What feelings arise when you look at this image? Do you feel a struggle, a fight? Do you see the words ‘No Warning’? Do you see a ghost car and faceless people? Can you feel the darkness? Do you see an event that forever changed a person’s life?
When you have seen a traumatic event, how do you express yourself? James Pennebaker, a social psychologist who writes about traumatic experiences, says that people who have lived through a traumatic event often keep replaying it in their mind in a futile attempt to make sense of their suffering. Pennebaker said that continual thoughts about emotional upheavals can disturb a person’s sleep, job, and relationships.
I’ve seen this sequence. Intrusive thoughts about trauma can cause suppression. Suppression leads to depression, a depression that makes it difficult to connect with people or feel satisfaction and pleasure. The intrusive thoughts can also make it impossible to focus on daily activities where people need pharmaceutical intervention. The medication decreases the intrusive thoughts but it also takes away the joy in life.
Often people feel stuck in their painful emotions after trauma. Trauma doesn’t make sense. It is difficult to watch and feel someone else’s pain. Especially if that someone is your partner, wife, the person you cherish most. This is the story of C Hogan, one of my clients. He saw a traumatic car accident where his wife fought for her life. She suffered multiple orthopedic and nerve injuries as well as a brain injury. Her life changed: So has his.
I offer occupational therapy services to the victims of a car accident. But it is rare that the partner and caregiver receive services as well. This accident changed this couples’ lives in ways that are unimaginable for me. Mr. Hogan wasn’t the victim of the car accident; nonetheless, the effects of the accident rippled through his life just as much as hers. As service providers, we must not forget that trauma affects the victim’s spouse, caregivers and families.
I am providing mindful biofeedback and expressive art therapy services for Mr. Hogan. We talked about using art to heal and improve wellbeing. He asked me if we could create a collage. He believes that creating a collage is healing, but he didn’t know where to start. Furthermore, depression has a way of cutting off inspirational energy; the joy in life.
There are no warnings. Brene Brown says you cannot prepare for that moment when you get that phone call. His wife survived, but the realities after a car accident are shattering. He wants to forget. But he can’t. The memories don’t go away by themselves or with time. They are persistent. They are Intrusive. They leave a deep imprint on the body, mind, and heart.
On the outside, unbeknownst to the world, a person may look ok. On the inside, everything has changed. This is why meditation and expressive art therapy is so important. Meditation combined with biofeedback helps calm the fears and anxiety and soothes the depression. Meditation combined with art therapy is relaxing, providing stress relief.
Meditation does not permanently take away the symptoms, but it can soothe and settle the mind enough to create some energy for creativity. Creating art allows a person to communicate and express painful feelings, without needing to rely on words. Words are threatening: Speaking about trauma is heavy, for the traumatized person as well as the listener.
Trauma reduces a person’s quality of life. A low quality of life can trigger depression. Depression can black out self-expression. Creating art offers a way to break this cycle by opening another avenue to re-engage with oneself. Creating art encourages self-expression and facilitates emotional growth.
C Hogan finished this artwork. I helped him by facilitating the expressive art process. The result expressed a very traumatic moment. When he saw his wife’s trauma, what he saw on her face, is an image that he cannot forget. He saw that she was afraid of losing her life. He saw her battle for survival.
During the art process, my client was given the freedom to make decisions, test out ideas and experiment. This creative process builds insight. It allows self-reflection. Finishing an art piece builds confidence.
With depression, it is very difficult to start anything. So things stay unfinished. Everything is stagnant. Seeing your finished artwork is validating. It validates potential because trauma takes away future potential. It shatters confidence and replaces self-esteem with doubt and fear. Recognizing your potential is the opposite of doubt. It is the start of believing in yourself. Believing in your potential. Realizing that there is still potential to materialized is a critical factor in healing. Healing through meditation and art is possible. It is possible if you believe in yourself.