Mental Health

Art, Crafting, and Coping

For years, as is known to many of my contemporaries and friends who have known me ever since, depression and anxiety has always been my staple. Not a week goes by without depressive moments interspersed with anxiety attacks; and the more I try to be nonchalant about it, the more my symptoms surface. With such I have tried to battle it out not more than once—every day is a real struggle, if you would ask me, and there are opportunities wherein I would feel that losing the battle is so imminent that I would try my very best to keep my head afloat. It seems that I could not feel freedom at all. It is like I am trapped in a sort of labyrinth that impedes me from searching for entrances and exits. Now, losing hope in the midst of all these is an understatement: all luminescent visions of redemption are mostly far-fetched (that is, to my depressive brain) that I could not move forward. I am trapped, with no way out. So there is mostly no recourse but to dwell, my energies as if wasted into what most people consider as mundane as that of being overcome entirely by emotions and not unshackling myself from those. Well of course, I do not describe it at all as mundane but palpable. I am mostly a prisoner of an unstable brain, rather, by those neurotransmitters that always seem to mismatch themselves.

In all these, I end up forgetting the essentials of why I live. There are occasions where I would fall into a deep slump and never recover—not because I do not want to, but because I feel suffocated. Nonetheless, in the midst of all these, a thought occurred to me: why not try doing stuff with my own hands? I began to feel wrapped up in an epiphany of sorts that I motioned myself to once again search for that famed author and artiste Abbey Sy’s book “The ABCs of Hand Lettering”, all dusty in a corner of one of our rooms where I keep some of my age-old blank notebooks and yes, her book. I began reading. And oh was I enraptured at how Abbey tried to spin and weave lines of ink over and above each crevice of letters, forming artwork. Aha, I exclaimed to myself. Why not revisit art as how I have been immersed into when I was a child? I might not make it into a lucrative career as Abbey did with her talents however I can make it as a form of therapy! Mesmerised as I now am with creating (and Abbey’s mantra ‘Always Be Creating’), it was as if I flouted my depression.

I decided to “create.”

It Was Never Easy

Everything came in phases: first, how to do my own crude versions of lettering; second, how to actually make a spin off hand lettering and create my very first bullet journal. Watching Youtube videos on the subject terrified me, primarily because I sort of “lost” my creative side ever since my love affair with colouring materials made a steady decline across the years. My head was brimming with anxious questions: “How could I actually follow an artistic lettering pattern?”, “What if I screw up designing my bullet journal?”, “How could play with colours, mix and match them, according to a certain consistent palette?” As a consequence, I could not start with anything so the anxiety cropped up once more. With a job taking its toll on my psychological well-being, I was looking to bullet journaling and lettering to ease up the tensions that only anxiety can bring, as well as the desire to “outsmart” depression. There was a time I wanted to give up; but “no way!” my inner voice screamed at the peak of its own temerity. “You can do this!” So I “created” and drew letters, objects, what-have-you. I was satisfied and less anxious.

Continuing in a Routine

There was one time wherein, because of my job’s demands, I could not even slink in any bullet journal entry (I even “abandoned” my notebook because of what I saw as too many errors on how I journaled). As for hand lettering, I thought my craft was too “imperfect” enough that there are moments I wanted to quit. Nonetheless, one thing kept me from even pushing through with laying aside, and that was my obsession for pens, notebooks too! I would scour bookstores and craft shops for pens of many different hues and notebooks with diverse sizes and formats (I discovered that there were grid, blank, and dotted ones). But of course I have to be living off as though penurious so I would not waste a lot of money on those. Now, with all those pens and cash spent on them, what should I do? I bought a set of rainbow-coloured gel pens, pens with different nibs (therefore, different “weights” on paper), drawing pens, sign pens… you name it. I even purchased a 36-colour set of colouring pencils. All these, in the name of crafting and setting my sight on wellness. I had to invest in order to continue with the routine.

Of course I was scared in even putting the nibs on top of my notebooks such that I may write or draw. My mind would fall blank. My hands would stiffen as I haven’t done lettering as seriously as before. Nevertheless, I have to persevere. “I can do this,” I thought to myself. And so I continued drawing letters. I tried colouring some of them with my coloured pencils. It never mattered whether there were crooked lines here and there as long as I could see that I was accomplishing something. Surprisingly, I began feeling the satisfaction about my imperfect craft. “Yes, I could draw again!” I exclaimed to myself. Then from lettering I proceeded to drawing one memo-pad comic, a plant, and a person staring on a blank canvas. In one afternoon I would draw in succession, reliving those years wherein I could write multiple free-verse poetry in day without even batting an eyelash. All things artsy, bright and beautiful, thought I. There is no way that I am looking back.

Wherefore Shall I be Led?

While reading Abbey Sy’s “Always Be Creating” masterpiece in which she recounted the days whereupon she had eventually left corporate in order to do freelancing, writing, and art, I thought to myself that perhaps art can be my niche like it had always been in my childhood (but as I grew I sort of left it in the dumpster to pursue writing and blogging). Maybe I could earn out of this and leave my teaching job altogether. Or maybe look for another job which would create more room for me to hone my crafting skills, which would be like taking care of myself vis-a-vis toiling for a living. Well, who knows what the future might hold (and whether I would have a new job that would be less taxing); but then again, it is up to my choosing. Art has become my means of expression right now aside from writing and I believe that it would contribute much to my wellness. The singular thing that I need to understand is that I should make everything work to my advantage—not merely in terms of work but mostly on how I should manage my mental health. Believe me: crafting is a way for coping as it strengthens the idea about what you can or cannot do. As for me, seeing all those colours vividly reminded me of how I saw the world as a youngster—constantly evolving, bright, and beautiful. Hand lettering and journaling, as it turned out, were the only ones that made me recollect on bliss. I would not say that art could entirely wipe away my depressive, anxious, and solitary self though. It is a matter now of using art so as I could balance out my life and not merely see the world in total monochrome.

“I gaze at all these
They speak, they jump,
They fly—
In all times, they make themselves
Like stars, up in the dark: noir.
Outlining the very depths of consistency
Cherishing the blankness
Of space.”

(N.B. Check out Abbey Sy’s website for more information about her books and merch; this site, on the other hand, for Ryder Carroll’s introductions to Bullet Journaling)

Choleric-melancholic, blogger, teacher, mental health advocate, book lover.

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