My battle with depression through pastels
July 01, 2014
Blog post from Mike S., Skyland Trail client
I have suffered in and out of depression and anxiety for most of my life. Being a naturally introverted person, along with outside influences in formative years affecting my self-confidence, I do not take well to disrespect. Self-confidence is always an issue for me that I must struggle to maintain. I was fortunate enough to realize what I wanted to do at an early age so having a fairly clear sense of direction has helped me, for the most part, prevent my depression from becoming debilitating. I have been lucky enough to continually pursue work in the degrees that I graduated with in architecture and landscape architecture. I am a licensed landscape architect. I have had a twenty year career with the federal government working as an architect and landscape architect. I have been clinically depressed since I was 40. When I was 50 I left my traditional roles of architect and landscape architect to become a design/construction project manager to escape a disrespectful supervisor.
The project manager position required me to move to Washington, DC and was a significant promotion in which I thought I could handle. After the first three months I realized I was uneasy about the position but was determined to make the best of it and succeeded after the first year due to an outstanding yearly evaluation. But due to the stress of the job and the learning curve that I was unable to master I slowly started to unravel. I was unable to effectively address problems that were not caused by me but was expected for me to correct and I also could not follow meeting discussions since it all sounded like a foreign language to me. Therefore, I was out of my element and due to this situation my self-confidence started to deteriorate. Also, not being able to effectively transition from an architect/landscape architect to a project manager, I realized I lost my identity. At this point I thought my career had come to an end and certainly working for the federal government and the safety net the federal government can provide.
I was never able to integrate myself into the DC community. I tried a few venues but none of them worked for me so this caused me to feel isolated among some other circumstances. So this, along with my perception of failure at work, caused me to want to check out of life. I had decided that my life had no meaning or purpose or that I had no where to go and the only way out was suicide. I made up my mind the day before I tried to kill myself. After the suicide incident I took three months off before returning to work. My condition at work did not improve and continued to deteriorate and once again I tried to kill myself.
I started working in pastels as a hobby in my twenties. I would draw something that I liked and give them away as gifts. Then after a life altering event that happened when I was 40 that caused me to spiral into depression, I stopped and pastels became one of my many activities that I used to do. After a year I was able to work through this period of depression but never returned to pastels. Thirteen years later, I decided to turn back to pastels as an answer to help relieve my depression after the first suicide attempt. With the assistance of accomplished artist Lisa Semerad I began the exploration back into pastels. She gave me much encouragement and affirmation and remarked that there was little she could teach me that I did not already know. However, I was still just so focused on the perception of failure with my career and job that my new found rediscovery in pastels could not ease my continued grip of depression and anxiety. After my second suicide attempt, with the help of my sister, I was able to find Skyland Trail, a residential mental health facility.
I have been here at Skyland Trail for a year. Skyland Trail has several adjunct therapies including art. After being at Skyland Trail for a few weeks, I decided to turn again to pastels to ease my anxiety and pain. After the art therapist recognized my talent in pastels, she asked what I did with my drawings and my reply was that I gave them away. She sternly told me never to give another drawing away. That my drawings had value and that I should sell them. This comment planted the seed in my head that maybe this could be a viable career direction. As I continued to produce new drawings, I received many compliments from staff and clients/peers. Pastels has helped me tremendously to rebuild my self-confidence; create peace of mind; create challenge in the color, shading and new subject matters I draw; and how to bring to life what I draw on paper. I have joined a couple of art leagues and through these organizations I am trying to integrate into the local art community. My work in pastels with the encouragement from others around me, has continued to convince me that I can have a new career direction that will continue to help me grow and give me a sense of purpose in life.
I work only on drawings rather than paintings. My goal is to concentrate on photorealism to the best of my ability and to focus on the details of a subject matter. I love the mixing, blending, and manipulating that pastels can provide to bring the drawing to life on paper. I like the sense that you can almost touch it when you look at a drawing.
Artist's blog >
View Mike's pastels on his website >