This series of intuitive art journal sketches catalogue my life with multiple mental illnesses and my 3 year (so far) journey towards healing through intensive therapy. You can follow my ongoing journey here and on Instagram (@becoming_tilly).
The sketches in this series are all done in a single draft using an intuitive art approach. I sketch them first in pencil and then in pen, I then colour them using watercolour pencils. My aim in producing this work was always to capture, express and describe my emotions, my thoughts and feelings about myself and the world and the complex concepts that sit in my mind as “normal” but which I grow to understand more and more each day, are actually some of the reasons I am classed as having a mental illness.
I began this work, simply for myself. I needed to express my emotions, and I needed something to do to cope when overwhelmed by an emotion. So I drew. On entering therapy, I learnt that I had a severe form of a symptom known as alexithymia; I could neither name, nor describe my own emotions or inner experiences in a way that others could understand. Or at least, not verbally (of course, I knew all of the right language could describe these – the problem is one of matching; rather than not knowing the words for my emotions I did not know which emotion word matched my internal experience.
Over the years of therapy, I have become better at this. But nonetheless, it is still very hard. Particularly when I am accessing strong emotions or ones that I have, for various reasons, developed a strong secondary shame response. This means that I have associated emotional expression with strong feelings of shame. And the natural response to shame is to inhibit the behaviour that caused the shame. So, I learnt not to express my emotions. Even to myself.
But ‘talk therapy,’ which was pretty much my only chance of recovery, is pretty hard if you can’t talk about what you are feeling. And especially when not just shame (it’s pretty common for people to feel embarrassed when expressing emotions, and to struggle at first to open up to a therapist. A good therapist who is well suited to you will help you feel safe and comfortable enough to talk and should also be able to determine if your difficulties stem from alexithymia; alexithymia is common in people with BPD, CPTSD, DID and in people with other conditions related to early trauma, but is rare otherwise).
Fortunately, quite early on in my therapy, my therapist and I hit on a method not only for me to tell him what I was feeling, but also, for me to begin to develop the necessary skills to improve my ability to put words onto my internal emotional states. The drawings in the ‘My Life As Art’ series are the imagery I used to explain my thoughts, my feelings, my mental states and my progress, in real time, to my therapist.
If you have any questions or comments about any of the images here or about my work in general, feel free to use the contact form below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.