I have always been of the opinion that talking to strangers about my emotional problems wouldn’t do anything to make me feel better. Ever since James was diagnosed, I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster. I was told by many concerned friends to go and “talk to someone”, but I decided that since talking to someone wasn’t going to fix my son, then how would it possibly fix me?
But I know now that nothing could have been further from the truth. I was wrong. Oh, so very wrong.
Recently, I took part in an 8-week Art Therapy programme run by Montrose Access. I was privileged to be one of a group of amazing women, all mums in a similar situation to myself, all faced with children affected by either disease, or physical/mental challenges.
When Sandy, James’ case worker at Montrose, mentioned the Art Therapy course and asked if I’d be interested in taking part, I immediately thought “absolutely not!” And yet I said yes. I’m not sure why I said yes. Perhaps it was because the way I’d been handling my grief over the years hadn’t helped at all, so maybe I needed to try a new method. I will be forever grateful that I didn’t listen to that nagging voice in my head giving me every excuse NOT to go, but instead decided I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
It sounds daunting – ART THERAPY. I mean, I can barely draw a decent stick figure, let alone put paint to paper or canvas. The thought of it honestly scared me. What would I be expected to produce? What will they think of my work? Will they laugh at my feeble attempts to be creative?
I needn’t have worried! Most of the session was just sitting around talking, and listening to advice on how to deal with the challenging emotions a parent naturally feels upon finding out their child isn’t going to live a normal life, that their life will be heavily compromised, that it will never be normal like everyone else’s. We threw around words and terms like Mindfulness, Assertive Communication, Challenging Emotions, and we discussed our personal strengths, how to change our thinking and feelings, our emotional cycles and their effects, and unhelpful ways of seeing the world.
We painted, and we drew with pastels. Sixty-second emotions, and other projects that were far more detailed and involved a longer time frame. My stick figures evolved, and there were works I was actually proud of. Art is not my thing, and it certainly was not my reason for taking part in this therapy.
Most importantly, we just talked. And talked. And talked. And those who know me know that I love to talk. And in between talking, we drank coffee and tea, and ate finger buns, and occasionally we cried. And that was okay.
Whilst the obvious difficulty (Duchenne) still remains a big part of my life, thanks to these tentative first steps I am feeling more confident in dealing with my emotions, and I’m making a conscious decision to change my mindset and my behaviour to reflect that. I have been privileged to sit in session with these other amazing women, mums not unlike myself, and hear their stories. We have all divulged some of our deepest thoughts and fears, and we have listened with empathy & understanding. To receive validation for feeling and acting the way I do, to know I’m not alone in this difficult “journey”, and to realise that “talking it out” with others actually makes a difference has been invaluable. I have been very lucky to be part of that.
And whilst I miss my Thursday sessions, I feel confident for the first time since I heard those words “he has muscle disease”, that I now possess the tools to find the “old ME” and take on the next phase of this life with a little more positivity. And I hope all that anger, resentment, and negativity will stop consuming me, and I will feel confident enough to become a person that I like.
I’m starting to listen to my heart more, and take time for myself, to focus on me. If I can’t love and respect myself, how can I love and respect anyone else? Finding out, or rediscovering, who I am is becoming increasingly important. Realising who I am, away from kids and duchenne, is a much-needed reminder that I’m still a person with needs and dreams, and I need to be around other people who like me for who they can see beneath the facade.
It’s a long road, and it’s not an easy one, but I’m making my way one step at a time. I feel happier since my therapy, and I’ve managed to come this far without medication. Whilst medication works for so many, I want to try and do all I can by myself, as naturally as possible, and in full control.
So whilst it’s a “work in progress”, I am thankful for taking that first step to a better me. And I hope that I will continue to go from strength to strength, and that all of you, my friends, will continue to encourage me on this journey.
With one foot, in front of the other. Small steps forward. As long as they are in the right direction.