I Spent a Month Using Painting as Therapy and Here's What I Learned

I Spent a Month Using Painting as Therapy and Here's What I Learned

Kenya Foy
Feb 4, 2017
(Image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Kenya Foy is one of six people tracking their resolutions with Apartment Therapy in real time. You can read her earlier installments here and here.

If it isn't already evident by now, literally every single day that brings gloomy, cold weather feels like the most depressing day of the year. Spring, where are youuu?! Winter lovers, how do y'all take joy in this every year? Honestly, I can barely manage. Some days, my humorous approach keeps me afloat; other times, it's a mask on the brink of ineffectiveness, dangerously close to wearing thin.

At one point, I felt so desperate for a respite that I pitched a story about dogs that hate winter as much as I do because it feels better to know that someone else (regardless of species) can relate to my seasonal suffering. But since I'm determined to give this painting outlet a fair try, I picked up the brush and created something that resembles artwork, even—and especially—when I didn't really feel like it.

Day 15

I just came back from a week-and-a-half-long stay in Atlanta, which was in the midst of a brutal winter storm, but a change of scenery typically helps improve my symptoms of SAD. However, the storms and tornadoes that struck miles away from my house my first night back at home did not. SAD: 1; Me: UGH.

Day 16

No painting done, but I did sign up for a songwriting class. When I started this project, I hoped painting would inspire me to pursue other creative endeavors, and I'm definitely feeling the momentum.

Day 17

Since I'm feeling settled today and experiencing an inexplicable surge of motivation, I sat down at my kitchen table and reverted back to my previously outlined "Kick SAD's Ass" playbook. As I noted in my mid-way progress report, painting is so much more fun when you have a partner. Although my husband was hesitant at first, he quickly joined me for an evening of painting and sipping wine, and we were feeling pretty peaceful. I don't recall caring what wintry trouble Mother Nature was stirring up outside of my house, which was evidence enough that distraction via painting was totally working.

Days 18-19

Since the entire point of painting is to help improve my mood, I decided to create something that represented how I wanted to feel, which was fulfilled, surrounded by love, well-rested and capable, which is the complete opposite of the empty, isolated, feelings of restlessness that are characteristic of someone grappling with SAD. No more gray clouds and black mountains or symbolic escapism that was prevalent in my previous space photo. This time I painted myself in my personal utopia, naked (I don't know where that came from, but stay with me), in front of a beachside cottage, hands raised to the sky, my huge afro freely and wildly hovering above me, along with small images all of the things I intend to manifest in my life.

(Image credit: Kenya Foy)

My drawing skills still need (a lot) of work, but I'm eager to continue practicing because I love how this painting makes me feel.

Days 20-28

These days were supposed to be filled with glorious displays of my artistic aptitude, but at the start of the final week, I woke up to a medical emergency with my dad that has literally re-shifted my focus and limited my entire week of productivity to a flurry of work, stress, sleepless nights and hospital visits. Needless to say, this ongoing situation has distracted me from both my painting and the symptoms of my Seasonal Affective Disorder, at least for the time being.

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

So, How Did The Whole Thing Go?

My overall perception of this challenge was basically: How hard could it be? Every year, I am determined not to battle with myself, accepting both the wintry months that lie ahead and the inevitable mood swings that come with them. I usually set out to just get by, but I felt that this year, being a more active participant would serve me better than simply going through the motions until my weather savior arrived in the form of 80-degree temps and sunny days.

If I had to grade myself, my honest assessment would be a C+. During the first two weeks, I wasn't as committed to change as I thought I would be. Old habits of settling in for certain doom and remaining comfortable in my discomfort were extremely difficult to overcome. I really struggled to accept that addressing the effects of SAD was something I would literally have to pencil in and scratch off a checklist, instead of winging it (which was completely ineffective) when it came to practicing painting as a form of self-care.

The most success I saw obviously came from reaching out and enlisting others to paint with me. Also, I gained a lot of steam when I sat down and completed a single painting without obsessing over the details. Finishing one piece gave me the motivation and the desire to continue going, and ultimately, painting felt less like a task and slowly became something that served as an enjoyable emotional release.

"I gained a lot of steam when I sat down and completed a single painting without obsessing over the details."

What I Learned

This pains me to admit, but it's become even more evident at how supremely awful I am at prioritizing my needs. I didn't expect my struggles with painting to prompt such intense self-analysis, but I realized that due to some of my more emotionally stable winters, I harbored an irresponsible belief that I would be OK without making a huge fuss over myself this month. That begs the question: What exactly is wrong with making a huge fuss over yourself, especially when you really need the extra attention just to keep yourself afloat? The answer to that question is absolutely nothing, which is something I've learned the hard way this month. Moving forward, I have no choice but to give myself a little extra wiggle room and compassion, because what I thought I was doing to take care of myself really wasn't as much as I (or anyone else struggling around this time of year) deserve.

The area in which I was a total success is learning to not to be so rigid with myself this time of year. When I started this resolutions project, I hoped to learn to relax a little and go with the flow—be less judgmental of myself—and I think the fact that I shared my drawings with the public (eek! still can't believe I did that) is evidence of some huge personal growth.

Where I Will Go From Here

January threw me some major non-weather-related curveballs that I was not prepared for, but February represents a fresh start and, regardless of what meteorological fate we face on Groundhog Day (pleeease, Punxsutawney don't let me down!), I totally intend to keep up the painting. I would love to say I will paint every single day, but overcommitting myself is a serious issue that I need to reign in, so a more comfortable plan is to paint at least once a week, and put in some extra effort to center myself by picking up the brush or doing something else creative when I'm feeling especially blah.

My paint-promoting hashtags might be scant in February and beyond, but painting has given me the push I need to stockpile a personal go-to list of Stuff That Makes Me Feel Better About Winter™, which includes, but is not limited to: songwriting, swimming lessons (if I plan to buy that sunny beach cottage, swimming skills are most essential) and whatever hobby or interest brings me peace and joy.

Based on this month's limited experience, I would certainly recommend painting to others looking to alleviate some of their SAD-related symptoms and look forward to continuing to channel my inner Picasso, long after the terrible weather subsides.

To read the final resolution posts from our other writers, click here.

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