Last Wednesday, I very nearly walked out of my art therapy class. Not sure if you know that feeling of when someone really bugs you and you just want them to shut up? Well that was how I felt that particular morning. There is one fellow participant/cancer patient who is really pushing my buttons – she talks a lot, is incredibly dominant in her conversation or shall we say in her monologue style. She keeps telling the group constantly and repeatedly how good the art therapy is for her, how much she is learning, how much it is helping her, how she is improving her drawing and painting skills, and what she feels like doing in the upcoming session, and how she does not like negative paintings or drawings…. It was well just so massively overwhelming for me. I literally felt like a bulldozer had just rolled over me, the session had only started for 5 minutes, and I was ready to pack up my things and just go. The therapist leading the session had not even had the possibility to explain to the group what the instructions/concept for this week’s painting were going to be. It was just too much for me, I felt how my whole body tensed up and all I wanted to do was to get out, to have room to breathe. Looking around the room, I then realised that I was not the only one feeling this way, that others felt uncomfortable too. However it took every inch of my self-control not to take my stuff and head back to the office. But I am not a quitter, I don’t run away, so I decided to stay – knowing full well that once everyone would be absorbed in their painting, I would forget about this nagging voice too.
So this week’s assignment was to draw a picture in a picture, a so-called frame-picture (Rahmenbild). To start of you draw a square on your sheet of paper, which can be as small or big as you like. This square is your fame. Inside this frame, you then draw your fears, anxieties, in short your negative emotions. Outside the frame you draw your positive emotions. Oh dear, was my first thought, drawing my fears and anxieties, that was going to be though. There were quite a few negative ones I was grappling with at that particular time, and letting them out would take quite a bit of courage, and it also meant that I would use the colour black for the very first time since having started the art therapy class. I was set up for an emotional journey.
Trying to avoid having to deal with my issues, I started drawing the outside of the frame, and rather than drawing things, I just kept colouring the “outside” space with different colours, strong, positive colours I like to reflect my happy emotions. This exercise was very therapeutic for me, in that it calmed me down, helped me relax, distress, unwind, and free me from the tensions that had built up at the begging of the session.
However eventually I could not put the “uncomfortable” drawing part off any longer. I started slowly, coming to terms that I would have to use black (which I had been so determined not to use at all in my paintings) and hence used this colour to draw the outline of the frame. For me this inside picture was to visualise my “black hole” that I fall into once in a while and that I find difficult to come out off. In that black hole, there are two major fears at the moment 1) I am scared that the chemotherapy might cause infertility in the long run and hence “rob” me of the ability to have children (this is expressed in the symbol on the top left bit of the black box – a pregnant woman whose womb contains an unborn baby, the latter being represented by a little heart) and 2) I am scared that I will be on my own, not find love, not be able to enjoy a happy relationship with a man (that is why I have a drawn a broken heart, a recurrent theme in my paintings as my therapist has confirmed). These two things make me angry and sad at times, and that is why I have included a tear, painted in blue (difficult to recognise as a tear, I know) and a little figure with a red head, to represent the anger.
Once I was done, or felt I was done, my therapist came over to have a look at it and talk it through with me. One of her comments struck a chord with me – she said that the “inside” was very claustrophobic – the figure in the black box seemed to struggle, to fight to get out, but there was literally no escape route for him/her. I then realised that I had drawn myself as a prisoner of my negative emotions. I tend to bottle up my emotions and deny myself a way of expressing them, I sometimes want to share and sometimes I just want to keep them to myself. So how could I resolve this dilemma? “Draw a door, a closed door, in the black box”, my therapist suggested – “you can leave that door shut when you feel like it or open it when you are ready to come out”. A brilliant solution, I thought, and this how I added a white closed door to the left bottom hand corner of the black box.
“I cannot see you in this picture yet –I?” know you differently – are you only in the ”inside” picture?”, my therapist continued. No, I am not, I replied, I am feeling a lot of happy emotions too, I am in both pictures. “So where in the positive picture are you?” – “In the pink square”, I replied automatically (this raspberry pink colour is one of my favourites at the moment), so that is why I added myself in that spot, drawing myself when I do one of my happy dances.
Finally I added an escape tunnel for the “angry” Steffi too, an easy escape route for when I need to air my anger, a way out into the sun. And this is how the following picture came about.