DisArts and Mental Health

This year has been a roller coaster of awesome and awful. But the awesome is so far winning out! One thing that has been cool is how I’ve been able to virtually attend and participate in writers conferences, and another is being interviewed.

Last week, Derek Newman-Stille asked me questions about DisArts, which is art that is created by disabled artists and is an integral part of Disabled culture. They (Derek, I mean) asked me if I thought DisArts is the same as art therapy. I responded that while I believe art can be cathartic, DisArts is really about telling a story.

And this week, I lived out that response.

I go to therapy for my mental health on a monthly or so basis. It’s really important for me to have a psychotherapist as part of my Cait Maintenance Team. There’s a lot going on in this brain, and I often say it “feels full” at times. But one thing I also deal with is agoraphobia.

Now, the cosmic joke here is that in late February 2020, I told myself that I really want to focus on dealing with my agoraphobia. Little did I know two weeks later, everything would be shut down. And even today, my and my husband’s routine hasn’t altered from March because I’m very high risk.

So… um… well…

Fast forward to now. October is a complex month for me to get out because the weather affects my fibromyalgia. But there are also other factors that keep me inside (apart from COVID). My neighbourhood is very sparsely populated when it comes to walking outside, so I still feel it’s super easy to keep socially distant while taking a roll down the streets. (I use a rollator to walk.)

But something has been holding me back. At my last therapy session, we discussed my unwillingness to leave the house. My therapist is aware of my creativity and how I’m a spec fic author, so she encouraged me to try to break down the reasons why I can’t go out into characters. Immediately, I said, “I can draw this!”

Quick aside: I bought an iPad Pro 2020 and Apple Pencil. They feel like assistive tech for my hands. I used to draw all the time when I was younger, and even though I’m rusty, it’s euphoric to be able to draw again!

Back to the topic. I envisioned myself as the superhero of my own life, and imagined four supervillains who are out to prevent me from doing the things I enjoy. In order to draw the characters, I also needed to ponder their narratives. What was cool about this is that I ended up telling myself the story of what these issues mean to me as I experience them:

A woman with purple skin that shoots orange flame out of all the fibro pressure points. Even her hair is blue flame.
Fibromyalgia. She wields flame from all the pressure points and wants to prevent me from moving. Her skin is purple, which symbolizes bruising (and purple is the official ribbon colour of fibromyalgia), and her hair is blue flame. She never stops attacking.
A woman with short grey frizzy hair is dressed in a red leotard with a yellow belt that is sparking at the diaphram. Her right hand is on her mouth and her left hand is indicating me to   stop. Her boots look like grey concrete.
Anxiety. She’s both pale and flushed. She plants doubt and tries to stop me. Her red uniform symbolizes Alert Status Red. Her boots are concrete, which make me feel like I can’t step forward.
A bald white woman dressed in orange and ochre has firey sparks  emanating from her head. Her hands are reaching for her scalp.
Sensory Overload. Her powers are to emphasize visual and audio noise and touch to the point where I’m overwhelmed to do anything but flee. Orange is her colour because it feels like mental fires going off in my brain. Often Sensory Overload teams up with Fibromyalgia and Anxiety.
This sketch is all in blue . A blue- skinned woman appears to be fast asleep under a huge blue clouds. She almost looks dead, she’s so still.
Lethargy. She appears the most passive, but she’s extremely powerful. She puts my world in monochrome and makes me feel like there’s no point even trying, so I might as well sleep under the dark clouds. Lethargy works closely with Fibromyalgia to give me severe fatigue.

To be able to use DisArts as a way for me to understand what’s holding me back feels like a wonderful method for working through a challenge. And even though these supervillains represent really serious issues that impact my life, they are a visual cue to help me understand where my brain is at when faced with going outside. I’ve actually printed these drawings out and hung them on my fridge. The unexpected effect of them is that they cheer me up, because they are art I created myself, and I feel motivated to carry through with my exercise of dealing with my agoraphobia.

Because it’s true; I do feel like these supervillains are the actors that keep me from getting out. And next time I try to leave my house, if I feel held back, I will look at these women and ask myself who is teaming up against me.

Some days, they might win the battle, but I will win in the end…

…because I’m SuperCait. Ha!

(But no capes! A cape would only get caught in my wheels anyway.)

CaitG Headshot

Cait Gordon is a disability advocate who wants everyone to pummel that curve!

She’s also the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When Cait’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology (a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work) in an attempt to take over the world.

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