Chemical Depression & Art Medicine

ART & ANXiety

When I received a call back from my pharmacist that they were unable to fill my prescription for Cetalopram until my doctor appointment March 1st I got nervous. I have struggled since my teens with chemical depression. It’s funny, because I haven’t really understood what that means for me until 15 years later… but anyway, I haven’t had my meds in two weeks so I am feeling the symptoms of anxiety and self-doubt sit more thickly in my brain. It is starting to become harder to stay alert, form words, and focus on one task at a time. I ruminate on something that happened 3 years ago and it gets in the way of the present moment. So really, when I got that information this week, I wasn’t just nervous, I sat there and cried.

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How am I going to handle my life smoothly if I now can’t have my anti-depressants? J and I are buying a house, I have a show to install March 3rd of brand new work (which is not yet complete) and I have a business to run. How can I trust myself to handle these situations without becoming overwhelmed by the waves of emotion and anxiety that have me crying one moment and snappy the next? I so badly want to be the most supportive partner during this time and not just come crumbling apart.  In short, I have started to fret about the future and the unknown more than taking care of today.

I realized today as I am painting my deep ocean with turquoise and violets, that the art that I make has been helping me along throughout my life dealing with the natural struggles that are a part of being alive. When I pick up the paint brush and daub it into the cool paints, I feel a sense of ease come over my mind. I suddenly am aware today that art making has served as a medicine for my entire life. It provides a place to step back, process emotions, and put one foot in front of another in order to stay content, diligent, and awake to others in my life. depression2

I had to have realized in some way that artist have long shown to struggle with “mental illness”. Let’s all recall how we know that Van Gogh lopped off his ear… There are so many of us who have been hospitalized and felt alienated for this kind of struggle. The thing is, mental illness is much more ubiquitous than people admit.  Depression and Anxiety are more common than I full comprehend sometimes. I want to hypothesize that perhaps it’s even part of how our animal bodies and meat brains have come to adapt and grow. I wonder if in fact having these emotions provides a touch stone for the greatest movers and shakers of our time. I believe that these “brain troubles” have played a role in some of the worlds most beautiful and spectacular people and art pieces. I look around and think more of us struggle with anxiety and depression than we care to name.

This time without my meds is proving to be a place to grow understanding of the relationship between the creative process and chemical depression. I can actually see how with certain tools like, a therapist, a place to nurture my mind, and awareness of my “imbalance” at this time is connecting me more deeply with the act of making art. It also has me as distracted by every thing. I run here and there in the studio, picking up one task, then dropping it and seeing to another. But I feel compassionate toward my little body in a way that I never have before.

In the case of Depression or other chemical imbalances in the body, I have turned to Alcohol and drugs to alleviate the symptoms. Now I’m using the “I” here but this is something that hundreds of thousands of people do to cope.  Without wanting to go to far into the subject here, there are certain drugs that do help patients with depression and anxiety. But when I use any thing else, my mind is groggy and further steeped in self-loathing and uncertainty.

This time has been an instigator of a huge ah-hah moment. Suddenly I am aware of how deeply making art has served as a medicine for myself thought my life.  Art has saved me. Quietly, I have been urning to provide a place of comfort for the viewer. A place of “you too?”, “me too.” I want others to feel fully compassionate about the place they find themselves in the moment they look at the work and imagine spaciousness, the fun of color, and freedom while still being present and aware of the emotional burden of living in these bodies we have.  It’s a strange blessing, how my mind in this in-between place of no medicine and very thick awareness of how my brain gets overwhelmed is actually feeling like a blessing to me today as I paint. Last night when I got home from work exhausted, I did not think that. I thought, “I’m a freak, and a burden to others.”

One thing is for certain, my depression does not mean I give myself a free pass to act and behave however I feel because “I’m not in charge of myself.” Nope. For better or for worse, I have come to resent when people blame this and that situation for inappropriate behavior. Bad behavior and self-centeredness happen, I admit it. But today, I apologize, I accept the responsibility of my actions, and really try to do the best I can next time. Learning more about my depression and working with certain treatment tools and continuing to paint his have helped me to swallow my pride, apologize, and appreciate how much more there is to learn about self-mastery. This anxiety and tenderness has proven to be a door through which I can enter into self-awareness and ask, “Is this part of my depression? Do I need a little HALT up in here? Am I Hungry, Lonely, Tired? What can I do to compassionately alleviate my pain without alcohol? How can I ask for help with out dumping my feelings on someone and still wear my big kid pants? 

Alleviating the pain for me means, should I paint? Should I go on a walk with a friend? Should I call someone? Should I go exercise and pump up the endorphins? Should I sit still and enjoy the beautiful white world the snow has left for us today?

With the time and experience that life has given me, I’m grateful to be aware even more that I am not my emotions, that there’s not someone out there to blame for how I feel and that I have help. I am in charge still of my reactions to situations with all the humility of being only a human being with a meat brain. 

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I’m just like anyone else, and I work hard and am going to try my best even if I’m not feeling my best today. Then at the end of the day, I’m going to at least know that I tried my best. Connecting to what it means to have humanity aka chemical depression through the art making process is a blessing, that I don’t even quite understand. When I look around I am in awe of how many of us there are finding our ways in bold and loving creative acts. 

with love,

Scout

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About scoutcuomo

Charcoal dust and eraser shavings, oil bars and sketch books, wood, gold pray paint, resin, overly soft blankets, and turpentine, feathers and coffee grinds.

5 comments

  1. Jenny wathen

    Beautifully written and with so much insight. I believe in you and I am available for you. I have life experiences to share that might help

  2. Just kije the Scout I know: honest, articulate I so badly want to be the most supportive partner during this time and not just come crumbling apart.

  3. Oopps. I hit the post button by mistake: Just like the Scout I know and love: honest, articulate, deeply feeling, fearless. You describe so well what depression is for many people, and some of the many ways that people use to get themselves out of it. I know–and I’m sure, you have known all along–how important your art has been in making you, you. But now you have this new insight: that art in its many forms has saved you, has put you in touch with source of joy and light that can lift you–and your mind and spirit–up out of the dark of depression. That is real, if not permanent, but its impermanence doesn’t take away from its power. Trust it, use it, respect it, honor it as much as you can. One thing that jumped out at me was the sentence, “I so badly want to be the most supportive partner during this time and not just come crumbling apart.” Get rid of the “mosts” and the “shoulds” in your life, especially in your low times. Be the best that you can be in the present conditions (i.e. no meds.) Who could ask for more? You are on the right track already. Thank you for your courage in writing this piece, for your art (always emerging from the deep, aren’t you?) and for your presence in so many people’s lives.

    • David,

      You made me cry. You feel like “my funny guardian angel”…in the place of Valentine…and I think perhaps you have been this for many others. I deeply appreciate your reflection. So much love to you.

      Scout

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