Colour therapy, boats, and poems.

This is probably my favourite painting because it reminds me of a major transition in my life. It was created one December, and the experience was pure therapy.

The Winter blues hit me bad that year. I was exhausted for weeks on end and my mood was low, so turning to vibrant colours was a distraction. Acrylic paint was used because it is a water-based materials that dries fast, which makes it easy to experiment with.

The boats were a challenge and it was one of the very rare occassions when I was willing to obsess for hours to get some very fine details just right. As if sleep deprivation wasn’t making me bonkers enough!

The canvas is 60cm X 45cm, and the largest boat hull is no bigger than the size of your hand. One night, as I added lines to the boats using a teeny-weeny brush, I suddenly felt the urge to write.

After rummaging for some paper, I sat with a steaming hot cup of herbal tea at the kitchen counter, swapped paintbrush for pen, and put my emotions onto the page. It was after 3am. I wrote and wrote, then wrote some more.

At that time my body clock had reset itself, so sleep eluded me most nights. After filling a few pages, when tiredness finally began to envelop me it was accompanied by a profound sense of relief that crept slowly through my body. When I eventually went to bed, I had the best sleep that I’d had in ages.

SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is an annual reality for many people in Ireland and elsewhere. In the northern hemisphere, researchers note that depression-related hospital admissions peak during Autumn.* This is not surprising when we consider how the amount of light we get diminishes dramatically from October onwards.

Subsyndromal symptoms of SAD, otherwise known as ‘mild depression‘, are much higher in more northern latitudes too.** Bring on the vitamin D! And affordable flights ( sorry mother Earth, you know I love you, but my intention is to follow the sun every Winter).

Painting the boats was a real turning point. The emotional release I experienced while writing in the early hours sparked a whole new adventure. I was inspired to start journalling regularly, which was soothing to my mental state. It came as a surprise when poems and songs started to emerge within a few weeks, because my go-to artform had always been painting, not writing. Not long after that I began sharing my work at live events, which brought more positive ‘side effects’. Since then, my poems and features have been published in print and online.

Thankfully, I have not experienced depression for many years now. So what’s the moral of the story? There is none: surely we need (natural) medicine more than someone else’s morals! All I know is that my own panacea includes daily writing, movement and painting, for arts and health are inseparable.

Photo: Mohammad reza Fathian.


* Clarke et al (1999), ‘Seasonal influences on admissions for affective disorder and schizophrenia in Ireland: a comparison of first and readmissions‘, European Psychiatry, Volume 14, Issue 5, pg. 251.

** Rosen, et al ( 1990), ‘Prevalence of seasonal affective disorder at four latitudes,’ Psychiatry Research, Volume 31, Issue 2, pg. 131.

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