Art

Hospital drawings.

13 April, 2011

I spent the last few days in hospital. My mental state has been getting increasingly worse and Nick was very worried about me when I started talking about some of the dark feelings I’ve been experiencing, so he took me to see our doctor who saw straight away that I needed help. I was admitted to a psych unit on Thursday night feeling a little resentful and a lot unwell, but it actually turned out to be a good thing. The doctors were very thorough and ran a lot of tests on me and discovered that I have Graves disease. The thing about Graves is that it means my thyroid is producing too much hormone, contributing to my disabling anxiety and social phobia in recent months. I also have to undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address years and years of unaddressed social phobia. It’s all a bit scary at the moment, but having stuff properly diagnosed means I can hopefully move forward knowing exactly what things I need to get treated.

Over the last six months you may have noticed that I have not been producing much art at all. I’ve had no concentration as my mind frantically bounced from thing to thing, so I lost my ability to get into the right sort of mood to feel creative. For the longest time I’ve drawn to meditate and express myself, so this was pretty distressing for me. I’ve not been able to work as a freelance artist, and because of that I’ve not only been grieving drawing but feeling guilt about not bringing in income. So when you compound that with my general long time feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and social phobia as well as the symptoms of hypothyroidism… you end up with a recipe for a very unhappy Natalie.

If you’ve never stayed in a psych hospital, you might not know much of the experience. It’s lonely, scary and hard to know if you can trust people when they take away all your agency to control your life; and because I’m Type 1 Diabetic and threatened to take an overdose of insulin, they insisted on following me around everywhere and removing my ability to inject myself with insulin and monitor my own needs. Hospital is also a hugely boring place. My phone charger and earphones were taken from me, and there was no TV except for in a common area. If you are a smoker, you might find yourself smoking three times as much as usual because there’s simply nothing else to do, and in the psych hospitals I’ve been in the doctors and nurses don’t bother giving you grief because patients have way more pressing heavy shit to deal with. So I found myself smoking a lot, but also magically I started drawing again. After a six month drought it didn’t come naturally to me but there was nothing else to do.

A pencil drawing of a fat girl with sewn on blush and long tendrils of hair. A gecko with an exposed skeleton sits over her forehead.

For the first day I didn’t speak to anybody. I was in shock and confusion, not knowing how to negotiate my way around this strange place full of new people. One person sat down next to me and we started talking about this and that and then he asked what I did. When I said I drew and wrote about stuff he asked if I could draw a gecko. I don’t really draw animals so I wasn’t sure if I could. I found a card with a flower on it slipped under my door, found a pen at the bottom of my bag, and started drawing an outline of a gecko with an exposed skeleton inside it. I gave it to my new mate and he said I was a genius! Flattered and encouraged, I bought a sketchbook when Nick took me out for half an hour and started drawing a gecko on a girl’s head. And so I started drawing again.

A black pen illustration of a bird skeleton sitting atop an oval frame surrounded by paisley and flower shapes.

A pen drawing of the words "I had to go deep to find love this morning" surrounded by paisley , flowers and flourishes. Underneath says "To the bottom of a pit."

When other patients saw me drawing they’d come up to look, and sometimes they’d strike up conversations. Some wanted me to draw things, often pretty rude and hilarious stuff, but I made no promises! One man was really sad and said something like, “I had to go to the bottom of a pit to find love this morning.” I probably paraphrased but it struck me and I doodled.

A black pen drawing of a naked fat girl with big hair prancing sadly through a circle of tree branches.

When I was admitted on Thursday night I felt a lot of shame. It’s not a new thing. I’m pretty sure lots of people who suffer from mental illness have been shamed into being quiet about their experiences and what they have to live with. I was pretty sure I’d be disqualified from the Cosmopolitan Fun Fearless Female competition for being crazy! For so many years I have worried about what people will think of me when they learn “the truth” about me because the most common feedback I’ve gotten is that I’m flaky, full of excuses, sensitive or given to indulge my melancholy. I’m more than that, I know, but years of negative conditioning has made me feel a lot of guilt and shame.

I got out of hospital on Monday, however I don’t know if I’ll be able to find a place of creativity (“alpha waves” apparently) again so I can maintain this drawing “spurt”. People email me about commissions all the time but I just don’t think I can do it yet. (I’m sorry if I haven’t responded, I get so much email and I am so anxious about disappointing people.) I need to look after myself, and also give this new metric buttload of meds time to help me feel better.

Oh and my goodness, you should have seen some of my hospital outfits. Comfy psych unit chic at its best!

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  • Kate G.

