“Hey, what is wrong?” I heard my therapist ask me. Emotion consumed me, and I immediately began to cry. I tried to squeak out a response, but the inability to express how I felt completely crippled me. My depression had brought me to an all time low, and I could not bring myself to say out loud what I was going through.
Do you know the feeling?
Many of us experience this. We try to muster the courage to say how we feel, but explaining depression in words is not easy. And our past experiences, particularly traumatic events or relationships, can bring us to even darker places when we try to talk about them.
As ridiculous as it sounds, one tool that has been particularly effective for me is coloring. Though there are thousands of scholarly journals (you can read a few here) that explain why art therapy is an effective way to express yourself and begin your healing process, in this article, I want to just quickly share why it has been effective for me and offer a few helpful resources.
My journey into art therapy started in my mid-twenties. At the time, I was twenty-four years old. I was stuck in bed, terribly depressed and my landlord walked in. I had not paid the rent in 6 months and my landlord was no longer feeling generous. He had to kick me out. I began to weep uncontrollably. I was wasn’t even ashamed for him to see me in such a state. I was so broken. I didn’t even care that he was kicking me out. I just wanted to forget what it felt like to be uncontrollably depressed for even one second.
Feeling some remorse, my landlord called my emergency contact, my mom, to come pick me up. I sat on the curb outside of our apartment building for a long time, and finally my mom’s old VW Jetta pulled up. She cried, and she told me that she was bringing me to a treatment center. I was going to live there for the next 30 days. I had never been to a rehabilitation center before, but let’s just say I didn’t have too much hope I was going to miraculously be cured in 30 days by some happy therapists at a rehabilitation center.
The first few days were the hardest. I cried myself to sleep every single night. On the fourth night, as I lay there sobbing, a friendly girl from down the hall handed me a small book and a handful of crayons. She just said, “color, it will make you feel better.” I looked down in almost slow motion at the fairy princess coloring book she handed me. It felt like a scene out of a movie. I choked out, “um.. thank you” and closed my door.
There was no way in hell I was going to color that thing. A fairy princesses coloring book. So I went to bed. But when I woke up at 4 in the morning, I knew I had 4 more hours until breakfast and I was bored out of my mind, so what did I do? I picked up the damn crayons and started to color. The picture was a young, long-haired princess in her castle, surrounded by a bunch of animals watching her get ready. Back and forth, back and forth I colored, and then, for one absolutely magical moment I went into a completely meditative state and forgot. I lost my focus on my crippling depression and simply was coloring. Back and forth, back and forth, in between the lines. And then all of a sudden, I forgot. I had entered into a meditative state, where the act of coloring completely consumed my thoughts and allowed me just one incredibly beautiful moment of peace. The moment of peace left as quickly as it came. I realized the meditative state and slipped right back into depression. I tried desperately for an hour to try to recreate that intense moment of peace, but I was unable to.
At breakfast, I saw the young girl. I smiled and asked her if I could sit next to her. She politely moved her stuff and invited me to sit down. I told her about what I experienced, how for one moment, I was completely consumed by coloring and the feeling of self-hatred left me. She told me to keep practicing. Art therapy had saved her life and she felt like she was on a mission to share art therapy with others now.
I took her advice and continued to color. Fortunately, all it took was practice. I continued to color each morning as I woke up, and for small moments, I would achieve that zen-like state, where I was completely engulfed in coloring and not focusing on my feelings. Those moments were pure bliss, and little did I know, they were integral to the beginning of my healing process.
And so, I also feel like I have an obligation to share with others the power of coloring. I invite you to try coloring / art therapy if you are having trouble expressing your feelings in words. Getting started with coloring is easy. One of my favorite free resources is trycolorful.com, a completely free mandala coloring page emailed to you each Monday. It is not too overwhelming and easy to keep up with just one a week. If you want more you can buy more on there or simply print others off of google search.
Coloring takes time and patience. There is also a magic feeling to starting something and seeing it all the way to completion. I learned a lot about myself just from coloring fairy princesses. I hope if you are struggling to express yourself with words, you consider trying art therapy and picking up coloring. It can be a great way to start the healing process. Good luck.