Tales from the Road.. #1 The Arts

This summer I have embarked on a 2 week solo roadie around the East Coast of our North Island. In normal times, this would be an absolute indulgence; but this year even more so. I am very aware of how privileged I am to be able to do this. And I’m trying to fill and appreciate every moment

I also decided to take this opportunity to challenge myself writing wise… and so decided to “freelance” my blog…. Am asking for suggestions for blog topics,  and then giving myself 36 hours to write and publish the blog.

So here we go….

The Arts

My first blog suggestion was to write about how  The Arts, including Art, Music, Film and Literature impact mental health… As an added degree of difficulty, my writing place today is a beautiful setting, overlooking Lake Waikaremoana; where there is no cell ph coverage or Wi-Fi… so I’m really going to have to write from my own resources, and my heart……

We all have that set of lyrics; passage in a book or piece of art, either owned or seen; that elicits an emotional response in us. Good or Bad; The Arts play on our emotions; they tend to serve no practical purpose in our lives; but are there simply to feed our souls; and transport us to another place and time.

In days gone by, they were used to record history with stories, songs, and art. Now in this digital age where every moment can be recorded in minute detail; why do we still go back to them? Because we need them to fill, the ‘not practical’ spaces in our lives. They can either make us feel good; or accentuate the feeling bad. Art can be controversial and thought provoking – beauty really is often in the eye of the beholder… Movies can both confront or comfort…. Literature can be used to provide an outlet or answers or escapism…

But this is about The Arts and Mental Health….

We all know that Music especially, has the power to take us to another place. It reminds us of events and times in our lives; some good and some bad. We’ve all had those times of heartbreak when we’ve had a particular playlist on a loop; channelling and feeding our despair. Or a song that comes on the playlist that reminds us of a person no longer in our lives. All quite harmless unless we can’t move on from that time. If the endless looped playlist doesn’t stop, and we don’t turn it off and play something else. Its kind of like the depression cycle – sometimes very hard to find another genre, another artist, another playlist; there is comfort to be found in the familiar – even if the familiar is just us continuously pulling off the scab. As in all Mental Health issues, there comes a time when we need to stop the cycle; find a way to play a new play list..

Movies and Literature can play on our emotions. We all have a catalogue of movies or books that can trigger both sad and happy memories. Some of them confront us with new ideas when we first encounter them; and in some of the stories told, we can identify so strongly with a character’s story that it almost feels autobiographical; cheering on the side lines, hoping that the choices they make will result in a happy ending for us too. We fall in love with the heroes and loathe the villains; feel pity for the wounded and sometimes disdain for those who just can’t get it together. Sometimes we go to storytelling for escapism – tuning out the crowded thoughts in our brains; engaging in comedy to amuse and distract; Using a drama to, just for a while, place us in another story. Some stories carry themes that can trigger us; reminding us of the negative things in our lives; These are only useful if we decide to take the positive out of them; and not the negative..

There is a role played by Art in recovery though. Sometimes using music while we move – exercise being a very important part of MH recovery; Walking, running, working out to something loud is very therapeutic, as is meditation or yoga to something quiet and soothing.

Finding new tunes, opening our horizons serves to not only give us a new interest, but it can break the cycle of listening to the same old stuff and getting trapped in the same old emotions.  It also can give us links to new people – discussing favourite bands is an ice breaker. Hearing new voices to heal the gaps left by old ones. Sometimes deleting “those tracks” from your playlist is an open sign of moving on. Just as an old tune reminds us of a long past event; we can actively make new history; by merely listening to new tunes, suggested by new friends. We create new happier, more positive musical associations.

Sometimes using creativity can help heal too…. Time spent expressing your emotions through art, writing, making music, can help to make sense of events; can channel all those emotions into a new thing; or gives you an alternate way of expressing them. Simply creating something beautiful can improve your feeling of self-worth immeasurably. Especially once we are brave enough to share – and somebody genuinely likes it. Putting ourselves out of our comfort zone is a very important MH recovery tool. Part of working on your MH is building new ways of living; getting out of the cycle that we have lived with MH issues. Finding confidence through creating can be a very safe way forward. I have found making beautiful things, be they photos; knitting or food reminds me I am skilled; I do have something to offer.

Creativity also opens doors to new experiences; filling in the time that was filled by addiction or depression. It uses the parts of the brain associated with feeling good, pleasure, relaxation. And can provide links to new people and learning new skills – all key elements of recovery. It can be an important building block in the new life you are striving for. And here’s the thing; you don’t actually have to be good at it. Nobody expects you to be the next Bowie, or Shakespeare, or Picasso. If a thing gives you pleasure, nothing else matters. Progress rather than perfection, as they say…

So, The Arts play an important role in Mental Health – as a symptom, cause, or cure. Recognising its impact and deciding how to use it are the keys to a better outcome.

So, next time you’re on a downwards cycle; try something new. Be it grabbing the popcorn and having a duvet day with a comedy; or unleashing your creativity by painting a picture or penning a poem… you never know, it might just push you back up…

Motuhenga –Authenticity

Tohaina Ō painga ki te ao”

“Share your gifts with the world”

The Arts at work

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