Art therapy, a proven method of recovery for those struggling with PTSD.
I wanted to use my experiences as an artist with a disability to help others, so in my early twenties I began working for various community and social service agencies on a part time basis. As I began to work full time, hearing peoples stories became too much.
I am sure you have read about firefighters, paramedics, policemen, nurses,doctors, soldiers, bus drivers, and social workers who have struggled with PTSD with very little success in recovery when reaching out for help. This truth remains partially because there is such a stigma around mental health.
Good news is thanks to social media and collaborative efforts by companies and not for profit organizations campaigns, the table has been opened to encourage people to talk about mental health, and be available to their loved ones if they need to talk. Slowly we are di stigmatizing mental health and PTSD, but there is still room for improvement.
As a caregiver, I truly believe that people who work in the social and public services industry really do care, and humans can only absorb so much pain before it boils over. These same everyday heroes tend to work over time, and
double time, giving very little space for downtime. Downtime is especially important for caregivers as they witness some of the worlds greatest tragedies. They run towards the fire when we run away, knowing they may never come back. Caregivers also feel at times over burdened, under-appreciated and simply like they aren't doing enough.
I left the community and social services industry in my mid twenties from burn out.I did not know I had PTSD till I learned more about it. I felt ashamed, as who was I to complain when other people around me were hurting so much more? I felt like I needed to be strong for them, and was scared to be judged or rejected if I spoke up about how much I was hurting. I would be okay for a while, then I would be triggered,and fall into depression. It was a vicious cycle, and as time went by it became harder to "stay happy" for a while again.
Thank goodness an artist's husband donated her art supplies to me when she passed away. I began to paint again. What I created was not for the purpose of sale or for me to post on instagram. It was just a way for me to divulge my most intimate pain in a private and healing way.
One day I was painting, and it dawned on me that I was no longer sad when I painted. I also realized I was happier more than I was sad. I had been painting for about 5 years when I had this Epiphany. Everyone heals differently in their own timing. Although I danced, sang and wrote songs, nothing quite expressed my deep emotions quite the same way as painting.
Counselling is paid for by work places, and I think dance, art or music classes should be too. Not only as a preventative measure for caregivers in the front-line, but also as a recommendation when they are beginning to show signs of distress.
As a workplace you can show your support to your staff by offering art classes in house, or creating a culture that stresses the importance of play hard as equally as they work hard. Providing these opportunities to your workers will make them more productive, help them keep the passion alive for what they do, and help decrease the turn around rate,.
I can honestly say in all of the workplaces I worked, not one of them ever reached out to me. When I reached out to them they simply suggested I took time off. Time off will only help a person so much. Extroverted and introverted people deal with trauma differently yes, but each of them needs an outlet regardless. My mother is and has been a nurse for almost 30 years. I witnessed her heartaches, passion, and joy as she positively affected so many lives. I also remember her putting herself last, which caregivers tend to do. She is now taking my art classes, and to see the joy in her eyes makes me happy because she deserves it. She is so dedicated to her field that she is only semi-retired, but now she understands the importance of loving herself as much as her neighbor.
Stephanie A.E Strugar
Certified Grumbacher Painting & Drawing Instructor.
She is a retired Certified Face/ Body & Temporary Tattoo Artist.
Caricaturist. She is currently an active
Public Speaker, Consultant, and Arts Educator in the Manitoba and greater Canada area.