The connection between the arts and wellbeing is well established. There are master taught courses on the subject, rich research papers and many insightful accounts from experts by experience, showing the benefits.
I want to share with you how I as an NHS doctor and Future Psychiatrist, receive dual benefit from the arts; for my own practioner wellbeing and for my future patients.
The word narrative stems from the Latin narratives ‘telling a story’ And the arts fundamentally hold the power to tell a story, in a universal manner to leave a mark on all those it touches.
I should mention my own narrative. I am a doctor passionate about working in mental health, I am enchanted by the arts and fascinated by nutrition. I also suffer with Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
How have the arts helped me?
The arts have played different roles at different landmarks throughout my mental health course.
In crisis I must admit I was inconsolable. I just had to endure the feeling of sinking for a while. Then slowly, rely on lifejackets to save me, be it: time, the greatest healer, medication, support networks and talking therapy. These lifejackets were essential to help me exist before a shift in my thinking occurred and I finally could live again. And finally paddle on my own albeit, with some obstacles on the way. Know that it is never a simple, linear, swim back to shore. There will always be setbacks, but these are also lessons you learn along the way and ultimately make your experience of being human even richer.
At the stage of paddling, I was able to think more clearly and find ways to help myself. What were those ways for me?
Spoken Word, Poetry, Writing, Painting, Cinema, Theatre, Reading, Fashion
What did I self-prescribe, when and why?
During Medical School, in times of acute anxiety, catastrophic thinking patterns and an unwavering rapid heart rate, I would escape to the cinema. I would lie to my housemates, telling them I was off to meet a friend, or I was going on a long walk to make phone-calls. I did not want to be judged for going to the cinema on my own and be viewed as a ‘loner.’ That is all now by the by and I certainly and thankfully have grown in my mindset. I no longer live in fear of being judged. I try my hardest to just DO ME.
Back to the subject of The Cinema, also known as my haven, my dark comforting euphoric cave. My place of refuge. My sanctuary. How beautiful it was to be able to disconnect from social media and the outside world, sit comfortably in a shared physical space with other bodies and collectively focus our gaze on an external narrative. Shifting my gaze from my fraught tale on to someone else’s’ narrative on screen was a blessing. I could switch off, be mindful, present, focused, live in the moment and BREATHE. From ruffled to unruffled.
I could be naked with my emotions, unchain them from my imprisoned mind and bare my true self. I could cry in the dark and it felt great, truly cathartic. The sense of calm I experienced was utterly uplifting. I felt empowered I am almost certain that had I measured my physiological metrics (heart rate and blood pressure) before and after the screening, the reduction would be evident and significant.
In times of feeling lost, aimless, and unmotivated, creativity has unlocked my potential to thrive. The most poignant lesson I learnt in therapy was that we all have innate resilience and we all can access it at any time and any place. We are just a thought away from wellbeing.
My thought to get me back on the wellbeing train saw me spontaneously picking up a paint brush…
I took an opportunity and I ask you reader, to take that plunge and ask yourself “what would I do if I was not scared to try?”
I was twenty-two at the time, I had not picked up a paintbrush since I was in art class aged fifteen, and I just went for it.
I created this multi-media painting halfway through Medical School, which I named ‘Enslaved Mind.’
Read here to find out about the symbolism behind the brain:
What did I learn through this spontaneous act of creativity?
I found that the process of creating this piece was incredibly therapeutic, sensory and gave me a sense of purpose. Furthermore, from feeling lost and slightly helpless, the experience gave me a deep sense of clarity.
Poetry & Spoken Word