Since Oct 2014, I feel stuck in a space somewhere between the sky and the sea. As is the case for most of us, MdDS invaded my life once my feet touched the ground after a one-week cruise. Since the variation and intensity of my symptoms continue to be as unpredictable as the weather, I try to cope with my new condition… armed only with an uncertain forecast.
As a Mental Health Nurse, I know that it is primordial to protect myself from falling into depression. As a trained Creative Art Therapist, I have learned that I can find salvation and resilience through the process of painting.
As such, I forced myself to start painting in November. At first, I did not have any inspiration. I was discouraged. I painted with no sense of direction. I was lost. But I willed myself and kept going in my studio almost every day, missing out only when the symptoms were too debilitating. Using the same canvas, I added layers and layers of acrylic paints upon what I considered as failed attempts at producing something of artistic value. My goal was to keep at it until I felt that I had “finished” this first painting.
During that initial three week process, I gradually forgot about the rocking, the sensation of unsteadiness and loss of balance. While painting, I gradually had the feeling that I ceased to have cognitive impairment, fatigue or memory lost.
One day, I finally felt that I did not have to add more acrylic on the canvas. As I stepped back, looking at this abstract landscape, I was astonished by the movement that I had been able to create. But most of all, I realized then that I was able to project my symptoms on an art piece! That was the creative path that I was looking for!
Having found a purpose, I decided to produce a collection of paintings for an eventual exhibition. This project surely helped me cope with this syndrome. It gave me hope, offered some relief from my symptoms, and most of all, enhanced my self-esteem.
“Most research attests to the value of healthy self-esteem to overall health, both mental and physical. It can boost the immune system, protect against disease, and aid in healing. It often has a bearing on whether people do or do not get sick and, if they do, how long they stay sick. Some evidence, for example, shows that recovery from mononucleosis is related to ego strength; the higher the self-esteem, the more rapid the recovery.1”
So, I tried to be emotionally healthy. My studio is now a safe place where I experience one of the most uplifting experiences since I have been forced to live with, and decided to cope with this debilitating syndrome. Indeed, sitting in front of the canvas, I don’t feel lonely anymore, nor helpless or useless: I am creative; I… am… alive !!!!
Therefore, I have something interesting to talk about. When I meet with family and friends, the conversation is not entirely focused on my sickness anymore. Tired of being on the receiving end of their worries about my health, my artistic journey took them somewhere else and elicited in them a genuine interest. In that light, the projection of positive feelings about my work seemed to have a boosting effect on my emotional state and physical well-being. The support of family and friends who are accompanying me along this path is of great value to me.
The night of the Vernissage, I could see in their eyes that they were proud of me! However, the day could not have started in a more difficult way, as I felt the devastating effect of a personal sea storm brought about by symptoms reaching 7/8 on the severity scale. I stayed in bed most of the day hoping for a bit of a lull. I kept reminding myself that the intensity of my symptoms is always worse in the morning. I was stressed, but so determined to be there at 5pm, whatever my internal weather was.
While my sister took control of the logistics, my husband assumed his usual role of “protector, chief of positive thinking and personal clown”, with the ultimate mission of cheering me up! As always… it worked! After 34 years of marriage, Luc always knows how to make me laugh. So, within an hour after our arrival, my stress level decreased and I was able to feel my symptoms steadily declining, not unlike a receding tide. Looking at my work, with a total of 22 paintings hanging on the walls, I felt really proud of my achievement. It was a challenging and soothing experience at the same time, because I felt that they were my babies, and I had to let them go. But mostly, I knew that I had to reveal myself and explain away this illness, as it was so central to the direction my artistry went.
Even though my symptoms kept diminishing, they were still strong enough that I had to keep hanging on to different chairs for balance, as I was walking from painting to painting while explaining my creative process. As time passed, I became so involved in the discussions that I began to forget about having to use my hand to maintain my balance, having somehow been magically freed, even if it was for a short time, from that cursed swell.
MdDS is not a mental illness but it does affect our mental health. So, I would like to share this cornerstone definition of recovery from a mental illness, developed by William Anthony (1993). Recovery is “a deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and/or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.”2
Artistic expression such as painting does not provide a cure for MdDS but for me, it is the key for a better recovery. This is how I strive to have a meaningful life beyond MdDS.