Hello and welcome to my website and blog. I am so happy that you found your way here and I hope I can persuade you to stay. I’m sure you’ve seen my tag-line by now – ‘finding art in the everyday’ is the central motto of Ccorinnef. But it’s not just a motto; it’s a philosophy, a coping strategy and a way of life. As Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Art is whatever you want it to be; it is creation, it is expression, it is discussion. Grab a cuppa and let me tell you all about it how finding art helps me live a happier life.
Three years ago I left home and moved into University Halls. Three years ago I began a downward spiral of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Looking back now, I realise I was probably suffering from poor mental health for a significant portion of my adolescence; I recall episodes of what I now realise to be severe depression and anxiety. But, for reasons I won’t discuss right now, my mental health issues remained undiagnosed and under the surface until I went to university. It was the start of a stint of very rocky mental health which I am still recovering from, and learning how to cope with, today.
Throughout my life, art was an escape. Whether I was creating it or simply looking at it, art was the one thing that I kept coming back to, time and again. Art gave me the ability to stop time, to stop the intruding thoughts that often come with anxiety and depression, and to lose the world for just a moment. When I am creating, it is almost like a meditation, the world falls away, nothing exists except my paint brush and my breath. On nights when I suffered from insomnia, I would sit on the floor and paint picture after picture, completely lost in the rhythm of the brushstrokes. On days when depression kept me prisoner, my sketchbook was my lifeline; I would draw how I felt to express the feelings inside.
It’s not just a cute tag-line; it’s a fundamental personal philosophy for life and especially for coping with mental illness. Depression makes it so hard to see clearly, it’s like a constant brain-fog of sadness. When I realised that, despite my depression and anxiety, small snippets of art could still make me smile, I grabbed onto that realisation with all my might and have held it close ever since.
Although the scientific research is still in its early years, there are considerable studies which show a correlation between mindfulness or gratefulness and an increased sense of mental well-being. According to mind.org practicing mindfulness – a sense of presence and awareness – helps to gain some control over unhappy or troublesome thoughts, as well as to cope better with stress and decrease negative self-criticism. And since one of the most significant components of depression, at least for me, is out-of-control negative thoughts, it follows that mindfulness helps me to control my mental illness.
One of my favourite mental health charities, The Blurt Foundation, regularly discuss self-care, such as mindfulness, and its positive impact on well-being, after all you can’t help anyone else if you yourself are burnt out. According to actionforhappiness.org, “Happiness doesn't just feel good. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.” As well as this, researchers in Neuroscience have discovered that happiness is a learned skill, just as Eastern wisdom has known for a long time. Due to the neuroplasticity of the human brain, happiness and kindness can be achieved no matter the environmental circumstance, it just takes practice. “Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%. As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.”
Gratefulness is also linked to increased feelings of well-being and fulfillment and decreased feelings of stress. In one study, people who practiced gratefulness “each night for just one week were happier and less depressed one month, three months and six months later.” Thanks to evolution, our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative and be pessimistic. A long time ago, it kept humans alive but since we (in general) live far more comfortable and safe lives now, our over-active brains leave us feeling anxious and depressed. If, however, we actively retrain our brains to focus on the good things, things that made us feel happy, things that made us smile, things that we are grateful for, we can regain the power over depression and anxiety and learn to cope better with the ups and downs of life. And happiness is actually good for our health; Berkeley researchers have found that “happy people are less likely to get sick, and they live longer.” Other studies by Berkeley found that people who practice mindfulness have “stronger immune systems” and “enjoy greater life satisfaction.”
Art is whatever you want it to be. It can be a bright green leaf with so many incredible veins and microscopic biological processes in every single cell. It can be a neat and tidy desk, each item in its own place and no clutter. It can be a happy puppy chasing crazily after his favourite yellow ball. It can be an awe-inspiring painting or photograph hung in a gallery. It can be the way the evening sun lights up the mountains and warms your face. Life is incredible and amazing and full of art – you just have to choose to look for it.
I fight my depression everyday simply by choosing to find the art, to look for the small things that make me smile. By focussing on these small things, I often find that I am also grateful that I witnessed that thing or moment which in turn makes me happier with my life and more able to cope with my mental illness.
Essentially it is all about mindfulness; whether it is in meditation, prayer, gratefulness, or finding art, the act of setting aside some time everyday to appreciate the ups and the downs greatly increases well-being and ability to cope with mental illness. Go on, find the art in your everyday!