Art is my victory today because I use it as a tool to overcome some of life’s biggest challenges. Last semester, a classmate inquired about my tendency to be creative during hectic exam preparation times. Our conversation began with the topic of time management and she could not believe that I could find the time to paint. I did not have a set answer for her inquiry; rather, I recounted how I arrive at the point of needing to paint. I told her that I rely on art to help pull me through stressful events such as final exams.
The weekend before exams, I set aside an evening for painting my stress away. I take out my paints that are kept in an old shoebox, fill my mason jar full of water, and pull out the largest size canvas I have lying around—usually one that I have painted before. I turn on my favorite music and play it as loud as my neighbors will tolerate. In my favorite old t-shirt and sweatpants, I step into the zone—my art zone located in the back corner of my bedroom.
My art zone becomes a safe space in which I can express every feeling and thought I may have at that moment. In the zone, time is not relevant, and on many occasions I find myself still painting when the sun rises. When my eyelids start to fall, the satisfaction in my heart grows—a completed piece is a completed thought, one that I can let go of in a healthy way. No matter how dark, twisted, sad, or misunderstood the thought or feeling is, art allows me to come to terms with my heart, body, mind, and soul while producing a beautiful work in the midst of my internal chaos. In this way, I use painting like a cleanser, purging myself of toxic thoughts running rampant in my mind. While this process is emotionally exhausting, it guarantees a restful sleep and I wake up to a refreshed body and clear mind, enabling me to focus on the next task, the big exam. However, such an inherent process of coping was not something I found on my own; rather, it was a gift given to me by way of my first therapist, Jean Bone.
Art therapy was not a concept I was familiar with at the age of eight, but it would set the precedence for my success as an adult. When I first entered Jean Bone’s office at Childhelp, I was a terrified child. I feared all adults and had good reason to. Just three years earlier, I watched the closest person in my life die at the hands of a grown man—a monster killed my four-year-old brother. This monster appeared to me in recurring nightmares. I cannot remember what visit with Jean it was that I revealed this to her, but when I did, she introduced me to drawing—a tool that would change my life. Jean pulled a pad of construction paper from a shelf and a plastic tub filled with every color marker an eight-year-old mind could imagine from a cupboard. I plunged my hand into the bucket, grabbing every black and red marker I could find. I started to rip out every off-white paper and proceeded to draw the monster. Like an assembly line, Jean handed me another sheet of paper when I was through with the first and she assured me that I could use as much paper as I needed. By the close of our session, I had used something like twenty sheets of paper. Jean and I hung it on the back of her door, using tape to assemble the monster named Ricky. Jean told me that every time I met with her and I felt a little stronger, I could fight the monster back by ripping at his arms, legs, torso, and head. To outsiders, this form of therapy may seem unconventional, but for a child that suffered from extreme forms of abuse, fighting back was essential if I was ever to be free from Ricky.
By the time I left Childhelp, I was monster free and more confident in my ability to face my fears, thanks to art therapy, a great art therapist, and a desire to express myself. I have always found ways to incorporate art into my life as a necessary coping skill—one that I was good at. Art has and still is a safe space for me to overcome my fears and find freedom through self-expression. After an art session, I sleep better, feel cleaner, and think clearer; hence, art is the best tool to use during exam preparation, especially if my goal is to conquer the test—this is the best answer I can give to my ex-classmate.