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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 5 of 8 - Depression, Reflection & Loneliness (Phase 4)

There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone grieves in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced and continue to experience still. In this fifth blog of the eight part series, we look at the fourth  phase identified, namely depression, reflection and loneliness.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).
You can follow these links to read the full series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

For this stage, we will be using the reverse side of the previous page and one new page from the Dala Paper Pad we've been taking our pages from. Using the other side of a previously used page, reminds me that it is possible to experience two, or more phases at the same time, just as it is possible to page back and forth in the journal.

I once again start by punching holes in the newly added page, using the previous page as a guideline to position the holes correctly. It made me think about how we all have holes in us, but somehow those imperfections make us fit better. This stage in the grieving process is the one that hits us hardest. It is where we come face to face the true magnitude of our loss. We feel isolated and bombarded with memories. We often experience a sense of emptiness and despair.
Acknowledge these feelings!
Give your feelings names and write them down, even if your words are not necessarily exact descriptions of what you are feeling. By naming them, you will come closer to finding the correct terms. It also helps you to come to terms with what you are experiencing, as well as finding ways to understand it yourself, and explain it to others.
Please do not deny your feelings by faking to the world that you are okay when you really you are not. It will only present itself in another way, and at a different intensity at a later stage if you deny it. Denial is only postponing the inevitable.
At this stage, there will be people telling you to 'get over it' and to 'carry on' with your life. Or they will simply fall away from your life, unable to cope with your emotions and what you are going through. Do not allow these people to intimidate you. They have probably never experienced something like this themselves and are largely ignorant.
List your feelings. Think about them. You may even want to tell someone close to you how you feel. you may also want to colour code your feelings, to indicate their intensity.

I then went in search of a word code puzzle that I had done a couple of months ago when my sister-in-law gave me a book filled with these as part of a gift. I like these code word puzzles, but will need to explain how they work, in case some of you have not come across them yet. Every empty square has a number assigned to it. One, or maybe two words have been filled out. That way you have the numerical value of a handful of letters. You now need to guess the numerical value of the rest of the alphabet, by trying to make the crosswords fit in a meaningful way, e.g. all number 5's will be the letter 'k'. Finally, as an extra bit of fun, you have to take a selection of circled letters and work out the meaning of the word at the bottom of the puzzle. It is an uncertain guessing game for the most part of it and I often find myself erasing wrong guesses. That is why this puzzle was filled out in pencil originally. I rewrote it in pen and cut out along the lines of the puzzle. I also cut out the final puzzle and the key to the puzzle at the bottom.

I chose to arrange my papers differently this time. The reverse side of the previous page is positioned on top of the new page, so that my journal all of a sudden reads in portrait, rather than landscape. I did that on purpose considering the theme of today's grieving stage, namely depression, reflection and loneliness. This is pretty much the bottom of the pit as far as the stages go and it most often times when life seems to have thrown our lives so out of whack that it does not even seem to standing upright anymore. This new arrangement of the layout is our first acknowledgement that things are a little out of control and completely different. We need to approach it from a new angle. And yet I find some relieve in all this chaos. Somehow, without any effort or planning on my part, my puzzle fits perfectly on the page! This is testament once again that, just because we experience everything as chaotic, it does not mean that this is the reality of our lives. There is a glimmer of hope then.

I take my Dala Acrylic Gel Medium, turn the puzzle upside down and start painting the 'glue' onto it. The reason I chose this word puzzle is that it represents all those words that people bombard you with when you are feeling down and depressed. You know, how you feel like you don't have the energy to even face them, and then they pitch up with all sorts of ideas and advice, and admonishments, or worse? This is when people see that you have a need, but they don't know how to help you, and they start playing guessing games, kind of like this word puzzle. They fully expect their words to have adhesive power to stick to us and somehow change things for us!

I then take the word puzzle and I carefully lay it in place on my journal. I then take my Acrylic Gel Medium and I paint a coat of this 'glue' over the puzzle to seal it. We do this with words, don't we? Our rational, reasoning minds can tell us a million times that those words don't fit, yet some part of us takes those words and glue them onto us, regardless of the negative and destructive impact they may have. Yet, they are not all negative. Some actually have positive meaning. It is just so hard to know which ones to keep and which to discard, almost as if you have lost your ability to differentiate and 'think straight'.

This is when it is handy to have the key to puzzle at hand. I now carefully lather this key with the Acrylic Gel Medium.
What is/are your key/s? For example, what can you use as guidelines and directives for your life and situation? Perhaps you want to use verses or passages from the Bible that has always held meaning to you? Perhaps you want to use 'truths' learned from a mentor?
Do you have people you can truly trust to reflect your turmoil and confusion to help you gain perspective? Who are these people? List them and contact them if necessary. A professional councillor could really be of big help here.

I paste this key in place on the bottom page and seal it with the Acrylic Gel Medium. There is jut one problem. This key is detached from its puzzle. This is not unlike the broken and detached place where we find ourselves now. This is why it is such a good idea to find a professional councilor/therapist when you are in the depths of depression to help you find and make sense of your puzzle key.

