. When I feel a day is slipping away from me and I have accomplished nothing, I can come here and write a blog. When I want to feel I am doing something useful and worthwhile, I will sit down and plan out and write a first draft of a short story or a poem.
Basically dear readers, I don’t want to nail you down to any one activity that will be a catch-all for your problems. What I do want to suggest is that you find something that engages you, takes all your concentration and personal skills. For some it could be building a wooden chair or desk. For others it could be working with stained glass or drawing a cartoon. If you don’t already have something like this in your life, find a book that will teach you the basics of something you feel would be interesting. Work through it, find others that do the same kind of things, be it gardening or even simply reading or writing poetry. Try and stick with it, and before you know it you will have a long list of happy memories, and you will have gotten yourself through some difficult times. I know it has worked that way for me.