As part of World Art Day Young Epilepsy supporter and blogger, Rob Richardson, explains how engaging in art therapy has helped him overcome depression and anxiety since his diagnosis.
Rob Richardson injured his head whilst on a night out with friends 13 years ago and later experienced his first seizure. After having multiple seizures, Rob was diagnosed with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME). Investigations led specialists to believe the head trauma Rob had received coupled with meningitis, as a child had brought on his epilepsy.
After having trouble finding support at the beginning, Rob eventually found his calling, channelling his epilepsy through creating incredible artwork. But how did it all begin?
In his own words, Rob details his art therapy journey:
No one prepares you for how epilepsy will make you feel. I considered myself to be quite an outgoing, confident guy. I had a large circle of friends, I went out and socialised a lot but, following the initial seizures, I found that I just wanted to isolate myself. To be frank, I was scared. I didn’t know when the next seizure would occur, I was embarrassed about what people would think of me and I didn’t want to admit that I was a person with epilepsy.
Crippling anxiety grew out of this. I also became depressed. I lost jobs. I stopped seeing my friends. At one point, the seizures grew so bad, I was unable to hold my daughter so that added to my low self-esteem.
My wife pushed me to try and express myself in other ways. She knew I wasn’t, at the time, very open about my feelings and I needed a new focus. Turns out, as well, that two of the triggers to my seizures is stress and anxiety so I was perpetuating the whole thing myself anyway!
She pushed me to seek a new avenue with a friend who had remained close and I practiced as an apprentice at a local tattoo studio. This guy was great – he knew about my seizures, my triggers and what to do in an emergency – and he said, in order to become a tattooist, I had to draw every day.
I visited The Point, an art gallery in Doncaster and found that they had an art group that met weekly, specifically for people with hidden illnesses, to chat, work on projects and just have somewhere to go where they didn’t feel alone.
It was amazing. Everyone was welcoming and I made some great new friends. It made me feel part of a collective and after visiting regularly, I felt some of my negative feelings shift. Key to all this was that I no longer felt on my own. My problems weren’t the worst in the world. In turn, this helped me manage my seizures.
The art is something that grounds you and allows you to speak without using any words. It gives you focus and slows everything down. No matter what skill people had in the group, what medium they used (crafts, sketching, painting or music), we all found the therapy useful in channeling our feelings in a direction.
One day, everything just clicked. I started talking amongst the group and we shared our experiences. The relief was incredible and the joy at discovering you weren’t alone helped put your own problems and conditions in perspective.
Art therapy gives you a sense of purpose and achievement. The goal is create something and to finish something while having fun all the while.
Once I’d learned how to manage my feelings and negative thoughts, I was able to better understand my epilepsy and identify further triggers.
Finding my art therapy group helped my confidence again a lot. In that setting, no condition matters because everyone had one and wanted to prove that they were more than just another label. We all refused to allow it to define us.