I was detained involuntarily in various mental hospitals for almost twenty years, until painting changed my life. I suffered from a number of mental health problems, but
doctors couldn’t diagnose me correctly. But then they saw my art. Painting offered me a language, when I was silenced by my misery. All I had to do was pick up a brush, and let go.
In hospital, painting eased the wounds, because it allowed me to concentrate on something else. It set me free. The abstract images I created embodied my feelings, and gave me a voice. The medical team took my artworks very seriously, using them for the diagnosis and treatment of my various disorders. On my formal Care Plan, under the list of prescribed medications I took to treat my illness, the doctor put “Painting”. In this way, artmaking was directly prescribed as medicine. When I was feeling upset or unsafe, painting was my go-to coping mechanism and support. It calmed me down. Painting gave me a voice; I could express what I couldn’t say.
I tell my story, of misery, detainment, misunderstanding, sedation; then enlightenment, connection, treatment, recovery. I show how art can be used for diagnosis and treatment.
I examined this theme during my PhD at Cambridge University, where I had to prove that art could help people make sense of their lives and initiate healing. My own recovery, using art, was the crux of my thesis. I hadto recover, to prove my thesis and complete my PhD. Would art be able to save me?
Eventually, it did. I describe this compelling story, from which I now work as an advocate and campaigner in the field of ‘Arts in Health’.
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