In this stage, I decided to work in reverse. It is usually a time where there is no shortage of words and I therefore start with the journal-ling part of the process. I started with the words other people chose and move on to words of my own. I once again go back to a poem I wrote a long time ago when I was in a very black mood, titled Solitary Confinement:
I am caught
nowhere to go
nothing to do
no one to speak to
delivered unto myself

I turn
a face
It's me

break out
open up
too strong the bonds of my flesh

a bird


I tear this poem from my anthology and start drawing lines to cut it out. However, even  my cutting lines show the jagged edges of the words themselves. There is nothing soothing about these words. They have no restorative power, as they are not based in the truth, but stem solely from my emotions.

When fitting the poem to the journal page, I find that it is too long to fit. Like everything else, it too will have to be attached in a dis-attached manner.

I once again turn to the Acrylic Gel Medium to glue the poem to my journal page.

I paste the words down over the borrowed words from the puzzle so that they become the dominant words on the page. Too often we are our own harshest critics and it is our own voice which speaks loudest of all in our lives, even if it does speak with a voice of destruction and negativity.
Do you deserve this harsh treatment from yourself?
Does it in any way contribute to your well-being, and is it just?

But words are largely for my mind and I am in a stage which is dominated by my soul or emotions. This is why I pick my charcoal stick and start drawing that deep crevice where I feel myself standing.

I choose to paint the ledge that I am standing on a bright Yellow Ochre in Dala Acrylic Paint. Once again, I am using a palette knife, as I associate better with this hard tool than a soft brush at this moment in time. I paint the cliff to run from below the puzzle key all the way over it, ending somewhere above it, well aware that my paint is obscuring the key, making it even more difficult to find a solution to my puzzle.
What do you feel while painting this ledge? Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts. You may even wish to write them down to refer back to at a later stage.

I sit back and decide to deliberately take the impression of reflected sunlight out of my crevice by painting it over with Burnt Sienna.

Then I decide that the deep shadow areas are not reflected in my painting yet. I turn to Payne's Grey to paint in these deep shadow areas.

With my ledge prepared, I can now draw myself into the picture. I am represented by a very small charcoal figure on the edge of the ledge, almost non-existing in this overwhelming situation.

Yet, I find that my figure is not black enough and paint it even darker, using the Payne's Grey once more, combined with the palette knife. This is a true reflection of where I find myself. I am all alone and there is a serious threat, and/or wish, of me loosing my footing and falling into a dark abyss. There is still some light reflecting off my cliff, but none of it has reached my figure. I decide to leave my figure there for the moment to explore this a little further on the other page.

I draw a black charcoal figure slumped down on its knees across the puzzle on the other journal page.

I then use some artist's pens in an autumn colour range to fill the colours of my figure in. I can not get myself to fill in the void in the pit of my stomach  and rather opt to draw a visible backbone and rib cage. This is a reflection of the emptiness I feel inside of me. My figure sits there, all alone, with only this big gaping hole. I wonder where I would go next and decide to close the journal on my figure. This is when my eyes fall upon the back cover of my journal. I have started this process with the deliberate intention of seeking wholeness. I have not yet achieved the goals set on the back cover. I open the page back up to take another look at my figure.

I decide that the only way my figure can look itself in the eyes, is if I draw a mirror. I do this and then add the reflection of the figure in the mirror. This immediately sparks some art principles in my mind. I remember that things can only be reflected in the presence of light. The fact that I have a reflection is testament to the presence of light. My thoughts on light and reflections then takes its own course and reminds me of rainbows.
What emotions does this idea of reflecting and light awaken in you?

I turn myself to the open space on the opposite page and decide to draw a rainbow in pencil into this space. A rainbow is the reflection of light when it hits water. The light is reflected, refracted and dispersed by the water. And then it dawns on me that not all things that are disconnected or dispersed, is ugly and broken. Sometimes this process in necessary exactly to bring out the best in us. I then decide to start building my rainbow in colour by concentrating on the important things in my life and restoring them to their proper places, such as my loved ones, my contribution to other people's lives, my devotions, etc.

I start from the outside and make way slowly towards the most intimate things on the inside. I stuck to the natural colours of the rainbow, but you may want to paint your own rainbow in colours of your own choice. I coloured the first colour of the rainbow with a watersoluble pencil. I reflected on what this line of colour means to me and what it represents. And then I took my water brush and applied life-giving water to the colour to blend it in.

Reflect upon the second colour in the same way.

Now reflect upon the third colour.

Reflect upon the fourth and fifth colours. You may even want to write some ideas down in the colour lines about your reflections.

The sixth colour is approaching the intimate areas, but it is not quite there yet. Reflect upon this as well.

The last colour should be about the things that matter most to you.
What do you feel after completing this rainbow? Would you like to add something? What would that be?

I am now finally ready to write the title on this page. I stuck to the theme of the stage, namely depression, loneliness and reflection, but you may have ideas of your own.

A close-up of the completed top page shows someone who is hurting and in despair, but whose image is reflected in the presence of light.

A close-up of the bottom page shows someone on the edge of a ledge, but someone who has allowed themselves to explore the truth of the things that matter to them, rather than to listen to the lies of their emotions.

A close-up of the completed pages as they will be arranged in the journal/album. Remember to seek some help if you feel this process is too challenging to handle on your own!

Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage, or by email at, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy her books here:You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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