    Hang in there Natalie! I recently went on anti-anxiety medication after 10 difficult years of thinking I could battle anxiety on my own and the transformation has been astounding. I am also doing behavioral and cognititve therapy and the between the medication and therapy, I can honestly say I am the happiest I have ever been. I totally identify with the shame associated with a mental illness so I really appreciate your honest and insightful post. Please continue to share your experiences and know that a gal from Northern California is sending love and best wishes your way~

  • natska111

    Hi Natalie,

    I’ve struggled with mental health issues on and off for the past 10+ years (clinical depression/anxiety/ADD/etc.). Most of them were related to body image issues. Once my mental health was under control with meds and therapy (and hospitalization too), I started to gain weight as a result and also because of certain health conditions. About 50 pounds, if not more and I’m not a tall girl. I struggle to find peace as a newfound fattie, but I discovered bloggers like yourself who are intelligent, sassy, cool and brave and that has helped me get acclimated to my new figure and even revel in it. Just thought that knowing you have helped so many girls and women be proud of who they are might make you a feel bit better during your rough time. As someone who struggles with similar issues, I have the utmost respect and empathy for you for coming out and writing about it on such a read platform as this. Take heart, you make a difference and are strong and wonderful.

    -Another Natalie

  • Katy

    Hi,
    Your post is about as brave & fearless as it gets – and it does everyone good to be open and honest about health and mental illness.

    There is so much cross-over with thyroid illness and mental illness – it really isn’t well understood, but I do know the thyroid can definitely contribute to depression and anxiety. xx

  • mary

    I haven’t struggled very much with head issues, though do have a very bad self esteem…is that different?? :0)..anyway, I just wanted to purely talk about your drawings. they are incredible. I love how you do hair!! keep going little one, and your expressions are beautiful and real. don’t be embarrased or ashamed. it’s truth for you.

  • Danielle

    Natalie! Thankyou for your honesty and for sharing your experiences, I think you are one of the most amazing people!!!

    Your artworks inspire me and I’m sure alot of other people look up to you aswell!

    Stay Strong xo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=536668662 Kate Ferrett

    I can’t add anything more than all the beautiful girls here have said other than I am also thinking of you and sending you my love and support.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

  • Cillajean79

    Am so sorry to hear that you have been ill. I have suffered from depression and know what it is like, take care.
    Cilla

  • Cillajean79

    Am so sorry to hear that you have been ill. I have suffered from depression and know what it is like, take care.
    Cilla

  • :)

    you’re an amazing person, so uniquely talented at drawing and you deserve only the best :) all the best for the future to come x

  • deb

    i have mental illness too.i have borderline personality disorder. it is very hard to treat.  i have gone years trying to find a med or meds that will help me. it IS like being in a bottom of a pit. i’ve been on the verge of hospital many times. i also have gotten lots of negativity from people saying the same things they have said to you. i am always afraid that people will reject me when they find out and i always think people think i’m needy. it’s so hard. i hope your meds work well for you! thank you for posting that.
    xxdeb

  • http://twitter.com/wicked_cakes Veronica

    I think you’re courageous for writing so candidly about your hospital stay!

    What I’m about to say isn’t all positive, so please try not to do the typical thing we humans do where we only see the negative, and/or let the negative have so much more weight than the positive. I have always thought you draw very well, and that your art is very pretty. Despite this, I have never been a fan, simply because it’ not my style. But these pictures grab me! The moment I saw them they immediately evoked feelings in me. I feel you pain when I see them, and I can’t really think of a higher compliment to pay to an artist, than saying that their work makes people feel. Well, your drawings made me think of Frida Kahlo’s work, I guess that’s a pretty good compliment too;)

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    You pictures are beautiful

    I wish you well.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YBHRVSPJYMLJH5HNB6L3AM6UYE Jen W

    wow! what a really great post. Thank you for sharing such intimacy Nat. Thought about you while reading a  short article that alluded to Hemingway’s battles with depression. http://www.dailyrx.com/feature-article/some-writers-no-happy-ending-10922.htmlJust illustrates some of the general symptoms and meds, still interesting as didn’t know he was diagnosed.

  • Heather

    I spent time in the psych ward over ten years ago. While my reason for being there differed from yours, your thoughts on the experience are much like mine were. To this day I view it as a valuable experience to my life. Thank you for writing this and congratulations on getting your drawing mojo back.

  • Heather

    I spent time in the psych ward over ten years ago. While my reason for being there differed from yours, your thoughts on the experience are much like mine were. To this day I view it as a valuable experience to my life. Thank you for writing this and congratulations on getting your drawing mojo back.