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Can art help with depression - blog graphic

Can art help with Depression? – my interpretation of surviving suicide

“Can art help with Depression?” was one of the first questions I asked myself when I was admitted for my very first hospitalization for a depressive episode a few years ago.  I couldn’t understand how painting or gluing things together would help me express, let alone allow me to deal with what was going wrong.

Last week I posted one of my latest works entitled, “Come Away from the Edge”. It was one of those inspired works in the sense that pure emotion drove me to create it. I’m certain it’s happened to you!

Can art help with depression - Full view
“Come Away from the Edge” Stretched canvas 40cm x 60cm

My irritability levels were sky high. So, I locked myself up in my studio and turned up the volume of my iPod (yes, ancient technology). It was then that “I know” by Jude started playing. That specific song was on a playlist created by my cousin just after my first suicide attempt. I synced my iPod many years ago, so I have a playlist that’s dripping with old school music.

When the song started, it immediately stopped me in my tracks- I saw the blank canvas sitting in the corner. As I closed the door to my studio, I shouted that I’m off to paint. I left hubby with the children (supper was done so don’t judge).

The playlist that changed everything

Now, for most the song “I know” by Jude, will remind them of the movie City of Angels which starred Nicholas Cage. Nope. Not for me. I haven’t even watched the movie yet, by the way.

When I was 19, I attempted my first suicide.

It rocked the whole family, as it “came out of nowhere”. Or did we just miss the signs? That’s a whole other discussion I suppose.

After being discharged from a 3 days stay in the hospital, I went to see a psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressants.

Standard Operating Procedure.

I understood that the medication would take a while to work, but I felt like I was in such a strange space. It felt like I was alive after a painful death. It was a mistake. And it because of this, I felt so uncomfortable- even when I was just being.

I wasn’t supposed to be there, you know? That wasn’t the plan.

Nobody has ever understood my fascination with music and lyrics, even more so today. So, when “I know” plays, it naturally speaks to me. It is like my cousin was there, and truly understood what I had gone through. He put words to feelings I couldn’t understand let alone acknowledge or express.

The CD was sent to us in the Free State, as most of the family lived in Cape Town, South Africa. I would have liked to listen to the tracks with my cousin in person, but I realize now that it was something very personal and I needed to experience it all on my own. There were around 12 tracks in total. And each of them had a message and spoke to me in some way.

Some tracks made me smile, others simply helped lift the guilt. This song, in particular, moved me with every line. It sang the truth sweetly, in a way that I needed to hear it.

Suppressing feelings

I was a very reserved child and always tried not to inconvenience anyone- whether it’s with my feelings or something I needed. This is one of the reasons why I never spoke up about being molested when I was seven years old. What I didn’t realize is that I had been suppressing hurt that was very dangerous to keep to myself. Deep-rooted wrongs against me that I needed to voice- even if it was just to breathe.

I was drowning in a sea of pain and I didn’t even know it. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this, but when you’re just about to drown, after all the doggy paddling and screaming from a mouth’s filling fast with water, you get to a point where you just want to give up. I have almost drowned twice and that feeling still stays with me.

You’re going under and the water fills you from the inside. And just like that, you’re surrounded by a sense of calm- it’s over.

This is where I was living.

And even though my attempt failed, and after recovering in hospital, I was alive but still was not living.

I struggled to do anything, even sleep, and I’d lie there at night, staring at the ceiling and listen to “I know” on repeat. The tears would roll down my face because I know someone could see me on the edge. Someone could finally see me drowning and I wasn’t fighting to stay alive.

The song moved me into a space where I could sit with the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart.

The painting I did was an ode to “I know”, the song, and the very raw feelings it stirs up in me.

Okay, but can art help with depression?

I wouldn’t say that I am depressed now. In fact, this is the most stable I have been for as long as I can remember. I have been hospitlized every year since 2012. But when I heard the song again the other night, I must admit, it was a good reminder to see how far I have come as well as really to take note of signs I miss when it comes to my mental health.

When I started off the painting, I used some of the lyrics as inspiration and imagery of a supposed edge. After years of hospitalizations, I decided to really be aware of the process of feeling and creating. That’s where the magic in the healing lies.

What was important to me in creating this, was being very honest with myself. First of all, like I said earlier, one sometimes gets to a point where you want to give up. It isn’t even a struggle- it’s like you’ve made peace with defeat. One of the other truths people don’t always mention about suicide or “the end”, is that it possesses a special kind of beauty- dare I say it.

The edge is mesmerizing and that is what lures you in.

There is no struggle; there is no pain.

I wanted to speak to that in a way that only someone who has been there could understand.

And it was through this thinking and trying to figure out what my feelings are telling me, that I realized that I am still holding on to a lot of pain. Many memories still bring with them situations and conversations which harbour deep pain and resentment.

Besides the medication that you’re bombarded with at the psychiatric clinics, you are encouraged to attend the creative classes too. It is here where I learned that, by getting in touch with your creative side, you are learning to engage with your innermost self. It is that part of us we often reject or neglect and even ignore – some call it their inner child. The problem with ignoring or belittling your innermost self means that you are not developing the skills you need to truly face your demons and/or punch them in the face.

How do we ignore our innermost self?

  1. “Guys, let’s get drunk tonight!” This after you hear that you’re getting demotion and refuse to speak about it.
  2. Something keeps telling you that you should write a particular thought/ feeling down, but you keep postponing it.
  3. You feel very uneasy/ unloved when you have to visit certain people, but you do it anyway (for others especially) and you don’t speak about it.

I think you get the gist of it.

How are you going to challenge a wrong-doer or a situation when you don’t even have the tools to sit with your own feelings and fears?

Not going to happen.

The creative classes allow you, in a fun way (especially if you like mosaic classes) to firstly sit with yourself and then engage with your inner child as to what you like and feel and what you want to achieve with your project. It is this engaging that strengthens your connection with your innermost self and allows you become more aware when something doesn’t feel right or no longer serves you. The more you get to know yourself and love your inner child, the more you will protect it and celebrate that it is the best part of you.

So, can art help with Depression?

Of course it can. It’s not about the meds, it’s about getting to know who you are, respecting and cherishing the best and hurt parts of yourself. Some people create music too- but it’s all the same.

You, together with your innermost self, is putting a face to the torment and the shame. Not only is that fascinating, but it is healing.

“Come away from the edge,”

Even though there is beauty there, I know, but there is no tomorrow. There is no hope.

This painting is available for sale. May it bring you away from the “edge”.

-Life in awareness-



  • Fierdous Jappie-Samuels

    I love this. As an occupational therapist, this logic is my way of thinking. Healing through doing. Engaging with an activity like art, helps to bring all the thoughts and feelings to paper without us worrying about how the “message” may come out. It is inherent in us to do, to engage and that intrinsic need is being fulfilled somehow in many deeper ways when doing activities, rather than when we simply speak alone. I am so proud of where you are on your recovery journey.

    • Yvette

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and provide some insight. I remember with my second hospitalization, I wanted to study to become an occupational therapist. I wanted to give back and help, the way I was helped. And then I heard I needed to study medicine… And then I thought, “HOW THE HELL WITH THREE KIDS?” And then I met you online. I have so much respect for you!

      And thank you so much for those encouraging words. I do cry when I create, especially the abstract works. But there’s so much healing in those moments of feeling and I just wouldn’t want it any other way. <3

      PS I'm super excited to get into your fresh blog 🙂

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