I’ll apologise in advance for this post getting a little bit arty farty but it has been inspired by an art therapy session.
Whilst in the nut house for mad cow’s disease (in a psychiatric hospital for Postnatal Depression) I have been partaking in a bit of art therapy. For those wondering what art therapy is it’s essentially a place where people who are good at art can draw/paint/art masterpieces that express their inner turmoil or longed for optimism and the rest of the basket cases have fun doodling or making jewellery like we were little kids again. So far I’ve made three bracelets for my daughter (not pictured – that’s me and my boys). It’s nice to have the distraction. Now that might not be the technical explanation of what art therapy is, I did try to research what it was (I posted on a friend’s Facebook therapy “what do you do in art therapy?” I’m thinking investigative journalism may not be my thing) but I’m sure this gives you the general gist.
Art therapy can be quite daunting the first time you do it. Thoughts race like, “but I don’t art!” “Oh shit!! What do I art!!!” “OMFG!!!! I’m flipping failing at finger painting!!!!!” For those that are artistically inclined the feelings are apparently even worse. Fears of creating imperfect work abound, anxiety over time constraints ensue and before you know it everyone is just doodling and not creating the Sistine Chapel. Whatever your art level is this foray into a new environment seems to bring out similar fears, my work won’t be perfect, I’m not perfect, I suck.
It’s interesting that we as mothers (I’m in the chicken coup for PND) hold ourselves to such ridiculously high standards that a simple art class can dredge up such a tidal wave of self doubt and loathing. We want to do our very best and our children’s future seem to be in peril with every decision that we make. And todays saturation of parenting experts and baby whisperers only make things worse. If you’re not looking in your baby’s eyes as they play you’re making them feel abandoned. Pretty hard if you’ve got twins and or another child/children. Pretty hard even with one baby if you need to go to the toilet, brush your teeth or heaven forbid take a shower. If your baby cries they are getting permanent brain damage. Again the whole toileting and showering becomes a guilt ridden nightmare. If you just feed your baby enough and make them feel secure they’ll be settled and sleep well. An absolute trip down guilt lane into crazy town that last one is. This notion that if you do it “right” your baby will be happy and content is a crock. A baby is their own person, with their own thoughts and their own needs. There will be times when their needs are way more complicated than feed, play, sleep. Even more complicated then adding a bath or wrapping or not wrapping or massaging or or or or, the list goes on. When these inevitable unsolvable fits of crying happen to a mother without postnatal depression they get stressed and anxious. They then move on after the incident is over. When this happens to us mums with postnatal depression we start to spiral out of control. Our baby is crying, we can’t stop the baby crying despite trying every trick in the book and writing a few new chapters, therefore we are failing our baby. Our babies are going to become destitute, social misfits. Even worse, they’re going to turn into the emotional cripples that we are. Our beautiful, perfect babies would be better off without us around to screw them up. These catastrophic notions start to overwhelm us. Before you know it we’re out to sea trying to use a pillow as a boat and a cap gun as an oar. Now I like cap guns and pillows as much as the next person but they’re not exactly the correct tools for getting by out at sea. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great. Please don’t send me hate email saying stop pillow shaming. I’m just saying there’s a time and a place. A pillow is a fail as an oar. Just like expecting to be so perfectly intune with your baby that they are always smiling or sleeping soundly is a fail in reality. This idealisation of clinical perfection prevents us from being in the moment. It stops us from appreciating our experience as beautiful despite the “flaws” because deep down we are so ashamed of ourselves for not living up to these expectations of perfection that we can barely breathe.
In art there is a concept/movement known as Wabi-sabi. In a nutshell Wabi-sabi is the singular beauty in something that may first look wrong or flawed. It is the ability to see that the defects don’t actually take away from the aesthetic but enhance it. If you think of a sunset it isn’t perfectly lined colours with a perfectly circular yellow son in the middle. It’s a miasma of colours with a blobular orange sun slowly oozing downwards. This bleeding of warmth and colours is far more beautiful then if it was perfectly ruled lines on a page. Even in great art the “flaws” are still there. The transient nature of the human condition was something that the great da Vinci strived to capture and did so most famously in his masterpiece which we call the Mona Lisa. He deliberately attempted to capture a smile that was dynamic and fleeting because that is what he himself saw when he walked the streets. He could see the beauty in this inbetween moment and evidently so can we because people are still lining up to see her smile change depending at what angle they stand at. We can appreciate the imperfections in art, we can compose sonnets about it in nature, yet we condemn it in ourselves.
So what should we do? Quite simply embrace the Wabi-sabi, be our own sunset and be our own Mona Lisa’s smile.
I don’t know how long I’ll be on this journey for but I’ll keep you posted in more Confessions of a Mad Mooer.